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Diatomaceous Earth

Updated on September 26, 2014
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Diatom-a-what?

Diatomaceous Earth is a fine, silty, soil-like substance that is composed of fossilized sea creatures.

It is also known as fossil flour, Celite, diatom remains, or DE.

The sea creatures that make up diatomaceous earth are diatoms, so they call the substance diatomaceous (di-a-tom-a-sheus) earth.

The picture on the right is of a diatomite / diatomaceous earth mine. All of the white material is diatomaceous earth, which is composed of microscopic diatom shells from diatoms that lived millions of years ago. This area was once the bottom of a vast lake where these diatoms lived.

Source

What are Diatoms?

Diatoms are mostly single-celled marine creatures that are found in both fresh and saltwater and have existed for millions of years.

Since they are really tiny and hard to identify, the exact number of varieties of diatoms is unknown, but it is estimated that there may be a 100,000 different species of diatoms. These different types vary quite a bit, so there are smaller types of diatoms, larger ones, round shaped ones, oval shaped diatoms, long ones, and all sorts of variations of shell spikes.

Most diatoms can't move on their own, but some propel themselves along using a tail sort of thing called a flagella.

Diatoms have hard shells called frustules that are made of silica, the chemical that makes up glass and quartz. The frustules are often very sharp because they have many tiny, pointed tips on them. The tiny spikes are too small to cut us, but can affect other tiny creatures.

The pictures on the right are of two varieties of diatoms. This article has pictures of a diatomite mine and all the diatomaceous earth they are mining there is composed of just these two varieties of fossilized diatoms.

Quick Fact

Diatoms are one of the biggest bases for the marine food chain

Diatoms

Picture of Diatoms
Picture of Diatoms | Source

What is diatomite?

Diatomite is a sedimentary rock made up of diatom shells, which means it is an organogenetic or biological sedimentary rock.

When diatoms die, their dead bodies sink to the bottom of the sea floor. Over time, millions and millions of diatom shells will cover the bottom and form a siliceous ooze (diatom shells are based on silica). As more and more of this siliceous ooze settles to the bottom, the pressure on the ooze builds up and eventually it gets pressed together, until it forms a rock.

That rock is called diatomite, and is similar to chalk, which is another organogenetic sedimentary rock.

Diatomite is really light

Diatomite is really light
Diatomite is really light | Source

Fossilized Leaf in Diatomite

Source

Fossils in Diatomite

As the diatom shells sink to the bottom of the lake or ocean, other things fall to the bottom as well.

Things like fish bodies and leaves settle down in the diatomaceous goo that forms on the bottom, where they get added to what may eventually become a rock as more and more diatom shells are added on top and compresses the goo into a solid mass.

Millions of years later, the now fossilized leaf, fish body, or other items may become exposed after the area is uplifted or a creek runs through the area and eats away at the diatomite, or the area is mined for diatomaceous earth as in this case where this maple leaf was dug up by a miner.

Big Pile of Diatomaceous Earth

Big Pile of Diatomaceous Earth
Big Pile of Diatomaceous Earth | Source

What is Diatomaceous Earth?

Diatomite isn't a tough rock and it easily breaks apart. When it eventually breaks apart into a loose powder, it is called diatomaceous earth.

Some mines purposely collect and break up diatomite to make it into diatomaceous earth and sell it to companies who will use it for pool filters, toothpaste abrasives, and polishing compounds.

Quick Fact

Diatomaceous Earth is often called DE for short

It's Snowing Diatom Shells

Source

DE Varies in Density

Since fossilized diatom shells are hollow and have tiny spikes sticking out from all sides, they are very airy and even a pile of diatomaceous earth is fairly light.

It is quite different if the diatom shells are shaken together, they settle quite a bit and their spikes become embedded together which can make them into a very dense mass.

Some of the Many of Uses of DE

Diatomaceous earth has an incredible number of uses.

The most common uses of DE are for swimming pool filters and organic pest control. It's a great way to dry out areas that are chronically damp; ingested, it is considered a health aid.

Some of the other many uses of DE are listed here, though this list is nowhere near all inclusive.

