It’s no secret, some of the chemicals they put in weed killer have a bad reputation.
With potential hazards ranging from skin and eye irritation to breathing difficulties and dizziness. And even possibly cancer.
In fact, one of the most commonly used, 2,4-D, is better known as one half of the infamous chemical concoction Agent Orange.
I think it’s understandable if you’d rather not have that near your pets!
Fortunately, there are natural alternatives that can do the job.
So in this article, I’ll show you a range of options, including DIY and pre-made solutions you can buy. And I’ll help you find the best pet friendly weed killer for your situation.
The Top Choices At A Glance:
- Doctor Kirchner Natural Weed Killer – Best To Kill Weeds Quickly
- Preen Vegetable Garden Weed Preventer – Best Pre-emergent
- Nature’s Avenger Organic Weed Killer
- Natural Armor Weed & Grass Killer
- Espoma Organic Weed Preventer Plus Lawn Food – Best Dog Safe Weed And Feed For Lawns
All links lead to Amazon, where you can find more information & customer reviews.
The Best Pet Friendly Weed Killers Commercially Available
The truth is, most commercially available products are toxic.
But fortunately, some companies specialize in organic weed killers that don’t pose problems for animals or people when used responsibly.
These are my favorites:
Doctor Kirchner Natural Weed Killer
This product contains a mixture of ocean seawater, high strength vinegar, and soap.
The salt and vinegar kill weeds within hours. And it’s aided by the soap, which helps the mixture to stick to the surface of the weeds without rolling off, increasing its effectiveness.
But, it’s a non-selective weed killer that can kill any vegetation it comes into contact with. This means that it’s not a good idea to use on your lawn.
Instead, it’s best used to spot treat areas of weeds around flower beds and vegetable gardens. Or for killing anything sprouting up between patio stones and pathways.
Although you should direct it carefully at your specific target, you don’t have to worry about a small amount that gets on nearby plants. Because you need to fully wet the plants before it has full effect.
It works best when applied to small weeds that are still growing, as multiple applications may be required for mature weeds.
It’s easy to use as it comes ready to spray. And it doesn’t require any safety gear, because it’s safe for people, pets, and the environment. Once it’s dried, you can let your pets back out.
It’s also useful that it has a long shelf-life that will keep it effective even when stored away for many years.
Preen Vegetable Garden Weed Preventer
Preen is a pre-emergent weed killer. This means that you use it on the ground BEFORE weeds appear to prevent their growth.
Which makes it great to use in early spring to stop weeds from infesting vegetable gardens, flower beds, and lawns.
But, it’s no good for dealing with an existing weed problem. This means that before using it, you’ll first have to clear the area by hand.
How does it work?
It’s made from corn gluten meal which has a high level of protein. Once this gets into the ground it prevents weeds from growing for 4 to 6 weeks.
Don’t use it on newly seeded areas. But you can use it around new plants that are at least 2 or 3 inches tall and have developed true leaves.
As it’s completely natural, with no chemicals involved, it’s child and pet-friendly.
Nature’s Avenger Organic Weed Killer
The main active ingredient in this powerful organic weed killer is d-limonene from citrus oil, naturally obtained from oranges and lemons.
So not only does it kill weeds, but it has a pleasant fruity scent as well.
It works by stripping away the waxy cuticle of the plant which causes it to dehydrate and die. With results often seen within 2 hours, making it faster acting than most chemical alternatives. And after you have a few showers of rain, the withered weeds break down and disappear.
It comes in a concentrate which needs to be mixed with water. And the manufacturer gives recommended concentrations to mix to. But this also allows you to make it a bit stronger to deal with any particularly stubborn weeds.
As it’s a non-selective weed killer that kills on contact, it’s effective at dealing with a wide range of unwanted vegetation. Including grasses, thistles, dandelion, and ground ivy. So you have to be careful what you spray it on.
It’s good for using carefully around flower beds and vegetable gardens. Or areas of stone or gravel. But it’s not a great choice for your lawn.
For the best results, use it on short annual weeds that are not much more than 6 inches tall.
Natural Armor Weed & Grass Killer
Natural Armor is a natural weed killer with a track record of good results. It consists of vinegar, salt, lemon juice, citric acid, and clove oil.
