10 Non-Toxic Ways to Control Weeds

gloved hands pulling weeds from the garden with a shovel

Weeds are the bane of every gardener, especially as the days heat up and vacation season starts. But short of hand-digging them every day, it can be a real challenge to stay on top of your weeds before they strangle out your veggies and flowers.

Here are 10 non-toxic ways to handle weeds in your garden…

Skip the Toxic Herbicides

Although hand-digging and hoeing are the most effective methods for removing weeds, it can be tempting to use a little Round-Up or other store-bought herbicide to make quick work of your weeds—especially if they’ve gotten a little out of hand. But there are some very important health and environmental reasons to avoid them.

A study by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found that glyphosate (Round-Up) residue in food may act synergistically with other food-borne chemical residues and environmental toxins to disrupt normal body functions and lead to the development of Parkinson’s disease, infertility or cancer.

Indeed both the state of California and the World Health Organization have deemed glyphosate to be a probable carcinogen. In fact, Bayer is considering banning Round-Up for U.S. residential use because they keep losing lawsuits by people diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma after being exposed to glyphosate, Roundup’s active ingredient. 

In 2009, a French study found that a filler ingredient used in Roundup called polyethoxylated tallowamine was more deadly to human cells than the main ingredient, glyphosate.

In the environment, glyphosate usage has led to the evolution of glyphosate-resistant weeds covering an estimated 120 million hectares globally. Glyphosate also chelates micronutrients in the soil, leading to decreased photosynthesis, decreased resistance to drought, and increased spread of disease. In fact, more than 40 plant diseases have been linked to glyphosate use.

Glyphosate is toxic to many beneficial micro- and macro-organisms including earthworms. It also harms soil microbes responsible for growth, mineral uptake and disease prevention. In sum, crops grown with or around glyphosate are simply less nutritious.

Glyphosate’s high water solubility makes it extremely toxic to many frog species and other aquatic life. On land, the major decline of Monarch butterfly populations is partially caused by glyphosate applications killing off the milkweed habitat that Monarch larvae need to feed and grow.

Finally, glyphosate has been found to contaminate ground water supplies as well as rain and air in Spain and the US, threatening our drinking water. Glyphosate has also been detected in the bloodstreams of Americans and Europeans at levels exceeding drinking water standards.

To avoid these serious long-term health and environmental effects, skip the Round-Up and other herbicides, and try some of these effective, organic methods to control your weeds instead.

10 Organic Weed Control Methods

1. Mulching

Covering your garden soil with a layer of organic matter can smother and inhibit weeds, as well as prevent new seeds from germinating. Good sources of mulch include wood chips, compost, grass clippings, and straw. Just be sure not to get hay, which can contain a lot of unwanted seeds.

You can also put down ground cloth, newspaper, cardboard, old cotton curtains or bed sheets, landscape fabric, or other thick material on your soil to prevent weeds from growing through. This is especially helpful to do in your garden pathways before you put down gravel, stone or wood chips.

2. Crowding

wide row planting beds using crowding to stop weeds
Wide row planting beds shade the soil as the plants mature.

Weeds can’t take hold in your garden if there’s no space for them.

In ornamental beds, plant groundcovers and perennial plants to cover and shade the soil.

In your vegetable gardens, try either the Square-Foot gardening method or wide-row planting method so that your plant leaves will just touch each other at maturity. As the plants grow, their leaves will shade the bed and deprive weeds of sunlight.

3. Limit Tilling and Digging

Tilling or turning over your garden soil will bring new weed seeds to the surface. Instead, try using the no-till method of gardening or Lasagna gardening, where you disturb the soil as little as possible.

If you are planting seeds, only dig down as far as you need to plant them, instead of tilling up the entire bed. The no-till method also improves soil structure and fertility, and increases the population beneficial organisms in the soil.

4. Solarizing

raised garden bed with plastic sheeting used to solarize weeds in the soil
Clear plastic over the soil to cook the weeds out.