  • Abrasive in Toothpaste
  • Dynamite Base
  • Safe Insecticide
  • Cake Mix Ingredient
  • Supplement in Livestock Feed
  • Ingredient for Odor Control in Horse Bedding
  • Swimming Pool Filter Material
  • Abrasive in Metal Polish
  • Animal Wormer
  • Colon Cleanser
  • Bonsai Soil Additive
  • Human Food Additive
  • Human Health Supplement
  • Protectant for Stored Grain
  • Activator in blood clotting studies
  • Garden Enrichment
  • Cat Litter Ingredient
  • Odor Control in Pet Bedding

Quick Fact

Diatomaceous earth is a main ingredient in dynamite. It prevents the nitroglycerin from exploding before it should.

Changing the DE Powder in a Pool Filter

Food-Grade Diatomaceous Earth vs. Treated Diatomaceous Earth

There are a few different varieties of diatomaceous earth out there. Two of the most popular kinds are food-grade DE and treated DE. Food-grade or food-quality DE is, as it sounds, safe for food. Many people feed this kind to their animals and some people even take it themselves. Like all diatomaceous earth, it will irritate the lungs if inhaled, but it is a regular additive to many food items on your kitchen shelves, and is safe to eat.

The other, more common, type of diatomaceous earth is treated, chemicalized, or swimming pool filter DE. This type of DE is very dangerous and should not be ingested and should definitely not be inhaled! The particles in this variety of DE have been changed to a more glass-like structure so they can purify water better, but this treatment makes it dangerous and therefore could cause internal damage if ingested.

Always check the labels on your diatomaceous earth to ensure it is the appropriate variety before using it in your pool filter or giving it to your animals since you can't tell the difference between the two by the naked eye.

Food-grade--safe to ingest

Pool filter--only for filters

Diatomaceous Earth Mixed into Feed

Diatomaceous Earth being mixed with ingredients for sheep feed. Salt and molodri.

How Much DE to Add to Your Pet's Feed?

I usually add DE to each animal's feed every day for two weeks after I get the animal, that clears out the chronic worms, etc that may live in the animal, then I give it to them every day for a week or so at the beginning of each month to prevent a recurrence.

The amount of DE to add to your pet's food varies depending on who you're asking, but don't worry too much about exact amounts, a guesstimate will do. Unless you use enormous amounts, you can't overdose on it, and even a little will help.

Just make sure to only use food grade diatomaceous earth. The kind used in swimming pool filters is very dangerous and should not be ingested.

These are just general recommendations on amounts of food-grade DE to add to dry feed:

Dogs

Dogs that are 20-50 lbs get 1 TBs each day

Dogs that are 50-100 lbs get 2 TBs each day

Puppies that are less than 10 lbs get 1/2 to 1 tsp each day

Puppies that are 10-19 lbs get 2 tsp. each day

Cats

Cats get 1 tsp each day

Kittens get 1/2 teaspoon each day

Rabbits

Rabbits get 1/2 tsp each day

Small Animals

Hamsters/Gerbils/Rats get 1/4 tsp each day

Chickens

Chickens get about a half a cup per 50 lbs of feed

Chicks get 1/2 tsp for each pound of chick starter

Goats

Goats get 1 lb for every 100 lbs of feed

Sheep

Sheep get 1 lb for every 100 lbs of feed

Pigs

Pigs get 2 lbs for every 100 lbs of feed

Cattle

Cattle get 1 lb for every 100lbs of feed

Calves get 1/8 cup for every 2 gallons of milk

Horses

Horses get 1/2 cup each day

You can also just add some diatomaceous earth to whatever treats you are feeding your pets. Some animals don't like eating it dry in their food, so mixing it in with cooked oatmeal or something else sometimes works best. Just add a small scoop to the treats and don't use these measures if you do that though, these are the proper amounts for dry feed only since wet will be much heavier.

DE Texture

DE has a soft, silky texture like talcum powder, but unlike talcum powder it makes your hands dry and rough when you touch it.

Using Diatomaceous Earth to Get Rid of Fleas Around the Yard

In order to get rid of fleas in the yard naturally, use diatomaceous earth and pour it around infested areas. Get rid of fleas in the yard naturally with diatomaceous earth by using tips from an exterminator in this free video on pest control.

