A Good Idea... Sometimes

Does a home made weed killer sound like something you would like to use? You are not alone.

Thousands of people search the internet each month looking for information and a formula to kill weeds.

Some want to save the expense of commercial products. Others want to avoid using chemical sprays.

It might seem like it should be fairly simple to mix up a home made weed killer. You should be aware however, that many of the suggestions you find are a bit like playing the old game “telephone”. Remember? Start a message and pass it along through a group of people. The final message that results is hilarious, and nothing like the original!

The same thing has happened with recipes or formulas for a home made weed killer. Take a few minutes for your own education and protection. Let me share the broad spectrum of advice that you might encounter, and why a home remedy could present a problem you did not expect.

With this knowledge, you will be able to determine the best course of action for killing certain weeds without causing damage or harm.

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The most common recipes you will find include VINEGAR as the primary ingredient. That sounds good to most people. It is readily available, inexpensive, and must be safe, since you use it in the kitchen, right? This is basically true, but you need to know more.

The trouble is the wide variation in the amount of vinegar used and how to mix it with other ingredients. There is also a rich blend of uninformed opinion on where to use this mixture and what the results will be.

Vinegar does kill weeds. So can other added ingredients or methods suggested in the typical home made weed killer approach. Should they be combined for maximum impact? What is the best or necessary amount of each to use? Where can the weed killer be used, and with what results?


Searching the internet and other sources for home made remedies comes up with an incredibly diverse range of formulas that appear to have originated from one basic recipe.

Look at these suggested ingredients and the amounts of each for competing home made weed killer recipes:

  • Vinegar, from 1 tablespoon per gallon to full strength;
  • Salt, from adding none to adding 1 pound per gallon;
  • Soap, from none to 20% of the mixture;
  • Water, from adding none to having the mix be 99% water; and using cool, lukewarm, warm or hot water;
  • Other additions: gin, bourbon, citrus oil.

What do you think? Do you want to try them all? Do you think one is as good as another? Why the differences?

Since the sources for these recipes seem to have simply passed it on from other sources, the origin and reasoning is unknown. It might be good to know what effect you can expect from each part.



Vinegar is distilled through a fermentation process from grain, apples, or grapes. Common household vinegar has an active ingredient called acetic acid, usually diluted to a 5% concentration. This may be labeled as 5% acidity.

Acetic acid, like most strong acids, is a desiccant. That means it removes moisture. When sprayed on plant foliage, the water in the leaves is drawn out, and the top growth of the plant is killed. Whether or not the root is killed depends on the type of plant and its maturity.

The strength of the solution of acetic acid determines how fast and how completely it will kill weeds. Full strength vinegar, not diluted with water, will be strongest. Vinegar with higher acidity is available, though it is not commonly found everywhere. A serious caution on using stronger vinegar in a home made weed killer formula, or for any household usage, will be presented later.

Vinegar is not selective when it is sprayed on plants. It has the potential to kill any and all foliage. This means that if you spray weeds in your lawn, your grass will die as easily as the weed. If you spray weeds in your flower bed or vegetable garden, the good can die as well as the bad. As a home made weed killer, vinegar will have limited application, and will require that valuable plants be protected.

Some plants may be more resistant to absorbing it. Leaves with a waxy or hairy covering may absorb less of the solution and suffer less damage. Some plants may die above ground, but send up new growth from the root. This means that you will not get 100% control using vinegar as a home made weed killer.


Many of the homemade weed killer recipes include salt. Most suggest regular table salt, some say water-softener salt, others mention rock salt. Salt is salt. Salt kills plants. It may be added to some recipes to kill the plants when vinegar alone won’t.

Salt also acts as a desiccant, drawing moisture out of the plant. Most recipes are intended for use as a foliar spray. A few will instruct you to drench the soil around the weeds, expecting to kill the root more successfully.

