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All about Diatomaceous Earth | In your Chicken Coop, Garden and Home

All about using Diatomaceous Earth in your chicken coop, garden and home.

I recently asked the Fresh Eggs Daily® community about questions they had about Diatomaceous earth.

Some are concerned it can be bad for chickens if they inhale it, based on things they've read on other pages and forums, others just don't understand what it is and what it can do. 

So here's the scoop. The answers to all your questions.

All about Diatomaceous Earth | In your Chicken Coop, Garden and Home

What is Diatomaceous Earth?

Diatomaceous earth, or DE, is a white, porous powder that is simply the crushed fossilized remains of diatoms (phytoplankton). Over time, these fossilized remains build up into large deposits that are then mined from bodies of water. 

Diatomaceous earth can be organic and is listed with the Organic Minerals Research Institute, a non-profit organization that reviews products for organic standards.

DE is used in many products because of its porous and abrasive nature. It’s used it when making gummy bears because it prevents them from sticking together. It's added to cereals to prevent caking.

Along those same lines, it’s used in a cattle feed as an anti-caking agent. It’s also added to pesticides. You may have brushed your teeth with DE. Skin care products also use DE. 

It’s a versatile product, so it’s worthwhile to do some research and see how it can benefit your chickens, home, garden, and family. 

What is food-grade diatomaceous earth?

There are a few different grades of diatomaceous earth, but for our purposes here we’ll just talk about two: food grade and pool grade DE. Food grade is the unaltered good stuff that has a variety of uses. For your chickens, this is what you want to put in your coop. 

Pool grade is super-heated to make it a more efficient filter. However this process makes it suitable only as a filter and nothing else. Don’t use this in your chicken coop. Calcined (heated) DE contains high amounts of crystalline silica. 

You want to always use the food-grade diatomaceous earth. You can find it at feed stores and garden centers as well as online. 

Why are there different colors of diatomaceous earth?

Diatomaceous earth can be white, reddish, gray, beige, or brown. This has to do with the grades that we just talked about. Heat-treated DE often has a different color; however, one of the biggest factors that affect color is the deposit its mined from. 

Diatomaceous earth is unique since not every deposit is exactly the same. They all differ slightly from one another. The color often reflects the other minerals part of the diatomaceous earth deposit. 

How do I apply diatomaceous earth in my chicken coop?

Many chicken owners dust the floors of their coops with DE to keep their chickens’ mite- and lice-free. Diatomaceous earth uses a physical mode of action to kill insects, and for this reason it needs to come in contact with the insect to work. 

Once DE comes in contact with an insect, it pierces their hard shells. It absorbs the oils and fats that protect the insect’s ability to retain water. After exposure, the insect then dies of dehydration. 

After I clean out all the old bedding (straw, shavings whatever), I sprinkle it on the floor, bottom of the nesting boxes, and I also rub some into the roosts. 

Then I put in new bedding. I reapply; just sprinkle some around periodically in between cleanings.

Herb-Scented Diatomaceous Earth

I also like to use a product called Coop Recuperate. It's a diatomaceous earth product that has aromatic lemon grass an eucalyptus essential oils mixed in. It makes my coop smell so good after I've sprinkled in around. It's also more granular and less powdery, so those of you worried about the dust might want to check it out.

If you’re especially sensitive to dusts, it’s best to wear a dust mask when applying diatomaceous earth to the chicken coop. You and your chickens should be fine after the application is over and the dust has settled, especially with new bedding on top of it.

I’ve heard that some people use Sevin dust. Should I use this instead?

No absolutely not! 

While some chicken keepers recommend using Sevin Dust (a known carcinogen) or even worse Frontline (which is not labeled for use in poultry), neither is safe to be using on or around your chickens, cats or dogs. 

I don’t know about you, but I’ll take a natural product that could maybe, possibly, one day down the road cause respiratory issues if you aren’t careful over a KNOWN chemical.

But I absolutely am not cool with using chemicals on or in my chickens that could possibly get into their eggs that we eat! 

I would venture a guess most pets won’t live long enough anyway to see any detrimental respiratory issues from using DE as long as you use it responsibly (i.e. don’t fling the dust all over the place!) And in fact, your chickens are far more likely to be killed by a predator, in all honesty.

Can I feed Diatomaceous earth to my chickens?

You absolutely can mix Diatomaceous Earth into your chickens daily feed. DE contains many trace minerals, but the main component of DE, silica, gives many benefits to chickens. Research shows chicks on a high-silica diet attained maximal bone re-mineralization much quicker than those on low-silica diets. 

According to a study in Poultry Science, chickens with DE in their diet laid larger eggs containing more albumen, weighed more, ate more, and had fewer worms. It’s worth it to note that some breeds already have a natural resistance to worms, which was pointed out in the study. 

