White Vinegar As Organic Weed Killer

I received a gardening tip from Dwight in Bethlehem, PA, for a homemade organic weed killer made from white vinegar. 

 

white vinegar organic weed killer

white vinegar, salt and dishsoap

Todd,
I have stone landscaping instead of mulch and have a few weeds coming through the weed tarp to say the least. It looked great the first full year after finishing the job, but soon after, the weeds took root. This year is a fast bloomer for the weeds in my landscaping. I just wanted to let you know that I tried using boiling hot white vinegar as a natural weed killer, and it worked great. Being careful not to hit anything but weeds, everything that I sprayed was totally dead and discolored less than 24 hours later. Getting the boiling hot white vinegar to come out of the sprayer was a challenge, but the result was better than expected. Now if I can only find out where to buy a case of vinegar, I’ll be set. It took me 2 gallons and I didn’t even get around half the house, but I am hoping that this is a more permanent weed control than what I’ve had in the past.

Dwight:

Thanks for your email. White vinegar is an age old solution for organic weed control. It works best mixed with some salt, lemon juice and a little dish soap, so the mixture sticks to the plant a little better. Vinegar is simply acetic acid, usually derived from decomposing apples, grain or grapes. During decomposition, the sugars in the plants are converted into alcohol and carbon dioxide through fermentation and this process creates vinegar.

Read Use corn gluten meal to control weeds in your lawn

 

But be careful – vinegar is highly acidic – any plant you spray it on will die, and it will lower the pH of your soil for at least a few weeks, so there will be a waiting period before planting anything where you sprayed. The white vinegar is completely biodegradable, which is why it’s approved for organic agricultural use as well.

I’ve found that simply adding a few tablespoons of salt to boiling water is sufficient to kill most weeds. Whenever I see something I don’t like between the cracks in the sidewalk, I take my tea pot outside at full boil, pour it on the unwanted weeds and it cooks them almost immediately. But the white vinegar solution is great for larger, more stubborn areas with weeds. For areas where other vegetation is growing, like garden beds, I always recommend pulling weeds by hand.

It’s a lot cheaper than Roundup, and doesn’t leave toxins behind.

The white vinegar/salt solution is a highly acidic substance, so use it with caution. For weeds popping up through cracks in sidewalks and the like, it’s usually sufficient to use boiling salted water (just a small amount of salt will do – don’t go overboard with it). Add the vinegar to the solution if you have repeat offenders which don’t react to water and salt alone.

I recommend that you don’t use the vinegar solution if you need to weed a large area where you wish to plant – it’s highly caustic and may acidify your soil for longer than you’re prepared to wait. If you need to weed a large area that you want to add plants to, it’s always best to turn the soil with a shovel or rototiller and then plant what you like.

 
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About Todd Heft

Todd Heft is an organic gardener and freelance garden writer who lives in the Lehigh Valley, PA and has gardened for most of his life. When he isn't writing or reading about organic gardening, he's gardening. His first book, "Homegrown Tomatoes: The Step-By-Step Guide to Growing Delicious Organic Tomatoes In Your Garden" is available on Amazon now. Google
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47 Responses to White Vinegar As Organic Weed Killer

  1. Amy says:

    I have an entire yard full of weeds mixed in with very little bermuda grass (I live in Florida). I really just want to do a total kill, I’m so over them. Do you have any recommendation? Seems like I read somewhere about using epsom salt too. Thanks!

    • Todd Heft says:

      Amy: If you use epsom salt, you’ll regret it. High salt content in your lawn will kill or discourage bacteria, earthworms, and other creatures from living near the surface. As a result, no biological activity will take place and you’ll essentially have dead soil. The best thing to do is first, identify if they’re weeds or beneficial plants like clover. Secondly, re-seed the lawn at the proper time for Bermuda grass or any other warm season variety. If it’s in really bad shape, you might want to till the entire thing and start from scratch. Use corn gluten meal to fertilize the lawn, which has the added benefit of smothering most weed seeds.

