©2020 by Kim Headlee
Household… acid? What??
Yep, I’m talking about good old-fashioned distilled white vinegar. Not to be confused with apple cider vinegar (with or without the “mother”), balsamic vinegar, or other types, which are best reserved for cooking and pickling, and for medicinal purposes in some cultures.
White vinegar (called “spirit vinegar” in the UK) is a solution of acetic acid typically diluted down to 4–6% acid by volume. “Distilled” is a misnomer because all types of vinegar are created through the process of fermentation, not distillation. In the US, the term “distilled white vinegar” is applied to vinegar that is produced via the fermentation of distilled alcohol—and hence the “spirit vinegar” UK appellation.
Although 4% is the least expensive commercially produced white vinegar concentration, it is not safe to use in pickling recipes, which require a minimum concentration of 5%. If I happen to acquire one of the 4% bottles, it goes straight into the laundry room, not the pantry.
If you have a skin condition that leaves you sensitive to all cleaning products, you should wear your rubber gloves when handling vinegar. The same goes for folks with respiratory sensitivities; use a mask or other type of face and nose covering to guard against inhaling the fumes, and make sure the work area is well ventillated. Though mild, vinegar is still an acid, after all.
And as with all acids and most other cleaning chemicals with which you come into accidental contact, flush the area with lots of cool water as soon as possible, and seek professional medical help immediately if excessive burning or other symptoms occur.
I like to clean with white vinegar because it’s
- versatile, and
- organic and therefore safer for the user and the environment than other chemical concoctions.
Normally, I would have added “easy to find except during pickling season” as a fourth advantage, but in today’s economic conditions, that particular bet is off. If all I can find are bottles labeled as “cleaning vinegar” (the bottle on the right in the photo, for example), those contain the higher concentrations, usually 6% in US markets.
If I want to conserve a few pennies, I can fill an empty vinegar gallon bottle with three quarts of 6% vinegar and one quart water to yield a 4.5% vinegar solution. That concentration is still not safe for use in pickling recipes, but it’s an easy proportion to remember and plenty strong enough for most household cleaning needs.
The ways I use vinegar for cleaning include:
- Almost every load of laundry gets about a cup of vinegar dumped into the wash water before I add the clothes. Since my house’s well is sunk through limestone, this means our tap water is just about hard enough to chew, so the vinegar also acts as a water softener.
Bonus: With vinegar in the wash water, I never need to use commercial liquid fabric softeners or dryer sheets, which in our household carries the added bonus of eliminating an allergen, as well as saving money and helping to save the environment. Vinegar combats static cling too.
- Tougher laundry stains, such as underarm sweat and collar rings, may be treated with full-strength vinegar prior to putting the item into the washing machine. Let those items soak for at least 10 minutes first.
- Neutralizing pet urine. We have had as many as thirteen cats living inside our house, so having vinegar on hand is a must for us. Although our current feline population is down to six, vinegar still plays a vital part in keeping the house from smelling like a litter box.
Note: If you use a commercial urine neutralizer that contains pheromones for discouraging “repeat business,” use that product first. Otherwise, the vinegar will prevent the pheromones from activating, thus defeating the purpose. I typically treat the affected area with the commercial product, and then use vinegar as the first rinse, followed by plain water.
- Surface cleaning. Bathroom and kitchen counter tops, door knobs, drawer and cabinet pulls, appliance handles, floors, ceramic or glass dishware—especially canning jars with a film of lime-scale buildup courtesy of the canner… just about any hard surface will benefit from being cleaned with vinegar. I do not recommend using vinegar on porous surfaces such as hardwood floors and furniture, or on soft plastic items. That said, the plastic spray bottle in the photo has held vinegar for years with no issues, so far. I keep one in the bathroom and one in the kitchen.
- Vinegar is the least harmful way I know to dissolve lime-scale buildup, such as on shower stall and tub surfaces. Just don’t do what I did and use your marble pestle to weigh down the tiny, gunked-up parts from an electric razor as they soak in a vinegar-filled dish overnight. When I checked it the next morning, the vinegar had eaten through the gunk like a champ... and had started dissolving the marble! (The Pyrex™ glass dish was fine, though I imagine it would have been next, given enough time.)
If you have favorite household uses for vinegar that I haven't mentioned here, please feel free to share them in the comment section below. And don't forget to reuse or recycle the empty bottles!
You can also clean with salt… but that's another story. :D
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