Diatomaceous is thought to work as a natural wormer by preventing the larvae of internal parasites from maturing into adults. If your chickens have worms, it can take up to two months to get rid of them and to break the worm lifecycle. 

Regularly add DE to your chicken’s diet to prevent internal worms. The ratio is 2 percent diatomaceous earth in the feed you give them. 

Is diatomaceous earth toxic or poisonous?

No, it's not. In fact, DE is added to human foods such as cereal to avoid clumping. As you’re researching DE, you might come across something like this: “Warning! Diatomaceous earth is toxic if you breathe it in!” But the short answer to this is no, no it’s not. 

But to understand it better, let’s first look at the ingredients of diatomaceous earth. The ingredients differ slightly depending on the deposit, but it generally looks something like this. 

Silicon dioxide (silica), from diatomaceous earth 85%
Other element oxides 10% 
Moisture 5% 

Diatomaceous earth is mostly made of silica and this comes in two different forms: crystalline or amorphous. Food grade diatomaceous earth is made of amorphous silica. Crystalline silica is formed when diatomaceous earth is superheated. This is done to make the diatoms into a more effective filter, and crystalline silica is what makes up pool grade. 

This transformation makes pool grade diatomaceous earth unfit for anything else. Crystalline silica has been linked to an increased risk of lung cancer; however, these studies look at people who work in construction or mining. 

The bottom line of these studies is if you’re exposed to crystalline silica every day, all day, for twenty years, then you might have an increased risk of developing lung cancer. And remember, this is found only in the pool grade diatomaceous earth.

This topic is still being explored, but this is what people often get confused about. Because of some of the warnings connected with crystalline silica, diatomaceous earth as a whole gets a bad reputation. 

I don’t want to give pool grade DE a bad reputation either. If you want to use it as a filter it’s a good way to go, and you’re definitely safe doing so. 

Does diatomaceous earth cause respiratory problems?

However, diatomaceous earth is a fine powder and if breathed in, just like any fine powder even something as innocuous as baking flour, diatomaceous earth can irritate the nasal passages, cause you to cough or have shortness of breath.  And since it's abrasive, it can irritate your eyes.  

Wearing eye protection and a face mask while you're applying diatomaceous earth is never a bad idea if it makes you feel more comfortable.

But I've heard that there's silica in diatomaceous earth. Is this dangerous?

Most of what we know centers around silica, and diatomaceous earth is composed of about 85 percent silica (silicon dioxide) depending on the formulation. Silica is essential for many things in our body. 

We know that silica is critical to our health, although no recommended daily intake has been put forth. There is evidence that suggest silica is vital to bones, tendons, aorta, liver, and kidneys. 

If there is a deficiency of silica in our bodies it can lead to problems including deformities in the skull and peripheral bones, poorly formed joints, reduced contents of cartilage and collagen, and disruption in the mineral balance in the femur and vertebrae. 

There is also a study where 19 individuals consumed 250 mg of DE three times a day for eight weeks. This researchers in this study concluded that diatomaceous earth was capable of reducing blood cholesterol and positively influencing lipid metabolism in humans. 

So, no silica isn't harmful and in fact is likely beneficial.

However, f you want to consume diatomaceous earth, be sure to eat only food-grade as mentioned above.

Amorphous silica is what you get when you leave diatomaceous earth in its natural state. As of yet, no carcinogenicity has been linked to amorphous silica. It is recognized by the scientific community as non-toxic. To be labelled food grade diatomaceous earth, it must contain less than 1 percent crystalline silica. 

But Should I be Cautious using Diatomaceous Earth?

It’s still a good idea to use precautions though. Diatomaceous earth is still a dust, and it can cause irritation to your lungs. Use a dust mask if you need to and try to apply it when the chickens aren't in the coop.

However, I personally believe that the remote possibility that a hen "might" develop respiratory issues sometime in the future from breathing in the DE is far outweighed by the current benefits today of using it. 

Also, realistically, your chicken probably won’t live long enough for any side effects from DE to become a problem. Dogs are the #1 killer of backyard chickens and a great majority of chickens die at the hand of predators, not of respiratory issues.”

Should I eat DE?

Chances are you’ve already eaten DE and you don’t even know it.  The FDA lists diatomaceous earth as "Generally Recognized as Safe" and may be used as an anti-caking material in livestock feed, or as a clarifier for wine and beer. It’s used as an anti-caking agent in a number of other human-grade food items. 

Many people also take a teaspoon a day of diatomaceous earth mixed into their favorite drink - fruit juice, tea, coffee, protein shake, etc. and there are numerous benefits to be gained from doing so. 

