Diatomaceous earth, commonly known as D. E, is a naturally occurring off-white soft, silicon-based sedimentary rock. It is composed of fossilized marine-based algae called planktons.
Under a microscope, it looks like shards of glass (silica is used to make glass). But does diatomaceous earth kill bed bugs (or even with vinegar)?
A simple answer is, YES, diatomaceous earth will kill bed bugs. The D.E particles stick to the insect’s exoskeleton it punctures the carapace, thus, leaving the insect susceptible to dehydration.
Also, when the insect inhales the powder, it cuts through the respiratory system and causes drying of the mucous membrane of breathing passages in the bug, thus, killing them. Related: Pictures of Bed Bugs.
Details: Does Diatomaceous Earth Kill Bed Bugs?
But it only gets worse when you get to realize that, like cockroaches, bed bugs are extremely hardy and difficult to kill off. Due to their adaptability, they are can easily mutate to gain resistance to normal spray pesticides.
So, to understand how effective the D.E can be to bed bugs invading your couch and bed, let’s first look, briefly, at how D.E works when put on an insect.
When an insect comes to contact with the D.E powder, two things happen, both of which are lethal to the insect; Bed bugs, like any other insect, have the exoskeleton that protects them.
When they roam over the powder, which should be kept dry always, its punctures or otherwise scrape away part of the exoskeleton and, therefore, dehydrate them.
However, studies have shown that while D.E can be effective in killing bugs, there usually needs to be a very high concentration of it to be effective, which means that the mist sprays here might not be effective. You will need to use a very high concentration of D.E.
But What about the Bed Bug Eggs
Short answer – no. Now, to the long answer. But, here’s how to kill bed bug eggs. Bed bugs are extremely sketchy and evasive and will most likely remain hidden from your sight most times unless there is an invasion that forces them to find alternative hiding spots.
This is also true of their eggs. Like other bugs such as cockroaches, bed bugs lay their eggs in secluded, far to reach corners of your house like under the carpet, behind photos and wallpapers or behind light-bulb switches or in furniture, say under the couches, within the threading of the couch and many other hidden places.
This then means that the D.E will be unlikely to work because the egg, unlike the bug itself, is not moving anywhere, thus will most likely not come into contact with the powder.
And the bed bug eggs are very hardy, just like the bugs themselves, which means then that in the event you manage to get the powder to them, it still may not be enough to neutralize the egg.
However, not to despair. Since the D.E has an indefinite shelf life and thus will remain effective for long (if kept completely dry), this means that even if you don’t manage to kill the eggs, once they hatch, the D.E will then be able to work on them as they crawl over it.
An important part of this process then is how you will apply it. After identifying areas likely to contain the bedbug eggs, spread the D.E mist all over the area.
This will help minimize the spread of the infestation in other areas, meaning that the bugs will be closed into the spot until they are grown enough to be affected by the D.E.
Do Diatomaceous Earth Kill Bed Bug Nymphs?
Again, the answer is no. D.E is only effective on adult bedbugs. Bedbugs nymphs (baby bed bugs), once hatched, often go through several molting stages before attaining sexual maturity, which could take up to five weeks.
To go through the cycle, these nymphs will require periodic blood meals, which explains the bites keeping you awake at night, or perhaps the bites that come from beneath your shirt when you are going about your business.
But, back to the nymphs. When a nymph gets a treat for its bloody meal, it then sheds its old cuticle and develops a new one.
Thus, if the nymph crawls over the area powdered with D.E and then gets to feeds soon after, they will be able to shed the infected cuticle and grow a new one that will then provide them insulation against water loss, meaning that they will no longer be at risk to succumbing to dehydration.
Taking blood meals periodically is also a way of replenishing water loss; thus, if a nymph bites you soon after rolling over the D.E trap, you set for it.
It will effectively be killing two birds with one bite – replenishing its water content, as well as building a new cuticle that will replace the old one, ensuring that the bugger remains alive to continue the family cycle of pest terror.
An experiment was done by the University of Kentucky researchers and pest professionals put D.E to the test under real-world conditions.
The group chose six infested apartments for the experiment, with each apartment checked thoroughly for the number of bedbugs (both adult and nymphs) found on beds, furniture, and other places in the building.
Short story, the reduction recorded showed that there was only a 1 percent reduction in the bed bug population on average, with the biggest percentage experienced in the house in which the researchers had put the highest amount of the powder.
The nymphs seemed responsible for continuing this cycle, too, as they often remained unharmed due to their ability to shed off their cuticle during the molting stages of their growth, ensuring that the D.E never got to work on them.
How long does it Take D.E To Kill a Bed Bug?
Previous experiments placed the number of bedbugs killed between four days to ten days, with the length of the period dependent on the bed bugs strain.