  2. Evelyn says:

    I’m confused about the type of vinegar to use, I saw the quote below on Howard Garrett’s website, could you clarify what vinegar is safe and what’s not? I would really rather make my own than purchase another product. Thank you!
    “Another important point to understand about vinegar is that some of the vinegar products on the market are unacceptable in an organic program. This was a surprise to me when it was first mentioned by one of the Ground Crew members. Some products are made from acetic acid and thus are petroleum based. These are unacceptable in an organic program. The white vinegars, either 10% or 20% should be made from grain alcohol, not diluted 99% acetic acid. Of course natural vinegars, the apple cider and other fruit vinegars, are perfectly acceptable for other uses but not strong enough to have herbicidal value in most cases unless something else is added to the vinegar. Unfortunately some of the main brands of organic products are using this unacceptable form of vinegar. One that is using the acceptable form of vinegar and is easy to find at this point is the Nature’s Guide product.”

  3. Jannie says:

    Hi, I have a horse pasture full of buttercup. Everything I have read tells me buttercup is toxic to horses so every year I go out and spray it with weed spray, it dies but comes back every year. My mare will be having a foal next year and I was told that even a little buttercup could kill a foal! My horse has to be on a dry lot because she has foundered before so she can’t have fresh grass anyways, so my question is do you have any suggestions to kill the buttercup and have it not come back? I know it sounds bad but I would be just fine with nothing being able to grow in her field, it’s a small field. I just need the buttercup gone… My neighbor told me about about using vinegar/salt/dawn solution however she said to use apple cider vinegar, will this work the same? I didn’t think about it before I mixed it up but using apple in a horse field might make my horse want to eat it so I will use it outside of the field and get white for the field if this is my best solution for getting rid of the buttercup. The major question I have is do you think the vinegar would hurt my mare that I am getting ready to breed, the last thing I want to do is change her ph level or any of her levels… Any ideas? Sorry for being long winded but I just don’t want to hurt my horse…

    • Todd Heft says:

      Jannie: Wow. That’s a big problem. Even though I love horses, I know next to nothing about their care, so I’m going to have to take a pass on directly answering your question as I don’t want to give you bad advice that might put the health of your mare or foal in jeopardy. The one part of your question I can respond to is about the apple cider vinegar. The answer is yes, it will work the same as white vinegar. However, spraying buttercup with any kind of weed killer – vinegar or otherwise, even heavy chemicals, is next to useless. The bulbs below ground won’t die from a spray, only the foliage. Your best bet is to seed the pasture with something that your mare can graze on, to outcompete the buttercup. Buttercup however is extremely difficult to do away with – the seed can be viable for decades. If your ground is soggy in that area, you might try improving the soil – perhaps it’s overgrazed and needs a rest. Good luck!

  4. David W.Pruitt says:

    what could I use to rid my pasture of Chickweed/

    • Todd Heft says:

      David: A pasture of chickweed? Wow, that’s a challenge. In gardens and lawns I recommend pulling by hand, but as Chickweed is incredibly prolific at sowing seed, if you have an entire pasture of it, that’s not practicable. I would plant something that would out-compete it, such as white or red clover. First hoe the chickweed area in early spring before it flowers, then sow the clover seed. Clover is also a prolific plant, so it should take over very quickly. You might also try perennial rye grass. Good luck!

  5. This subject about using vinegar for weeds in the landscape has me very interested to research something very related. That is how many effects or resources are involved to make vinegar. And how does that relate to the big picture of going organic.

    For example, I found out that for lasagna gardening, the use of cardboard or paper which means it is not recycled, triggers pollution, cutting of trees and use of oil that few people every think of. Depending on their local services.

    So with vinegar, no doubt it’s very organic. But I’ve never given a though to what the total needs are to manufacture, distribute and deliver it. That part would be more environmental or community related though, and not so much limited just to the garden.

    • Todd Heft says:

      M.D.: Vinegar in all of its forms has been made for centuries, so it’s not like it requires enormous amounts of energy to create. Quite simply,
      Corn is distilled into corn alcohol
      To make vinegar, corn alcohol is combined with water and nutrients
      That combination is then fermented into white distilled vinegar
      Fermentation is a process in which the nutrients change the natural corn alcohol into vinegar under controlled conditions
      The fermentation process is complete when the remaining alcohol has been depleted from the product
      Before bottling, the vinegar goes through a multi-step filtering process including ultra filtration to ensure purity and clarity of the finished product
      No preservatives, no additives, all natural

      You can even make it at home from beer or wine.

  6. Becky says:

    Would the vinegar, salt, dishsoap solution be appropriate for a large area under cedar trees if I’m not planning to plant anything else there after killing the weeds? I just want a clean bare look under there. If under some other cedar trees I did want to plant something else after killing the weeds, would the vinegar solution still be appropriate? Also, what is the proper ratio of ingredients?

