Vinegar kills weeds The Non-Toxic Weed Killer in Your Pantry

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A Simple Non-Toxic Weed Killer

Looking for an easy and sustainable way to control weeds?  Try vinegar.

Vinegar kills weeds by drying the leaves out.  So it works great for plants that are mostly leaf.  Annual grasses, soft leafy annual weeds like chickweed and henbit, etc.  If you apply it correctly, vinegar can kill these weeds dead.

Where it doesn’t do so well is with perennial weeds that have woody stems and roots, or strong rhizomes – like Johnson grass (Sorghum halepense), quack grass (Elymus repens), some clovers, and tree seedlings.  Vinegar will kill the leaves of these plants, but it won’t kill the actual plants, and they will probably just grow new leaves.

Don’t Kill Weeds If It’s Not Necessary

Before anyone gets upset because we’re talking about herbicides here – let me make it clear that I definitely encourage people to allow weeds to grow in their yards (and gardens).

At my house, we cultivate an entire lawn full of “weeds.”  We’re in a suburban environment, surrounded by lawns, and our yard blends right in for most of the year because we pick & choose our weeds carefully.  Most of them are either pretty, edible, medicinal, or useful – and we try to let them go to seed when we can.  We actively cultivate a few of them.

The area I sprayed in this example is a rock-mulched xeric butterfly garden in the very front of the yard along the street.  That’s the only area I sprayed this spring.

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Read More: Eat Your Weeds Don’t Mow Them!

How to Use Vinegar as a Weed Killer

There are 4 key instructions to make this work:

  1. Use a Pump Sprayer – Using a sprayer is critical for this task.  It can be any type of pump sprayer (don’t use a sprayer that connects to your garden hose).  What’s important is that you apply a fine mist to thoroughly coat the leaves with vinegar.  Spray to runoff.
  2. Spray During Peak Sunlight – You’ll have more success if you can apply the vinegar in direct sunlight.
  3. Do a Few Applications – You’ll have more success if you do 2 or 3 repeat applications.  The bed in the picture above was sprayed twice, on back-to-back days.
  4. Spray After Weeds have Emerged – If you jump the gun and spray before all of the annual weeds have emerged, you’ll need to do another round later after new weeds emerge.  If you time it just right, and you have some luck, you can get away with one application per season.

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More Resources and Information

If you do a quick search, there’s plenty of information out there about using vinegar as an herbicide.  There are many recipes that add in various ingredients like soap, citrus juice, cayenne, etc.

One helpful reference I found is a study from the Cornell Cooperative Extension.  I thought this was interesting because it shows how plain-old vinegar performs up against some commercial vinegar-based weed killer products.

If you decide to go with anything other than 5% acetic acid (grocery store vinegar), please handle those chemicals very carefully.  Grocery store vinegar has worked fine for me.

You can view or download that study here: Using Acetic Acid (Vinegar) As A Broad-Spectrum Herbicide

I also found a blog post where someone gathered up all the different “special recipes” they could find on the internet.  Some added soap, salt, water, orange oil, etc.  They did some non-scientific testing, and got similar results with the various ingredients added.

I think it’s best to just use vinegar.  The plain old 5% vinegar from the grocery store.  It’s about a dollar per gallon, and it’s the simplest way I’ve found to kill weeds with chemicals.

Before you spray, read this: Weeds – What They Tell Us and Why You Should Care

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Thanks to David Chinery, Cooperative Extension Educator, Cornell Cooperative Extension (Fact sheet 7.011)

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Michael Ford


Contributor

Michael has been the resident editor at The [Grow] Network since January 2015. Michael grew up in St. Louis, where he became a lover of nature - hiking and fishing his way through the Ozark hills in Missouri. He attended Baylor University in Waco, TX, and he currently lives in Austin. Michael has background experience in small-scale farming, commercial growing, vegetable gardening, landscaping, marketing, and software development. He received his Permaculture Design Certification from the Austin Permaculture Guild in 2013.


No Comments
  • Marjory

    Nice article Michael. 🙂

    • Ashley

      I’ve had a garden since 2014. Last years garden went down Hill quickly due to weeds and little help maintaining. Should I till this coming spring to break ground a second time, or do something else. I’ll also be trying the vinegar idea on the weeds.

      • Rebecca

        Lay down open cardboard boxes, newspapers or straw. Watched a presentation with Bill Mollison last week. He said a seed needs a fraction of a second of sunlight to germinate. If your whole garden is covered come spring pull back or cutout areas to plant. Worms love cardboard, attracted to the glue. Winter rains will penetrate the covered areas. Every time you turn soil you are pulling up dormant weed seeds. Grass is the only weed I pull. I live in a hot climate in summer so I welcome any plant other that grass to cover my soil, ie., purslane, nettles, lambs qtrs, dandelion etc.

