When it comes to maintaining a garden, one of the biggest challenges is controlling what grows where. It’s such a challenge that we have a word specially for plants that are growing where we don’t want them to grow: ‘weeds’.
This has led to a whole industry branding poisons as being safe enough to use around your family. We’re not interested in spraying indiscriminate poisons where our children play, and the good news is, you don’t have to! Even if you want a meticulously manicured garden. You could go the DIY weed killers route, or you can buy one of the safe weed killers on the list below.
The list below contains only safe weed killers. While they still pose a threat to your plants, they’re not as dangerous as spraying your yard with glyphosate. I implore you to change your perception of plants branded as ‘weeds’, and instead try to understand their role in the landscape and what deficiencies in your soil they are indicators of before you reach for the weed killer.
|Doctor Kirchner Natural Weed & Grass Killer||Check The Price!|
|Lucy's Family Owned - Natural Distilled White Vinegar||Check The Price!|
|Natural Elements Weed Killer||Check The Price!|
|Harris Vinegar Weed and Weed Grass Killer||Check The Price!|
|Natural Armor Weed and Grass Killer||Check The Price!|
Why You Can Trust Us
The previous owner of the property I now live on was into horses. Their plan was to turn the property into a paddock for horses and other livestock to graze and browse. In pursuit of this goal, they planted grass. Everywhere.
Not just any grass. Kikuyu grass. If you’re unfamiliar, I once saw kikuyu grass growing out of a crack in a tarmac road and climbing all the way up a telephone pole, 30 feet in the air. In a word, it’s rampant.
So when I moved in, I had a serious grass problem on my hands. The problem is that I wanted to grow other plants, namely food-providing plants, in the space where the grass was growing. So I had to be very careful with what I used to get rid of this grass.
What happened next was months down the ‘safe weed killer’ rabbit hole. Luckily, I eventually emerged, and I was wielding a mountain of knowledge around safe and effective ways of getting rid of plants growing in the wrong place.
I’ve now combined all this knowledge with some market research and buyer reviews, and come up with the best weed killers on the market in 2022.
Best For Long Shelf Life
Why We Like It: Doctor Kirchner claims the shelf life of this weed killer is ‘literally forever’. That can be expected when your product contains two stable, naturally occurring ingredients, vinegar and seawater.
The story goes that this was grandma’s bulletproof herbicide, and Doctor Kirchner supercharged it with a dash of soap. The soap helps the solution to cling to the doomed plants and enhances its efficacy. The soap breaks down any naturally occurring oils that may be present on the leaves of weeds to protect them.
Who Should Buy It: If you’re looking to kill some weeds, but you don’t want to kill all the other plants around them, try this weed killer. The dash of soap really helps to contain the solution to only the targeted plants and should keep other plants nearby safe.
It’s also pet and child friendly, so if you have either, this weed killer won’t harm your family.
Lucy's Vinegar is a household vinegar that can be used as a mild and safe herbicide.
Why We Like It: It’s all-natural. Made from corn, this distilled white vinegar is diluted with water to achieve 5% acidity. This acidity is too much for plants to survive in, so spraying unwanted vegetation with vinegar will kill it. It’s so effective that most ‘natural’ weed killers are made from vinegar.
You’ll most likely have to do more than one application, depending on the plant, but that’s how you know it’s not a deadly poison. For best results, use a spray bottle for pinpoint accuracy.
Who Should Buy It: White vinegar is an essential in any household, so if you’re running low on white vinegar, try this brand from Amazon to support a family-owned business.
White vinegar is definitely for you if you’re looking for a safe and effective way of controlling weeds. In fact, this weed killer is so safe you can eat it.
Best For Grass
Why We Like It: This weed killer is deemed safe for pets and children. The main ingredient in this concoction is commercial-grade vinegar, which is a fast-acting weed killer. It also contains sodium chloride, otherwise known as salt.
This mixture will kill grass, so if you’re trying to get rid of weeds on your lawn, this isn’t the product for you.
Who Should Buy It: If you’re trying to get rid of broadleaf weeds and grasses, this is the solution for you. For best results, use it on a hot day when you should start to see results within a few minutes. Otherwise, it may take up to five days to see results.
Best For Spraying
Why We Like It: This weed killer comes with everything you need to get started right away. No dilution is necessary and a spray nozzle is included. So all you need to do is screw the spray nozzle on and start spraying.
This solution boasts white vinegar containing 20% acidity, 4x the regular acidity of table vinegar. This makes it an incredibly effective weed killer, but it also means you should take care when using it. The higher acidity levels means more ammonia will be off gassed, so either use a respirator or make sure there’s adequate ventilation when spraying.
It’s noted that this product is harmful to birds as well as aquatic life. Use with caution.
Who Should Buy It: This is the solution for you if you’re looking for a stronger solution that comes with a spray nozzle. The higher acidity level in the vinegar should make it more effective on your weeds, and the included spray nozzle means your package will arrive with everything you need to get started.
Best Concentrated Formula
Why We Like It: This is the heavy hitter of the natural weed killer world. While the details around exactly what’s in this formula are hidden, the company assures us that it doesn’t contain glyphosate or any other harmful toxins and is 100% natural.
They claim that this product is even safe to use around wells and other water systems, so it should be safe. Although concentrated, there’s no need to dilute this before using. Simply attach a spray nozzle to the top and get to work.
Who Should Buy It: This is the product for you if you have stubborn weeds that just won’t quit. Before you reach for the glyphosate, give this natural weed killer a go.
For best results, spray in the morning, on a hot day, with no rain in the forecast. The heat from the sun combined with the active ingredients in this solution should make short work of unwanted vegetation.