You can use it to get rid of over 250 different weed and grass species. In any location where you don’t want them growing, including around flower beds, driveways, fence lines, and gravel areas.
But, the same precautions apply as with some of the products above. It’s non-selective so you have to be careful when spraying around plants you want to keep.
The product comes ready to use and has a trigger sprayer. So there’s no messing around, you can take it straight outside and get to work. With results visible in a few hours, and weeds usually completely killed within a day.
And the best part?
Your garden will be completely safe and healthy for your pets to frolic in.
Natural Armor is so confident that you’ll be happy with their product that they offer a 100% money-back guarantee.
Espoma Organic Weed Preventer Plus Lawn Food
This pet friendly weed and feed for lawns works as a pre-emergent weed preventer, while also boosting grass growth due to the 8.23% slow release nitrogen it contains.
Its granules are made from corn gluten meal that you apply to the ground in early spring when soil temperatures get to around 65 F. This is the best time both to stop weed seed germination and to provide a good dose of fertilizer.
It lasts for about 6 weeks at a time, so you might want to use again around about that time. Many people also recommend using it once more in the fall after the hot summer weather ends.
The 25 lbs bag covers 1,250 sq. ft.
Green Gobbler Natural & Organic Weed & Grass Killer
This fast-acting natural weed killer is free from all chemicals commonly found in herbicides. So you won’t find the likes of glyphosate on the ingredients list!
Instead, it’s a corn-derived 20% vinegar-based solution that’s 4 times more powerful than normal table vinegar and certified for organic use.
As well as being safe for your pets and for people, it has another big advantage over most chemical products:
You can expect weeds to die in just a matter of hours. And they almost completely disintegrate within a day. Whereas most chemical weed killers take weeks to do the job.
It works great to control crabgrass, clover, dandelions, and moss. And can be used in any location where you want to remove weeds and grasses. Making it perfect for residential and agricultural use.
It’s ready to spray straight from the bottle, so it’s easy to use, with 1 gallon covering 1,200 sq. ft.
You should keep your pets away from the area while you are spraying. But once it’s dry it’s completely safe to let them roam around again.
However, care has to be taken to avoid spraying on plants and grass that you want to keep. Unfortunately, because vinegar is non-selective it will kill them as well. So it’s advised to use cardboard to shield nearby flowers and shrubs.
And as a post-emergent weed killer, it’s only good for killing weeds once they have grown. It can’t be used on areas of ground to prevent them from growing.
The company stands by this product’s effectiveness. So Green Gobbler comes with a 30 day unconditional money-back guarantee.
Tips For Choosing A Pet Safe Weed Killer
By choosing the right product, you can keep your garden free of weeds without resorting to toxic and harmful chemicals.
To make sure you get exactly what you need here are some of the most important factors to consider before you buy a pet-safe weed killer:
Anything that’s good for the environment will probably also be safe for pets. So ideally, you should look for products that are advertised as being organic and natural.
But sometimes it’s not clear. If you find yourself looking at a bottle of weed killer unsure if the ingredients are safe, check out some of the most common types to avoid that we’ve listed below.
Post-emergent v Pre-emergent
It’s important to realize that there are two types of weed killers available. And the type you need will depend on your weed problem.
Firstly, you have Post-emergent weed killers. These only kill weeds already growing and visible. And often, they don’t prevent regrowth.
Whereas Pre-emergent weed killers are used before weeds appear. They prevent germination, stopping weeds from growing. But, they don’t kill weeds already infesting your garden.
Where Do You Need To Use It?
Most natural weed killers are non-selective. Which means they’ll damage and kill just about any vegetation you choose to spray them on.
That’s great if it’s what you’re looking for. These herbicides are ideal for spraying driveways, patios, and pathways. And any other hard surface with weeds growing through the cracks.
But if you’re spraying them around your garden you need to more careful. Most of them only cause damage on contact. So with care, you can use them around flowers, shrubs, and vegetable gardens.
But lawns are a problem for non-selective weed killers. They’re just as likely to kill your grass as your weeds.
For lawns, you’ll need a selective weed killer that only kills weeds and leaves your grass alone.
