Applied too much diatomaceous earth to carpet. Now what?
November 22, 2014 7:34 PM   Subscribe

I am trying to determine the best way to clean up some DE that I applied too liberally to the carpet in my apartment, and I'm trying to decide how I can do so without a.) killing the vacuum and b.) killing my brother's lungs (or my own!). Anxiety inside.

My older brother, whom I live with, adopted a kitten a few months ago. Kitten brought fleas with her. I bought some diatomaceous earth to sweep into the carpets in the living room and hallway. On Monday I started applying it to the carpet, using what I thought was a small enough amount. The living room wasn't plastered with DE, but it was still enough to make my brother start coughing and feel lightheaded when I began sweeping it into the carpet. He had to retreat into his room while I finished up. I tried to use less DE after that. During this time, we both wore dust masks (which I've since learned aren't sufficient protection. The one time I decide to throw caution to the wind...)

He was in the living room today and spent twenty minutes there before he started coughing and had to move into his room again. I began to vacuum this evening, hoping that would solve the problem. We have a bagless vacuum cleaner, and the DE is everywhere in the little container that collects the dust. It's all over the filter. Some of it has blown back onto the exterior of the vacuum itself. So it seems that even when I finish vacuuming this stuff up, it's still going to be floating around, or it will be, when I start to clean out these vacuum parts.

I've done some Googling and found out about people who, like me, used too much DE and have ruined their vacuum motors as a result. I like to think that I didn't use as much DE as these people did, but it's hard to say. Then I've read that vacuuming it up just causes the stuff to start circulating in the air again. I've stopped vacuuming, because I am at a loss for what to do, and lord knows I don't want to make anything worse.

So, good people of AskMetafilter, here's what I'm wondering:

a.) What can we do to ensure my brother can be in the living room without coughing? I'm a pretty anxious person and I admit I'm prone to catastrophizing, but I'm over here imagining that he'll be mostly confined to his room from now on. We do have an air filter going in the living room.
b.) What should we do about the carpets? Should I continue vacuuming and just see what happens?
c.) Is DE really that bad for your lungs? Obviously, in my brother's case, it's done quite a number (he may be asthmatic), but I've just spent the past half hour vacuuming it up/emptying out the vacuum container that's been collecting it and probably breathing it in. All without a dust mask, so...

posted by dean_deen to Home & Garden (7 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Step #1 - get a respirator, not a dust mask!

Step #2 - google if a proper steam cleaner will solve this mess.

I think the steam cleaner is a bad idea, but a respirator + a rented construction vacuum might work. Followed by a Hepa Vac.

Additionally, and I'm super sorry to tell you this... The vac you used probably blew dust everywhere because that's kinda what they do.

You are in the realm of renting heavy duty equipment at this point. I'm so sorry. The good news is, you can rent this stuff.
posted by jbenben at 7:48 PM on November 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

Seconding jbenben's suggestions.

Moisture helps prevent the DE from becoming airborne as easily, by weighing it down. Some light moisture (even spraying it down), should help, whether you end up vacuuming or sweeping.

HEPA filters for vacuums are amazing. They function on the exhaust side of things - once your vacuum has sucked in all that air, it needs to spit the air out again. HEPA filters catch more of the dirt when air is spit out again.
Note that HEPA filters come in different classes, with E10 the least effective, and U17 the most effective.
There are also HEPA filtration units you can get to help clean the air. YMMV.

DE comes in different grades, with different risk profiles for humans and pets: out of curiosity, which grade did you use?
posted by troytroy at 7:59 PM on November 22, 2014

Food grade
posted by dean_deen at 8:10 PM on November 22, 2014

Seconding the curious "what kind did you get?", because I've always heard just to make sure and get food grade, not the pool stuff. (But have yet to manage to find it here, sigh, and don't want to pay shipping.)
posted by stormyteal at 8:11 PM on November 22, 2014

Is DE really that bad for your lungs?

In a single exposure, not really. The problem is repeated or even chronic exposure, since it's cumulative (i.e. each time you breathe some in it gets into your lungs and stays there). So while they're insufficient for continued usage, the dust masks probably actually helped reduce exposure to some degree. But N95 mask respirators are inexpensive.

It's not going to circulate forever.

I see no reason to doubt that the steam cleaner would help enormously. Most local hardware stores should be able to rent you one, or you could look for one at a garage sale.
posted by dhartung at 10:39 PM on November 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

Shop vac with a fine filter, one of the ones meant for drywall dust. That should pick it up.
posted by fshgrl at 12:26 AM on November 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

Diatomaceous earth + water = mud. Do not steam-clean.
posted by IAmBroom at 7:21 AM on November 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

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