Here are four ideas for non-toxic weed killers, if you want to keep your yard free of potentially harmful chemicals. I know there are products on the market that are billed as pet/kid-safe, but I’m more comfortable with these options. They require a little more effort and sometimes repeated application. However, these recipes for non-toxic week killers use household ingredients and *most* don’t require waiting before you play a game of soccer (careful around the borax!).
The Simplest Non-Toxic Weed Killers
1 – Just Boil Water
Yes, seriously! If you need to kill a few weeds and don’t want to permanently destroy your grass or change the pH of the soil, pour boiling water on the weed and it will die. Boiling water will also kill grass (which will regrow), so just be careful where you pour. I tried this method on dandelions last year and it’s mildly effective. The boiling water definitely kills the weed, but dandelions will eventually come back, unless you remove them.
To get rid of dandelions, you truly have to dig out the entire tap root. They are amazingly adept at regenerating if even a tiny sliver of root is left in soil. When you try to pull the plants, I recommend this tool over this dandelion puller, because it’s much easier to get the entire taproot.
2 – Spray Vinegar
Ok, so these methods aren’t all “recipes” since the first two are just single ingredients. Vinegar is a non-toxic (to humans) weed killer. Actually, it will kill any above-ground plants, so be careful where you pour or spray it. I keep a spray bottle of vinegar under the sink, which I use to clean my house (read this post for more info on DIY natural cleaners). It’s my go-to, quick weed killer when weeds sprout up between cracks in our driveway or sidewalk.
I’ve learned that weeds will eventually regrow where I spray vinegar, so this might take a few rounds. It does kill plants within a day or two, but be prepared to spray again a few weeks later. I’ve read that vinegar can change the pH of soil, but I’ve also observed that it doesn’t seem to kill the roots of plants… so unless you pour it directly on the soil, I doubt it has much effect on the pH.
Two Recipes for Non-Toxic Weed Killers
3 – Vinegar + Salt + Dish Soap
Mix in a spray bottle:
24 ounces vinegar
1/4 C table salt
1 tsp dish soap
This is the only recipe that I have not yet tried, because I’ve used the version with borax (below). However, I’ve read that these recipes are supposed to act similarly. The dish soap helps this solution coat the leaves of the plant, and the vinegar kills the leaves and stem above ground. Adding salt to the mix eventually changes the salinity of the soil, making it hard for plants to absorb nutrients. You may need to spray this solution several times, if the weeds regrow, but eventually, they should disappear.
While it’s totally safe for your kids and pets to run through, I would be careful when spot-treating dandelions in the grass. This weed killer is universally destructive to plants, so be advised to avoid any plants or grass that you don’t wish to harm. It’s probably not a good weed killer for your veggie or flower garden beds, because it will create poor soil conditions for any future plants.
4 – Vinegar + Borax + Dish Soap
Mix in a spray bottle:
24 ounces vinegar
1/4 C borax
1 tsp dish soap
This recipe is arguably non-toxic, but that depends on your comfort level with borax. It’s commonly used in cleaning ingredients, but it’s not innocuous. As stated on the box, borax can irritate your skin, so wash your hands after handling it. Also, please don’t eat borax or pour it in your eyes, because both actions are dangerous. Fair warning. Last, keep the box away from kids, period. Now, if you’re comfortable handling borax, you can mix it up with vinegar and a little dish soap for this last weed killer.
I sprayed this mixture on weeds along the garden bed that lines our driveway, far enough away from the nice plants. We’ve been weeding like crazy before a major mulch project, and this spray has been fairly effective.
Like the salt mixture, both of these non-toxic weed killers will destroy any plant material. Use caution if you apply them to garden beds or landscaped areas. I find these sprays are best for areas where no plant life should grow, and I have not tested them on dandelions in the grass.
Last, consider where your kids and pets roam before you apply this borax spray. I only used this spray on areas of the yard where my kids wear shoes or just don’t venture. I’m not terribly worried about them encountering trace amounts of diluted borax, but I do play it safe. If that’s a major concern for you, then try the salt recipe above. Honestly, the only reason that I chose to try borax over salt is that I didn’t have enough salt on hand. Moving forward, I plan to make the salt recipe.
***UPDATE: July 2021***
I’ve started using a new weed killer called Iron X that is billed as “safe for kids and pets” once it’s dry. I’ll let you be the judge of that through your own research, but I can tell you that it works pretty well on dandelions and clover. I buy the concentrate online here and mix it in a spray bottle.
Best Weeding Tools
I mentioned above that I’ve tried a few weeding tools for dandelions. Ugh, they are so hard to battle without major chemicals. My best tip is to make sure the ground is soft or don’t bother weeding. If you break the plant and the tap root remains, you’ll see that weed again. I find it easiest to work on weeds first thing in the morning, or after a good rain, and these are the tools I like best.
This tall weed puller is my favorite tool for dandelions and other larger weeds.
The tall size gives you more leverage than a handheld tool, like this one, but this size is also handy. Either way, the end should be forked.
NOT like this guy. At first, this tool is fun to push into the soil and spin around, but it almost never pulls the entire tap root. Plus, it’s hard to push the chunk of soil back out of it.
Good Luck Keeping Your Yard Weed-Free!
Do you have any other tips on effective and non-toxic week killers? I would love to try some new ideas and I have no shortage of weeds… I hope you have good luck with them this summer!
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