How To Use Weed Killer In A Pet Friendly Way
The products we’ve recommended in the reviews above are all pet safe weed killers. So you have plenty of leeway with this.
But even so, excessive and incorrect usage of a non-toxic product can still cause problems. There are several things to consider to use them as effectively and safely as possible.
Keep Your Pets Away From The Area You’re Treating
Organic weed killers may be very safe, but you still need to take care when you first apply them.
Vinegar based products can burn the eyes and cause irritation to skin. And even eating too much cornmeal can cause digestive problems.
It will be easier and safer for you to keep your pets indoors while you go about the job.
You’d be amazed at how many people don’t do this and then complain about the results.
So try to use it exactly the way it’s supposed to be used.
How much should you use? How long should you keep your pets away from the treated area? These are important to take note of.
The manufacturer will provide the precise steps to follow to ensure safety, so it’s always best to stick to them.
Avoid Windy Days
This goes hand in hand with keeping your pets at a safe distance.
It’s not a big issue, but it’s best to avoid windy days when spraying weed killer.
You see, the wind can be a small hazard:
Firstly, it causes weed killer to drift onto plants that you don’t want to treat.
Secondly, it could get onto areas you wanted to leave untreated.
And thirdly, it can also cause more of the product to get onto you as well.
And that’s not all:
By blowing your spray away from the areas you’re targeting you’ll be disappointed with the results you get.
Is It Wet Outside?
This isn’t a safety issue, but it can be very important if you don’t want to waste your time.
If you’re using a vinegar or citrus oil-based product then you should avoid using it when it’s wet outside.
Why? Because rainwater can dilute the weed killer, which means it won’t be as effective. This can also happen with the dew in the morning.
When using vinegar, the sun actually seems to increase the effects. So it’s worth waiting for a hot sunny day.
Natural Alternatives To Commercial Weed Killers
The products we recommended have been specially formulated and tested for maximum effectiveness. While also being safe for your pets and the environment.
But there are other natural alternatives. Some of which you can find around the house.
Here are some ideas that you can try:
Get Stuck In By Hand
It’s the old traditional way, but it’s still the most effective if you’ve got the time for it.
There’s no doubt, it can be a big job. But it’s 100% safe for your pets. And when you do it regularly and keep on top of the problem, it only requires a small amount of work here and there.
It’s best used for small amount of weeds around flower or vegetable gardens as it’s back-breaking work over larger areas.
We recommend getting yourself a stand up weed removing tool to make it easier, especially for weeds embedded in your lawn.
This one is recommended:
This weeding tool comes with a long 39 inch handle, giving you the power to quickly and easily remove weeds from anywhere in your garden without back-breaking work or toxic chemicals.
It’s simple to use:
First push the claws into the root system of your target plant, taking care to make sure it’s correctly centered. Then pull back on the handle, grabbing the weed. Finally, lift the weed and its root system out of the ground
Once extracted, you press the scraper at the bottom of the midway handle to deposit the weed plug into your compost or a bin.
If used on your lawn it leaves a small hole approximately the size of a quarter. But this is quickly covered up by your grass after a few days with adequate water.
It’s effective for dealing with almost any weed including dandelions, crabgrass, and dallisgrass.
Unlike other inferior brands that are made of plastic and prone to breaking, this steel tool is durable and will handle anything you throw at it.
Also resistant to rust, this weed remover comes with a lifetime warranty giving you many years of hard use.
Turn Up The Heat
Burning weeds with fire is an excellent time tested method that doesn’t involve the use of toxic chemicals.
But of course, it has to be done in a very controlled manner.
The best way of doing it is to use a torch that’s specially designed for the job.
This one is highly recommended:
This torch uses a refillable propane tank and generates up to 2000 F heat.
It’s ideal for home use, or for professional landscapers who are looking to keep gardens weed free without the risk of chemicals or the need for mowing in awkward to reach places.
With its 23 inch handle and 10 ft gas hose it’s easy to take aim accurately for an efficient weeding experience. Some people even find it fun.
It’s made in the USA and has the member tested seal of approval from the National Home Gardening Club. And it’s certified by CSA International, a leading standards organization.