Getting Rid of External Parasites

Most animals will get external parasites at one time or another. Whether they are mites or fleas or ticks, diatomaceous earth usually works well to get rid of them.

Cats and dogs can have DE rubbed into their fur, as can horses and other heavily furred animals. Chickens can also have DE applied to their feathers.

Adding small amounts of DE to the pet's bedding and living area will also help, and chickens should have DE added to their favorite dust bathing spots and nest boxes.

Just be cautious in how often you do apply it directly to your pet's skin, it is extremely drying and so can cause dry skin. Also, it's not good to inhale, so you don't want your pets to breath in too much of it.

Quick Fact

Diatomaceous Earth kills bugs by puncturing them with tiny spikes, then dehydrating them, not by being poisonous

DE is Good for People Too

Many people regularly ingest diatomaceous earth for it's health benefits. It is chalky and not very yummy, but DE doesn't taste horrible, and is easy to mix into items like drinks so you won't even notice it's there.

As always, make sure you are using food-grade DE and take about a teaspoon and a half each day for a week or so. After the week is up, take a teaspoon for three days each month. I like to add my DE to hot cereal or casseroles, but anything works.

Quick Fact

Diatomaceous earth is also a good blood clotter. If you cut yourself and don't stop bleeding right away, dab your wound a with a little DE and it will clot right up.

Rotary Kiln to Dry Diatomaceous Earth

Rotary Kiln Dried Diatomaceous Earth

After the miners collect loads of diatomaceous earth from the mine, it then enters a rotary kiln like this to dry it out. It works like a clothes dryer, rotating with lots of heat inside, so the de bounces around and gets well-exposed to the extremely hot air to become thoroughly dry.

Getting the DE dry is important because the diatomaceous earth in the mine is exposed to the weather and they don't want it being saturated with water. This also makes it lighter and easier to deal with.

Diatomaceous Earth Processing Facility

Diatomaceous Earth Packing Facility

The now-dry diatomaceous earth then enters this section of the factory where it is loaded into trucks to go to the packaging facility.

Quick Fact

Many of the biggest deposits of Diatomaceous Earth came from the Pliocene and Pleistocene epochs, or The Ice Age

© 2009 Alisha Vargas

Reader Feedback

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    • Sylvestermouse profile image

      Cynthia Sylvestermouse 7 years ago from United States

      Excellent educational lens! I like the way you break it down so that people who are not scientist can understand and appreciate the content..

    • Dee Gallemore profile image

      Dee Gallemore 7 years ago

      Another thoroughly excellent lens . . . learned a lot!

    • KOrazem profile image

      Seeking Pearls 7 years ago from Pueblo West

      Really interesting lens. Thanks for sharing.

    • Demaw profile image

      Demaw 7 years ago

      I see there are many uses for DE, I had only used it for pests. Good info. 5*

    • labchef lm profile image

      labchef lm 7 years ago

      Interesting lens. I enjoy reading it.

    • profile image

      anonymous 7 years ago

      Nice lens. Informative. Thanks.

    • LarryCoffey LM profile image

      LarryCoffey LM 7 years ago

      Very interesting!!

    • profile image

      Joan_W 7 years ago

      I was wondering where diatomaceous earth came from! I've used it for pest control, but I didn't realize there was a food grade variety available. Thanks!

    • profile image

      VivekS 7 years ago

      it's always great to know new things that you can pass on and that's worth reckoning. three cheers for all the good share. thanks

    • Shades-of-truth profile image

      Emily Tack 6 years ago from USA

      I was so delighted to see this Lens! One of our guinea pigs was "brought back to life" with DE, after everything else failed to rescue him - including antibiotics. I had forgotten about food grade DE, even though I used to use it. For several weeks, I have been taking it again. Spectacular job, here, and can't say enough, how I enjoyed it!

    • profile image

      katesmart 5 years ago

      Awesome lens! Already knew some information BUT learned a lot more. I was very curious about where it was found and how it was processed. Thank you!

    • profile image

      MustangHistory 5 years ago

      Great lens, I use de in my garden.