Salt is problematic. It will get rid of your weeds, but also anything else nearby. It will hang around, leaving you with long term difficulty when you want to grow desirable plants. You may have heard the term “burned a plant with fertilizer”. That is because regular fertilizer is a salt. Apply it too heavily and plants die. Salt can remain in the soil, even affecting roots from distant plants.

If your desire in wanting to use home made weed killer is because you want natural products, instead of chemicals, don’t use salt as a weed killer. It defeats the effort of trying to develop healthy soil.

The one exception might be if you are spot treating weeds that pop up in cracks in your driveway, patio or sidewalks. Just use it sparingly, as it can leach into the area where good plants live.


The soap added to these formulas for homemade weed killer is primarily to improve the absorption of the spray. Liquid dish detergent (not dishwasher or hand soap) is the most effective at this.

Soap is able to break down the cuticle or waxy surface found on many weeds. This makes the plant more susceptible to the action of the active ingredient, like the acetic acid. Soap also breaks the surface tension of water, which helps it to stick to the leaves, rather than running off. This allows more of the killing agent to hang on and get working.

Soap is usually an oil derivative. Oil kills plants. Some soaps might kill plants themselves if they were applied in a strong enough concentration. A sideline benefit of adding the soap is that it is easier to see where the spray goes. The weeds will look shiny, as if coated with oil. This helps keep track of the sprayed area.

These results provide good reason to add soap to a home made weed killer. The amount of soap required as an additive would be small, no more than 1 ounce per gallon. As a sole ingredient to kill weeds, the concentration would have to be much higher.


Several sources mention adding gin or bourbon to a home made weed killer mixture. Documentation on this is scarce. If it helps to kill weeds, the activity is probably as a desiccant. Any alcohol works in this manner. You would probably do just as well using rubbing alcohol on the weeds.

Citrus oil, orange and lemon oil, and similar products are acidic. They would have the same effect as vinegar. They would be a lot more expensive. If they are considered by some to work better, it may be partly from the oil factor.

This points out the difficulty with any home made weed killer formula, or any type of home remedy. The quantities or concentrations are often arbitrary. The actual working interaction may be unclear, or at least not substantiated by any standard testing. There is no way to predict the outcome.

Even the dilution rate with water is extremely broad. From full strength vinegar to only 1 ounce per gallon is quite a range. Testimonials can be found in blogs and forums that claim successes and failures at any or all of these concentrations and mixes.

How do you know if it is worth a try, or where to start? Can you use home remedies anywhere? What will happen if you make a mistake?


This is another ambiguous area. Consider these comments about the effects of these home made weed killers on your soil, and how long they have this impact:

(Note, these are NOT truths, they are public opinions)

  • try to avoid spraying it directly on the soil. Vinegar breaks down the soil structure and kills beneficial microorganisms. In areas where this is applied, the vinegar can render the soil sterile for several years.
  • don’t spray it on the soil. It is non-selective in what it kills meaning it will kill any plant life it comes in contact with and it will sterilize the soil for up to two years depending on how much you get on the soil.
  • You will not be able to plant where you spray it for several months.
  • The nice thing about using a bio-degradable homemade weed killer is that you are not harming the micro-organisms that live in the soil.
  • Vinegar will indeed kill micro-organisms in the soil. It is a known germ killer as well. The good part about it is that it won't harm you or your pets, but don't spray it where you need the soil to be healthy with micro-organisms!
  • The great thing about using this solution is that it is natural. Natural solutions are essential for a cleaner environment.
  • Bear in mind it's a broad spectrum killer. Homemade products aren't necessarily better or safer than commercial ones.
  • It is non-selective in what it kills meaning it will kill any plant life it comes in contact with and it will sterilize the soil for up to two years

I repeat, these are only other people’s opinions, found on the internet. Which one can you believe? Who would like to experiment and find out?

