Diatomaceous earth is a versatile material to say the least. Made from fossilized algae, it's a sand-like or powder-like substance that's used in everything from toothpaste to metal polish. It's also a popular insecticide because it's inexpensive and easy to use.

To learn more about its benefits, let's break down what diatomaceous earth is, how it's used and its effectiveness when it comes to controlling your home's ant population.

What is diatomaceous earth?

Diatomaceous earth is a chalk-like powder made from fossilized algae sediment. It's made specifically from diatoms, which is a type of single-celled algae with a call wall made of silica.

Diatomaceous earth is found in and mined from bodies of water, and because the algae it's created from contains a high amount of silica, diatomaceous earth in turn contains a high amount of silica.

The effectiveness of diatomaceous earth is linked to how much silica it contains. Its particles have sharp edges that look like broken glass when examined under a microscope. These edges are able to cut through an insect's exoskeleton, and the powder sticks to its feet and skin. Once the powder is absorbed by the insect's body moisture, the insect dehydrates and dies.

It's critical to note, though, that you should only use food-grade diatomaceous earth, not the type used for pool maintenance. The pool-grade version is extremely toxic.

How do you use diatomaceous earth for ants?

The easiest way to use diatomaceous earth to kill ants is to sprinkle it directly on the area where ants have invaded.

If you're dealing with indoor ants, line their ant trail and spread the powder along baseboards, floors, window sills, wall cracks and other small areas where ants may have gained entry into your home. Before spreading the diatomaceous earth, put on a pair of gloves and wear a respiratory mask. While diatomaceous earth isn't generally harmful, it can cause respiratory discomfort if significant quantities are inhaled. And because the substance is dry, the gloves will keep your hands protected from irritation.

How long does diatomaceous earth take to work on ants?

You may see results in as little as a day or two, though it may take longer with larger ant populations. It will kill the ants that come across it, however that is typically only a small portion of the ant colony. Therefore, diatomaceous earth will typically only kill a small portion of the ant colony. The larger the ant colony, the more reason to contact a pest control professional for help.

Is diatomaceous earth good for killing ants?

While diatomaceous earth can be an effective ant killer, getting rid of some ants doesn't mean that your home is ant-free. That can't happen until you've eliminated the entire ant colony (and ants are adept hiders).

If your home has ants, the problem may be bigger than you realize. Ants leave a pheromone trail that attracts other ants from the colony. That, coupled with the fact that ants can lay up to 800 eggs per day and live for decades, means that you could have a bigger issue on your hands.

To ensure complete protection, let the professionals inspect and treat your home. They know where ants live and can not only get rid of the colony — or colonies, in many cases — but help prevent future infestations.