Vinegar: Can You Use It To Deter Deer? Here’s How


whitetail doe that's in the middle of a garden

Vinegar is a miracle liquid. Its uses are boundless from cleaning stubborn stains, removing rust, and cleaning the bathroom. You can even test your soil alkalinity levels with vinegar! But did you know you can also use vinegar to repel deer?

Deer have a strong sense of smell, which they use to warn them against danger. The strong scent of vinegar irritates their sense of smell. You can soak rags in vinegar and place them around your yard to protect your garden plants, ornamental trees, and young budding trees from deer browsing.

Deer can be a wonder to see, but when they start invading your garden and chowing down on your hard-worked plants, it might be time to find an effective repellent. We got you covered! Read on to find out how to use vinegar to repel deer and what else you can do to keep these animals off your property.

Why Keep Deer Away?

If you’re checking out this article, chances are you have a deer problem. They might be munching on your garden vegetables, browsing your young trees, or being just plain messy in your yard.

Deer can become a pretty big nuisance if there are a lot of them in your area. A highly dense deer population means there’s a lot of pressure for deer to secure food for themselves. This is when deer really chow down on your trees, fruits, and vegetables.

Deer can eat up to 10 pounds of plant material per day! Talk about a chonk…

Besides treating your garden as a personal buffet, deer can also stunt the growth of young trees in your area. If you’re trying to plant an oak tree, for example, deer may browse on the top-most branches. This stunts growth and may force the tree to grow out rather than up.

Everyone knows someone through the grapevine that has been affected by a deer-vehicle collision. Deer can be troublesome when they get too close to the road. According to the Journal of Traffic Injury Prevention, over 1.5 million deer-related vehicular accidents happen annually in the United States.

With all of this in mind, it’s no wonder that many homeowners are trying to find ways to repel deer.

A caveat that comes with many commercial repellents is unwanted chemicals and a high price tag. That’s where our handy dandy vinegar comes into play.

Vinegar is an effective, inexpensive, and natural repellent that you can use in the garden, around trees, and pretty much anywhere you need to deter deer from.

How Do You Use Vinegar To Repel Deer?

Now, to the good stuff.

As you probably know, vinegar is pretty acidic. It’s comprised of about 5% acetic acid and 95% water. All science aside, acetic acid is pretty much what makes vinegar such a magical household item.

It’s antimicrobial, antifungal, a food preservative, and a solvent, all bottled up into one liquid!

Vinegar is considered an odor repellent, as opposed to something like a fence which would be a physical deterrent. Odor repellents are effective because deer rely so heavily on their sense of smell to stay safe.

Deer won’t do anything to jeopardize the effectiveness of their sniffer. They need it to smell scents in the wind to determine if predators are nearby. We probably only see a quarter of the deer that see us. This is due to their incredible sense of smell.

So, let’s use that to our advantage!

Vinegar can be used in two general ways: soaking rags and placing them/hanging them in various areas and using vinegar in a homemade spray.

Use Vinegar-Soaked Rags To Keep Deer Away

If you’ve ever eaten salt and vinegar chips or opened a bottle of vinegar and accidentally gotten a good whiff, you know the smell is STRONG. Imagine your sense of smell heightened ten-fold. Ouch.

Vinegar burns and irritates our noses, and we can barely hold a candle to a deer’s sense of smell, so imagine how they’ll feel getting a whiff of vinegar near their favorite plants! And by favorite plants, we of course mean your prized vegetables.

You can get really creative with vinegar to deter deer, depending on what you are trying to protect.

If it’s privacy bushes that your local deer just won’t leave alone, try soaking a rag with vinegar and simply tucking the rags into the bushes. However, be sure that your bush is okay with a high acid content; otherwise, you could damage your favorite plant.

Hydrangeas, daffodils, rhododendrons, and azaleas are all great examples of acid-loving plants that won’t mind the sharp, pungent flavor of vinegar. 

Have a bush that’s not cool with low PH content? No worries! We have a few other solutions for you that won’t require your plant to come in contact with the vinegar.

If you’re trying to protect your garden but are worried about hurting your plants, try soaking your rags in vinegar and then attaching them to stakes. This keeps the vinegar off your plants but still emits a pungent smell that’ll keep the deer away.

