Dissecting Diatomaceous Earth

Thursday, July 2nd, 2020

If you are new to keeping poultry, then you may never have heard of diatomaceous earth. For many of us that have been keeping chooks for some time diatomaceous earth (aka DE) goes hand in hand with keeping and maintaining happy, healthy hens. Many of our customers know it as Appletons De-Mite Powder. An essential in your poultry healthcare regime It is a natural, non-toxic product used for the residual control of the poultry red mite in our chicken coops and also said to have beneficial qualities as a mineral supplement and natural wormer.

What is Diatomaceous Earth?

Pronounced “di-at-om-ace-us earth”

Diatomaceous earth is a porous powder made from the fossilized remains of freshwater organisms and marine life called diatoms (a type of algae). These plants have been part of the earth’s ecology since prehistoric times. The diatoms have hard shells made of none-crystalline silica, which do not decompose in the lakes and seas where they once lived. Over time large volumes of these diatoms have been discovered where ancient lakes and seas used to be. These deposits are mined and crushed into a porous powder for a myriad of human uses. It is the porous and abrasive nature that makes it such a useful product. DE is used in swimming pool filtration, pesticides, paint and plastics, animal feed, oil absorbents, pharmaceuticals, and in the wastewater and petrochemical industries. DE is also used in food and beverage, corn wet milling, potable water and fruit juices. You may have brushed your teeth with DE. Skin care products also use DE. The list is endless.

DE Close-Up

Observed through a microscope the particles resemble bits of broken glass. A diatomite or kieselguhr, is soft, siliceous sedimentary rock that is easily crumbled into a powder. This powder has an abrasive feel, like a pumice powder, and is exceptionally light, due to its high porosity. The typical chemical composition is 80% to 90% silica, with 2 to 4% alumina (attributed mostly to clay minerals) and 0.5 to 2% iron oxide.

Why Different Colours?

Why different colours? Diatomaceous earth can be white, grey, beige or brown depending on the grade. Heat-treated DE often has a different colour; however, one of the biggest factors that affect the colour is the deposit it is mined from. Diatomaceous earth is unique since not every deposit is the same. They all differ slightly from one another in composition due to the mineral make up which slightly affect the colour. Food grade DE is mostly white in colour and food grade means it is safe for anyone, even people, to eat. Chickens that bathe in diatomaceous earth will likely try tasting it too. Food grade DE is safe for chickens to eat too.

Once an insect encounters DE, the porous powder absorbs the oils and fats that protect the insect’s ability to retain water. The sharp silica edges cut and scratch the waxy outer coating on the exoskeleton and the insect slowly dies of dehydration.

How Does it Work?

 Diatomaceous earth has been used in Asia to control insects for 400 years. It is deadly to any insect and from what we believe completely harmless to humans, animals and poultry. That has got everything to do with our size (we are bigger than a bug) and the fact we do not have exoskeletons! Diatomaceous earth works as a contact killer that slowly kills. While diatomaceous earth does not kill the bugs immediately (it can take 7 to 17 days) it does have long-lasting, effective results. 

How Do I Apply it to my Coop?

Many chicken owners use diatomaceous earth for control of red mite in poultry housing due to its effective way of killing. Poultry keepers like it due to its history - it is 100% natural from mother earth. No chemicals or pesticides. Regular dusting of the perches and the laying boxes in your chicken coop can go a long way to maintaining a happy, healthy balance in your hen house. Mites populations congregate in the areas of your hen house where your chooks roost/sleep and of course in the laying boxes. This is were you will need to apply the powder liberally.

The DE can be sprinkled using an applicator, shaker or by hand. Personally, I prefer the “gloved-hand-rub-on-perch-push-in-every-crack-and-crevis” approach as this gets it where I want it and does not get it into the air. DE work brilliantly for residual or preventative control. Use it weekly.

However, if the red mite population in your chicken coop has exploded and turned into an infestation, then we highly recommend also using a second product which if used hand in hand with DE will give you a faster superior result. Appletons Poultry Safeguard Concentrate is a powerful cleaner, disinfectant, red mite killer and odour neutralizer. It is a liquid concentrate that when diluted with water and applied by spraying directly onto the surfaces of the coop.

Please remember to remove all floor and nesting litter first. Once the surfaces are dry apply the DE either with an applicator, shaker or with a gloved hand. What mites the spray did not contact kill will eventually crawl out for a feed through the DE that you have dusted on the perches and bedding. Repeat this two-pronged approach weekly until you notice a huge decline in your red mite population. It is all about life cycles so repeating this application at regular intervals will get on top of your red mites.

