What is Diatomaceous Earth and How Does it Kill Ants?

  • Written By: Phil Hawes
  • Time to read: 8 min.
Diatomaceous Earth

Ants are a terrible pest to find in your home or backyard. When you have these invaders you want to get rid of them fast, and there are simple products to achieve just this.

You may have heard of Diatomaceous Earth and be wondering if it can kill ants quickly and efficiently.

Dry Diatomaceous Earth will kill ants who come into direct contact with it. Diatomaceous Earth kills ants due to its microscopic particles which tear open the bodies of ants leading to their death through dehydration within a day. It is best applied directly to areas of high ant activity as it isn’t carried back to colonies as food.

Unlike with other insecticides, which Diatomaceous Earth isn’t always promoted as you need to use this product in the right way. That’s why I’ve gone into a lot more detail about Diatomaceous Earth for you in this article.

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How long does it take to kill ants with diatomaceous earth?

It usually takes less than 24 hours for an ant that has been exposed to Diatomaceous Earth for only a few seconds to die. The speed of death depends on the size of the insect and how quickly it loses just over half its body’s water content. A generous sprinkling of this powder will ensure larger colonies die-off in a few days.

In a 1992 study authored by William Quarles, it was found that Diatomaceous Earth was very effective as an insecticide against a number of insects. It was found that by only rolling these bugs in Perma-Guard for less than a quarter of a minute, they all died within a 24 hour period.

Diatomaceous Earth, derived from natural fossil material, works by compromising the protective exoskeleton of insects such as ants, cockroaches, and bed bugs, which leads to them dehydrating.

These pests have no defense against this and they will die when 28 to 35% of the body weight (about 60%of the water content) is lost through evaporation.

This means that once the ants in your yard or home have been exposed to Diatomaceous Earth, they will quickly die. So the placement of this product in the most likely place the ants will travel across is important.

The most important and effective ways to use Diatomaceous Earth are by using it outdoors, indoors for cracks where ants can travel in or around the home, and as a dusting powder in areas of high traffic.

Diatomaceous earth is not toxic so there is no need to worry about breathing unsafe particles into your lungs or harm to your children or pets. In fact, you can find some brands of Diatomaceous Earth which are cleared with the FDA as Food-Grade.

Do ants take diatomaceous earth back to nest?

Ants will not see Diatomaceous Earth as food, so won’t carry it back to their nest as such. However, as it is a powder they may return to the nest coated in the eco-friendly insecticide, thus compromising the nests as a whole. For the best results, you should apply Diatomaceous Earth directly to an ant nest’s entrances and surrounding area.

Although you’ll read it a lot online, ants will never carry Diatomaceous Earth back home as they will with real food sources. This is why you can’t rely on laying this powder down far away from an ant’s nest. You need to find the nest and apply Diatomaceous Earth directly to it.

In fact, it’s best to apply Diatomaceous Earth to as many places as you can around the home and backyard, especially where you’ve seen a lot of ants. This means that more of the workers are exposed to the insecticide and so your chances of getting rid of an entire colony are greater.

Suggested Diatomaceous Earth Products

You will be able to find Diatomaceous Earth at your local gardening center or in most good retailers, but in case you can’t get to the shops here are my selections for the best brands to buy on Amazon today.

HARRIS: Diatomaceous Earth Food Grade

Here is the link to this product on Amazon

Earthborn Elements Diatomaceous Earth 

Here is the link to this product on Amazon

Pure Organic Ingredients Diatomaceous Earth

Here is the link to this product on Amazon

Will diatomaceous earth kill the queen ant?

Using Diatomaceous Earth on its own is no guarantee that you will kill a Queen ant. Unlike other insecticides, Diatomaceous Earth isn’t toxic and doesn’t kill through ingesting it. This powder needs to get on the body of an ant to rip it open which leads to lethal dehydration. it is possible, but not an inevitable way to dislodge a queen and her colony.

If you want to be sure that a queen ant is killed, you may want to try alternative insecticides such as boric acid, which is a poison. Boric acid works by compromising the ants from the inside out

In this case, I’d recommend using a combination of Diatomaceous Earth with boric acid, which will give you two different methods that may kill an entire colony at once. By combining these two products, your chances are increased because there is more than one way these ant pests can die.

Can you mix diatomaceous earth with water and spray it?


Diatomaceous Earth (DE) can be used to combat pests such as ants diluted in water and applied with a spray. This should be done in a ratio of half a cup of DE to 2 cups of water. However, DE will only be effective against ants once it dries out and becomes microscopically sharp again causing damage to their exoskeletons.

