- Organic Gardening
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.
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.
Diatoms are one of the biggest bases for the marine food chain
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
Fossilized Leaf in Diatomite
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
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.
Diatomaceous Earth is often called DE for short
It's Snowing Diatom Shells
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
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 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 get 1 tsp each day
Kittens get 1/2 teaspoon each day
Rabbits get 1/2 tsp each day
Hamsters/Gerbils/Rats get 1/4 tsp each day
Chickens get about a half a cup per 50 lbs of feed
Chicks get 1/2 tsp for each pound of chick starter
Goats get 1 lb for every 100 lbs of feed
Sheep get 1 lb for every 100 lbs of feed
Pigs get 2 lbs for every 100 lbs of feed
Cattle get 1 lb for every 100lbs of feed
Calves get 1/8 cup for every 2 gallons of milk
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 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.
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.
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.
Many of the biggest deposits of Diatomaceous Earth came from the Pliocene and Pleistocene epochs, or The Ice Age
More Information on Diatomaceous Earth - Learn more about Fossil Flour
- Diatoms Information from Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute
A nice picture and a few quick facts about diatoms.
- USGS on Diatomite
Diatomite is another name for Diatomaceous Earth.
- Natural Pest Control and Pesticides
Information on using DE to get rid of bugs without using poisons
© 2009 Alisha Vargas