Can You Vacuum Up Diatomaceous Earth? (Read First)

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Many people like to use diatomaceous earth as a natural pest control method in or around their homes. However, some people accidentally overuse the substance, leading them to wonder, “can you vacuum up diatomaceous earth?”

You can safely vacuum up diatomaceous earth. However, it's only recommended that you use a shop vac or filterless vacuum to clean any excess off of carpets or other upholstered surfaces. If you must use a filtered vacuum, make sure it has a very high-quality HEPA filter installed.

Diatomaceous earth is a very effective insecticide, but it sure is challenging to clean up! Below, we'll highlight the best uses and ways to clean diatomaceous earth off various surfaces.

Where Does Diatomaceous Earth Come From?

Diatomaceous earth, sometimes also referred to as “DE” or “diatomite,” is a non-toxic insecticide made from organic materials. Specifically, it’s made from the crushed-up fossilized remains of a microorganism called “diatoms.”

Diatoms are a type of hard-shelled phytoplankton, a type of single-celled organism found in the ocean. Because it’s made from this organic material, it’s a great choice for anyone looking to rid an area in or around their home of various pests, including:

  • Ants
  • Fleas
  • Bed bugs
  • Crickets
  • Millipedes
  • Centipedes
  • Silverfish
  • Carpet beetles
  • Cockroaches

How Diatomaceous Earth Works as an Insecticide

The powdery texture of diatomaceous earth allows it to easily attach to the hairy bodies of insects. Once it’s on the insect’s body, it seeps into their protective wax layers and is eventually absorbed into their bodies. This causes a dehydrating effect, causing the bugs to lose their fluids and die.

Because of the way the process works, there is no way for the insects it works against to develop an immunity to the substance, unlike many other forms of pest control. However, it is most effective against insects with an exoskeleton. The good news is, most insects develop an exoskeleton at some point in their lives.

How to Vacuum Diatomaceous Earth

Vacuuming diatomaceous earth should be done very carefully. It’s a very abrasive substance and may even burn out your vacuum motor if you don’t use the right type of machine! To be safe, you should always use either a shop vac, filterless vacuum, or if all else fails, a vacuum with a high-quality HEPA filter.

1. The Best Choice: Using a Shop Vac

A shop vac works best to vacuum up diatomaceous earth.

A shop vac will usually be your best bet. These types of vacuums are often used in construction settings. They have a very powerful motor and a large canister, so they can pick up things that standard vacuums cannot, including nails and sawdust.

Most people don’t own a shop vac, but they can sometimes be rented from a hardware store. 

2. The Next Best Thing: A Filterless Vacuum

If you don’t have access to a shop vac, a filterless vacuum is the next best choice. Just make sure to move slowly and carefully to prevent clogging. It’s not usually recommended that you use a filtered vacuum to clean up this substance.

3. If All Else Fails: A High-Quality Filtered Vacuum

If you must use a filtered vacuum, there are a couple of preventative measures you should take. Always move very slowly not to overwhelm the motor, and clean the filter every few minutes or so.

Diatomaceous earth has a sand-like texture that can destroy a vacuum's filter or even burn out the motor if not used right. If using a filtered vacuum, make sure you only use a high-quality HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filter. These can pick up more particles than standard filters.

Vacuum in a Well-Ventilated Area and Then Throw Diatomaceous Out

You should only use a vacuum to clean up diatomaceous earth in a well-ventilated area. Open a window or two to reduce the number of particles flying through the air, and turn your HVAC system off, so none gets stuck in the vents.

You may also want to wear a mask and goggles to protect your respiratory system and prevent irritation.

If the vacuum doesn’t do the entire job and you can still see or feel the diatomaceous earth in your carpet or rugs, try finishing the job up with a carpet cleaner. Since it’s non-toxic and not harmful to the environment, you can just throw it in the trash or dump it outside when you’re done!

Is Diatomaceous Earth Safe to Vacuum?