Diluting Diatomaceous Earth and using it in a spray is a great way to get to hard-to-reach places, such as the back of appliances or under crawl spaces. But the DE needs to dry out before it will work and it may even become less effective over time, according to some research I’ve read.

To apply the slurry to ants with a sprayer or pressure washer, mix one-part DE to two parts water. Shake up the mixture before each application and then spread it evenly around ant nests.

Are all brands of Diatomaceous Earth Food Grade?

Not all sources of Diatomaceous Earth (DE) are food grade, but most are quite harmless and definitely non-toxic. The manufacturer, Harris, produces Food Grade Diatomaceous Earth (DE) which is composed of 100% ground freshwater DE, with no additives. Their product is made of the ancient remains of diatoms, a type of freshwater algae.

Although food-grade Diatomaceous Earth sounds great, for most household pest issues you don’t need it, you could be successful with any type of Diatomaceous Earth.

The key thing is that this product isn’t harmful to you or your family, including pets, but is deadly to ants and other insects such as roaches and bed bugs that come into contact with it.

This means you can use it in your garden, around the house, and in other areas where pests are known to hide. You spread a thin layer of DE on ant trails or any area with high insect activity. Once they come into contact with DE their exoskeleton will be punctured by sharp edges found in the product’s fossilized algae particles and they will slowly die from loss of moisture.

What is diatomaceous earth exactly?

Diatomaceous Earth is a product that is made from the fossilized remains of ancient plants called diatoms. It is normally sold in powder form which can be sprinkled in any desired location. Diatomaceous Earth has many applications, especially in gardening and one by-product of this is as a non-toxic insecticide.

Diatomaceous earth is a type of pest control that kills insects by cutting their exoskeleton with sharp microscopic pieces. Ants that are exposed to DE will simply dehydrate without their protective armor and die. Diatomaceous earth, which to us feels like a soft, fine powder, can kill insects but does not harm humans or animals.

How do you use Diatomaceous Earth?

If you are ready to try diatomaceous earth to kill ants, there is a catch: where and how do you spread it?

Here are some easy-to-understand instructions on how to apply diatomaceous earth for ants, but remember to always follow product label instructions.

  • Identify where you see ant trails or groups of ants and follow them to their original point in order to establish entry points into your home.
  • Spread a thin layer of diatomaceous earth along the ant trails. If you find a large group of ants, sprinkle the powder directly over them and create a perimeter around them.
  • Spread the diatomaceous earth on all surfaces where you have seen or think ants live, including cracks and crevices in hard-to-reach places.
  • Wait 24-48 hours and watch the area you’ve treated for a potential decrease in ants. If needed, reapply diluted diatomaceous earth to the affected areas.
  • If you’ve successfully removed ants from your home or garden with the use of diatomaceous earth, there are a few things to remember when cleaning. Wash surfaces where applied thoroughly and follow up by spraying insecticide onto any visible nesting sites outside for control of re-infestation.
  • Outside the house, spray or sprinkle some diatomaceous earth in a light layer on your home’s foundation at least 6-12 inches in width around the exterior. Create a perimeter of diatomaceous earth around the exterior of your home, paying special attention to where ants are likely to enter. If you want to get rid of ants in your yard, sprinklers and rain can easily wash DE away, so keep applying it whenever you see it wash away.

Can you sleep in a room with diatomaceous earth?

Diatomaceous Earth is entirely non-toxic and is safe for humans to touch and sleeping in the same room where it has been applied is not a danger to your health. Some brands of Diatomaceous Earth are even deemed food-grade by the FDA, so could even be consumed by humans. As it is microscopically abrasive, consult with a doctor before inhaling it.

If you have an ant infestation in the room you sleep in, then you should apply Diatomaceous Earth to the areas of your home where ants are entering. It’s perfectly safe.

This being said, I don’t think I’d want it on my actual bed as it could become quite messy. But, if you have it spread out on the floor or in a closet you shouldn’t experience any ill effects from this totally natural and non-toxic substance.

What are other use of diatomaceous earth?

It’s interesting because some manufacturers such as Harris don’t even label their diatomaceous earth as an insecticide. The fact that it can kill bugs such as ants, cockroaches, bed bugs, and more is a happy by-product.

According to WebMD, the main uses of diatomaceous earth are for removing impurities in drinking water, preventing the build-up of lumps in foods as well as a filler. It’s used in everything from medicine, paints, and plastics, and can also be found in your pet litter.

Other uses include cleaning up spills in industry settings as well as insulation. It’s also quite a good way to give certain surfaces a good scrub. You’ll also find Diatomaceous earth being used as part of different tests in the lab and of course, by us, as an insecticide. 

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