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Can You Use Vinegar as a Weedkiller?

Yes, you can use vinegar as a weedkiller, but it might not be that effective against this sow thistle, since it’s a perennial weed. Source:

Many websites recommend using vinegar as a weedkiller (herbicide) and yes, the typical white vinegar found in your kitchen does have some effectiveness in controlling weeds. But it’s not a miracle cure. In fact, far from it! I suspect that most gardeners will be a little disappointed with the results.

First, it must be understood that vinegar is a contact herbicide: it has to be sprayed on the green parts of the plant. It will not penetrate the plant’s cells, nor will it reach the roots. Plus, it has no residual effect. As soon as it’s dry, it loses its efficacy, then it quickly decomposes. At least this means there isn’t much a of delay before you can sow or plant in the treated area. 24 hours will suffice.

Which Vinegar?

20180918F Sarah Grace, .jpg
Cleaning vinegar is twice as strong as culinary vinegar. Source: Sarah Grace,

White vinegar normally contains 5% acetic acid, more rarely 7%. That’s great for pickling cucumbers, but not usually enough to kill anything other than young weeds, especially seedlings. Cleaning vinegar or double strength vinegar (found in the cleaning department of most hardware stores) contains 10% acetic acid and you’ll find it a more effective weedkiller: it can kill the maturing leaves of most perennial weeds, but it rarely kills those that are fully mature. Instead, often only the leaf tips and edges are damaged.

You’ll therefore find that vinegar is not a very effective herbicide in the summer or fall, when most leaves are mature. It will give much better results when you use it in spring, when leaves first emerge.

Horticultural vinegar. Source:

To effectively kill mature leaves (summer and autumn leaves), you have to go up a grade. Horticultural vinegar contains 20% acetic acid, so four times more than typical white vinegar. It can kill mature leaves … but it’s important to point out that it’s a fairly toxic product. You’ll need safety goggles and protective gloves. And the smell is intense! Yes, tears will come to your eyes when you use it! Also, horticultural vinegar can be difficult to find locally. You may have to order it by mail.

Dead Leaves, Live Roots

No matter the type of vinegar, it will only kill the foliage. And that’s sufficient when you want to control seedlings and most annual weeds, but in general, perennial weeds (horsetail, plantain, quack grass, etc.) will regrow quite quickly from the roots since they aren’t affected by the spray. That means you have to repeat the treatment after a week or two, when leaves reappear. And then again if they grow back. Depending on the type of plant, its state and the type of vinegar used, several treatments will likely be necessary to permanently control most perennial weeds.

To Make Vinegar More Effective

To make the herbicide more effective, add a little pure soap, such as insecticidal soap, to the liquid, perhaps 1 teaspoonful (5 ml) per quart (liter) of vinegar, to help the product stick better to the foliage. Many websites further recommend adding salt to vinegar, but you’ll then be playing with a much more dangerous product. Remember that salt can sterilize the soil permanently and is certainly not an environmentally friendly weedkiller.

Protect Your Other Plants

Vinegar is a non-selective weedkiller (total weedkiller): that means it affects any plant, be it a weed or one you want to keep. You therefore have to apply it with great care.

Typically, vinegar is used to control weeds in spots where you want no plant growth at all. Source:

Usually, it’s used for weeds growing in places where you don’t want any plants at all, such as in cracks in patios, sidewalks, driveways and the like, or to kill weeds in empty vegetable beds before sowing or planting crops. It’s certainly not a “weedkiller for lawns”: it will indeed damage or kill grass. True, it can be used for spot treatments (killing individual weeds in the lawn), but then must be applied with the utmost precaution, being sure to spray only the weed, not its neighbors.

Using Vinegar as a Weedkiller

Spray vinegar on a sunny, dry day and certainly never when it’s windy. Ideally, the air temperature should be above 70 ° F (21 ° C). Avoid applying it on surfaces that can be tarnished by acidity and that includes many metallic surfaces including those found on garden furniture.

Now, it’s up to you to decide if the vinegar is really the right product for controlling the weeds under your conditions. Often, hand pulling is more effective!20180818A

Larry Hodgson is one of Canada’s best-known garden communicators. After studies at the University of Toronto and Laval University where he obtained his B.A. in modern languages in 1978, he succeeded in combining his language skills with his passion for gardening in a novel career as a garden writer and lecturer. He has notably been editor-in-chief of HousePlant Magazine, Fleurs, Plantes et Jardins, À Fleur de Pot and Houseplant Forum magazines and is currently the garden correspondent for Le Soleil and radio garden commentator for CKIA-FM Radio. He is a regular contributor to and horticultural consultant for Fleurs, Plantes, Jardins garden magazine and has written for many other garden publications in both the United States and Canada, including Canadian Gardening, Harrowsmith, Horticulture, Fine Gardening, Rebecca’s Garden and Organic Gardening. He also speaks frequently to horticultural groups throughout Canada and the U.S. His book credits include The Garden Lover’s Guide to Canada, Complete Guide to Houseplants, Making the Most of Shade, Perennials for Every Purpose, Annuals for Every Purpose, and Houseplants for Dummies, as well as nearly 50 other titles in English and French. He can be seen in Quebec on French-language television and was notably a regular collaborator for 7 years on the TV shows Fleurs et Jardins and Salut Bonjour Weekend. He is the President of the Garden Writers Association Foundation and the winner of the prestigious 2006 Garden Media Promoter Award offered by the Perennial Plant Association. An avid proponent of garden tourism, he has lead garden tours throughout Canada and to the gardens of over 30 countries over the last 30 years. He presently resides in Quebec City, Quebec.

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