Vinegar - A Glyphosate Alternative For Weed And Grass Control

When it comes to weed control, glyphosate, the active ingredient in RoundUp, has been the unquestioned champion. Today, RoundUp has become a household name, but at what cost? With an ever growing desire from the community to focus on organic processes and less dependency on harsh chemicals, there has to be another way to accomplish the same task, right? 

Herbicide being sprayed into a rice field

Is glyphosate the only choice?

If you are looking for a better way to maintain your yard and happened to stumble across this article, you're in luck! You probably already have this product in your home and use it on a fairly regular basis.

Vinegar!  

Bottle and bowl of white vinegar

Thats right, household white vinegar. Now, when you look at your shelf and see a bottle of glyphosate sitting next to some salad dressing, which one do you think will be safer not only for the environment, but for you and your families health? 

If it's good enough for me to eat, I'm going to feel pretty good about putting it on my yard as well.

What is vinegar and why will this work? 

Typically, vinegar is a solution of 5% acetic acid. The acetic acid is what gives vinegar it's very strong, sometimes unpleasant odor. Vinegar with a concentration of 5% acetic acid is usually what you will find at your local grocery store. It is benign, and safe to eat and drink. I bet you wouldn't consider any of these activities with a harsher chemical covered in warning labels, would you?

Dangerous chemicals warning label  

Will vinegar with 5% acetic acid get the job done and kill my weeds? 

Short answer, yes, but there is more to understand before tossing salad dressing all over your lawn. 

Molecular structure of acetic acid

Molecular structure of acetic acid

First off, a typical store bought 5% acetic acid solution is going to be on the weaker end of the spectrum. It can be difficult to find higher concentrations, but if you can find it, 10% acetic acid is a good place to shoot for. Some grocery stores may carry this, but it can be easier to pick up at your local feed and lawn store. For typical use, 5% will work just fine. 

Note: Vinegar is a non-selective herbicide. It will kill any and all vegetation where it is sprayed. (Do not spray on grass to kill weeds if you want the grass to live!)

Is acetic acid really safe? 

Solutions of 5-10% acetic acid are generally considered as safe. Chugging bottles of vinegar could cause harm to your body, but everything in moderation, right?  

Most hazardous chemical directories and material safety data sheets (MSDS) list 11% and greater concentrations of acetic acid as being hazardous. It is possible to burn your skin and can cause damage to your eyes. This is why we recommend vinegar with a maximum acetic acid concentration of 10%.

Note: Acetic acid, as the name implies, is still an acid and should be handled with care despite being relatively safe in low, household concentrations. This applies even more to higher concentration solutions.

How vinegar kills weeds

Unlike glyphosate, which is a systemic herbicide, meaning it travels through the plants circulatory system to shut down essential functions, acetic acid does its work on the outside. Once applied, the vinegar quite literally burns the weeds, sucking the moisture out, shriveling it up, turning it brown, and killing it. 

Weeds growing in cracks between cement

Since it is not a systemic herbicide, it will not travel to the roots like glyphosate. The downside of this means it is possible for the weeds to grow back. Many people have experienced mixed results as far as grow-back rates for weeds killed with vinegar. 

Formulating your vinegar-based weed killer

Now, what you've been waiting for... How to best prepare your weed killing vinegar solution! 

  1. 1 gallon vinegar (5-10% acetic acid)
  2. 1 teaspoon of dish soap  
  3. 1 cup table salt (read below before adding... I know, you're excited) 

The dish soap acts like a surfactant, causing the vinegar to stay on the leaves and not run off onto the ground. This has shown significant improvement with this method.

A handful of salt  

Table salt can be added to your mixture provided you plan to kill all vegetation where it is sprayed and you do not plan on growing anything in its place. Table salt disrupts the natural state of the soil, making it unsuitable for growing. It also plays a role in removing the moisture from vegetation. In fact, it is possible to use table salt alone, but the addition of vinegar significantly improves results.

If you plan to use table salt, but do not want to damage the soil, spray directly on the weeds without saturating the surrounding soil. Check out soil salinity to better understand the effects of salts on soil.

Using table salt with vinegar is a very effective tandem to get the job done. The acetic acid will kill the weeds on the surface while the table salt effectively makes the soil unsuitable for any vegetation to grow back.   

Tips for best application of your vinegar-based weed killer

  1. Apply on a sunny day - preferably 70 degrees or warmer. It helps the acid remove the moisture from the leaves.
  2. A 1-gallon standard sprayer works great. 
  3. Don't skimp on application. Put a healthy dose on the area you are trying to kill. This method works great for spot killing smaller groups of weeds. 
  4. Don't apply when there is a chance of rain. The rain will dilute and wash away the acid.
  5. Wear safety glasses or goggles when spraying to decrease the chance of wind blowing the droplets into your eyes.
  6. Add table salt if you don't plan on growing anything where you are spraying to keep vegetation from growing back.  

Check out this popular YouTube video demonstrating one's experience with a vinegar based weed killer

While this video shows the effectiveness of a vinegar/soap herbicide, it also gives a look into some of the drawbacks as well. Many of the weeds grew back in short time, limiting the practicality in this situation. Multiple doses applied to the weeds could provide a longer lasting result, or this could be a place to add table salt and kill the vegetation for good.   

Conclusion

Now that you have learned a little more about vinegar, what acetic acid is, how it compares to glyphosate, and how to best prepare and apply your new organic weed killing solution, you are ready to put it to the test! Not only is it possible to save loads of money (vinegar, dish soap, and table salt are very cheap), but it's possible to protect the environment and your health! 

Following organic practices doesn't have to mean sacrificing time, money, and spending excessive amounts of additional energy. There are so many tips and tricks to make a positive change and becomes a part of the movement! We hope you are the newest member.

If you have tried this method, let us know how it worked for you!

Planning on giving it a go? We'd love to hear about your experience!

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