Will Diatomaceous Earth Kill Ants?

By Dr. Killigan
Will Diatomaceous Earth Kill Ants?

The dark, overcast, and menacing sky threatened to send me home. The sea—rough and turbulent—whipped my a small boat around as if it were a child’s toy. Like a mother reprimanding her child, the wind howled violently around me, telling me that I shouldn’t be here. Frost clung to my stubble. My wool hat, pulled down low over my ears, along with my anorak jacket zipped up tightly to my chin, hid my frame. I was lobster fishing 20 miles off the shore of Portland, Maine. Three hours into setting my traps, I pulled the ropes up from the ocean and lifted the rectangular frames into my small boat. I’d caught four lobsters. That would suffice.

As I prepared the lobsters for a candle-lit feast, I was thankful for the blazing fire that warmed my frame. Hearing the crackle of their exoskeletons as they revealed the white, tender meat hidden under their tough frames, I thought of the exoskeletons of ants.

How Strong Are Ants?

Ants, the number one pest in the United States, have super-strength and are able to carry up to 20 times their body weight. If either of us were a super-ant, meaning that we could carry above and beyond the average of 10 times our body weight, that would mean that you could easily lift a sport utility vehicle or a white rhino (which weigh approximately 4,000 pounds).

Ants are extremely strong for several reasons:

  • They don’t have bones. 
  • They have exoskeletons that help distribute any weight they’re carrying. 
  • They have exceptionally strong muscles in their jaws.
  • They are small. Typically, the smaller an animal (or insect) is, the stronger it is in relation to its size.

Will Diatomaceous Earth Kill Ants?

In addition to the effectiveness of diatomaceous earth (DE) against wasps, cockroaches, moths and many other flying insects, DE will kill ants, including carpenter ants and fire ants. Diatomaceous earth is made up of the fossilized remains of tiny aquatic organisms called diatoms. These diatoms have sharp, pointed, knife-like surfaces that scrape an ant’s razor-thin exoskeleton and stick to it like burrs as it walks through the powder. This scratching, scraping, and sticking cuts through the ant’s cuticle, removing oils and fats from its exoskeleton (its defense and protection), thus causing the ant to dry out and die from dehydration.

For this to happen, all an ant has to do is walk through the seemingly powerless powder. An ant will willingly do such, as the DE seems to pose no threat. As the ant marches its way across, the tiny dust particles (of the DE) will cling to its legs and its body. Now, its death is imminent. It is only a matter of time.

Can Ants Develop Resistance against Poison?

Ants can develop resistance against poison, but they cannot develop resistance against DE, as DE does not kill through a chemical process. It kills through a physical process. In addition, DE is a naturally occurring substance, primarily composed of silica, which is found in sedimentary rock (in the earth’s crust). Silica, a mineral in nature, is a component of everything from sand and rocks to plants and humans.

It’s important to note that ants can build up a resistance to any poisons or any chemicals that you may have used in the past. This is because they are able to develop systems to survive the poison. Their immunity to the poisons depends on:

  • The toxicity and combination of the pesticide(s)
  • An ant’s genetic and physiological structure
  • Other environmental factors that help ants evade death from future poisoning

How Fast Does Diatomaceous Earth Work on Ants?

Because ants have very small exoskeletons, kill time should occur within a 24-hour timeframe. It depends on how much powder the insect interacts with. 

If an insect walks through the powder and gets it on its legs only, kill time can take anywhere from 24 to 48 hours. If the insect gets a fair amount on his whole body, kill time is much less, typically 8-10 hours. In general, DE takes about 16 hours to kill red ants and 24 hours to kill black ants (as they’re a little hardier).

Is Diatomaceous Earth Safe?

According to the Food and Drug Administration, diatomaceous earth is GRAS, or "Generally Recognized as Safe." In fact, DE is an ingredient in many brands of toothpaste, has been used as an anti-caking agent, and can be very beneficial for treating high cholesterol and for improving the health of skin and teeth, among other things. The food-grade form of DE is purified and amorphous (not crystalline), chemically inactive (inert), and harmless.

DE can safely be used around your pets and children. One word of caution: When spreading DE, it’s important not to inhale the dust particles. Once the dust settles, though, it’s fine. To prevent inhalation, you may consider wearing a dust mask. 

How Do You Use Diatomaceous Earth on Ants?

There are many uses for diatomaceous earth. Following are simple, easy-to-follow instructions on how to best apply DE for ants.

  1. Identity location. Identify where you’re wanting to eradicate the ants, whether this be a trail across your kitchen wall, a mound in your backyard, or a path that crosses your sidewalk lined with petunias. Or, perhaps, you’re applying it as a preventative measure around the perimeter of your backyard.
  2. Prepare the Insect Buster. Using the provided funnel, fill the bulb duster ¾ full of food-grade diatomaceous earth and shake it. The steel ball (already in the cylinder) will break up any powder clumps.
  3. Apply a thin coating. By applying pressure to the bulb duster, disperse the DE where you’ve seen ant activity.
  4. Hit ants' entry points. Using the extension rod, spray inside cracks, outlets, and gaps around wiring.
  5. Target additional entry points. Apply DE along your baseboards, perimeter of your kitchen floor, and on window sills.
  6. Use the Insect Buster’s Extension Rod. If you’re encircling your home (or yard) with our top-of-the-line protection, use the shake and squeeze method as you walk, going out six to twelve inches from your home’s foundation, and be sure to include the area under your porch. Due to crawl space, applying the powder under your porch may be difficult. In this instance, use the extension rod to spray as far into this space as you are able.
  7. If using outdoors, spread well. Apply DE close to the ground, avoid plants and flowers that don’t need the protection (so as not to harm the bees), and choose a non-windy day. DE can be spread in the mulch, garden soil, and grass around the perimeter of your house.
  8. Repeat (outdoors) and relax. Keep an eye on the places you’ve treated. The powder will need to be reapplied after heavy rain and periods of high humidity, depending on the conditions and the size of the insect infestation you’re fighting.  
  9. Repeat (indoors) and relax. As I’ve mentioned, diatomaceous earth will kill all ants that walk through it. Ants, however, will not bring this powder back to their nests, as they do not see it as food (unlike poisoned, toxic, and harmful ant bait). Therefore, you may need to apply several applications, as ants can be sneaky and may create alternative paths into your home.
  10. Sweep or vacuum. In terms of safety, there is no need to immediately remove the DE. DE is non-toxic and, as long as it remains, will continue to be active. If your ant infestation was severe, consider leaving it in place for one to two week’s time. Once ready to clean up indoors, sweep up the powder or use a vacuum with a HEPA filter. (The DE powder will burn up the motor of a regular vacuum).
  11. Remove lingering pheromones. Apply Six Feet Under Non-Toxic Insect Spray where trails of ants once were. This will serve to remove any pheromones that were left behind by the ants. 

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1 comment
  • This sounds like the best solution for trying to be proactive and practicing DIY pest control.

    Mitch Clark on

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