It’s recommended to place your stakes 3 feet apart for the smell to remain effective. This will create an invisible odor barrier that the deer will have a hard time crossing unless they are very desperate for food.

Using stakes with your rag-soaked vinegar is a great choice if you want to protect a larger area but don’t necessarily want your plants to have direct contact with the vinegar.

You can use this method for young trees as well, but it will only work if the deer pressure is low, meaning there isn’t a ton of deer in your area.

If deer have the choice between a vinegar-smelling tree and nothing, they’re going to plow through your vinegar defense. But if there’s plenty of other choices and resources out there, deer will probably be deterred by vinegar. 

Whitetail deer buck walking in an open field in morning sun.

Placing Vinegar Rags on Taller Trees

Our last method that uses vinegar-soaked rags is mainly used for taller trees that deer tend to browse. 

Deer like to eat acorns, flowers, and buds off of trees. This can sometimes stunt the growth of trees or just make the trees look a bit bald. 

Keep your tree’s luscious locks by hanging vinegar-soaked rags from the tree’s branches. This can be done with some twine, rope, or whatever else you have lying around. 

Simply poke a hole through the rag, soak it in some white vinegar, and loop some rope through the hole. Hang the rags about 3 feet apart from the branches, and you’ll have yourself a deer barrier.

You don’t need to place the rags any higher than six feet, as deer cannot reach higher than this.

It’s important to keep the smell of the vinegar fresh to truly deter deer. We recommend re-soaking your rags every 7-10 days for maximum effectiveness.

You can learn more about keeping deer away from your trees here.

A Vinegar-Based Spray Keeps The Deer Away

Using vinegar alone in a spray can be tricky. You can only spray plants that can tolerate low PH (high acidity content) or plants that you don’t plan on eating.

This is the most basic vinegar spray you can make:

  • 8 oz. vinegar

That’s it. Funnel it into a glass spray bottle, and you’re ready to go. You should be careful with this mixture when applying, wearing proper protective gear for your eyes and hands if you’re sensitive to vinegar. 

Keep in mind that this mixture shouldn’t be sprayed directly on plants that you intend to eat, such as garden vegetables. It’s best used as a deterrent on trees to protect the buds, acorns, and flowers or on acid-loving plants and bushes. 

If this is the only thing you have in your house and you need to protect your garden vegetables ASAP, you can apply this spray to the stems of the plant. Just be sure to avoid the leaves and the fruit/vegetable itself.

If you’re looking for a stronger deterrent, try adding in 4-6 drops of essential oils such as peppermint, rosemary, or garlic. This will give your spray an extra oomph to really deter those pesky deer!

If you’re interested in using rosemary by itself to repel deer, check out our rosemary deer repelling guide here!

What Smell Do Deer Hate The Most?

We know deer aren’t big fans of vinegar. But is there something out there that they absolutely cannot stand? What do they hate the most?

Deer tend to dislike anything with a very strong odor. This is why vinegar works so well to repel them. But. There are stronger scents out there.

Here are some of the scents that deer cannot STAND to be around:

  • Garlic
  • Hot peppers
  • Soap with a high tallow content
  • Peppermint
  • Clove
  • Putrescent eggs
  • Mint

Many commercial products like Deer Out’s Deer Repellent Spray contain some of the ingredients listed above. This one, in particular, contains peppermint oil, garlic, hot peppers, putrescent eggs, AND vinegar, all in one repellent spray.

Bobbex is another great brand of deer repellent. Their Bobbex’s Deer Repellent contains some of the same ingredients: putrescent eggs, cloves, garlic, vinegar. But they also add urea, wintergreen oil, and fish oil.

Read-to-use sprays are a great option if you don’t mind spending some extra money and you don’t want to spend time making home-brew concoctions.

Many of the sprays nowadays don’t contain harsh chemicals and can be applied directly to your plants, edible or not. But it’s always a good idea to follow the directions on your product’s label to be sure you’re applying it correctly.

If you’d like, you can check out our full guide to the scents that deer hate here.

Whitetail deer doe that is out of the forest on grass in daylight

When To Apply Deer Deterrents

When should you be using these deterrents? All year? Just for the growing season? When is the best time to use deer deterrents to maximize effectiveness?

