Garden Lifestyle

Diatomaceous Earth as Non-Toxic Ant Killer

Have they invaded you yet? Those million-line-soldiers that cover your floor, counters, and cat food?

fire ants on a board of wood
Have ants invaded your home yet?   Photo by ARS under the Creative Commons Attribution License 2.0.

Have they invaded you yet? Those million-line-soldiers that cover your floor, counters and cat food? I haven’t met anyone yet who enjoys even a small ant invasion in their house. If you find that ants are holding an ant convention in your home, it’s actually the outside that you need to concentrate on if you want the little buggers gone for good.

Diatomaceous earth (DE) is not only inexpensive and effective; it’s non-toxic to kids, birds, and pets. And yet it destroys ants, earwigs, slugs, beetles, ticks, fleas, cockroaches, and bed bugs. As these pests move across the powder, it sticks to their feet and legs only to get into their joints and exoskeleton.

DE is made up of crushed fossilized skeletons of diatoms and algae. Some people claim that the DE jagged and sharp so it works like little pieces of broken glass and scratches up the insects’ bodies then dries up their fluids. But I’ve also heard it said that instead of scratching up their bodies, the DE is absorbed into the bug’s breathing tubes as well as their joints, eyes, etc. I’m not sure I care about exactly how it works – just that the bugs quit eating and death isn’t far behind.

To humans and pets, DE feels like powder and is completely harmless. That said, you don’t necessarily want diatomaceous earth in your lungs, so wear a dusk mask when you’re applying it. One thing you need to know is that there are different grades of diatomaceous earth. You don’t want the stuff used for swimming pools. Purchase horticultural grade DE.

This is cheap pest control, so feel free to apply it liberally around the parameters of your house, in the garden or shrubs, and right on the ants’ nest if you can find it. It’s also safe to use in the back of cupboards or what-have-you. DE isn’t an instant kill; it could take days or weeks to be rid of ants completely. But you will be rid of them without sacrificing anything else.

It would be remiss of me not to state that if ants aren’t pestering you; don’t pester them. Ants can be useful as pollinators and soil aerators, just as they can be protectors and defenders of the plant-sucking aphid. That said, if they attempt a hostile take-over into my home, it’s every species for itself.

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