Solarizing your soil involves covering an area of weedy ground with a clear, heavy plastic sheet. (Black plastic does not work as well.) This only works in full sun and warm weather where the heat will collect under the sheet and literally cook your weeds. Leave the sheet in place for 4 to 6 weeks, and remove only once all the weeds are brown and dry.

For even more effectiveness, till the soil to bring weed seeds to the surface, and let them sprout just before solarizing.

5. Fertilize and Irrigate Carefully

The nutrients and water you give to your garden will help weeds grow just as much as they will help the veggies and flowers you want. Only give your plants what they need.

Use drip irrigation, irrigation bags or olla pots to provide water only to the roots of your plants, not the empty spaces around them. Give heavy feeders like squash, tomatoes and cucumbers extra compost, but feed crops like root vegetables much less.

6. Boiling Water

Boil a kettle of water and pour it over any weeds to burn them. This technique is great for weeds growing in the cracks of pavement and coming up in your garden paths. The water will cool as it runs off so it won’t hurt any plants you want to keep.

7. Vodka or Rubbing Alcohol

Try this weed-killing recipe on your annual weeds growing in full sun:

gloved hands pulling weeds from the garden with a shovel
5 from 1 vote

Alcohol-Based Weed Killer

Try this weed-killing recipe on your annual weeds growing in full sun.
Makes16 ounces
Prep Time 5 minutes
Total Time 5 minutes



  • Mix everything into a small spray bottle. Spray on weeds to dry them out and kill them.
  • Be careful not to spray on any of your regular plants, because the alcohol will dry out whatever it hits. This spray does not work well in shady areas.

8. Vinegar

This vinegar mix is good for drying out weeds too, though you may have to apply it multiple times on weeds with a long taproot, like dandelion.

gloved hands pulling weeds from the garden with a shovel
5 from 1 vote

Salt and Vinegar Weed Killer

This vinegar mix is good for drying out weeds, though you may have to apply it multiple times on weeds with a long taproot, like dandelion.
Prep Time 5 minutes
Total Time 5 minutes



  • Wearing gloves and goggles, mix everything into a sprayer and spray directly onto your weeds, making sure to avoid the plants you want. It works even better in full sun.

If you use 20% or 30% vinegar (available online), this formula will work much better, but the vinegar is so acidic, you will need to use gloves and goggles to ensure any spray doesn’t blow back and burn your skin or eyes.

9. Corn Gluten

Corn gluten meal is a byproduct of the corn milling process that just so happens to prevent weed seeds from germinating. It does nothing to kill weeds once they have sprouted, however.

Corn gluten meal is often applied to lawns to prevent crabgrass and dandelions from sprouting, but it can be used in other garden areas, after the seeds you want have sprouted.

It’s non-toxic, and if you buy certified organic corn gluten meal, there will be no GMOs or glyphosate residue. If you can’t find it in your local garden center, corn gluten meal is available online.

10. Flame weeders

flame weeder burning out weeds on a patio
Flame weeders burn your weeds out.

A flame weeder is a wand connected to a propane tank which enables you to pass a flame over a weed in order to fatally heat the plant tissues. Flaming will only kill the leaves above the ground, not the roots, so you may need to flame your weeds a few times before they’re gone.

Flame weeders are extremely effective on all types of weeds, and if you have a large garden or small farm, they are worth the investment. Just take great care when using a flame weeder during a dry spell, when there is a risk of fire.

You can find flame weeders in garden and hardware stores, or online.

With so many great organic weed control methods to try, why would you ever grab a bottle of that toxic stuff?

Updated June 28, 2023


37 thoughts on “10 Non-Toxic Ways to Control Weeds”

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  1. It’s interesting to know that pouring boiling water over weeds is an effective way to eliminate them. My dad had asked my siblings and me to find a way to get rid of the weeds in our garden and front lawn. We plan to purchase a weed killer product this weekend, but perhaps I should try the method you suggested tomorrow morning too. Thanks!