Benefits of Consuming DE

Here are some of the most commonly reported benefits from eating diatomaceous earth:

  • Healthier skin, hair, and nails
  • Better digestive health
  • More regular bowel movements
  • Less joint and ligament pain
  • More energy

These benefits can be found scattered throughout numerous forums and websites. For some people, and understandably so, this qualitative evidence isn’t enough. 

This is a common sentiment among many people thinking about trying diatomaceous earth. To be honest, there isn’t much by way of studies in this arena yet. It’s expensive to get studies done, so that’s a major factor for the information void. 


How do use diatomaceous earth with my other pets?

You can apply diatomaceous earth topically to the skin of your cat or dog to get rid of fleas. Apply this multiple times to get rid of fleas. You must clean and treat your house at the same time to get rid of fleas and any eggs they lay. 

As your dog or cat walks around the house, fleas will fall off on to the carpet and other areas. You can dust your home, pet beds or crates, etc. directly since it’s a safe product to use. 

One thing to keep in mind though is that  your pet’s skin might dry out too much if you do too many applications. 

You can also mix some diatomaceous earth into your cat or dog's food. It's supposed to help with internal parasites as well as provide beneficial nutrients. 

Can I use diatomaceous earth in my garden?

DE can be used in the garden as a natural pesticide for a bad infestation. However, it's important to remember that Diatomaceous earth is still a pesticide, even if it’s an organic one. So the best pest control is preparation and prevention. 

You do this a number of ways, but some good ones are promoting healthy plants, working on pre-planting soil preparation, practicing crop rotation, weed control, and hand picking pests from the plants. But sometimes, even after all of our preparation, a garden can still be overwhelmed by an infestation. 

You can apply diatomaceous earth two ways depending on the insects involved. For slugs and other similar pests, create a ring of DE around the plant. 

This acts as a repellent as well as an insecticide. Keep any leaves from touching the outside of the DE ring, so it doesn’t act as a bridge for slugs to get over the DE.

The other method involves dusting the whole plant with DE. This needs to be done for insects such as aphids, cucumber beetles, squash bugs, cut worms, cabbage worms, tomato hornworms, and so many others. Water your plants lightly and then apply DE to the top and bottom of the plant leaf. Re-apply if it rains. 

Is Diatomaceous Earth Dangerous to Bees?

Bees are so important to our food sources for pollination that it's really important not to do anything that might harm bees. However, I have talked to beekeepers who use DE in their garden and feel comfortable doing so, with these caveats:

Avoid dusting any flowers or blossoms to help out the bees. DE doesn’t stick to their bodies very well, but it’s better to err on the side of caution.  In fact, for those worried about the effect of DE on bees, read on...
"When Diatomaceous Earth is applied to crops or orchards, the honey bee tends to protect themselves by simply avoiding those blossoms already treated with DE. However, if DE does get on a bee's body, it is covered with slick hairs that are able to help prevent dehydration of body fluids.

Then the bee simply vibrates its wings to remove the dust and protect itself. However, should a bee get enough DE on it to cause death, he's the only insect that dies. Even if he makes it back to the hive, he does not contaminate the colony, as DE is not a chemical toxin." 
quoted from Going Green Using Diatomaceous Earth How-To Tips by Tui Rose (2010).

As Tui Rose states, "DE is best applied early in the morning and late in the evening when bees and other beneficial insects are at a minimal." 
I would also avoid using it around any blossoming plants and flowers as the bees will avoid the dust altogether and the plant will not get pollinated and bees are the best pollinators, especially of the melon family. Bees also tend to pollinate more in the early mornings. So get out there even earlier."
I have also personally spoken with several other beekeepers who told me that they do use diatomaceous earth in their gardens around the base of plants, making sure to keep it away from the blossoms.

Can I use diatomaceous earth in my home?

Diatomaceous earth can be used in your kitchen or pantry to kill ants or other pests. A sprinkle of DE along the door jambs will help keep them out of your house. 
In the yard, you can sprinkle DE on ant hills. You can use it to kill hornets and wasps by dusting their nests, or blowing it into carpenter bee holes. 
And all of this without worrying about kids or pets getting into it and possibly being harmed like you would worry with other poisons. 
Bottom line, act responsibly, using DE in areas it's needed and carefully applying it - don't just toss a bagful up in the air - and you've got yourself a very safe, very economical multi-purpose pest control.

Where can I buy diatomaceous earth?

Check out Amazon or your local feed store, garden center or hardware store. Just be sure to check the label to make sure it says “food grade” or “meets food chemical codex standards”.

I hope this Q&A has been informative and helpful. If you have further questions or concerns, please feel free to email me at or continue to research on your own.

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