  • Alice J Haslam

    I have been using the 9% vinegar that my local grocery sells with great success. It works on most everything I want to kill, except some out of control agave that was coming up through my driveway — I knocked it out with boiling water, another non-toxic way of killing undesirable plants. Boiling water is also the fastest way I have found to eliminate stubborn crab grass. I dig up most of it when the ground is wet, but stubborn ones get the boiling water. The 9% vinegar works, but may take more than one application on well established crab grass.

    • Profile photo of Michael Ford

      Hi Alice – glad to hear this is working well for you!

      Have you ever used boiling water to kill poison ivy? Maybe that would work for Ginni (in the comment below)…

  • Edie

    I was just wondering, if you soak the ground with vinegar in order to kill the weeds, then would that soil allow other plants to grow after it dries? Would the soil need to be replaced?

    • Profile photo of Michael Ford

      Hi Edie – This trick works because it dries out the leaves specifically, so you’re not really soaking the soil. If you did decide to soak the soil, I’m not sure what effect it would have – except for making the soil more acidic for a short time. Either way – you shouldn’t need to replace the soil.

  • Liz Adams-Gray

    Thanks Michael, I will definitely give the vinegar a try. Hopefully it will clear the drive.

  • Jonathan Radke

    It appears that it doesn’t work on the the most invasive weeds I fight: Canada Thistle, Quack Grass, Creeping Jennie. Does anyone have a cure for Canada Thistle?

  • Mike

    Very interesting article. I am definitely going to try this… As soon as the rain stops.

  • Lois Cotterly

    Do we use straight vinegar right out of the bottle or what is the ratio of mixture? Please respond.

  • Julia Mangan

    I love your articles. I often put on a medical rubber glove and then a cotton glove, I then soak the cotton glove in the vinegar, I then use the wet glove to soak an individual weed. This way I am not spraying the plant I want to keep that is right next to it. Works good in small areas.

  • John

    Hi Michael,I have a bad problem with dew berry weeds and rhizomes.They keep coming back, I’ve tried several things with no good results.
    Do you have any suggestions?

    • Profile photo of Michael Ford

      Hi John – Have they ever fruited? One time I got in a big fight with some blackberries that someone planted in a bad spot. I couldn’t use any machinery in this location – and the only way I was able to get them moved was by digging the rhizomes out with a shovel – it was hard work. Maybe someone else knows a trick…

    • Profile photo of Michael Ford

      Oh – see Alice’s comment above about boiling water – you might give that a try!

  • Rhonda Mott

    Will the vinegar kill Bermuda grass? I live in an HOA subdivision and my front yard is supposed to be weed-free but this year the weeds are outnumbering the grass. I would hate to resort to toxic herbicides. Thank you!

    • Profile photo of Michael Ford

      Hi Rhonda – Yes and no. Vinegar will kill the blades of grass that are there now, and your grass will look dead. Then it will probably grow right back within several weeks. I doubt if your HOA would like it… but I guess it’s worth asking them about.

  • Ginni

    Will this work with poison ivy? It is really to only weed I want to get rid and only in areas we frequent.

    • Profile photo of Michael Ford

      It’ll kill the leaves, but not the plant itself.

      Poison ivy’s a real pain to get rid of. I know a guy who makes a living doing it – he calls his business “Magnum P. Ivy” – haha.

      • Ga_Mtn_Lady

        Does anybody know of a way to do in Poison Ivy?? I am really, really allergic to it and keep unknowingly getting it on me.

        • Janet

          Poison Ivy-Oak Killer, 2 tbsp. salt, 2 tbsp. liquid dish soap, 1 quart spray bottle, drench vines until runoff

  • Kthie Palonka

    Hello There! I was wondering if you know how to kill “CREEPING CHARLIE” —-H-E-L-P!!..This stuff is unbelievable. Don’t know if living in “Michigan”makes a difference, My yard and garden is organic…I am now trying to grow “Micro mini clover” intead of grass,& grassseed—I did some research and found out that it pulls nitrogen from the air and puts it in the ground. You never need fertilizer and it is drought resident and it also only grows 1 1/2 inches high!!!!!! HALLELUYAH!! This year I am seeing results. It is sooooo cute and adorable…Our creator is so creative!!!! Thank-You for ALL your wisdom and knowledge Michael,Be Blessed and Safe-

    • Profile photo of Michael Ford

      Hi – I’m happy to say I’ve never had to deal with creeping Charlie… yet! Good luck with the clover – that sounds like a good project. Have a wonderful day!

