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Buying weedkillers shouldn’t be a game of spot the difference

Are you buying more garden chemicals than you actually need? We’ve found some weed and bug killers that claim to be for different purposes, but are actually identical in all but name.

So the Which? Gardening team headed for a garden centre and picked up three products from William Sinclair – Nettle Killer, Bramble Killer and Deep Root Ultra Path & Patio Weedkiller.

Despite nettles being rather different from brambles and deep-rooted weeds, all three of these bottles contained exactly the same concentration of the active ingredient, glyphosate.

Next to come under scrutiny were two products claiming to rid your beds of pesky bugs – Growing Success Fruit & Veg Bug Killer and Growing Success Shrub & Flower Bug Killer. Both contained identical amounts of pyrethrum, according to the labels.

Continuing with this trend, we found that big-name Bayer’s Path Weedkiller Concentrate and Long Lasting Ground Clear have the same formulation. And it’s the same story with RoundUp Weedkiller and RoundUp XL Tough & Deep Root Weedkiller ready-to-use sprays.

Weeding the small print

The products inside the bottles may be the same, but apparently it’s perfectly OK to sell them in this slightly ambiguous way. Pete McCarthy, Which? Legal Adviser, told me:

‘Retailers are within their rights to sell similar products which perform similar jobs. A “kitchen cleaner” could contain exactly the same ingredients as a product labelled “bathroom cleaner” but if they both do what they claim to do, it’s not “misrepresentation” or breach of contract.’

That came as a surprise to me. While I’m quite aware that glyphosate will kill any weed, I innocently thought that, in general, most products are tailored to a specific need. I now realise it’s simply because manufacturers pitch them to us that way.

Consumer choice or cynical marketing?

All three manufacturers told us that shoppers buy products based on need – to kill brambles or nettles, for example. William Sinclair said:

‘The instructions on the packs […] are tailored to the relevant weeds to make it simpler for consumers to follow.’

Bayer Garden, meanwhile, told us that consumers would not consider using a ‘path weedkiller’ on other areas of the garden such as the sides of buildings or hedges, so they also sell the formulation as ‘Long Lasting Ground Clear’.

But if manufacturers really wanted to make our lives easier, they’d just sell products labelled ‘weedkiller’ or ‘cleaner’, wouldn’t they? Instead, it appears they’re purely motivated by profit – the practical impact is that we spend more on keeping our gardens weed and bug-free. All at a time when our wallets are more squeezed than ever.

Is selling duplicate gardening products a cynical marketing ploy or genuinely useful for gardeners? And make sure to share any examples you’ve seen on shelves or in your shed.


.When buying anything in a bottle or tin I always read the small print first even if it needs a magnifying glass! Chemical knowledge is a bonus as it can save a fortune.

Studying the labels carefully could save a lot of money, as can shopping around and buying larger pack sizes. There may be some differences in performance between products containing the same amount of the main chemicals, because of other components, so it is not quite as simple as it seems.

Weedkillers have the active components and amounts declared on the packet because they are potentially dangerous if swallowed. Some household chemicals have little or no useful information on the packet, but if you do a search that includes MSDS and the product name you should be able to find the material safety data sheet (MSDS) which will give the composition. I did this when I discovered that the kettle descaler I use seemed much less effective and found that this was due to a change in formulation. The composition of household products can vary from country to country, so it is a bit of a challenge. Like Dave, I am glad that I have some knowledge of chemicals.

For potentially hazardous garden chemicals sold to non-technical consumers, maybe it is better just to sell these products labelled and with instructions for one specific use. At least it’s clear.

Looking at some of the generic products in my garden store, the instructions need careful study. SBK, for instance – different plant groups, seasons, solvents, dilutions, application rates, etc.

An example from the laundry room:

The active chemical compound in both “Crystal White” and “Pink” varieties of “Vanish Oxi Action” fabric stain remover is Sodium Carbonate Peroxyhydrate – basically a solid form of hydrogen peroxide bleach – in identical concentrations. The only differences I can see on the labels are that “Crystal White” contains optical brighteners – also found in washing powder – and the instructions on “Pink” say you should only soak coloureds for a maximum of 1 hour as opposed to 6-12 hours for whites.