How To Remove Weeds With A Torch
Try to follow these steps when using a torch:
- First, make sure any combustible debris lying in the area has been swept away.
- Then light up the torch and move slowly through the target area carefully passing your flame over the weeds so that they die. Target the roots and leaves.
- If necessary, sweep up any of the extinguished remains from the area.
It’s best to torch weeds when they are young and just emerging. So try to get into the routine of doing it each year in the spring and early summer. Then torch every 2 or 3 weeks as necessary to keep on top of any new growths.
There are also some precautions you should take when burning weeds.
Don’t torch them during periods of drought, and especially don’t torch them if they’re growing on dry and potentially combustible materials. You don’t want to have an emergency!
You should also avoid burning poison ivy or any other plants that are poisonous, because inhaling the smoke could cause an allergic reaction.
Lay Down The Weed Control Fabric
Weed control landscape fabric is sometimes recommended by people to use under stones and pavers, preventing growth around paths and walkways.
It can also be used around trees and shrubs. The permeable fabric allows water, air, and nutrients into the soil making it available for roots.
Another benefit is that it can actually promote the healthy growth of your plants. How? By preventing weeds from growing, stopping them from using up essential nutrients and vitamins in the soil.
When you use fabric you also cover it with mulch, and you might find that you occasionally get weeds growing in the mulch. But these can be removed by hand.
Weed barrier fabric has a mixed reputation, it’s not loved by all. Some gardeners feel that although permeable, it restricts the flow of water and nutrients and can leave the soil beneath lacking in these vital ingredients.
It can also be difficult to remove weeds that grow through the fabric, or when a shrub dies and you need to move it.
If you’re interested in giving it a try take a look at this weed control fabric:
This weed barrier fabric is a simple and easy to use solution to stopping weeds while letting air and water still get to your soil.
It comes in a 3 ft. by 100 ft. roll of woven fabric, combined with non-woven, that’s light and easy to carry. And also easy to cut to your desired specifications.
But at the same time, this is a professional heavy-duty fabric that’s durable and provides long-lasting protection. And the company are confident enough in their product to offer a 100% refund if you’re not satisfied for any reason.
Installing Your Weed Barrier Fabric
Putting weed barrier fabric to use in your garden is quite easy, and doesn’t take too much time.
Follow these simple steps:
Step 1: Remove Existing Vegetation
Before you get started laying down the fabric, first dig out all the weeds and vegetation leaving bare soil. Make sure you dig deep enough to take out their roots. The garden weasel tool mentioned above is a great choice for making this a quick and easy process to complete.
Step 2: Clear And Level
Next, clear and level the soil by raking thoroughly. Make sure to rake out any sharp material such as stones and twigs that might cause damage to the fabric.
Step 3: Lay The Fabric Down
Roll out the weed barrier fabric to the length of the area and then cut using a sharp knife. If you need multiple pieces of fabric make sure they overlap by 6 inches or more.
Step 4: Secure The Fabric
Once the fabric is placed in position you can use landscape fabric staples to secure it to the ground. Insert a staple along seams and edges about every 10 feet. If you are using ground cover then this will also help to weigh it down.
Step 5: Insert Plants
If you’re planting through the fabric, then this is the time to make x shaped cuts in the fabric using a knife or scissors. You’ll need to plant the root ball in the ground, so make sure the incisions are big enough.
Step 6: Cover With Mulch
Now you’re ready to cover the fabric with mulch or another ground cover of your choice. You don’t need much more than a couple of inches of cover if using natural mulch.
Doused In Boiling Water
A quick and easy method that’s also very effective is to douse them in boiling water.
Just boil up a kettle and then carefully pour it on the selected areas you want to treat. But think about where you want to use it, because it will kill all plant life that you pour it on.
This makes it good for using on cracks in driveways and patios. And not so good for lawns, because it will kill your grass as well.
You may need to re-apply it several times for stubborn weeds.
Be sure to keep animals and children out of the way, for obvious reasons. Boiling water may be safe for the environment, but it has a nasty habit of being at the center of many household accidents.
Spray Some Vinegar
Vinegar forms the basis for many natural weed killers that are available on the market.
