How to Use Vinegar (Acetic Acid) as a Herbicide

Vinegar (acetic acid) is an effective natural herbicide that can help you control unwanted vegetation in your garden and landscape. When used properly, vinegar provides an eco-friendly alternative to synthetic chemical herbicides. This comprehensive guide will teach you everything you need to know about using vinegar as a herbicide.

What is Vinegar Herbicide?

Vinegar herbicide is an organic weed killer made from acetic acid, which gives vinegar its sour taste. Household white vinegar contains 4-7% acetic acid, while horticultural vinegar sold specifically for weed control can contain up to 20% acetic acid.

The acetic acid in vinegar weakens cell membranes and kills plants through contact rather than systematically. It provides a non-selective, broad-spectrum weed control. Vinegar is biodegradable and breaks down quickly in the environment without leaving toxic residues.

When used as a herbicide, the acetic acid in vinegar:

  • Damages leaf tissues on contact
  • Dries out and kills vegetation
  • Prevents unwanted plants from photosynthesizing

Benefits of Using Vinegar as a Weed Killer

Using vinegar as a natural herbicide offers many advantages:

  • Non-toxic and safe: Vinegar weed killer is non-toxic to humans, pets, wildlife, and the environment when used as directed. It’s a food-grade substance.
  • Kills weeds, not soil: Vinegar only kills actively growing green vegetation it comes into contact with. It does not affect seeds or soil.
  • Selective control: You can selectively kill weeds without damaging nearby desirable plants by applying vinegar directly onto weed leaves.
  • Fast-acting: Vinegar begins working immediately on contact and weeds typically die within hours to days.
  • Prevents regrowth: Vinegar kills weeds down to the roots so they won’t regrow. It also prevents seed germination.
  • Natural ingredients: Vinegar contains no synthetic chemicals or toxins. It’s made from plant-based ingredients.
  • Cost-effective: Vinegar weed control costs a fraction of commercial herbicides with no adverse environmental impacts.
  • Readily available: Distilled white vinegar and horticultural vinegar are easy to find at garden centers or grocery stores.

How Does Vinegar Work to Kill Weeds?

The acetic acid in vinegar works in several ways to disrupt plant growth and destroy weeds:

  • Lowers pH: Vinegar acidifies cell sap, creating an imbalance that kills plants. It lowers the weed’s internal pH below what is required for survival.
  • Removes moisture: Vinegar dehydrates plant cells and tissues on contact. It causes the weed leaves to dry out, wither, and die.
  • Damages cell walls: Acetic acid breaks down pectins and lipids that give plant cell walls their structure. Cell walls lose integrity and collapse.
  • Stops photosynthesis: The acetic acid bleachs and damages the chlorophyll in plant leaves. This halts photosynthesis and the production of food energy. Starved of energy, the weed dies.
  • Burns leaf tissues: Acetic acid causes severe burns in plant leaves and stems, just as higher concentrations burn and irritate human skin. This destroyed foliage cannot recover.

The combined stress factors overwhelm the weed’s defenses, resulting in rapid plant death. Vinegar is an aggressive herbicide.

How to Use Vinegar to Kill Weeds

Using vinegar as an organic weed control takes some care and the proper technique. Follow these steps for the best results:

Choose the Right Vinegar

For household weed control:

  • Use standard distilled white vinegar (5% acetic acid) for annual weeds and delicate plants. Test dilution levels to avoid damaging desired plants.

For agricultural weed control:

  • Use horticultural vinegar containing 10-20% acetic acid for tougher weeds. It provides more potent weed killing power.

Mix with Water (Optional)

You can dilute vinegar with water to stretch it further and moderate its strength:

  • For 5% household vinegar, mix a 50/50 solution with water.
  • For 20% horticultural vinegar, mix 1 part vinegar to 2 parts water.

Avoid exceeding a 50% vinegar concentration or it may damage desired plants.

Apply on Sunny, Warm Days

Treat weeds when the weather is dry, sunny, and above 60°F. Warmth and light make plants actively grow. Vinegar works best on vigorously growing weeds with plenty of leaf surface area. Avoid windy days that may cause spray drift.

Spray Weed Leaves Thoroughly

Use a spray bottle or tank sprayer to completely coat the foliage and stems of weeds top to bottom. Vinegar only kills plant tissues it contacts directly. Don’t just wet the weed—soak it for best results.

Add a Spreader-Sticker

Adding a small amount of biodegradable detergent, soap, or vegetable oil to vinegar improves leaf coverage and absorption. It helps the vinegar solution spread over waxy plant cuticles and stick to leaves rather than beading up.

