Vinegar is a ubiquitous item in many kitchens, and savvy householders know that it has many uses beyond recipes. It’s also an excellent all-purpose cleaner, deodorizer, stain remover, and descaler. Distilled white vinegar tends to be the most effective for these purposes, although some people prefer apple cider vinegar or rice vinegar for personal care. Strongly flavored dark vinegars like balsamic should be reserved for recipes.
One classic use for vinegar is in cleaning. Used straight or in a 1 to 1 dilution, it can be used to wipe down a variety of surfaces to remove grime without leaving streaks or buildup. Windows, hard floors, counters, ceramic, and metal appliances can all benefit from a wipedown with vinegar to keep them clean and polished. Heavier concentrations can be useful for locations like shower tile, where the acidic vinegar can be used to remove scale from hard water.
For slow or smelly drains, pour vinegar down the drain and flush with hot water. You can also make a more aggressive drain deodorizer by pouring a mix of baking soda and vinegar down the drain to agitate material caught on the walls of the pipe, flushing it out to leave the drain smelling more fresh and moving more quickly.
Stains also tend to be very responsive to vinegar. For marks including stains from pens (beware: vinegar does not always work for ink stains), mildew, glues, and gums in carpeting, on walls, and on furniture, try blotting with vinegar and a clean cloth to gently remove the mark. The fresher the stain, the more successful you will be. On clothing, many stains including tough red wine and other bold colors can be eradicated if they’re blotted with vinegar within 24 hours. Gently pat the stain with a dampened towel to remove it, and run the garment in a wash with cold water and more vinegar to remove any clinging remains.
Adding a cup of vinegar to the last rinse on the laundry can help if clothes have been emerging stiff and scratchy. The vinegar cuts through soaps and hard water to flush them out of fabric, making it soft and smooth. This is especially useful for baby clothes, which can irritate sensitive skin if not thoroughly rinsed. The vinegar also acts as a deodorizer, a concern with gym equipment and other heavily soiled laundry.
For people with hard water or hair that’s accumulating residue from soaps, try rinsing with vinegar and cool water at the end of a shower to help the hair stay soft and shiny. Vinegar can also be blotted on itchy or sunburned skin to soothe it, and it can be effective for insect stings as well. If you’re working in a smoky environment or around foods like onions, try wearing a rag soaked in vinegar over your nose and mouth to help yourself breathe more easily. Vinegar can also be used to flush the eyes if they’re red and irritated, but if the irritation persists for more than a day, consult a doctor!
There are even uses for vinegar outdoors! If you have a patio or walkway that’s getting slippery with moss in winter or has a lot of weeds, use straight vinegar and a scrub brush to clean it and scour the surface so it will be safer. If your soil is highly alkaline and you want to grow acid-loving plants like rhododendrons, you can add some vinegar to the soil to up the acid content. Make sure to use a soil test first to make sure you’re adding an appropriate amount, because excessively acidic soil can damage the plants instead of helping them uptake nutrients.
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