Although diatomaceous earth is a powerful insecticide, pure varieties of the substances are completely non-toxic to people and other mammals, including dogs and cats. However, as with most powdery substances, diatomaceous earth can cause irritation if you breathe it in. 

The dust the vacuum stirs up might make you sneeze or cough and can be irritating to your lungs in large amounts. When cleaning it up, wear a mask or face covering to be safe. You might even want to wear goggles to prevent it from getting in your eyes!

Be warned that there are several synthetic varieties of diatomaceous earth available, and these may contain additives that are harmful to people and pets. To be sure you’re choosing a natural variety, make sure the bag is labeled as “amorphous silicon dioxide” and doesn’t indicate that it’s synthetic anywhere on the package. 

Other Ways to Clean Up Diatomaceous Earth

Why not clean up diatomaceous earth by a good ol' sweeping brush?

If you are trying to clean up diatomaceous earth from anywhere other than on a carpet, there are a couple of easier ways to do so. You might want to try:

  • Sweeping it up with a broom and dustpan, then disposing of it.
  • Using a damp towel to wipe it up, then shaking out the towel and washing it as usual.
  • Using a mop and bucket to mop it off of hard floors.

Getting diatomaceous earth wet will deactivate the irritation factor, which is why it’s only effective when it’s dry! If you’re trying to sweep it up and find a lot of dust circulating through the air, try moistening it with a spray bottle filled with water to make it easier to clean.

Since diatomaceous earth never expires, most people leave it in their homes indefinitely. However, many don't realize how much excess they're using at the time! Remember that a little goes a long way, and you should only need a light dusting to control most insect infestations.

Best Practices for Diatomaceous Earth

Many people like to use diatomaceous earth both inside and outside their homes to prevent and mitigate insect infestations. Because of its organic nature, it’s also appropriate for organic gardening! Just sprinkle a little bit around any vulnerable plants to discourage pests such as slugs and snails.

People often choose to use this substance over other methods of pest control because it’s non-toxic, so it won’t harm people or their pets. There’s also no way for insects to build up an immunity to it over time.  

1. Where to Use Diatomaceous Earth

Since diatomaceous earth is completely non-toxic and has no expiration date, it can essentially be placed anywhere.

Most people like to use it in the inconspicuous areas where bugs tend to nest, including crawl spaces and behind the baseboards between the wall and the floor. This also keeps it out of sight, reducing the need for future clean-up.

Using diatomaceous earth outside is also effective at preventing pests from traveling inside of your home. However, this substance is only effective when it’s dry, so you’ll need to reapply each time it rains. Because it’s an organic substance, placing diatomaceous earth outside your home or discarding it in the woods won’t harm the soil or any plants.

2. How Long Do You Leave Diatomaceous Earth on a Carpet Before Vacuuming?

You can leave diatomaceous earth on a carpet for as long as needed before vacuuming. It kills insects as long as it stays dry, and often takes a week or two to start taking effect. Since the insects may have laid eggs by then, leaving the diatomaceous earth for several weeks before vacuuming it will help reduce the population.

However, if you feel like you used too much to the point you’re kicking up dust or coughing, you can simply vacuum up the diatomaceous earth.

3. Can You Sleep in a Room With Diatomaceous Earth?

You can safely sleep in a room where you applied diatomaceous earth once it’s settled.  Diatomaceous earth settles within seconds of being applied, so it’s safe for children and pets. While diatomaceous earth should be applied by wearing a mask (because it’s a fine powder), there’s no harm in being in the same room with it once it’s settled.

The Bottom Line

And there you have it, the answer to the question: can you vacuum up diatomaceous earth?

If you used too much diatomaceous earth and need to vacuum it up, it’s crucial to remember to use only the recommended types of vacuums. If you’re not careful, you risk destroying your motor! Diatomaceous earth is completely non-toxic and will last indefinitely, so you only really need to clean it up if you use too much.

See also: Vacuum Cleaners

Ryan O'Connor

I write about house cleaning and vacuum cleaners. For me, nothing is more important than a clean environment to ensure both a healthy and happy life.