    • Todd Heft says:

      Becky: I definitely WOULD NOT use the solution underneath your cedar trees. Vinegar is highly acidic and may damage the feeder roots of the trees which in turn will show damage on the tree. If you want to clear the area under the trees, your best bet is to hand weed and then cover with three inches of mulch. Personally, I’ve only used this solution on sidewalk cracks where some stubborn weeds kept reappearing. I do not recommend it for any actively growing areas like under trees. Just mix a teaspoon of salt and a tablespoon of dish soap with the vinegar.

  7. Gaura says:

    Hi
    Can you suggest me about how to get rid of weeds organically in cultivation land in which paddy is cultivated ??

  8. Dan Moninger/Lawn Maxx LLC says:

    I own a small lawn/landscape business in the Tallahassee, FL area, and have been working in the area for over 7 years. I was just issued a cease and desist order from the state for using Round Up. Apparently a law was passed by the legislature 15 years ago requiring business owners such as myself to obtain a Limited Certification in Commercial Landscape Maintenance. Just a fancy name for another license I have to pay for. It takes 6 hrs. of class time, the purchase of two manuals, a $150 fee, and passing an examination. And after all that I wouldn’t even be permitted to use a “weed and feed” type product on my customers lawns! Just another example of The Man sticking it to small business! I appreciate all the info on using vinegar. I’m going to switch to using it rather than getting a usless license. Now what can I do with the $80 worth of Round Up I still have?!!!!

    • Todd Heft says:

      Dan: Wow, I had no idea about that law, but I would imagine that many communities require the same. The funny thing is, they busted you for using Round Up, a chemical that is so pervasive that the effective ingredient (glyphosate) is included in dozens, maybe hundreds of products available at Lowes, Home Depot, etc. And of course, homeowners use it without even thinking about it and invariably use it incorrectly with a ‘more is better’ approach. As far as your leftover Round Up, dispose of it where they take toxic chemicals in your community. You might want to look into this organic weed control product called Herbanatur – I can’t speak to how well it works, but it’s worth looking into

  9. marie freidt says:

    Does anyone know how long you have to wait, after you spray with vinegar before you can plant in that area?

    • Todd Heft says:

      Marie: It all depends on what you’re planting. Vinegar is a very caustic, very acidic substance and should be treated as any other weed killer. Depending on rainfall, the soil will be inhospitable to any plant for months after you kill the weeds, because the soil will remain so acidic that very little will be able to live in it. Personally, I only recommend vinegar treatment for worst case scenarios and only on individual problem weeds, not large areas. I have never used it on soil, only on sidewalks, stone paths and driveways-areas not under cultivation. For large areas, you’re always best off digging it up, re-conditioning the soil and re-planting.

  10. Debbi says:

    My next door neighbor (my mom) has a type of bamboo-like plant that it taking over and is now in my area too. I’m not sure of the name. She found out that it is a noxious weed and spreads, but we’re not sure how to kill/contol it. Any ideas? We live in SW Washington State.

    • Todd Heft says:

      Debbi: I can’t tell you how to control it if I don’t know what plant it is. Here is a list of noxious weeds in Washington state: http://www.nwcb.wa.gov/nwcb_nox.htm
      As a rule of thumb, removing any weed organically means either hand pulling it, including the root, or repeatedly cutting (like mowing) or removing the flower head so it can’t re-seed. Using anything caustic, including white vinegar will also affect the surrounding vegetation and soil. There really is no easy way to deal with invasive weeds.

  11. Mark says:

    I own a small landscape company in Liberty Missouri and have been using round up to combat weeds for several years. I need a change to something that is A) not polluting the soil and B) that is cheaper. I do not want to add something that is going to create soil more acidic than it already is and I do not have the convince of boiling my solution…any thoughts?

    • Nichole M. says:

      We use vinegar and I am unsure why they say you need to boil it but I just buy the large bottle and sprinkle it over the weeds in my mulch and it killed everything. I am not sure if hot weather affected it but it worked for us. On a side note unless you buy ORGANIC vinegar in the US it is usually derived from corn which is pretty much all GMO. We have began only buying organic.