    • profile image

      Pooluser 5 years ago

      Very informative lens, I only recently learned about DE (still have to pronounce it slowly). I didn't know it had so many uses.

    • profile image

      10incbellevue 5 years ago

      Wow. I have never heard of this stuff. Thanks! Great lens...very informative.

    • profile image

      getmoreinfo 5 years ago

      Very nice, I like how you put together this information. Have a great day!

    • Scarlettohairy profile image

      Peggy Hazelwood 5 years ago from Desert Southwest, U.S.A.

      I've used DE for a wormer for my cat and as a bug killer. Good stuff!

    • profile image

      miaponzo 5 years ago

      I just love anything fossils! I had never heard of this before! Blessed!

    • Othercatt profile image

      Othercatt 5 years ago

      I use diatomaceous earth for my chickens and dogs. It keeps the fleas off the dogs and the mites off the chickens. It also keeps the chicken coop from stinking. I recommend it to everyone.

    • chezchazz profile image

      Chazz 5 years ago from New York

      I never knew there were so many uses for diatomaceous earth other than it being considered a safe pesticide. I'm definitely going to put it to more uses. Blessed and featured on "Wing-ing it on Squidoo," my tribute to the best I've found on Squidoo since donning my wings.

    • profile image

      StrongMay 5 years ago

      I just took a geology course, and I learned about DE there. What I didn't learn is that people and pets EAT it?!!! I'll check my toothpaste ingredients.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      Enjoyed stopping by to see this, thank you.

    • healthtruth lm profile image

      healthtruth lm 5 years ago

      great lens

    • jlshernandez profile image

      jlshernandez 5 years ago

      We use this in our pool filter. Thanks for sharing all the info.

    • justin42 profile image

      justin42 5 years ago

      All I can say is WOW! What an incredible, well written and informative lens. I am going to have to keep an eye out for DE and apply it to all of the usages that you have written about here. Thanks.

    • Rosaquid profile image

      Rosaquid 5 years ago

      This was a fascinating lens. Thanks for the info!

    • fivee05 lm profile image

      fivee05 lm 5 years ago

      Interesting! This is the first time I have heard about diatomaceous earth.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      Hi, I am worried. I would like to find out the truth, that is, whether DE is dangerous to Earth Worms & Dung Beetles and/or other soil dwelling creatures. If a small amount is used in a mineral supplement for Livestock, as a parasite control, is there a chance that the DE can pass through the animal and then be dangerous to these tiny creatures.

      Great information here though, but I do wonder and worry about the necessary good bugs.

      Thankyou for your help! Much appreciated!

    • intermarks profile image

      intermarks 5 years ago

      This is really something new to me. Thanks for the information. I learn a new thing today.

    • Ribolov LM profile image

      Ribolov LM 5 years ago

      Nice lens, nice pictures, great infos. Thnx for this lens.

    • Tom Maybrier profile image

      Tom Maybrier 5 years ago

      I love this lens! Great work.

    • JoanieMRuppel54 profile image

      Joanie Ruppel 5 years ago from Keller, Texas

      I use DE for my pool filters but never knew about it's other uses. Thanks for a very informative lens!

    • iWriteaLot profile image

      iWriteaLot 5 years ago

      I have to tell you - this is NOT the type of lens I'm normally interested in. Your title and your intro picture are what really attracted me, so kudos for that. But it's your writing that really kept me on the page. You took what, to me, would have been a boring topic, and held my interest all the way to the end. So much so, that now I want to know more about this! Great job!

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      That was really informative, thank you!

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      Well put together! I heard of DE a year ago, but I haven't tried it yet.

    • IYenForZen profile image

      IYenForZen 5 years ago

      I have never heard of this and found your lens fascinating! Great read!!

    • BuddyBink profile image

      BuddyBink 5 years ago

      Very interesting. I have never heard of this before, Thanks for the information.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      Interesting lens on diatomaceous earth. I've seen it also used as a short term filtering medium in aquariums.

    • bushaex profile image

      Stephen Bush 5 years ago from Ohio

      It was all news to me! Thanks for the fresh overview.

