Last fall I had a terrible flea problem. I went online looking for a natural solution. I came across the flea-control article at richsoil.com and purchased some food-grade diatomaceous earth and after a few weeks it did seem to work. However, I had a problem when it came time to vacuum up some of this stuff. A few minutes after I started to vacuum, when I looked up, I noticed that the entire room was filled with a white dust mist. I thought that maybe the bag inside of my vacuum cleaner had gotten detached, but when I opened up the vacuum cleaner and looked inside, I saw that the bag was still intact and attached. I let the dust settle down a bit and started to vacuum again, but after a few more minutes the dust was back and then my vacuum cleaner stopped working. When I opened my vacuum cleaner, the entire insides was caked with diatomaceous earth. It took me over two hours to clean this stuff out of my vacuum cleaner. However, the vacuum cleaner still would not start up. I had to purchase a new vacuum cleaner and am afraid to use my new vacuum cleaner on diatomaceous earth. Is it normal for diatomaceous earth to cause so much dust in the air when vacuuming it up? Any suggestions?
DE is a light powder when it goes down, so when it goes up it will be the same unless it's been exposed to moisture. If it's exposed to moisture it still may be a light dust, but could also cake together or on an item.
I don't know the solution to your problem, though I'd be surprised if it actually damaged a vacuum cleaner.
Maybe putting some baking soda down will help prevent buildup when it's being sucked up.
Otherwise, buy a small shopvac!
I've never heard of DE going through vacuum bags.
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Food grade DE is extremely fine and will indeed pass right through any vacuum bag. Since it will pass through, it will get into all the motor parts of a vacuum and that is what kills the electric motor. The suggestion of using a shop vac would see the same results unless you had put a little water into the shopvac before starting to pick up the DE. Normal use of DE would confine it to edges, and out doors.
It may be possible to resurrect your old vacuum by using an air compressor to blow out the DE from inside the motor, I've never done it so I'm not sure if it would work or not.