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Steam: A Herbicide Alternative

Gardening, both professionally and at home, has often relied on chemical herbicides for weed management. However, growing environmental and health concerns necessitate the exploration of alternatives to these chemicals. One such promising alternative is the use of steam.

Weedingtech Foamstream in action
WeedingTech’s Foamstream system uses a plant-based foam to insulate the steam so that it can reach deeper in the root zone.

The Problem with Chemical Herbicides

Chemical herbicides, particularly glyphosate, have been linked to a range of environmental and health issues, including cancer in humans and gut biome issues in insects. The science for this can be murky, as I explained in a previous article which you can read here:

Regardless of how bad glyphosate and other modern herbicides may or may not be, many people are searching for alternatives to either completely or partially replace them.

Steam: A Promising Alternative

How Does Steam Work as a Herbicide?

Steam kills weeds by heating the water within the plant cells, causing them to burst and effectively cook the plant from the inside. This method not only kills the plant but also breaks down seeds in the soil, preventing future weed growth. It’s much faster-acting than herbicides.

After a single treatment, you can see plants hanging limply and it’s evident that they’ve been treated. Contrast that with plants sprayed with herbicides, which can take weeks to show signs of dying in some circumstances. I once had a landscape maintenance client complain the day after I’d sprayed glyphosate because their weeds weren’t dead yet.

Unfortunately, that’s not the way glypho works.

Limitations of Steam

Admittedly, steam technology has its limitations. The equipment required can be quite expensive compared to chemical herbicides, posing a significant initial investment or ongoing contractor fees. Additionally, while steam is effective in killing many weeds, it may struggle to eliminate plants with deep taproots.

And it can also impact soil organisms like worms and beetles, which are brutally cooked alive. Their populations will, of course, bounce back quickly but it’s certainly one aspect to keep in mind.

Companies Providing Steam for Gardeners

Companies like WeedingTech, WeedTechnics and Greensteam are leading the way in providing steam solutions for gardeners in Australia. For instance, WeedingTech’s Foamstream system uses superheated steam combined with a plant-based foam to insulate that heat to target taproots effectively.

Other Alternatives: Boiling Water & Fire

Boiling Water

For smaller areas like paved courtyards, boiling water can serve as a simple, cost-effective alternative to herbicides. However, like steam, it can impact soil health and is less effective against deep-rooted weeds.


Fire, using a propane torch, can be successful in controlling weeds. It provides immediate results and can kill seeds in the soil but carries risks of accidental fires, especially in dry conditions. It may also struggle to control woody weeds with vigorous root systems.

Daniel’s Wrap

The environmental and health impacts of chemical herbicides, coupled with the growing issue of weed resistance, underscore the importance of considering alternatives such as steam, boiling water, and fire for weed management.

As gardeners, landscape maintenance professionals, and council decision-makers, we have a responsibility to adopt more sustainable practices. The future of weed management will likely continue to evolve, and it’s crucial that we stay informed and open to new methods.

Daniel is a writer and content creator for Ozbreed, one of Australia's leading native and exotic plant breeders.

Daniel has worked in various capacities within the horticulture industry. His roles have ranged from team leader at several companies, to creator of the Plants Grow Here podcast and Hort People job board, as well as his position on the National Council for the Australian Institute of Horticulture (AIH).

He's passionate about explaining how to care for different types of plants to ensure home gardeners and professional horticulturists alike can get the most out of the plant babies.

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