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By Terri Bennett - McClatchy-Tribune Newspapers

Want a safer way to get rid of unwanted pests like ants, roaches, and even bedbugs? Try something you've probably never even heard of - Diatomaceous Earth or DE for short. It's actually the fossilized remains of microscopic shells. When these remains come into contact with insects, it pierces their shells, so the pests die by dehydration. However, when people touch DE, it's as soft to the touch as talcum powder and it's non-toxic.

If you have ants or roaches, sprinkle DE around the foundation of your home but not where ladybugs or other beneficial bugs live.

Putting it directly on ant piles is also effective. Then, sprinkle it in areas where ants and roaches are most likely to enter your home. DE is also effective with slugs. Just sprinkle it around the base of affected plants to create a rough barrier the slugs will avoid.

There are few important things to remember when applying Diatomaceous Earth outside.

First, you can sprinkle it around with your hands but to cover large areas, you may want to invest in a garden duster. You can also use a spray bottle to apply a wet mixture (-1/4 cup Diatomaceous Earth per gallon of water) on plants. DE lacks killing power when it's wet but is effective upon drying again. Due to the powdery nature of DE, you will need to reapply it after a heavy or prolonged rain.

Inside your home, there might be a battle raging with fleas or bed bugs and DE works wonders on both. Simply apply DE to carpets and pet bedding to battle fleas. Leave for an hour and then vacuum or launder. For bed bugs, put it on bed frames, mattresses, the floor, and the crevices in your wall. Leave for a few days and then vacuum the area thoroughly.

Here's another important note. Make sure you buy food grade DE. The other kind of Diatomaceous Earth is widely used in swimming pools and it is toxic.

You can find food grade DE online, in health food stores, and home improvement places. A 5-pound bag treats about 2,500 square feet. And even though it's safe for people and pets, the dust can irritate lungs, especially with prolonged exposure, so wear a mask if you have a big project.

By using DE around your home instead of toxic pesticides, you'll be keeping unnecessary chemicals out of our environment, which makes for a healthier planet and a healthier home.