Does Antifreeze Kill Trees?


Antifreeze does not make a good tree killer. The two main bases of antifreeze, ethylene glycol and propylene glycol are either too hazardous, or completely ineffective in tree removal.

Ethylene glycol can have a devastating, and long lasting impact on vegetation including trees and lawns, whereas propylene glycol doesn’t seem to affect vegetation.

Because of the toxicity of ethylene glycol antifreeze, it should never be applied to trees or other vegetation. Although it may not entirely kill the tree, affected plant death will occur as well as the soil, surrounding water habitats, and ground water becoming contaminated with chemicals and heavy metals by improper use of the substance.

Propylene glycol will neither help nor harm trees, but shouldn’t be confused by ab unrelated antifreeze designed specifically for plants called ‘plant antifreeze” that helps plants survive freezing temperatures.

This type of antifreeze is of course safe to be applied to plants, according to product instructions.

Green antifreeze being poured in enginve

Antifreeze and Trees

If you have an unwanted tree and are looking for a fast and easy way to kill it off without too much effort, antifreeze is not the answer.

Although ethylene glycol antifreeze is very effective in killing vegetation and damaging trees, the chemicals that it is comprised of, especially ethylene glycol will cause lasting damage to the soil.

What is Ethylene Glycol ?

Without having to break out the chemistry books, according to Monarch Chemicals ethylene glycol is an organic compound (carbon molecules combined with others) in the alcohol family.

In its antifreeze form, it can keep things from freezing or overheating.

That is why it is used in vehicle engines to keep them going in freezing and sweltering conditions alike.

Small amounts of it are used as an ingredient in many things, such as fiberglass, plastics, and various textiles.

However, it is extremely toxic and cannot come into contact with skin or food items since it forms damaging crystals that puncture cells when it begins to break down

It is used more than propylene glycol in industry and vehicles because it is more efficient at lowering freeze points or raising boiling points, and has a lower risk of contact since it is in a closed systems such as engines .

The antifreeze that you will find at your local automotive store will likely be ethylene glycol antifreeze.

What is Propylene Glycol?

Propylene glycol antifreeze is less toxic, and is even sometimes labeled as non-toxic.

The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry describes how it is used in various things that come into contact with skin or digestions, such as cosmetics, food items, medicine, smoke screens, and more.

Like ethylene glycol, it is also a member of the alcohol family, but it doesn’t form crystals when it begins to break down.

It is a synthetic product, which mean it is made from petroleum which breaks down easily without too much of an environmental impact.

Other Dangerous Chemicals In Antifreeze

Ethylene glycol or propylene glycol are not the only chemicals found in antifreeze.

Other chemicals are often added to help protect against corrosion, including various nitrates and acids.

When dealing with antifreeze, especially if it is ethylene glycol based, it needs to be treated as a hazardous substance.

How Does Antifreeze Kill Trees?

Using antifreeze to kill trees or their roots doesn’t produce immediate results and is not an effective way to kill trees.

Studies involving poplar trees showed that larger concentrations of ethylene glycol caused greater stunting of tree growth.

Basically, the more the tree was exposed to ethylene glycol antifreeze, the more it was stunted.

Antifreeze may not kill large trees, but it can cause stunted growth and damage in younger trees.

How to Properly Dispose of Antifreeze

Although there are no set nation wide laws in disposing of antifreeze, there are several state and local ordinances that dictate how and where antifreeze should be disposed.

A good resource to see what disposal options are open to you is the Transportation Environmental Resource Center that has a link to each state’s antifreeze disposal laws.

To dispose of antifreeze safely, make sure to wear gloves and pour antifreeze into a container, such as an empty antifreeze bottle.

If there is any antifreeze on the ground, soak it up with pads and towels.

Do not rinse the area off with water.

This will only dilute the substance and can still be toxic for animals and plants.

Collect all soiled material and put it in a heavy duty plastic bag.

Then, take antifreeze and contaminated materials to your local recycling center, auto parts store, or service station for proper disposal.

Blue antifreeze being poured in engine

How to a Treat Tree Affected By Antifreeze

If antifreeze was somehow spilled near a tree, the best solution is to dig up the top soil where the spill occured.

Place the contaminated soil into a large heavy duty plastic bag and dispose of it as you would any other antifreeze contaminated object.

If the amount of antifreeze was minimal, there shouldn’t be very much danger to an adult tree with an expansive root system.

How to Kill a Tree

If you are looking for effective and cost saving ideas to kill a tree, check out some of these articles:

There are many environmentally friendly and safer ways to get rid of a tree than experimenting with antifreeze.

If the tree is small enough, there are several herbicide products that are available that can solve your weed tree woes.

If a basic application of herbicide doesn’t seem to do the trick, check out the above links for other ways to free your yard from unwanted trees.

Antifreeze on Grass

Antifreeze may cause the grass to die if a high enough concentration of it lands on your lawn.

Although the grass may try to grow back, the spilled antifreeze will inhibit it’s growth, making the lawn look patchy where the spill occured.

The best way to save your lawn from antifreeze damage is to try to clean up the spill as soon as it happens.

Using towels, sponges, or what other absorbent tools you may have at your disposal, try to soak up as much of the antifreeze as you can.

Antifreeze will eventually break down over time, but because of the caustic and hazardous nature of antifreeze, is best to clean up the spill as much as possible instead of waiting.

Being Environmentally Aware

You don’t have to see yourself as a tree hugger to take simple precautions when dealing with tree removal and hazardous chemicals.

Although applying antifreeze to your unwanted trees roots might seem like an easy way to rid yourself of a plant nuisance, it isn’t effective and it isn’t safe.

There are many ways out there to kill a tree, but for your sake and your soil’s sake, make sure it isn’t with antifreeze.

Check out our other articles for ideas and inspirations on how to make your yard the best and healthiest it can be.

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