5 Homemade Weed Killers That Really Work

Smart Ways to Suppress Weeds

using a propane torch to kill a weed

The Spruce / Liz Moskowitz

Few things give a garden a more untended look than weeds. One way to deal with pesky weeds is to kill them with commercial herbicides. But this approach isn't for everyone. For them, mere weed control isn't as important as achieving weed control without harsh chemicals. Some choose to tolerate weeds like wild violets rather than fighting them.

If you love a well-manicured garden and perfect lawn but don't like to use herbicides, there are some homemade weed killers you can use.

Homemade weed killers are generally non-selective solutions—they kill whatever plants they touch including lawn grasses. They can also alter the composition of the soil when used repeatedly. Read labels carefully, follow safety precautions, and consult your local county extension service if you have questions about using homemade herbicides for weed control.

Vinegar Solution

A vinegar solution is one of the most common homemade weed killers. All you need are:

  • Distilled white vinegar, apple cider vinegar, or cleaning vinegar. To be the most effective, the acetic acid concentration in the vinegar should be above 11% to burn and kill the plant.
  • Dishwashing liquid. This acts as a surfactant to help the vinegar cling to the weed's surface longer.

Pour the ingredients into a spray bottle, and shake to mix. Apply when the weather report says you'll be getting a few continuous days of sunshine. Rain will wash the vinegar off the weeds too soon, and most of the damage happens when the sun hits the weeds' leaves. Spray directly onto the weeds, being careful to keep the solution away from other plants.

weed killing solution using vinegar

The Spruce / Liz Moskowitz

Rubbing Alcohol Solution

This astringent substance works by removing moisture from the weed's foliage causing it to die. Use one quart of water to dilute every two tablespoons of rubbing alcohol. Mix the solution in a spray bottle for ease of use. As with vinegar, apply on a sunny day, and spray directly onto the weeds, being careful to keep it away from other plants.

Boiling Water

This homemade weed killer is the easiest of all to prepare and use. You won't be doing any mixing at all, and you can apply it at absolutely any time you wish: day or night, with or without sunshine, even in the pouring rain.

Simply boil water and pour it on the leaves of the weed. Use enough so that it seeps down into the roots. It's helpful to use a kettle with a spout to target the unwanted weed.

A pitcher of boiling water

The Spruce / Liz Moskowitz

Propane Torch

Similar to the way boiling water kills weeds—roots and all—the same effect can be enjoyed by using a propane torch to scorch the center of the weed. There's a variety of long-handled torches made specifically for this purpose. The long handle means you can kill weeds without stooping. Naturally, you should use extreme caution when using this tool on windy days, in dry conditions, or brushy areas.

Warning

Safety precautions should be taken seriously when using boiling water or a propane torch to kill weeds. Severe burns can occur. Never use these methods when children or pets are present.

using a propane torch to kill weeds

The Spruce / Liz Moskowitz

Corn Gluten Meal

Corn gluten meal falls into a different category. It's a weed suppressor rather than a weed killer, making it impossible for weeds to appear in the first place. Corn gluten is most commonly used to control crabgrass in lawns. If used properly, it inhibits the formation of the first roots that crabgrass seeds put out after they germinate. But proper use requires two things:

  • Application must be timed to coincide with crabgrass germination,
  • Application must occur during a dry period.

Corn gluten is organic: It's a powder that is left over after corn is milled. To apply, simply spread the powder over the soil. Water the corn gluten into the soil after application (about 1/4 inch of water is required). But after you water it in, the weather must be dry for a couple of days. Otherwise, the roots won't be killed.

Tip

As with most homemade weed killers, corn gluten is non-selective: It suppresses all types of germinating plants, not just weeds. So it's not something you'd want to put down on your grass at a time when you're overseeding your lawn.

Other Ways to Suppress Weeds

While vinegar, rubbing alcohol, and boiling water can work to kill annual weeds, they won't work against some of the tougher, perennial weeds. You can still stay organic, but it takes some extra work on your part.

For example, if you're persistent, you can control Japanese knotweed without resorting to the use of a glyphosate herbicide, which is often the recommendation. Cut the knotweed down, clear dead canes away, and place tarps over the ground. Deprived of sunlight, the weed's food reserves will eventually be exhausted. There will be shoots beyond the tarps' perimeter in search of sunlight that you must continually remove.

Similarly, using any of the following to cover the ground helps to suppress weeds:

Crowding out weeds is an effective tactic. That's why some people don't need mulch for their cottage gardens: The plants are packed so closely together that there's no room for weeds. Likewise, a healthy lawn will grow so thickly that weeds won't have any openings to exploit.

Article Sources
The Spruce uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Homemade Herbicide Considerations. University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.

  2. Conquer Weeds with Vinegar? Purdue University.

  3. Using a Flame Weeder in Vegetable and Fruit Crops. University of Minnesota Extension.

  4. Corn Gluten Meal - A Natural Weed and Feed for Lawns and Garden. Iowa State University Extension and Outreach.