Will Vinegar Hurt Houseplants?


Vinegar is an everyday household staple with many different practical uses. Due to its low cost, relative abundance, and variety of uses, it is often viewed as a home-keeping must-have. Do the many uses for vinegar extend to houseplants?

The short answer is yes, with some considerations. Vinegar will hurt houseplants without some preventative measures and dilution, but still, vinegar can be an excellent solution to repel pests, insects, and even deter household pets when used correctly. It’s essential to keep in mind vinegar contains 5% acetic acid. This acidic make-up means you can’t fill up a spray bottle and get to work unless you want to kill your plants. However, following the steps below will ensure you get the maximum benefits of this excellent home pest remedy while keeping your plants safe and healthy!

The Benefits of Vinegar

Vinegar is an excellent household tool with many uses, from cooking to cleaning, and yes, even plant care. It never hurts to have some vinegar handy in the home. 

Thanks to the strong, unpleasant odor and taste, vinegar is an excellent deterrent to house pets like cats and dogs. While vinegar itself is non-toxic to pets, the smell will encourage them to avoid the area. 

Vinegar is also one of the best solutions to use for natural pest control. Particularly on plants that have a habit of attracting ants, fruit flies, mosquitoes, and aphids.

While the acidity of vinegar is potent and strong enough to kill many different bugs and pests, you need to be mindful of plants in particular. As vinegar is generally considered a “contact” pesticide, that means if the bug problem is directly on the leaves, stem, or flowers of the plant, you will likely need a different approach.

As mentioned above, vinegar is 5% acetic acid and has a PH level of 2.5, making it deadly to plant cells’ membranes. Spraying vinegar directly onto a bug on a plant’s leaf will result in the leaf being damaged or dying completely. Worse, if the pure vinegar makes it to the plant’s roots and into the soil, it will be nearly impossible to save the plant as a whole. In the next few sections, we’ll outline how to use vinegar for pest control safely without compromising the integrity of your plants.

The final use for vinegar in connection to house plants is an outlier from the two sections above but worth knowing nonetheless. While the majority of houseplants will suffer from having their leaves, stems, and roots exposed to vinegar, there are a few exceptions. If you have daffodils or gardenias as an example, those plants will actually thrive in acidic environments and don’t mind a spritz of vinegar. Though acid-loving plants are generally not the norm, they are out there!

Vinegar As a Household Pet Repellent

Vinegar has been used for decades to keep furry friends from chewing and digging into houseplants. The acidic liquid is a natural deterrent, and most kitties won’t be as keen to play or chew on plants that smell like vinegar.

If you have an acid-loving plant spraying them with a solution of vinegar and water works well to deter pets and pests, but what about for an average acid-fearing plant? 

While it is very much not recommended you spray average plants with vinegar to discourage your pets, you can try a few plant and pet safe methods!

The Towel Method

The towel method is simple and effective and guarantees the safety of your plants! All you have to do is get a few cheap hand towels or dish towels and a disposable container of some sort. 

Soak the towel in the vinegar and then place it in the container and cut a hole in the top. Then place the container near your plants. Your pets will associate the smell with the entire area and should avoid the container as well as the plant. 

If you have an exceptionally large planter or water tray, you can also wrap the vinegar-soaked towel around the outside of your plant pots. 

Cotton and Silk Method

If you have an exceptionally determined pet who bypasses these methods, try soaking cotton balls in vinegar and placing them directly on top of the plant-soil as an additional deterrent. 

If you’re using the cotton ball method, be mindful to remove them when watering your plants. Otherwise, the vinegar could penetrate your water and soil table and cause harm to the roots of the plant. 

Along the same lines as the cotton ball method is the silk flowers method. If you’re worried about your plant roots or simply don’t want vinegar directly in contact with the soil table, you can also invest in some silk flowers!

Spraying these fake flowers with vinegar, letting them dry, and then placing the silk plants among your real ones should have the same effect as the cotton ball method, but it eliminates any need for vinegar to touch the soil. It also tends to look much nicer than a planter full of cotton balls if you’re looking for a more aesthetic solution!

If you’re still having trouble with house pets disturbing your plants after all of these methods, unfortunately, it may be time to invest in a cat deterrent spray or a pot or two of catnip to draw attention away.

Much like people, particular cats don’t find the odor of vinegar off-putting at all. In these cases, it’s best to look for other alternatives rather than trying to increase vinegar presence. 

Vinegar as An Insect Repellent

Vinegar is an excellent insect repellent and is a staple for homemade bug traps. It is acidic enough to kill many pests and also has antimicrobial properties

White vinegar on its own is a spider deterrent and can even repel ants and break their marching lines as it overrides their senses, making it impossible for them to rely on their pheromones. 

This makes vinegar an excellent preemptive defense against infestation. If you use any of the methods described above (towel, cotton, or silk), your plants’ likelihood of developing a bug infestation is relatively low. 

Unfortunately, as vinegar is a contact insecticide, it is not safe to deal with existing infestations for a number of reasons. 

First, as mentioned above, undiluted vinegar on plant leaves and roots is more than likely to kill your plant, save for a few species, and even diluted vinegar can be harmful. 

With plants, vinegar needs to be indirect. The only time spraying a dilution of vinegar and water (1 Part Apple Cider Vinegar and 3 Parts Water) directly onto a plant will work is with an aphid infestation. Even then, the acidic nature may end up hurting the plant, so it’s best to go with a specified insecticide. 

Overall, vinegar will deter pests, but a plant that has already been infested can’t be helped without the risk of killing the plant with vinegar. 

Also, while vinegar is strong enough in its pure form to kill bugs, it is not strong enough to breach the hard exterior of insect eggs, meaning an infestation will persist.

Household Hacks to Maximize Plant Health

While vinegar has a great many uses, you can harm your plants by using vinegar directly on their leaves, and it is hazardous if it comes in contact with, or is absorbed by the roots. 

However, keeping vinegar near your house plants indirectly through towels, silk plants, or cotton balls is a great way to keep your plants safe and healthy by deterring and repelling household pets and bugs and pests. 

Vinegar is acidic and needs to be handled carefully around plants that are not acid loving, but it also has microbial and cleaning properties and very much has its place in a standard plant care routine. 

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