What is steam weed control and does it work? - Weedingtech

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Weed control is essential to crop management, and steam weed control is one of the many natural solutions available. The demand for herbicide alternatives is growing, and thermal options are considered to be the most promising.  

However, not all thermal options are efficient and cost-effective. Not to mention, while they may not involve the use of herbicides, they are not always genuinely environmentally friendly. 

Continue reading to learn about steam weed control, how it works, and whether it is the best option for removing weeds from public spaces.     


What is steam weed control?

Steam weed control involves vaporising weeds with hot water. Generally, this method is best suited for removing weeds along footpaths and in public spaces like schools and parks as well as in agricultural settings. Generally, it is a chemical-free method in that it uses only water. 

Therefore, steam weed control is a safe choice for removing weeds. With this method, the parts of the plants above the ground are killed and destroyed. The main benefit of using steam is that it can be used on all surfaces. This includes harder-to-reach areas such as between bricks or stone.

Since it is a hot wet method of weed control, this method allows for deeper penetration than using flames or cutting. Essentially, the steam destroys the growing tips. This will automatically delay the general quick regeneration that is experienced when cutting or using other methods of weed control. 

Steam weed control also helps to limit the risk of pollution generally caused by pesticides. Not to mention, it is quick and easy and does not require much labour. Steaming is also weather-independent, so it can be completed despite the weather conditions because they do not interfere with the process like herbicides. 


How does it work? 

Steam weed control works on the same principle as hot foam herbicide alternatives like our Foamstream product. In essence, they produce temperatures close to boiling to destroy the cells in the parts of the weed that are above the ground. 

From there, the plant dies, but the root is still alive. This is the same result as with herbicide treatments. The same procedure is followed whereby treatments are repeated until the plant eventually weakens and the roots die. 

Shooting the plant with the pressurised steam continuously shrivels the plant so that it can no longer process nutrients or photosynthesise.  


Drawbacks to steam weed control

At the outset, steaming appears to be a good weed management alternative to herbicides. However, it does have its drawbacks and limitations. Some of these include the following, which are essential to note when considering steam weed control:

1 - It’s not the most effective option

The main issue with steam weed control is that it experiences rapid cooling. This can prevent you from effectively removing the weeds. In addition, steam has poor ground penetration. 

This leads to inadequate control of the perennial species and much slower operational speeds. By contrast, using hot foam holds the water at a higher temperature for longer periods of time, ensuring the plant is ‘cooked’. 

In addition, steam will kill the leaves and have an effect on the seeds of the plant; however, it has a very weak effect on the root structure. Being able to effectively destroy the root structure is what matters most since this will determine whether the plant can grow back.


2 - Other alternatives are more versatile

Steam is useful for killing weeds, algae, and moss but does not have the versatility of other herbicide alternatives. For example, hot foam can be used for removing the same vegetation as well as graffiti and chewing gum from public spaces, making products like our Foamstream perfect for urban cleaning.


3 - Steam weed control can be expensive

Another big factor when considering which weed management system to use is cost. Generally, for steam treatments, you will need to hire a professional who is trained in using the machinery. 

This is unless you have undergone the training yourself. But in that case, you will still need to purchase the machinery. Either way, hiring a contractor for a steam treatment can be very expensive. 

By contrast, availing of a hot foam treatment comes in a lot cheaper, even when factoring in all the relevant costs. For example, the foam, application, diesel, water, and the van. 

According to Herbicides: A Guide for the Amenity Sector, the price comes to £00.07 per linear metre versus £00.26 for hot water treatments. Purchasing the hot foam machinery or steam machinery can be expensive too. 

costs of weeding
The costs of weeding as published at https://www.greenflagaward.org/resources-research/guidance/alternatives-to-herbicides-a-guide-for-the-amenity-sector/


However, pre-owned hot foam machines can be purchased, which can bring down some of the costs. In addition, they can be hired by councils, contractors, and other organisations. No certification is required to use the machines; the machines are very easy to use. 


4 - More treatments are required when using steam

Treating weeds with steam will also require more cycles to ensure the plant and roots are successfully killed. You can expect to have to complete twelve applications per year, at a minimum. 

Hot foam treatments require far fewer cycles, meaning it is a lot more cost-efficient and less disruptive. For instance, Foamstream requires around three cycles per year which is similar to glyphosate. 


Why hot foam might be a better option vs steam weed control

Steam weed control may initially seem like the best herbicide alternative to handling unwanted vegetation. However, it all comes down to cost, time, and effectiveness. Unfortunately, steaming has a lot of drawbacks in that it requires a lot of treatment cycles (12) to entirely kill the weeds. 

In other words, it is not fully effective and requires more time and labour. Above all, hot foam alternatives have a higher capital cost and ongoing consumable cost but will cost you less over time than a steam system. Additionally, chemicals may be added to steam methods which can have health risks and impact their safety. 

Hot foam alternatives like Foamstream use a lot less diesel and water but achieve much better results. Therefore, they seem to be the best herbicide alternative in terms of time, cost, and effectiveness but also in relation to their safety status.

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