    • Scotties-Rock profile image

      Clairissa 5 years ago from OREFIELD, PA

      Great info! I never knew there were two kinds and one was edible. Thankfully, you mentioned this or I would have been trying to eat my pool chemicals. :)

    • wheresthekarma profile image

      wheresthekarma 5 years ago

      This is such an interesting lens. I use DE for my dogs for a natural flea and tick repellent.My dog and I also take it orally, we both have lyme disease and its supposed to help.

    • Elyn MacInnis profile image

      Elyn MacInnis 5 years ago from Shanghai, China

      This was really interesting. I knew about using it in toothpaste, but not for anything else! Thanks for this interesting and informative lens.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      It was quite useful.Thanks for such a lens.

    • LiteraryMind profile image

      Ellen Gregory 5 years ago from Connecticut, USA

      Very interesting a lot of new information. The only thing I ever read about Diatomaceous earth was that a snake will not cross a line of it. Makes sense after reading this.

    • AstroGremlin profile image

      AstroGremlin 5 years ago

      What a super lens. Diatoms and the deposits they create are interesting for practical reasons and ordinary curiosity.

    • profile image

      SallyForth 5 years ago

      Nice article on diatomaceous earth. Very interesting.

    • gpsjim profile image

      gpsjim 5 years ago

      Really interesting, have never heard about it before!

    • MelRootsNWrites profile image

      Melody Lassalle 5 years ago from California

      We've used DE to kill ants in the yard. It works great!

    • dahlia369 profile image

      dahlia369 5 years ago

      Very interesting! I knew about DE and heard about some of the uses - but this lens very much expanded my horizons, thank you!! :)

    • jed78 profile image

      jed78 5 years ago

      We use DE around the farm for all the above stated reasons, good stuff

    • profile image

      AnnaleeBlysse 5 years ago

      So much information here! Happy Earth Day!

    • greenspirit profile image

      poppy mercer 5 years ago from London

      I've never heard of this...Thank you for teaching me something totally new!

    • Jo11 profile image

      Jo11 5 years ago

      Only recently heard of this stuff and have been researching - your lens has been very informative, excellent. Can't wait to purchase some for myself and all my domestic and farm animals.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      @JoanieMRuppel54: Did u use the food grade

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      My 2nd visit! I'm back to bless this lens! :) *Blessed by a Squid Angel*

    • Cinnamonbite profile image

      Cinnamonbite 4 years ago

      Some people claim it helps with bed bugs.

    • AlishaV profile image
      Author

      Alisha Vargas 4 years ago from Reno, Nevada

      @anonymous: Yep, only food grade is safe to use

    • alexandradouglas profile image

      Alexandra Douglas 4 years ago from Florida

      We use D.E for our coops! Great lens. Feel free to check out mine.

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      @AstroGremlin: Food Grade Diatomaceous Earth is totally organic and safe. It contains less than 1% percent of Crystal & Silicon. Some of the uses for Diatomaceous Earth include; household pets, gardens, flower beds, field crops, grain storage, and livestock feeding.

      You can also find this product at www.kelp4less.com/shop/diatomaceous-earth/

    • Kaiote profile image

      Kaiote 4 years ago

      Wonderful Lens, a lot of great information here.

    • Kevin Matson profile image

      Kevin Matson 4 years ago

      I love your lens. I've never heard of diatomaceous earth before, and never used. But I like learning new things. So thanks!

    • profile image

      Emilee46 4 years ago

      great lense, you have a great artikel in your lense about diatomaceous earth.

    • OUTFOXprevention1 profile image

      OUTFOXprevention1 4 years ago

      Great information. Thanks for the share.

    • WindyWintersHubs profile image

      WindyWintersHubs 4 years ago from Vancouver Island, BC

      Great info on this soil-like substances. I haven't heard of it before and great to know it has many uses. Blessed!

    • jean valdor profile image

      jean valdor 4 years ago

      I've never heard of diatomaceous. Never use it but great info. Thanks for sharing

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      What an interesting subject. I had no idea...

    • maryseena profile image

      maryseena 4 years ago

      Very interesting article. Thank you for the wealth of information.

    • tonyaalves3 profile image

      tonyaalves3 3 years ago

      I started using the product for my pet fleas. Thanks for sharing

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