Spot Treat for Selective Weed Control

Avoid broad spraying across entire areas. Use a targeted spot treatment method to selectively kill weeds without damaging nearby plants:

  • Spray vinegar directly onto weed leaves while avoiding contact with desirable plants.
  • Use a foam paintbrush, sponge applicator, or protective shield to isolate application around wanted plants.
  • Repeat applications to weeds growing near plants you want to keep at 2-week intervals.

Monitor and Reapply as Needed

It takes a few days to 2 weeks for treated weeds to die fully. Some hardy weeds may require reapplying vinegar 1-3 times over 2 weeks. Controlled weeds should not regrow, but check areas occasionally for any new sprouts.

Tips for Effective Vinegar Weed Control

Follow these tips when using vinegar as an herbicide:

  • Use horticultural vinegar for best weed control rather than household vinegar.
  • Add a surfactant to help the vinegar stick and absorb into leaves.
  • Use the highest vinegar concentration that does not damage desired plants.
  • Completely drench weed leaves—no dry spots.
  • Apply on hot, sunny days when weeds are actively growing.
  • Reapply as needed on tough weeds until they are dead.
  • Combine vinegar with mulch to stop new weeds.
  • Wear gloves, eye protection, and clothes you don’t mind getting stained.
  • Clean sprayers thoroughly when switching between herbicides and vinegar. Acetic acid corrodes metal.

Where to Use Vinegar Weed Killers

Vinegar herbicides work well in the following areas:

Garden Beds and Borders

Spot spray or paint vinegar onto unwanted invaders in flower beds and vegetable gardens. Avoid contact with crop plants and valued ornamentals. Vinegar won’t leave lingering residues in soil.

Patios, Driveways and Sidewalks

Control weeds growing in the cracks and joints of hardscapes. Vinegar provides a safer alternative to glyphosate around homes.

Along Fences and Foundations

Spray unwanted vegetation growing on fences or around building foundations. Vinegar offers targeted weed control and quickly breaks down without residual effects.

Gravel Walkways and Driveways

Vinegar provides effective weed control in gravel areas where digging out plants is difficult. The acid burns down to the roots so weeds don’t regrow.

Common Weeds Killed by Vinegar

Vinegar works against a wide range of annual and perennial weeds, including:

Annual Weeds

  • Crabgrass
  • Chickweed
  • Henbit
  • Oxalis
  • Pigweed
  • Ragweed
  • Lamb’s quarters
  • Bindweed
  • Dandelion
  • Plantain

Perennial Weeds

  • Quackgrass
  • Johnson grass
  • Bermuda grass
  • Nutsedge (Purple, Yellow)
  • Poison ivy
  • Canada thistle
  • Horsetail
  • Ground ivy
  • Wild violet

Test vinegar on any weed species of concern before widespread use. Certain ornamental grasses and dense, mature weeds may prove more resistant. Adjust vinegar strength as needed.

Plants Damaged by Vinegar Overspray

Take care to avoid contact when applying vinegar around valued plants. Vinegar herbicide will injure or kill:

  • Flowers and vegetables
  • Trees, shrubs, and vines
  • Lawns and turfgrass
  • Succulents and cacti
  • Tender ornamental foliage

Vinegar does not discriminate between wanted and unwanted plants. Any green tissue it touches will likely be damaged. Isolate vinegar application only to weed leaves.

How to Apply Vinegar for Specific Weeds

Tailor vinegar application methods to match the weed’s growth habits and location:


  • Use a spray bottle to drench dandelion leaves. Avoid nearby lawn grass. Reapply as needed until the yellow flowers and leaves die back fully. Dig out the taproot or spray regrowth.

Creeping Charlie

  • Spot treat Creeping Charlie (ground ivy) growing in garden beds, lawns, and cracks in hardscapes. Paint or selectively spray leaves, avoiding desired plants. Repeat applications to control regrowth and new sprouts until the weed is eradicated.


  • Mix equal parts white vinegar and water in a spray bottle. Apply the diluted vinegar solution directly to clover leaves in lawns or beds. Avoid contacting grass or garden plants. Repeat treatment as needed on regrowth.


  • Use full-strength horticultural vinegar (20% acetic acid) to treat infestations of troublesome nutsedge weeds. Completely drench the foliage to kill the tubers and rhizomes growing below ground. Severe nutsedge may need 3-4 applications.

