I’ve listed vinegar as one of my baker’s dozen of household essentials; I’ve extolled its virtues as a hair rinse (after a borax “shampoo”) and as a medium for extracting the culinary and healing essences of herbs.
Of course I use it for making pickles, dressing salads, and improving the flavors of everything from fruit pies to tomato sauces and soups. A bit of vinegar in the dough also helps tenderize pie crusts.
Cleans and deodorizes almost everything
Most of you already know that vinegar, sometimes in tandem with its alkaline companion baking soda, can accomplish the work of dozens of pricey, sometimes toxic, commercial household cleaning products for toilet, tub, windows, baseboards, and tarnished metals.
Vinegar by itself will remove scale from coffee pots and irons, freshen tub and sink drains (and sometimes unclog them). It will prevent colors from fading and help keep lint from sticking to clothing in the wash. It will remove sweat stains from most fabrics.
A vinegar soak removes wallpaper and its adhesive, bumper-sticker glue, and many other adhesives and varnishes.
As for bad smells in clothing, carpets, curtains, and upholstered furniture: a soaking with or in dilute vinegar will deodorize just about anything.
What is vinegar, anyway?
Vinegar results from a two-part fermentation process. During the first stage, a fruit juice or another sweet liquid is transformed by yeasts and bacteria into ethyl alcohol (wine, hard cider, etc.). Special bacteria then convert the alcohol into acetic acid, which gives vinegars their sour taste.
The vinegars commonly sold in food market are diluted with water to a standard proportion of acetic acid, generally four or five percent. Though stronger preparations are available for various uses, these industrial-strength preparations are dangerous and require special handling. I’ve never used them.
Vinegar for health and horticulture
- Vinegar works as well or better than most commercial products as a disinfectant for washing produce, as well as for cleaning cutting boards and other food-preparation surfaces.
- Applied full strength, cider vinegar will relieve and help prevent blisters from sunburns and minor burns.
- A tablespoon of cider vinegar in water will soothe a sore throat or a queasy stomach.
- Used full strength, commercial vinegar will kill weeds growing through cracks in paved areas such as patios and walkways. Industrial high-strength (up to 30 percent acetic acid) vinegars make effective natural herbicides but require special storage and handling.
Other interesting uses of vinegar
- To remove the lines and needle holes left in fabric after ripping out a seam, moisten a cloth with white vinegar, place it under or over the fabric, and iron.
- To thwart dog assaults on long runs or bike rides into unknown territory, carry a small (or large) spray bottle of diluted vinegar in a fanny-pack, backback, or bike water-bottle cage. Give Rover a good squirt in the face when he jumps out from the bushes and lunges for your legs.
To cure organic meat. Scientists have found that vinegar and a natural source of nitrate can serve as curing agents for organic pork.
When to say no to vinegar
The unique chemistry of vinegar makes it a no-no for certain household jobs.
- Mixing vinegar with chlorine bleach for disinfecting purposes creates toxic chlorine gas. Use one or the other.
- Don’t wipe laptops, smart phones, and other digital appliances with vinegar, as it may damage protective coatings.
- Using vinegar to clean marble and stoneware counter tops may cause pitted surfaces. Same goes for using it to clean “reactive” aluminum or cast-iron cookware.
Margaret Boyles lives in a wood-heated house in central New Hampshire. She grows vegetables, eats weeds, keeps chickens, swims in a backyard pond in summer, snowshoes in the surrounding woods in winter, and commutes by bike whenever possible.