Does DE cause Respiratory Problems?

 Diatomaceous earth is mostly made of silica and this comes in two different forms: crystalline or amorphous. Food grade diatomaceous earth is made of amorphous silica. Crystalline silica is formed when diatomaceous earth is superheated. This is done to make the diatoms into a more effective filter, and crystalline silica is what makes up pool grade DE. Amorphous silica is what you get when you leave diatomaceous earth in its natural state. Currently no carcinogenicity has been linked to amorphous silica. It is recognized by the scientific community as non-toxic. To be labelled food grade diatomaceous earth must contain less than 1 percent crystalline silica. Diatomaceous earth is still a dust, and it can cause irritation to your lungs. Please wear a face mask when applying it in your hen house. We highly recommend wearing a face mask anyway when cleaning out poultry housing due to the chicken dander, fine bedding particles and general airborne spores etc. You and your chickens should be fine after the application is over and the dust has settled. Just best not to breath it in if you are sprinkling it around. Your chickens should also be fine with it.

The following quote by Lisa puts it in perspective: 

“I believe that the remote possibility that a hen ‘might’ develop respiratory issues sometime in the future from breathing the DE is far outweighed by the current benefits today of using it. Also, realistically, your chicken probably won’t live long enough for any side effects from DE to become a problem. Dogs are the #1 killer of backyard chickens and a great majority of chickens die at the hand of predators, not of respiratory issues.”

Other Uses

DE works brilliantly to get on top of pesky ants, bedbugs, silverfish, cockroaches, and other annoying small insects. However, can be detrimental to bees and many of our friendly good bugs. So, please be mindful where you use it. Keep it to the hen house and dust bathing bowls.

We do not recommend using diatomaceous earth in the garden where honey bees are working hard as our pollinators.

Kills bedbugs

Kills Ants

Kills Silverfish

Kills cockroaches

Is it Effective as a Mineral Supplement?

Is it effective as a mineral supplement? Finely ground DE may provide a broad-spectrum of naturally occurring trace minerals including calcium, magnesium, iron, phosphate, sodium, titanium, potassium, and others. The main component of DE, silica, gives many benefits to chickens. Research shows chicks on a high-silica diet attained maximal bone re-mineralization much quicker than those on low-silica diets.

Is DE Effective Wet?

Is DE effective wet? Apparently, it works both ways, however I am a strong believer that using it dry works best and yields a far more effective kill rate. DE can be used wet for spraying housing walls and grounds at the rate of ½ cup of DE to 4L of water.

Can I Use it as a Natural Wormer?

 Diatomaceous earth has been used for centuries as a natural worming remedy. It works as a dewormer by preventing larvae from maturing into adults. If your chickens have worms, it can take up to two months to get rid of them and to break the worm life cycle. Regularly adding DE to your chooks diet to prevent internal worms is not scientifically proven but decades of use by the old-time poultry keepers swear by it. The ratio is 2 percent of the feed you give them. Diamol is a great way to administer DE to poultry via their feed intake.

Start Reaping the Benefits of Appletons De-Mite Powder Today

Works Hand-in-Hand with our Coop Cleaner


Poultry Safeguard is a blend of high foaming surfactants, sequestrates and alkaline builders and quaternary ammonium compounds (QACs) which effectively dissolve waxy accumulations and is effective against a range of microbes (including Avian Influenza Virus, Avian Infectious Bronchitis and Newcastle’s disease) and micro-organisms including bacteria, mildew, moulds and fungi. There is no withholding period which is great as you can let your hens back in to lay once you have cleaned your coop.

Perfect for Residual Control

De-Mite Powder

For long-lasting residual control of red mite and other external parasites in poultry housing. Dust on perches and in nesting areas in poultry housing. The mites will crawl through the powder to get to the birds. The powder scratches the red mites waxy outer covering of their exoskeletons causing them to slowly dehydrate and die.

Read about treating mites here

Natural Health Tonic


It is natural pest control for worms and coccidiosis in poultry.

Effective in Dust baths

Make a dust bath now

You might not think it necessary to actually make a dust bath for your chickens. They seem to do it for themselves. Whenever there’s a dry spot of earth they’ll peck and scratch at it, and then crouch down, fluff out their feathers and shake their wings to cover themselves in dust. That’s fine. But there are ways of making the dust bath even more enjoyable, and more effective too. A bit like trading in a bucket of cold water for a power shower! Check out what you can add to a dust bath to make it really effective.