The Many Uses for Food-Grade Diatomaceous Earth
So, the other day I was talking to a friend about homemade deodorant, and she wondered aloud if she really needed to buy “a whole bag of this diatomaceous earth stuff just to make deodorant.”
And I was like, WAIT, YOU DON’T HAVE SOME ALREADY??
Clearly I have failed as a friend, because you guys, this stuff is awesome. It helps support detoxification, rid your pets and home of critters, keeps your garden healthy, and you can even use it in your beauty routine.
What is food grade diatomaceous earth, anyway?
Diatomaceous Earth (DE) is a fine powder made from diatoms, a type of fossilized phytoplankton. It looks like Rice Chex under a microscope, only in cylindrical form. Weird, right?
DE is unique in composition – it’s about 80-90% pure silica (also known as silicon dioxide), with other minerals making up the remaining 10-20%.
It’s exceptional in another way, too – it carries a strong negative ionic charge. (1) Studies suggest it helps to reduce internal parasites in chickens, and many experts believe this is due to its negative charge and cylindrical shape. The thinking behind this is that positively charged bacteria and parasites (plus some viruses) may be attracted to it like magnets are attracted to one another. Because of its shape, the pathogens get trapped in the center and carried out of the body. Good fact to know...Modesto Milling Organic Feed uses DE in their feed!
There are two main forms of diatomaceous earth:
Food-grade diatomaceous earth (amorphous silica) – In order to qualify as food-grade, the silica in DE needs to be 99% amorphous silica with less than 1% crystalline silica.
Filter grade/ pool grade diatomaceous earth (crystalline silica) – Manufacturers expose amorphous silica to extremely high temperatures (over 1832 degrees Fahrenheit), which changes the structure of the silica into a crystalline form. Filter grade silica is valuable for many industrial purposes, such as removing heavy metals from water, but is not considered safe to be inhaled or ingested.
Is food-grade diatomaceous earth safe for human consumption?
Yes. Diatomaceous earth was consumed by humans in a study, where it was found to have possible benefits for lipid metabolism. Also, it is Generally Regarded as Safe (G.R.A.S.) by the FDA, and is used to filter wine/beer.
How is diatomaceous earth different from bentonite clay?
Clay is incredibly versatile and can sometimes be used interchangeably with diatomaceous earth, but the two powders are different. Bentonite clay typically comes from volcanic ash deposits, while diatomaceous earth is a powder made from the fossilized remains of phytoplankton.
Because it is made up of tiny, hard phytoplankton, DE works well as a gentle abrasive. It attaches to the protective waxy outer coating/exoskeleton of pests and dehydrates or scrapes it away, causing them to dry out and die. Likewise, it can be used to mechanically remove stains from teeth or slough off dry, dead skin (I use it in my re-mineralizing toothpaste which you can find on the Apothecary page of this website).
There are so many ways to use DE in the home, for skin care, with pets and more. Here are a few of them:
1. Detoxification Support
Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride M.D., author of Gut & Psychology Syndrome, advocates the internal use of food-grade diatomaceous earth for general detoxification support. However, she says that it should not be taken by people who have severe conditions such as Crohn’s disease or Ulcerative Colitis.
Though our primary detox pathways are through the liver, kidneys, colon and lymph system, our skin and lungs also assist with detoxification. We don’t want to block our body’s ability to sweat with antiperspirants, but we can keep things fresh in the underarm area by neutralizing odor.
Diatomaceous earth is great for this. And because it tends not to be quite as alkaline as baking soda – which is commonly used in homemade deodorants – it is often preferred by individuals who have experienced rashes or irritation after application.
Sprinkle a little DE over your toothpaste for extra deep cleaning power. Because it is gently abrasive only a little is needed to effectively remove stains, and it should only be used every once in awhile.
4. Facial Scrub & Mask
Because it’s very fine, diatomaceous earth makes a gentle facial exfoliant and mask. In addition to its main component, silica, DE also contains calcium, magnesium, zinc, copper, selenium, phosphorous and other trace minerals. Since minerals can be absorbed through the skin, this is a wonderful way to complement a mineral-rich diet.
To use: Mix about 1 tablespoon of diatomaceous earth with water, milk, aloe vera gel or diluted honey to make a thick paste. Using your fingertips, lightly massage the paste onto your face using small, circular motions. Allow the paste to set for 1-2 minutes, then gently remove with a warm washcloth using small, circular motions. This last stage is when most of the exfoliation occurs. Follow with toner (if you use it) and a moisturizer like tallow balm or my hydrating skin repair serum. You can find my tallow balm and hydrating skin serum on my Apothecary page of this website.