So, What Does This Mean? As a stand-alone bed bug pesticide, D.E remains largely ineffective, and thus, in the event of an infestation, you will be less likely to contain the spread of the bugs using D.E.
Let’s not even begin on the event that if you live in an apartment complex, D.E will unlikely help you if your neighbors aren’t in on the item.
If indeed you want to keep using the D.E powder for your bed bug extermination exercise, perhaps you should consider a few things, most of which will need professional help, or at least, above-basic application of the powder.
High Applications Necessary for Bed Bugs
The above experiment found that while D.E was effective against other bugs, it performed rather poorly against the bed bugs, but save for the one house in which they put a lot of the powder.
Therefore, for the D.E to be effective, you will need to have quite a large portion of the powder.
Proper Application of the Powder
During the experiment, the researchers from the University of Kentucky dusted D.E thoroughly on all crevices, on seams, folds, and edges using professional dusters, most of which many homes don’t have access to.
So, for better results, proper applications are not just a requirement, but a necessity, with proper dusting that would allow for the particles of the powder to stick to the surface to avoid drifting properly – where the powder gets blown away by either the vacuum cleaner or any slight draught in the house.
Therefore, to increase the D.E working chances, one will need to put the material where the bugs are and where they frequent, a fact that maybe you do not follow through thoroughly.
For example, one needs not just put the powder on the edges of the carpet or the edges of the couch on the drawer’s frames.
One will need to turn over the couches and apply the dust beneath the upholstery, disassemble bed or any other furniture with a build that allows for many gaps or, in the event of a major infestation, throw away the entire furniture… and maybe even the house.
Don’t Use D.E as A Stand-alone Bed Bug Treatment.
As we have seen above, diatomaceous earth powder requires very many specific conditions to be effective.
Even then, their effectiveness is minimal. Therefore, to properly rid your house of bed bugs, integrate it with other bed bug extermination methods such as;
1. Heat treatment
This might involve washing and drying your clothes, bedding, shoes, pillows, curtains, and other upholstery items at high temperature for about 20 minutes.
Alternatively, for materials such as carpets, couches, sofas, and bed frames, you recommend using high powered steam cleaners, which can hit the high temperatures necessary to kill.
When you do this, be slow and thorough, giving enough time to each area for the heat to properly catch on and kill the bugs.
2. Vacuum Thoroughly
Once you are done with this, empty the bag outside your home or create a small fire in which you dump the insects and watch them burn with glee.
3. Sun Heat Treatment
If you are unable to buy any of the expensive toys, don’t worry. The good old sun is still a reliable bed bug killer…as long as it shines in the right temperatures.
You can use this on items that can’t be washed, such as some types of carpets, bed covers inside duvets. Also, check how the dryer kills bed bugs.
Seal them in a black plastic bag (absorbs sun’s heat faster and retains it) and put them out in the sun, and let them sit for several hours in a day.
4. Use Approved pesticides
The bed bug is resistant to many known pesticides, and thus, your normal insecticide will not do the trick. This is mostly because they aren’t concentrated enough to penetrate the bed bugs tough cuticle so as it has the desired effect.
Compounds such as silica gels can work well. You will most likely come across these gels severally when you buy electronics or clothing items as they are used to prevent the accumulation of moisture on electronic items during shipping and/or storage.
These gels contain high concentrations of silicon dioxide, which is highly absorbent and, thus, will absorb the insect’s cuticle waxes faster than D.E.
Also, unlike D.E, these silica gels can work one time, needing a bug to crawl over the dusted surface just once for it to be effective, and because it is highly absorbent, it will kill the bug in a far shorter time than the D.E.
5. Use 91% Rubbing Alcohol
This one comes with a disclaimer. Alcohol works as a solvent, eating away the bug’s outer shell, thus, exposing them to dehydration, like silica gels.
But then, it goes further and dries the insides of the bug, finish off the buggers in a satisfying overkill. Use 91% Rubbing Alcohol to kill bed bugs.
The disclaimer is that alcohol only kills on contact and, therefore, may not be effective in the event of an infestation, where there could be countless eggs.
It is also a fire hazard as Isopropyl alcohol is highly flammable. Its lingering vapor is also highly flammable.
So, as we have seen, Diatomaceous Earth can be an effective bug control in general, but you will need to back it up with several other treatments when it comes to bugs.
D.E will also not work effectively if you have an infestation, as it doesn’t harm the eggs nor nymphs, thus, limiting its potency.
Similarly, proper application is also a requirement, which will need you to possibly disassemble the furniture and dust it in the far to reach corners of the homes or items and using specialized equipment.
Even then, as the stated experiment has shown, it is only just effective. Therefore, D.E will not rid you of your bed bugs on its own. Back it up with other methods for excellent results.
All the best, and no more bites!