In this work, poly(methacrylatoethyl trimethyl ammonium chloride -co-acrylamide)/diatomite composite flocculant was synthesized via in situ polymerization in aqueous solution and applied in waste water treatment. The structure of composite flocculants was characterized by FT-IR, 1HNMR and XRD, TGA and viscometer. Herein, the apparent viscosity of composite flocculants was employed as comparison standard of their performance to evaluate the influence of the reaction parameters, such as monomer feeding ratio, diatomite mass fraction and polymerization temperature, etc. on their flocculation performance. And based on the above investigations, the optimum synthesis condition could be found. By comparing flocculation properties of composite flocculants with that of the conventional cationic flocculant, the dosage of composite flocculant that could make the transmittance of treated waste water exceed 95 % was only 7.5 ppm which was far lower than that of conventional flocculant (60–90 ppm). Meanwhile, the settling time was lower than 5 s which was similarly to that of conventional flocculant. Finally, the conclusion was that the composite flocculant owned higher absorption capacity and larger chain extending space than those of conventional linear flocculant due to the introduction of diatomite as backbone, which could make linear polymer chains free from entanglement and improve the flocculation capacity notably.