The best time to apply deer deterrents is before you have a deer problem. Once the deer have established that your yard has palatable food, it will be a whole process of getting them to leave.

Instead, if you know you live in an area with deer (So…everywhere in the U.S.), use your deterrents preemptively. This will not only deter deer, but other critters as well (we’re looking at you rabbits, raccoons, and groundhogs!).

In terms of the time of year, late winter and fall are when deer will be the most likely to trample their way past your lighter deterrents. By the time late winter approaches, deer are pretty hungry and don’t have a lot of choices when it comes to food. At this point, they’ll eat almost anything.

Fall is when deer are bulking and fattening up for the winter. This is another time of the year when you need to be using heavy deterrents to keep your plants safe. Deer want to put on weight to stay warm for the coming winter and will eat anything available.

What Else Can You Do To Deter Deer?

Deer are pretty smart. Once they taste something just awful, they won’t try to eat it again. But young deer especially will taste a little bit of everything before they learn what they do and don’t like.

With this in mind, making plants unpalatable, unreachable, or too odorous is going to be an excellent option to deter deer. Physical barriers and frightening devices are also a great way to keep deer from devouring your landscape plants.

Plant Stuff That Deer Hate

We talked about this a little before, but just to reiterate, there are tons of plants that deer don’t find particularly appetizing. 

Older deer will especially know what to stay away from and what is edible, but young deer aren’t so wisened yet. They’ll usually try everything once, so it might not be possible to stop all deer browsing just by planting things they don’t like.

But it’s a good start!

Use Frightening Devices

We all know deer are skittish. They usually bolt at the first sign of a human approaching. Unless you live in a populated area where the deer are used to humans, frightening devices are a great way to keep deer away.

There are several options, from something as simple as wind chimes to something as complex as the Orbit 62100 Yard Enforcer Motion Activated Sprinkler. What you use all depends on how heavy the deer pressure is. 

If you’re seeing a deer here and there, wind chimes or a predator decoy like Lucky Duck Coyote Decoy might be enough to deter them. But if you’re seeing whole herds or seeing deer every day, you may have to resort to a sprinkler system, motion-activated lights, or a radio to keep them away.

Build A Fence

Physical barriers and deterrents are going to be the most effective way to deter deer. However, it is also the most costly method.

You may not have to go out and buy expensive lumber. The University of Purdue has a guide on how to build a plastic mesh fence that may save you a bit of money if you decide to go this route.

Building a fence is a good idea if you’ve tried other methods of deterring deer, and they haven’t seemed to work. If you live in an area that is densely populated with deer, the pressure on resources may be too high for scent-based deterrents to work.

That’s All For Now!

That’s all we’ve got for now on how to use vinegar to repel deer. To recap, you can use vinegar in two broad ways:

  • Soak rags in vinegar
  • Make a vinegar-based spray

Scent-based deterrents are a great way to repel deer naturally by appealing to their strong olfactory system. They’re not huge fans of having their sense of smell dampened by strong, odorous materials such as vinegar or fragrant oils and plants.

You can also deter deer by using frightening devices, planting trees and flowers they dislike or building a fence.

Now you have an arsenal of ideas to use against those deer to keep them out of your yard and garden for good! Happy deterring! 

References

Bergquist, J., & Orlander, G. (1996). Browsing deterrent and phytotoxic effects of roe deer repellents on pinus sylvestris and picea abies seedlings. Scandinavian Journal of Forest Research, 11(1-4). https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/02827589609382922

Hedlund, J. H., Curtis, P. D., Curtis, G., & Williams, A. F. (2004). Methods to Reduce Traffic Crashes Involving Deer: What Works and What Does Not. Traffic Injury Prevention, 5(2). https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/15389580490435079?scroll=top&needAccess=true

Johnson, E. (1997, Spring). Restoring Upland Hardwood Forests Using Tree Shelters. Student On-Line Journal, 2(6), 1-6. https://conservancy.umn.edu/bitstream/handle/11299/58860/1/2.6.Johnson.pdf

Ryther, M. B. (2016). The Dynamic Duo: Vinegar and Baking Soda Two-Volume Set. MBM Books. https://books.google.com/books?id=PS8sDQAAQBAJ&dq=vinegar+to+deter+deer&lr=&source=gbs_navlinks_s

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