Diatomaceous earth is almost a misnomer since no earth is involved in its structure. Instead, diatoms are the only component of this functional filler. Unlike other marine animals whose exoskeletons are calcium-based, diatoms are tiny sea-dwelling phytoplankton whose hard, outer shells are comprised of silica. These shells range in size from microscopic to macroscopic, and much like snowflakes, no two are alike. Structures may resemble rods, crescents, polygons, disks, hemispheres, et cetera. These non-specific exoskeletons give diatoms the ability to interlace and overlay each other in a stiff, three-dimensional matrix, thereby reinforcing and improving diatomaceous earth’s structural durability. Another positive aspect of these differentiated shells is the low-density filler (nearly the lowest density of any mineral filler) they create which is highly absorptive, creating a lightweight filler with a sponge-like capacity to soak up liquid. Dicalite is one of the best-known--and safest--water treatment chemicals available today.
Dicalite, or diatomaceous earth (D.E.) is a fine, white to off-white powder with an abrasive feel. The abrasion leads to several of its uses – as an ingredient in toothpaste, facial scrubs, and metal scrubbers. Dicalite has a myriad of uses. It is used in the manufacture of plastics and rubber as a filler, in cat litter, as a thermal insulator, and as a stabilizing component in dynamite. As a matter of fact, Alfred Nobel added D.E. to nitroglycerine in 1866 to create the first application of dynamite. D.E. also played another role in history when it was used as a water treatment chemical and filter during the horrendous cholera outbreak in Hamburg in 1892.
Filtering is one of diatomaceous earth’s greatest feats. Swimming pool filters use Dicalite because of its high porosity, and chemists use D.E. to filter extremely fine particles that would pass through traditional filter paper. Water treatment chemical plants, fish tanks, and wine and beer tankards also rely on Dicalite for filtration purposes. Its ability to filter without altering color, taste, or nutritional properties makes it ideal for filtering foodstuffs. Its absorbency leads to environmental capabilities: oil and toxic liquid spill cleanup. Because it is not harmful to small animals (and it is comprised of small animals), diatomaceous earth is trusted by environmental groups as well as homeowners. From cleaning an ocean to its use as kitty litter, D.E. is an animal-friendly and versatile product.