Special note: Avoid using this scrub near the eyes or on chapped skin.
5. Supports Healthy Cholesterol Levels
One study suggests that diatomaceous earth may be beneficial for lipid metabolism and cholesterol levels. Who knew?
6. Food Storage
DE is added to grains and legumes such as wheat, maize, beans and barley to prevent spoilage. It keeps food dry, prevents mold, and protects agains pests like weevils and beetles.
7. Bed Bugs
The FDA approved diatomaceous earth for use against bed bugs, fleas.
There are a lot of cautions against breathing in diatomaceous earth. I found a statement over on I Breathe, I’m Hungry years ago that’s been helpful:
I received an email from Larry Smith, the President of Earthworks, who wanted to clear up the misconception about any dangers of inhaling food-grade diatomaceous earth – here’s what he wrote: ‘This is a misunderstanding about food-grade DE. There are 2 kinds of DE—food grade and filter grade (used in swimming pool and other filters) Only the filter grade is dangerous to breathe. The “dangerous” part of DE is the amount of crystalline silica that is in it. Filter grade is 65% crystalline silica while food grade is less than 1/10 of 1%! The world health org. has said that diatomaceous earth is safe to breathe as long as the crystalline content is under 2%. Food grade is 20X lower than even that level!!’ So no need to be concerned about any danger associated with using DE for pets, bedding, consumption or anything else – as long as it’s FOOD GRADE! “
8. Garden Pest Control
Diatomaceous earth can be used to kill slugs, beetles, and other unwanted pests in the garden.
9. Flea Infestations
Treat pets for fleas using diatomaceous earth.
Something to keep in mind is that it’s also important to treat any carpet your pet comes into contact with, plus areas they like to nap in. Treat your carpet and home for fleas using DE.
10. DIY Natural Flea Powder
11. Cockroach, Spider, Tick and Earwig Control
Diatomaceous earth is approved for use against all of these home pests. Experts recommend using a hand duster to puff it into cracks and crevices where bugs are likely to hang out.
12. Fridge Deodorizer
Place a small container/box of diatomaceous earth in the fridge or freezer to neutralize odors. Replace it every 1-2 weeks.
13. Garbage Can Deodorizer
Sprinkle in the bottom of the can to help neutralize odors.
14. Stain Remover
Because of its highly absorbent nature, diatomaceous earth can be sprinkled on oil-stained clothes to help soak up the oil. I like to pair it with a stain remover for stubborn stains.
15. Spill Clean Up
Just like with clothes, diatomaceous earth can help soak up oil stains on carpets, driveways and garage floors.
16. Scouring Powder
It can can be used to make a homemade scouring powder for hard surfaces such as sinks, bathtubs and countertops. Something to keep in mind that DE turns brown when wet so it will look like you’re cleaning with dirt. It works beautifully, though, and it’s easy to see where to rinse!
17. Chicken Feed
As mentioned earlier, studies suggest it helps to reduce parasites in chickens. The FDA has approved it for use as an anti-caking agent in commercial poultry and livestock feed (Modesto Milling Organic Feed uses DE in their feed).
Although not my first choice since it can dry out the scalp and hair, too, DE is thought to help with lice by drying out the nits and eggs.
Possible Health Benefits of Diatomaceous Earth
Although the silica content in DE is high, opinions vary on bioavailability. Some say that it’s not well-absorbed, while others say that a meaningful amount is bioavailable to the body when taken internally. If the body is able to absorb and use the silica in DE, here are some additional possible benefits. (More research is needed.)
Silica, which is a type of silicon, is essential for collagen formation. In one study, animals that were supplemented with a small amount of highly bioavailable silicon had a 12% higher collagen concentration than animals who weren’t.
Hair Thickness & Strength
Along with gelatin and biotin, silica is essential for building strong, healthy nails.
Strong Teeth and Bones
Silica is essential for the formation of the hard outer enamel that protects our teeth, and it is likewise beneficial for overall bone formation and health.
How I Take Food Grade DE Internally
Most people say food-grade diatomaceous earth should be taken on an empty stomach. What this means is somewhat vague, but from what I can tell best practices are to take it either:
1. First thing in the morning, then wait 30 minutes to eat
2. Three hours after eating
When I started taking diatomaceous earth, I began with one teaspoon in a tall glass of purified drinking water (8 oz.) and worked my way up to one tablespoon over the course of a week. I schedule breaks from DE (and all other supplements) to give my body a rest. In the case of DE, I prefer to use it for about a month continuously, then I take 1-2 teaspoons once or twice a week after that.
Where To Buy Diatomaceous Earth
American Farm and Larder, of course! We offer DE in 5# and 50# size bags.