  12. notsoorganic says:

    I have learned that most cheap white vinegar is anything but an organic solution to your plant problems as it is made from petroleum most of the time. Now expensive organic white vinegar may be better, but it’s not cheap. here is a link for more info on petro white vinegar http://www.theecomum.com/1/post/2011/11/eco-myth-busting-myth-3-white-vinegar-is-the-greener-cleaner-nope.html

    • Todd Heft says:

      Notsoorganic:(sure wish you’d use a real name)
      That’s somewhat of an oversimplification of the subject. The active ingredient in ALL vinegars is acetic acid, which gives it that sour taste. Acetic acid is used in the manufacture of millions of items from plastics to…vinegar.
      Chemically speaking, acetic acid is created when ethyl alcohol (from the fermentation of grains or fruit) undergoes partial oxidation (by bacteria) that results in the formation of acetaldehyde. In the third stage, the acetaldehyde is converted into acetic acid. Corn is the basis of ethanol in this country and ethanol(distilled from corn fermentation) may be used as one of the active ingredients in this process (that would be why you see “distilled” acetic acid on the label) .
      Food chemists will no doubt disagree with me, but there is a huge difference between the acetic acid created by a lab-based, “distilled” chemical process and that derived from apples, grapes, rice, corn or other grains. I’ve found it extremely difficult to find any AUTHORITATIVE online information on lab-grade acetic acid in food grade vinegar (independent blogs don’t count).
      One should always read the label on the foods you buy to determine their origin. If the label says “red wine”, “rice” or “apple cider” vinegar, you know where it came from. Labeling law enforcement is rather lax in the U.S. and sneaky manufacturers find loopholes in the guidelines all the time.
      The FDA says officially that they know of no food manufacturers who use petroleum based acetic acid in their vinegar (that more likely is used in the manufacture of plastics), but who knows….
      Here are the best links I could find after plowing through dozens of pages on google: http://voices.washingtonpost.com/checkup/2009/08/is_that_right_vinegar_can_come.html
      http://silvalab.fsnhp.msstate.edu//vinegar_lactic.pdf
      http://www.encyclopedia.com/topic/vinegar.aspx

  13. Amy says:

    If I use a vinegar-salt-dish soap solution as a weed killer in a large area, how soon afterward can I plant something in the area?

    • Todd Heft says:

      Amy:
      It’s hard to answer that question exactly. It depends on how acid-y your soil is to begin with, your rainfall and what you’re planting. If you’re targeting specific weeds in an area, you might want to think about using a spray bottle as an applicator so that only those weeds are affected. Spray it right on the leaves and they’ll curl up and die. Personally, I do not use the vinegar solution in any areas where I’m ever planting, just in cracks in sidewalks and driveways and such. I hand pull every weed from my flower beds. Vinegar is an extremely acid substance, and when mixed with salt and dish soap it will kill any plant life it comes in contact with, so treat it accordingly. When I use it on my sidewalk cracks, nothing grows through the rest of the season.
      If you’re talking about a large area such as a yard, I wouldn’t use it at all. I would turn the soil over with a tiller or shovel, hand pull weeds and plant grass. Hope that helps!

  14. Mike says:

    Anyone have a suggestion for killing sumac trees. I’m ready to put salt in them but there has to be a better way.

    • Todd Heft says:

      Mike:
      My best advice would be to dig them out. That’s the surest way to get rid of them. If you’re allergic to sumac, please hire someone who isn’t allergic.

  15. BettyAnn says:

    Thank you for the feedback, Todd.

  16. BettyAnn says:

    Thank you for your reply, Todd. I think you are absolutely right–a couple inches of mulch will work much better and it will dry out better being directly on the ground instead of on that plasticy cover. So, no more plastic-ish cover.

  17. Angela says:

    I multi task with everything. I used the vinegar through my coffee pot to clean it, then took the hot vinegar and poured it over my weeds. Wallah coffee pot clean and weeds are dead. :o)

    • Todd Heft says:

      Angela: Way to go! That’s a great way to use what would otherwise be poured down the drain.

    • GL says:

      You can use round up, vinegar will kill both grass and weeds there is other variations of vegetation killer that will last much longer example ortho ground clear guarantee’s a year, if it is a flower bed/garden area once you have the unwanted weeds out you can apply a product called preen this will help prevent weeds from coming back.If you spray these chemicals just make sure that you aviod contact with the other plants or shrubs or you will have to rinse off with water.If you wanted a hand tool not sure on the name other than its a de-weeding tool, but it looks like a snakes tongue.gl

      • Todd Heft says:

        GL:
        I highly disagree with your comment. The health threats from Roundup are clearly documented as is the increasing weed resistance: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roundup_(herbicide)#Health_effects. Preen works for one season only, but corn gluten meal is a better choice. Groundclear is basically Roundup in salt version and is therefore not recommended, to say nothing of its watershed impact. Strong chemicals like those found in Roundup are simply not necessary and ill advised. The best strategy always is to dig the weeds out and then plant native species that will out-compete them.