And for good reason: it’s an ingredient that’s proven to work.
But, there’s a difference between the vinegar you have at home and the type of vinegar often used.
Whereas distilled white vinegar is usually about 5% concentration, the commercially available products use vinegar at around 20%.
The problem with using a 5% solution is that it often isn’t strong enough to kill all the weeds. And you may need multiple applications.
But if you can get hold of a stronger concentration, it will do the job as well as most commercial products. The only drawback here is that it costs more so there isn’t much of a saving.
Be selective where you’re spraying when you’re using vinegar, as it can damage any plant you spray it on.
This is a pet-safe weed killer when used correctly. The important thing to remember is that vinegar is an acid. And if it’s strong enough to kill plants, it’s also strong enough to burn sensitive areas and even skin.
So it’s not safe to have pets around you while using it as it can get in the nose, eyes, and throat causing irritation.
For the same set of reasons, you should be careful yourself about any exposed areas of your body.
When using vinegar, it’s ideal to use it on a sunny day, because the sun’s rays increase its effectiveness.
A Salty Solution
Cheap, simple, and safe, salt is a weed remedy that won’t cause any hazard to the health of your pets.
One way of doing it is to just sprinkle a decent amount into the area you want to treat and then add water so that it dissolves. It stops them from growing by making the soil inhospitable.
But that’s also a catch with this method.
Because it will stop any other plants from growing as well.
Which means it’s no good for use in flower beds, vegetable gardens or lawns. Instead, this method is best reserved for areas where you don’t want anything to grow. Such as pathways, driveways, and under decking.
Although this is a pet-safe weed killer, try not to leave too much lying around in areas where your pets walk, because it can be irritating for their paws.
A more controlled way of using salt when you’re growing plants is to prepare a solution in water. Then apply it using a spray or funnel onto the weeds you are targeting. The salt causes them to dehydrate and disrupts the water balance of their cells.
Water the ground well after use so that any salt that gets into the ground will leach to a level below the root zone of any desirable plants nearby.
Sweet As Sugar
Sugar works in a similar way to salt. When spread around the base of the weeds it makes the soil bad for plant growth.
But this means it also comes with the same advice about where you can and can’t expect to use it.
There are two main problems with this method:
Firstly, sugar also attracts lots of insects, such as ants who love to get hold of anything sweet and edible. To counter this, you can mix it 50:50 with chili powder.
And secondly, it doesn’t just attract insects. Your pets might decide to take an interest as well and could get the chili powder in their nose, causing irritation. It’s not a big problem, but it’s worth keeping an eye on them to see if they show an interest in it.
Spreading Corn Gluten Meal
Corn gluten meal provides the basis for most of the natural pre-emergent weed killers commercially available.
Because it stops newly germinated weed seeds from growing, it’s best used in early spring a couple of weeks before weeds appear.
It won’t have any effect on weeds that have already grown. But this also means that it’s safe to spread around lawns and existing landscape plants without fear of damage.
And of course, it’s a very safe option to use around your pets.
Covered In Mulch
Laying down a 2-4 inch thick layer of mulch is a great way to stop weeds from growing in your garden.
A layer that thick can stop light from getting down to the soil, preventing many weeds from germinating. While still allowing water and the transfer of nutrients from the mulch to enrich the soil.
One drawback is that it’s obviously not an option to cover your lawn in mulch. And it won’t do much for you in areas with fully grown weeds already.
But it’s perfect for laying down around flower beds and vegetable gardens.
And if you use natural organic materials such as straw, bark, chopped leaves, pine needles, or compost, etc then it’s totally safe for your pets as well.
Use Allelopathic Plants
Using allelopathic plants is a completely natural way of controlling weeds that uses the negative effects that certain plant species have on one another.
It occurs through natural compounds known as allelochemicals that are designed to suppress competitor plant growth when released into the soil.
Plants that do this are sometimes called ‘Nature’s Weed Killers’ because they’re so good at it.
They have a range of effects from limiting the production of chlorophyll (inhibiting photosynthesis), to preventing germination.
Some of the species of allelopathic plants include black walnut, rhododendron, fragrant sumac, sorghum, and elderberry. You can find out more about it here.