Poison Ivy and Oak

  • For safety, use full-strength horticultural vinegar to thoroughly wet all leaf surfaces on these toxic plants. Vinegar penetrates the waxy cuticle on ivy and oak leaves better than other herbicides. Take care to avoid skin contact.

Troubleshooting Vinegar performance

Weeds regrow after treatment:

  • Reapply vinegar 1-3 times until the weeds are completely dead. Difficult perennials have extensive roots that need killing.
  • Use a higher vinegar concentration. Weak vinegar may only burn leaves but not kill the roots.

Vinegar causes leaf burn on desired plants:

  • Dilute vinegar more with water and reapply carefully to weeds only.
  • Switch to household vinegar or weaker mixture around delicate plants.

Weeds grow back quickly:

  • Treat weeds when small for best control. Mature plants with extensive roots resist vinegar.
  • Use horticultural strength vinegar. Distilled vinegar may not be strong enough.
  • Add a surfactant to help vineager stick and penetrate foliage.

Vinegar seems ineffective:

  • Spray weeds thoroughly on a hot, sunny day when actively growing.
  • Give vinegar 2 weeks to fully kill treated weeds before assuming failure. Some take time to die.
  • Increase vinegar concentration and do not dilute. Use horticultural vinegar on tough weeds.

Safety Precautions When Using Vinegar

Vinegar weed killers are far safer than synthetic herbicides, but take some basic precautions:

  • Wear gloves, long sleeves, pants, and eye protection when spraying vinegar. Avoid skin and eye contact.
  • Wash exposed skin immediately if vinegar makes contact. Rinse eyes thoroughly with water if splashed.
  • Keep vinegar solutions locked away from pets and children. Ingesting high concentrations may cause stomach upset.
  • Never transfer vinegar to an unlabeled spray bottle. Keep original container.
  • Clean spray equipment thoroughly after using to remove corrosive acid residue.

Use vinegar weed killers selectively and responsibly. Follow all label directions and guidance in this article for effective, environmentally-friendly weed control.

Frequently Asked Questions About Using Vinegar as a Herbicide

Is vinegar a safe weed killer?

Yes, vinegar is non-toxic to humans, animals, and the environment when used properly as a herbicide. The acetic acid biodegrades quickly without lingering residues. It controls weeds through direct contact only. Take precautions to avoid eye and skin contact.

What percentage of acetic acid is best for weed control?

Standard 5% white vinegar works for delicate weeds. Use 10-20% horticultural vinegar for tougher perennials. Higher acidity provides more herbicidal power, but may damage desired plants if over-applied.

How long does vinegar take to kill weeds?

Treated weeds usually die within 2-4 days but tough perennials can take up to 2 weeks for vinegar to fully kill the entire plant. Results are fastest when daytime temperatures are hot.

Does vinegar weed killer work on all types of weeds?

Vinegar controls annuals, perennials, grasses, and broadleaf weeds. Some resilient plant species may require repeat applications. Avoid using vinegar around valued grass lawns and ornamental plants unless you can isolate application to only weed leaves.

Is vinegar as effective as Roundup (glyphosate) for weed control?

Vinegar works very well but typically not quite as fast or thorough as glyphosate products. However, vinegar is far less toxic and better for the environment. Combining vinegar with mulch provides effective, eco-friendly weed control.

How can I boost the power of vinegar for weed killing?

Use horticultural vinegar with the maximum acetic acid allowed in your area (10-20%). Add a small amount of dish soap to help vinegar stick and penetrate leaf surfaces. Apply during hot weather on rapidly growing weeds. Avoid diluting with too much water.

Can I use vinegar weed killer near plants I want to keep?

Yes, you can selectively kill weeds with vinegar by using a spray shield or by precisely painting it only on weed leaves while avoiding contact with desirable plants. Go slowly and use a diluted vinegar solution if needed near valued vegetation.

Does vinegar harm the soil?

No. Vinegar kills weeds through direct contact only. Once dried, the acetic acid quickly neutralizes. Vinegar does not leave any residual toxicity or influence soil nutrition, pH, or microbes in any way. It’s completely safe for gardens and lawns.


Vinegar weed killer provides an extremely effective, non-toxic, eco-friendly alternative to synthetic chemical herbicides for controlling unwanted vegetation. With a basic understanding of how to harness the plant-killing power of acetic acid, vinegar can selectively destroy weeds in lawns, gardens, and landscaped areas.

Follow the guidance in this article to successfully use vinegar as a natural herbicide for safe, economical, and sustainable weed control. Vinegar keeps landscapes beautiful without putting people, pets, and the planet at risk.