One thing that must be clarified is the mistaken belief that because something is called “natural”, it must be safe and helpful. An item that is derived from natural sources may be without harm in some settings, but could be poisonous in others. It could be helpful in one setting, but worthless in another.

Please use common sense if you attempt to make and use your own products, like home made weed killers, based on hearsay. But realize that you are embarking on a trial and error procedure. As they say, your results may vary!

What is certain is that vinegar and other home remedy products are effective at killing many plants, or defoliating most plants. You can use it where desirable plants would not be in danger.
The long term effects for growing other plants or starting seeds are unclear, so take that into account with your future plants. (Acetic acid would lower the pH of the soil, which could be good or bad for your next plant.)

I am not opposed to using vinegar as a weed killer, only the cavalier promotion of the idea. I have used it myself with success in some areas.

Read more about the VINEGAR RECIPE TRIALS
and several recipes that have been used (successfully or not) at

I don’t try to use it exclusively. Use it if you wish, with discretion. (That would be “taking it with a grain of salt” … but don’t add the salt???)

With Home Made Weed Killers

Research is being conducted by various agencies to test vinegar for agricultural use. Until these trials are able to provide conclusions regarding concentrations, application, frequency and other factors, no one can recommend that vinegar or any other home made weed killer is safe, effective, or a good thing to use in any and all situations.

It is true that with a higher concentration of acetic acid, it can kill more plants. Testing is being done with horticultural vinegar of 10%, 20%, and 30%. But before you decide to shop around for stronger vinegar, consider this caution regarding the potential of acetic acid to have negative side effects on people.


    •        Eye irritation or burns
    •        Skin irritation or allergic reaction
    •        Digestive tract reactions or damage
    •        Respiratory tract irritation

The highest concentration is where these effects might be expected, so 5% vinegar would be safer. But some people are more sensitive than others to even low concentrations of things.

As much as we all want to save money and avoid chemical products, it would not be wise to follow home made weed killer formulas while disregarding possible consequences.

People usually have good intentions in sharing information, but remember, the Internet is not gospel truth. It is your responsibility to always be discriminating in the advice that you follow. I hope this article is helpful to you, and feel free to contact me with any questions or input.

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To Home Made Weed Killers

If your efforts to come up with a home made weed killer end up falling short or just seem to be too much trouble or concern, that doesn't mean you have to resort to the typical chemicals on the garden department shelves.

There are a number of products that offer proven results for those who want to maintain a healthy home environment. The coverage area is often less than with chemical products, so the cost per application is higher.

A difficulty arises because of false expectations. If you read the reviews for any random organic weed killer on Amazon (simply because reviews are plentiful there) you can come away with the impression that most of them are unreliable.

My experience helps me to filter many of the negative comments as being the result of improper use or expecting a non-chemical product to have the same "Ninja' destructive capacity as chemicals.

For example, many complaints say a product did not kill dandelions. But dandelions grow a taproot that makes the weed resilient and able to recover. Most natural products are contact-killers, meaning they kill the vegetation they touch. Mature roots are not affected. So be willing to give products a try, after taking a closer look at the reasons why some of them have many negative reviews.

Pay Attention: Most Natural Weed Killers are NON-SELECTIVE. They can kill anything. Do NOT use them on your lawns, flower beds, veggie gardens unless it specifically states that it is safe to do so!!!

Below are a few representative products you may like to try. Details, reviews, and offerings of other sizes or versions will be found on the Amazon site.

EDITOR'S NOTE, update spring 2021:

I am not showing any recommendations at this time for natural weed killers, (commercial, retail products) pending some personal research. Positive reviews for effectiveness are so sporadic, that I intend to conduct some comparative trials before suggesting any particular products.

If you try any organic products, let me know what you think. I'd like to start up a consumer feedback spot so we can help one another find the best possible options amidst so many situations and questionable choices. Likewise, if you find success with any of your home made weed killer formulas, pass that on to us as well.

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Vinegar As A Weed Killer

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