For the occasional user it is not worth having both, if it means they end up buying smaller, more expensive tubs of each.

Monsanto’s patent for Roundup (glyphosate) has expired, meaning that other manufacturers can now produce weedkillers that include glyphosate. This competition helps to lower prices and adds to the products available to gardeners.

jonathan risbey says:
30 March 2012

It looks like all you can buy is Glyphosate weedkiller, why is this the case?. I used to use Ammonium Sulphamate as a weedkiller as it is the only one that will kill Marestail, by overdosing it on nitrogen. Now you can’t buy it anywhere can anyone tell me why?. It looks like Glyphosate has got the monopoly on weedkillers.

Ummm……Google is your friend?

Ammonium Sulphamate is readily available in the UK from Amazon for not very much money, as well.

Derek says:
25 July 2013

Much as I detest buying ready-to-use sprays of almost pure water, I must say it is worth doing your sums before serruptitiously whomping up a batch of sulphamate home-brew. The cost works out at about £1.70 a square metre in small quantities. Glysophate works out at 7p a square meter.

Do the math!

Dave says:
1 May 2014

The availability (or lack of) various pesticides/hrebicides is due to the EU pesticides Directive 2008. Weedkillers that work well such as soduim chlorate and paraquat (and Ammonium Sulphamate),amongst others, are now banned for use by almost everyone. Ammonium Sulphamate however is not banned for other uses, it is a main ingredient in compost accelerator, and is found as being advertised as being able to brake down tough and woody weeds on the compost heap. As you rightly point out, its the nitrogen that does the job (for both). It is still availabe in the UK, just dont add weedkiller to your search terms.

mark huw potts says:
18 April 2012

I will be useing roundup on aprox- 1 acre of what was once meadow with a apple orchard in Asturias NW Spain, unfortunatly i was unable to keep up mantanance due to illness & financal sercumstances.
When i returned last spring i was forced to use machanical digger to clear the weed & remove a few of the older trees.
my question is how can i cover so much land with roundup, as the patante is up does anyone know of cheaper alternative to Roundup ? Or is it simply just checking the label ?

John Carnegie says:
20 April 2012

Buying the various glyphosate formulations in a garden centre is a very expensive option. There are other glyphosate products available on line, for example something like Rosate 36 on eBay is a fraction of the cost.

Geoff Wright says:
20 April 2012

For weeding paths, drives etc., I find bleach does the job just as well as expensive weedkillers. It is especially cheap if you buy supermarket own brand bleach which, at 70p/80p for 2 liters, will provide most people with sufficient to meet all their needs.

Nic Plum says:
22 April 2012

This isn’t quite as it is pictured as the background was a European law or directive which made it illegal to use a product for anything other than its intended purpose. This created the environment in which manufacturers could then divide by use/application and then market the same chemical. Of course they are exploiting the situation because they are commercial companies but without the enabling environment created by the change in law it wouldn’t have happened.

A company marketing the same product under different labels is nothing new. When I first started work as a research scientist with a well-known pesticide manufacturer (now absorbed into a multinational) in the 1960s, I remember volunteering for a single night-shift in the packing department during a period when they were extra-busy. For part of that night I was on the bottling line of a product labelled “Liquid Copper Fungicide”. Partway through, the conveyor belt was stopped, and the labels were changed to “Rose Mildew Specific”. The conveyor belt was re-started, the new labels went on the next batch of bottles with exactly the same product inside. (I believe the company was also marketing at least one other “Mildew Specific” at the time, with the same product in the bottle). I thought at the time what sharp practice that was, and am surprised to read that even today the practice is still legal.

If you manage to have a look at the latest Which? Gardening issue, you’ll find some of your comments featured 🙂 Namely, Dave, Wavechange and Em!

Peter says:
20 June 2012

Re the below comment regarding Roseate;
It’s about £30 for 5 litres at the moment which is good value when compared to the ‘names’ sold in garden centres / shops etc. The usual glyphosate concentration for typical shop bought products is about 96g per litre. The concentration in Roseate is 360g per litre.
It’s a non-residual product which means that weeds will return. Can someone recommend a cost effective residual weed-killer as I have a large gravel drive to keep clear.?