Squeeze Some Lemon Juice
Like vinegar, lemon juice is highly acidic and can make quick work of weeds.
Simply squeeze some fresh lemons into a glass. Transfer it to a spray bottle and then carefully coat the weeds you’re trying to get rid of.
It can kill weeds within a couple of days. Although occasionally you might need a second application.
The same safety precautions apply as with vinegar.
The main drawback is that if you have a lot of weeds you’ll need to squeeze a lot of lemons to have enough juice for them all.
The ideas listed above are useful. But they’re not always the most convenient ways to get the job done.
It’s often a lot quicker and easier to walk around your garden using a spray, as long as it’s effective.
If you’re looking to take matters into your own hands, consider trying the following homemade weed killer recipes:
Vinegar & Salt
This recipe uses the acidic power of vinegar and the dehydrating properties of salt. Mixing the two together with a little bit of soap also helps the mixture to coat the plant and aids absorption of the salt solution.
You can try this weed killer recipe with standard 5% vinegar. But it will work even better if you can get one at around 10-20% concentration.
- 1 cup of salt
- 1 tablespoon of soap
- Put a gallon of vinegar in an empty container
- Add the cup of salt and stir until you see it dissolve
- Then add the tablespoon of soap and mix together
- Use a spray to apply the solution to your weeds
Apple Cider Vinegar & Epsom Salt
This recipe works in a similar way to the one above, only it doesn’t use the soap.
- Apple cider vinegar
- ½ a cup of Epsom salt
- Put 2 cups of apple cider vinegar into a spray bottle
- Then add the Epsom salt
- Shake the bottle to mix the ingredients
- Works great on weeds in cracks between patio and paving stones
Lemon Oil & Vinegar
Adding lemon oil increases the weed killing power of this mixture.
- Lemon essential oil
- Pour 1 cup of vinegar into a spray bottle
- Add 20 drops of lemon oil
- Then add a ½ cup of water
- Shake the mixture together, and shake it again before you use it
- Spray carefully onto the weeds
Things To Keep In Mind
Vinegar and lemon essential oil are non-selective and will kill more than just weeds.
But that’s not all. They also have antibacterial properties and can be used as a disinfectant to kill germs, bacteria, and mold.
Which is great if that’s what you want to use them for. But you also need to be careful about where you spray them because there are many helpful bacteria in the soil that you don’t want to kill.
So make sure you don’t spray heavily on areas you intend on planting, because it can sterilize the soil to some extent. Which then takes a long time to recover.
Also, if you add soap to your homemade weed killer you should choose it carefully.
The thing is, some cleaning products contain problem ingredients such as bleach, phosphates, and sodium hypochlorite. These are often found in laundry detergent and can damage the environment, in the case of phosphates, or are toxic, in the case of the others. And, be careful of adding antibacterial soap because it can kill the bacteria in your soil.
You’re not wrong to be concerned about your pet’s safety when looking for a weed killer. The evidence shows that commercial products easily rub off plants and can be found in the urine of animals.
While it’s not exactly known how serious a long term health concern this is, it’s a good idea to be on the safe side.
Finding weed killers that are safe for dogs and other household pets is not too difficult. Organic weed killers are commercially available and mostly fall into two camps:
Contact weed killers that act on existing weeds and are mostly vinegar or citrus oil-based.
And the pre-emergent organic weed preventers that use corn gluten meal to make the soil unsuitable for weed growth.
If you’re feeling in the mood to do it yourself there’s also a number of methods that can help to both kill and prevent weeds in your lawn or garden.
Of these, I particularly like to use mulch, because it’s good for the soil as well as keeping weeds at bay.
Another favorite is burning them with a torch. It’s quick, effective, and doesn’t leave a bad residual effect when done carefully.
If you just need to get rid of weeds that are springing up between patio stones and driveway cracks then a quick spray with a homemade vinegar weed killer can also do the trick.
And there’s nothing wrong with using a helpful tool to pull weeds out of your lawn and garden.
If you’re looking to buy, my recommended product out of the pet safe weed killers reviewed above is Green Gobbler. With Preen also strongly recommended for areas where you can use a pre-emergent to prevent growth.