What’s In Safe Weed Killers
You may have noticed that there are a few common ingredients in most natural weed killers. If you want to know how to kill weeds naturally, it’s helpful to know what ingredients can be used. Let’s take a closer look at why they’re deadly for plants but safe for humans and animals.
The active ingredient in vinegar that ends up killing plants is something called acetic acid. Acetic acid is very effective at drawing moisture out of plants. This ends up killing the plants because water is essential for life.
At lower doses, like the 5% found in most household vinegar, acetic acid is harmless to humans. Household vinegar can be used as a mild and safe herbicide.
This changes as the percentage of acid rises, though, and high doses of acetic acid can have horrible effects on your airways. For this reason, if you’re dealing with vinegar that’s above 5% acidity, consider using personal protective equipment to mitigate these effects.
This also makes it a more effective weed killer and will be able to tackle the more determined weeds in your yard.
Also known as salt, sodium chloride fulfills a similar role to acetic acid in that it’s very effective at drawing moisture out of the vegetation. It also manages to hold on to this moisture so that it cannot be reabsorbed by the plant as it dies.
Some natural weed killers also include a dash of soap. The soap is added to do what soap does. Soap is known as a surfactant, which means that it breaks surface tension. That’s why the oil on your cooking dishes seems to simply evaporate when it comes into contact with dish soap. The soap is breaking the surface tension of the oil, which renders it ineffective and easy to wash away.
The soap in a natural weed killer acts in a similar way. It breaks the surface tension of naturally occurring oils on the leaf’s surface, opening the way for the other elements of your weed killer to move in.
If you choose a weed killer without the soap, you might notice that the solution will bead up on the surface of the leaf and won’t be absorbed properly. Add soap and the surface tension of the leaf is broken, and the solution has a clear point of entry into the leaf.
The Case Against Using Poison
When it comes to inorganic weed killers, there aren’t many reasons to go this route. The most obvious downside to these products is that it’s an indiscriminate poison that you’re using around your home. All the pollinators and insects, birds and small animals, children, pets, etc. will end up absorbing that poison.
For some, the effects are immediate and deadly, like the pollinators that are responsible for all the food we eat. For others, the detrimental effects may be much more slow moving and sinister, since it’s invisible.
What’s more, since these poisons are inorganic, they can’t be broken down in the natural environment. Which means they build up in the soil over time and eventually lead to toxic environments. Using poisons also leads to a negative feedback loop. Let me explain:
Many weeds are what can be described as ‘indicator’ plants. If you can identify weed species, and you understand the role they are playing in your environment, they can indicate to the gardener what nutrients are lacking in the soil. For example, is clover taking over your lawn? Clover is a legume. Which means it has the ability to convert atmospheric nitrogen into ammonia, which is a form of nitrogen that can be absorbed by plants. So clover is an indication of a nitrogen deficiency in your soil.
Now the gardener swoops in with a herbicide and kills all the clover before it can do it’s work. You’ve gotten rid of the clover, but you’ve also gotten rid of the solution to your nitrogen deficiency. Now, more clover is going to spring up in the same place. You spray again, the clover dies before it gets to work leaving a nitrogen deficiency, which leads to clover popping up… do you see the pattern here?
Dandelion taking over? Dandelion is known for loosening up hard-packed soil with its deeply penetrating and widely spreading tap root. These deep roots also mine nutrients from deep in the ground, particularly calcium.
Chickweed a problem? You need phosphorus and potassium. It’s also trying to cover and protect an area that’s been disturbed recently.
Nature has a solution for everything. It’s up to the gardener to learn about these solutions so that you can manipulate them to achieve your garden goals.
What To Do Instead
The alternative solution takes a bit longer to implement, with less work, but the results are more or less permanent. Simply listen to the cues your yard is giving you by paying attention to the indicator species that emerge. Your garden is literally communicating with you, all it takes is a shift in perspective to understand it.
One option, and my favorite, is the do-nothing method. It’s a bit misleading because you still have to carry on with your normal yard maintenance. But when it comes to weed eradication, forget about it. The weeds are providing the soil with what it needs, and once the soil has enough of that nutrient, that particular weed will disappear. All that remains will be the plants you nurture.
The next option is to supplement your garden with the nutrients that your weeds are providing. With the clover example, feed your garden with some extra nitrogen. If there’s enough nitrogen in the soil, the clover won’t have a job to do, and it will go elsewhere. It really is as simple as that.
Of course, if you like your yard to be perfect without a blade of grass out of place, you might have to be a bit more hardcore with your weed control. The same applies for those pesky plants that come up in cracks of your driveway or walkway. In which case, I recommend one of the natural weed killers from the list above.
How We Picked
Since we only wanted safe weed killers on this list, we had to be careful about how we chose products to feature. Here are the criteria we used to choose:
- No glyphosate. Deadly poison should not have a place in your yard.
- Safe ingredients. This one was tricky, since all the ingredients of weed killers do not have to be disclosed, and ‘secret formulas’ abound. However, we did all we could to make sure all of these products don’t contain poisons.
- Effective. Using a natural weed killer is all well and good, as long as it does the one thing you enlisted it to do; kill weeds.
After all that, the best safe weed killer to use in your yard is Doctor Kirchner Natural Weed & Grass Killer.
It uses safe household ingredients to supercharge an age-old recipe for homemade weed killers. You can be sure that your pets and children won’t be absorbing any nasty chemicals when they play in the yard. What’s more, the shelf life of this product is more or less endless. This means whatever you don’t use this spring will be good to go next spring.