    1. It works quite well for annual weeds with shallow roots. Not so well for perennial weeds with taproots. Good luck!

  2. I agree with TJ. The ecomight weedkiller is amazing. We manage property in Florida and vegetation management control for 20+ years. Glyhphosate is a hot topic the thing is finally a natural product is better than the synthetics. Meaning, ecomight herbicide is better than glyphsoate. It works on all invasive weeds, it’s systemic, translocates into the roots, is safe to use for the environment and the residual is 3-4 times more than roundup. We love it and hope anyone reading this will start to implement an organic regime to their property management control. Just wanted to share our results. Thanks!

  3. Why isn’t the EcoMight Weed killer on your list? It’s by far the best weed killer we have used in my 30+years as a turf grass manager (LA County), it’s organic, has no glyphosate, and believe it or not is stronger and works better than any herbicide (synthetic or toxic). Thought I would share a “must-have” product because all we see these days is misinformation (use vinegar, salt, bleach, boil water, etc). The public is misinformed and should have the facts.. –TJ Atkins, Pro System Grass & Organics LTD

    1. This product is not readily available to the average garden-store consumer, and there is nothing I could find on their website about what this product contains or exactly what makes it “safe.” Therefore I can’t personally recommend the product to my readers, who care a lot about these things. However, your comment will let people know the product is out there if they’d like to try it.

  4. While hand pulling the weeds is something that most of us know not to hurt the garden, it is also quite tiresome. So if you are looking for organic methods to keep a check on the weeds, you will find them all here in this blog. The blog focuses on eliminating the toxicity and giving organic options for controlling weeds.

  5. Hello and thanks for the info.

    Just tilled my front lawn and half of my sideyard down to almost 8 inches deep.
    It raised quite some dust so I used a breathing mask.
    I am to till the rest of the yard so all roots will be disrooted…( is that a word?)
    Then I need to spray something nontoxic pet/ kid safe on the front lawn and use cover on the yard to permanently stop any plants from growing ever again.
    I plan to use the plastic cover and eventually layer gravel on top, maybe even pave with cement some of the yard sections… looking forward to a low to maintenance free scenario that would be nontoxic.

  6. I have a different problem. The property I purchased 10 years ago was completely overgrown from 5 years that the house had sat empty. Even after 10 years of back breaking pulling of weeds they always go rampant around the end of August and become way more than I can handle. I need something that will literally kill everything but that stays active for a very short time. I’m looking for something that can be done in the fall but leave soil plantable the following spring. Does such a product or technique exist? I live in Southeast Colorado where we usually have very mild winters with many days into the 70’s. I have to water my lawns in winter to keep them from dying. Would a weed barrier cook work? HELP I am so sick of weeds.

    1. I think you are going to have to settle for scorched earth method. I don’t know how big your property is but you may end up doing this in sections over a couple of years. Mark off and area at the beginning of summer go in with a heavy tiller and till up the area at least 8 inches and then follow it up with the flame weeding torch. This will also burn up roots that have been exposed. Till it up a second time and then use the solarizing method. The nice thing about solarizing is also kills soil fungi that can cause lawn diseases. Keep the barrier on through september or when the daytime temps are in the mid 60s and the night time temps are in the 40s. Then take off the barrier and rake in your grass seed (if this is a lawn at a rate of about 30lbs fer 1/4 acre and then spread out some composted manure or organic topsoil at about 1/2 inch over it. We have in 4lbs back here in Virginia at Southern States. There should be a cooperative near you that has somethin like that. It will grow nice and thick which will also deter weeds.

  7. Can’t remember where I read it, but a sprinkling of TOPSOIL in the spring will eliminate most dandelions.
    They hate topsoil. I have done this 2 year now and it works really well !

  8. We use Burnout (8%clove oil + 24% citric acid) diluted with 3 parts water.
    Works fairly well.
    Not sure if material treated with this product can be added to compost, however.

  9. Thank you for your article., it is very helpful.
    A quick question please: what is your opinion of polymer + sand as a product to safely and organically eliminate weeds? The administrator of our building has begun to apply such a product on paved areas of our common garden courtyard.
    Again, thank you very much for your suggestions.
    R. Elizabeth

    1. I don’t know anything about the product but I’m sure there is information out there if you search under the product brand name. Best to you!