  18. bettyann says:

    I’ve also used vinegar as a “spot” weed killer and it has worked very well. But one anti-weed technique I’ve invested in has not worked at all–the black plastic-lay-it-down-and-cover-it-with-mulch-thing. Weeds sprouted under it and traveled for several feet, forking and creating additional branches until they come up through the openings near the plants or the edges of the garden right through the mulch. I lifted an edge to yank out a stubborn clump of weedy grass and it was like a crabgrass network with some bent over dandelions thrown in.

    How does one make that plastic stuff work??

    • Todd Heft says:

      Bettyann:
      Personally, I’m not a fan of any kind of landscape fabric. I’ve rehabilitated a bunch of gardens which used it and the plants suffered, the soil suffered and weeds grew like mad. I’m convinced that landscape fabric for weed suppression is useless, because you mulch over top of it, which, if your weeds aren’t growing underneath via stolons like yours were, that season’s weed seeds will find their way into the top layer of mulch and you’ll have plenty of weeds the following season. The only surefire way to suppress weeds is with 2-3 inches of mulch every year. That is sufficient to smother the vast majority of weed seeds. After a few years of mulching, you won’t have too many weed worries. Best mulch in my opinion is pine bark shredded or chips.

  19. dave lee says:

    saw a thing online about this…said use vinegar neat …but nothing about boiling or adding anything ..the pix looked like it worked…. just saying from a safety angle …boiling stuff..??

    • Todd Heft says:

      Dave: Actually, you can use the vinegar either way-hot or cold. Applying the mixture when very hot speeds up the action – the plant literally gets cooked and will frequently die right before your eyes. I’ve used the vinegar both ways. I’ve boiled it frequently with no problems.

  20. Brandy says:

    Can you put weeds killed by vinegar into the compost pile?

    • Todd Heft says:

      Brandy:
      Absolutely you can. Just make sure that the weeds haven’t entered their seeding stage yet (usually when flowers are growing on them). If the flowers or seed heads have appeared, just tear them off before throwing the rest of the foliage in your pile. If the weed has a deep, strong root (like a dandelion), chop up the root before you throw it into the pile to keep it from regenerating.

  21. great content here ive been using vinegar for household cleaning but never knew you could use it as an organic weed killer…thanks for sharing this

  22. So glad you shared this. I have been using these solutions–vinegar, salt, boiling water–for years. And they work just fine.

    • Soozbc says:

      I used straight, cheap white vinegar with a bit of dish soap for lawn weeds (dandelions and buttercup) and it killed them in less than 24 hours. I don’t think you have to heat it up. Cold worked just fine. It also killed the surrounding grass. I was warned about that but assured that the grass would re-grow. Cosmetic herbicides have been banned in my area and the lawns everywhere are full of weeds now. I’d rather have weeds than use chemicals so I’m happy to start using vinegar.

      • Todd Heft says:

        Use Corn Gluten meal to get your lawn weeds under control. It’s not caustic like vinegar and it actually feeds the lawn. http://www.bigblogofgardening.com/corn_gluten_meal-kills-lawn-weeds/

        • Mark says:

          Would it be possible for me to use the corn meal in landscape beds instead of using a product called snapshot? Probably a heck of a lot cheaper and I love the thought of throwing down corn meal in the beds versus a herbicide.
          Also I pull more weed mat out of landscape beds than install.

          • Todd Heft says:

            Mark: I was going to recommend the corn gluten meal, but you beat me to it. I did a little research and found the material safety data sheet for Snapshot, which contains the herbicides isoxaben and trifluralin: http://www.cdms.net/ldat/mp0B6011.pdf. Snapshot also contains crystalline silica, which is most definitely a carcinogen as described in the link. Corn Gluten Meal works, but it takes a few applications to really notice a difference – it won’t give the same effect you’re used to seeing with an herbicide. It took me about 3 applications (spring/fall/spring) to start to notice more grass than weeds. The good thing is, it provides nitrogen for the lawn as well. All depends on your client’s patience.
            I did a little digging and found this product which claims to be completely organic weed control and safe for wildlife, waterways and humans. http://herbanatur.biz/index.html I have no idea if it works, but it might be worth checking out.

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