  • Mama E

    My husband said this doesn’t work because it doesn’t kill the root, just the surface / exposed leaves. Every time I have used it they always come back. HELP! We have a yard full of nasty thistle that my kids keep stepping on & want to plant a garden :).

  • Mama E

    We’re looking for something safe for kids, pets, bees, chickens, etc. to kill thistle & other nasty weeds in a yard that wasn’t maintained for at least 3-5 years.

    TY!

  • Georgia

    I was surprised to discover that white vinegar is made from corn. Apple cider vinegar is a more expensive, but gentler option if you choose to avoid GMO, glyphosate and Roundup.

  • Sheatina Sparks

    Does anyone know of anything that will kill bermuda grass and all the roots? It has invaded my garden and it chokes out the plants. It is driving me crazy.. Sheatina

  • Joyce Duke

    Hi Kathy Palonka,

    If your creeping charlie is also called ground ivy, lucky you. Instead of killing it, gather it and make a tincture or extract with it. Easy enough to find instructions on line or in herbal books. This stuff is fantastic for opening up head & chest congestion. Was hoping for a yard full of the stuff this year but was disappointed. My extract from a few years back was all used up before spring arrived.

  • Bonnie Saxon

    I read somewhere that it will kill salamanders and newts, which would be bad. Does anyone have verifiable proof one way or the other? I stopped using it…it definitely does work on the weeds.

  • Dollar a Gallon? How old is this article? Where do you shop?

    I have tried the vinegar spray on Devil’s Hook or Devil’s Claw and it stuns the plant but seldom kills them. Maybe cause the root system is like a mesquite.

    • Leslie Spurling

      Costco, big jug 1.32 gal, 5% acidity, usually runs under $3 in south Texas. Best price I’ve found, not seen under a dollar anywhere.

  • I liked this article but I have another problem. Fungal attack on my fruit trees. What can get rid of it safely and how can I prevent it

    • Leslie Spurling

      Go to dirtdoctor.com – he has lots of organic tips, especially for fungus issues!

  • Bea

    hi Michael! just curious- is creeping Charlie a member of the mallow family and therefore edible?

  • Mark A Baker

    Vinegar will not work at all on our black clay here in Central Texas. It is so alkaline, PH 8.5, that the vinegar fizzes and foams and is instantly neutralized. I’ve tried stream from one of those household steam cleaners, but it takes too long to do much of an area. If the ground isn’t too hard, a stand-up weeder (https://smile.amazon.com/gp/product/B0030MIHAU/ref=oh_aui_search_detailpage?ie=UTF8&psc=1) works best on individual weeds, especially those with big roots, like thistle.

    • Yep

      Nice link, thank you!!! something I”ll have to put on my wish list. for garden beds/planters hula hoe/stirrup hoe/scuffle hoe… but not the cheaper kind at box stores. the swiss one at Johnny’s seeds works. easy and quick to clean around your good plants, provided the soil is not compacted

  • TY Crowe

    The best way to weed and plant killer is black walnut juice or oil. I make my own It is a derivative of my ink making I make ink out of Black walnut and the excess liquid kills any plant. It is all natural. If you look at nature you will notice that not many plants live under black walnut trees. The Ink is great for artistic creations and the left over liquid I just splash a little on the plans that were in my drive way and within two day they were shrived up and two weeks gone.

    • Yep

      sounds like an interesting idea to market as a natural alternative to Roundup 360, that deathly stuff thats supposed to eliminate vegetation for up to a year (Eegad).
      we also had a walnut tree and it does surpress growth beneath it, although some scraggly hardy weeds still did grow. I’m sure a concentration of walnut oil would be pretty potent.

    • Mich

      I have a black walnut tree and would love if you could share the recipe/process of making the black walnut juice or oil. I’m wondering if it would work on bermuda grass…the bane of my garden!

  • Rose

    Will vinegar help against field bind weed? Our raised beds have been taken over, sadly.
    This stuff grows despite freezing weather.

  • Karen Dahl

    Thank you. I have been used white vinegar as a cleaner in the home but not in the garden. Essentially we are cleaning the bugs in the garden ie the weeds and maybe some aphids. You have done me a great favour. Most appreciated. Karen Canberra Australia

  • Pam Knight

    What about nut grass?? Does anyone know how to kill this stuff?? It has taken over my garden. Pam

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