    2. What I do for my paver stone patio area is I take water softener salt and I brush it with a broom to get in between the pavers. That seems to discourage a lot of weeds (though dandelions don’t care).

  10. Here I was getting excited about dealing with glyphosate that drifts in from the farmers spraying it on the fields next to our yard! You can see how my mind works. My neighbors use spray and I tried to talk to one of them last year about it. It didn’t seem to do any good. The property immediately around us is rented by them from my elderly FIL who, at least in part, lives off the land rental fees and lives next door to us. Argh…

    Do you have any idea how much gets into plants that just get a little drift? I assume if the broad leaves grow in a misshapen way the stuff is throughout the plant. Also — do you know if plants that don’t have broad leaves are affected? I know beans react (as well as roses, lilacs, delphinium, ash, etc.).

    Do you think throwing a tarp over the plants during a spray would be adequate protection (providing I can get that type of communication)?

    Thanks for any insight you may have!

    1. A tarp would probably provide adequate protection, but you’ll have to talk to your local extension agent about what plants are most effected by the sprays your neighbor uses.

  11. Thanks Dawn for this article, I am going to share it. Nothing worse than seeing people spray roundup on their dandelon!!!Thanks for the inspiratio!

  12. For many years I have been battling a bed of weeds just off my back porch. The first year I pulled them all. The next year I put down weedblocking fabric. The next year I put mulch on top of the fabric. The next year I put stone on top of that. Last year I put cardboard over it all and another layer of mulch on top. This year I still have knee high weeds and so far have done nothing with them. Any other ideas?

    1. You have to keep after them even after laying down the barriers because seeds from nearby weeds will come in and germinate on the mulch. Don’t let the weeds in your yard go to seed or you’ll never be rid of them! 🙂

  13. This year I tried the newspaper approach because I was trying to save money and I can get all the old newspapers I want for free from our local newspaper distribution hub. To hold down the paper and keep it from blowing away, I put down a layer of leaves that I mulched while cleaning my yard. An entire month has gone by since and my garden is completely weed free!! I am so thrilled that this method actually works.

  14. Chickens looooove canadian thistle roots… Yes those spiny, painful and incredibly invasive purple flowering skinny thistles.

    These type have long tap roots that connect to a deep horizintal runner root. So if you break the shoots off a tap, each piece becomes a new plant, and if you dont go deep enough, the sprouts replace themselves from the original runner.

    This year i have a TON LESS THISTLES (and other weeds)… How? = Till, add chickens, dig to help, till again and repeat for a couple of days.

  15. My backyard looks more like a jungle in the summer with all the weeds we have. Thanks for the info. I’m gonna try some of these suggestions. I hate using weed control from the store b/c I worry about my dogs being in the yard after we spray it.

  16. Avatar photo

    Thanks for sharing these ideas ~ I seem to have more weeds than normal this year. I eat all the weeds I can (lol) but some are just invasive and inedible and so.. they must go!!

    1. I have used the vinegar × table salt spray in walk ways. But have to be careful how much solution I use under trees and in the lawn. Salt (sodium chloride) kills the soil indiscriminately. Anyone tried Epsom salt (magnesium chloride) instead of table salt? It would be less harmful to surrounding plants.

  17. Avatar photo
    J+E | Real Simple Good

    Oh this is just what we need!! We have so much weeding and work to do on our property at our new home! Pinned to our Small Farm board. Thanks!

  18. Avatar photo
    Lindsey Dietz

    I just spent half an hour digging up thistles by hand — there’s a chemical-free weed control! LOL!

  19. Avatar photo
    Anna@Green Talk

    I started using salt and water on hard to kill dandelions. It does a so so job. I don’t mind them in my lawn but hate them in the cracks in my patio! I have used everything you mentioned above and those darn thing just keep coming back!

  20. Avatar photo
    Emily @ Recipes to Nourish

    Such important info! I really wish everyone would stop using pesticides. They’re so awful and are destroying our earth. I hope info like this keeps spreading.

  21. These are great ideas for me. We live on a lake and are not allowed to use toxic chemicals in our yards (or wash our cars:) so I need alternatives. Thanks!



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