Tennessee Smart Yards Native Plants

A comprehensive database of Tennessee native plants

A Safe, Edible Weed Killer

Sprayed area next to unsprayed, after 24 hours


Sorry but I couldn’t resist the title for this blog! However it is generally true because it is vinegar. Although it has its limits, it is a great weed killer in the right situations. (I use the term “weeds” loosely to mean anything growing where I don’t want it.)

I have used more Round-Up than I care to admit. If I am killing off very large areas of lawn, it does seem to be unavoidable. However, I have been using some for maintenance too. So I am trying to find other strategies to reduce and maybe eliminate my use of Round-Up. The more news I read about it, the scarier it is. The FDA reports they are now finding it in our corn products and in beef from cattle that eat the corn.

I decided to experiment with three alternatives—sudsy ammonia, bleach, and vinegar. To my surprise, ammonia right out of the bottle didn’t even kill little seedlings. I mixed bleach and water to the point where if I had poured it on my clothes, it would have discolored them. That had only modest impact on seedlings, and I sure wasn’t going to switch to 100% bleach! So I tried straight old 5% white vinegar. I got 100% kill on small broadleaf seedlings (less than 1 inch tall). They are totally gone in a few hours and don’t re-grow. However, grass seedlings only get a bad burn and then recover.

After my success with regular vinegar, I decided to see if I could get more acetic acid and raise the percentage a bit. I found that you can’t buy it straight, but you can get vinegars with much higher percentages of acetic acid, although these are often insanely expensive. I finally found a product called Aceta Force Industrial Strength 30% Natural Acetic Acid Vinegar. It costs $27 a bottle which is pretty pricey, especially compared to the fact that 5% vinegar costs less than $3 a gallon at your local discount store. However, I did the math, and one gallon of this stuff is enough to double the strength of four gallons of regular vinegar from 5% to 10%. For each gallon of 5% vinegar that you use, add one quart of the 30% vinegar. So that $27 gallon will provide you with a grand total of 5 gallons of 10% acetic acid vinegar which is a lot of spraying. (I did test the 10% vinegar on my skin and had no reaction. However, do keep your nose away from the pour spout of the 30% vinegar!)

I couldn’t wait to try it out. I tried it on everything from 3-4 inch tall weeds on down.  I got total, permanent kill on all seedlings including grass, on monarda plants that were about 4 inches tall, on little violet seedlings, and even on a small patch of exotic weeds that had been trimmed in the past and were trying to grow back. I didn’t have any luck with nodding pink onion seedlings, probably due to the fact they are bulbs.

It won’t permanently eliminate fully established weeds which have enough energy in the roots to grow back, but it is wonderful at killing seedlings. It is especially useful for spraying plants germinating in your wood chip mulch, in gravel or woodchip paths, in beds of decorative stone, and in bare ground between established plants. During the spring when new seedlings are constantly germinating in these areas, vinegar will immediately wipe them out with a quick spraying, and repeated sprayings won’t raise your guilt level.

If you have other suggestions or experiences, be sure to post a comment or maybe even start a new blog.

8 responses to “A Safe, Edible Weed Killer

  1. mdexpatinchatt May 13, 2018 at 3:49 am

    Good thoughts! Thanks for the tip. I’m going to buy a propane burner for heavier and larger weed patches (vinca minor, bamboo).

    • joystewart May 13, 2018 at 1:04 pm

      Have you used a propane burner before? I am curious to know how well it works. Do roots sometimes survive and sometimes die along with the tops, depending on which type of plant? This sounds intriguing but maybe pretty hot!?

  2. Isaac Standifird May 13, 2018 at 3:57 am

    I use 20% vinegar with about 1/4 cup of citrus oil added. Kills the tops of anything green. Smother with mulch/cardboard to block sunlight so roots cannot push new shoots thru to get light.

    • joystewart May 13, 2018 at 12:59 pm

      Where do you get 20% vinegar? Is it expensive? Also I would love to know where you find citrus oil. I would like to try this.

  3. Beulah9 April 28, 2019 at 2:44 pm

    I tried regular vinegar, to kill weeds, a few times last year and found everything grew back in about two (2) weeks. As it increases the acid level of my soil it was not tried again. With this article I may have to seek out the costly 30% natural acetic acid vinegar to mix & get to 10%. Nothing works until it is tried. I could just settle on lots of acid loving plants.

  4. Buck Castleberry May 6, 2019 at 7:06 pm

    Will vinegar kill moss that grows in lawns?

    • joystewart May 6, 2019 at 8:34 pm

      I know that it kills the moss growing between the stones in my walk but I doubt if it would kill moss in your grass without doing harm to the grass if it did work. I am pretty skeptical that it would work but I can’t speak from experience. Thanks for asking.

      • Buck Castleberry May 6, 2019 at 8:44 pm

        Thanks Joy. I live in West Tennessee and the ground here is mostly clay. I have a hill out back where this moss started a few years ago and it is trying to take over my whole yard. I will fond pout what it does to zoysia grass as I plan to go on a killing spree with this moss.

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