You probably have at least one bottle of vinegar in your kitchen. (If you’re anything like us, you have at least four!) No wonder that when Prevention editors gathered together our Favorite 5-Ingredient Salad Dressings, vinegar starred in nearly every one. But humble vinegar is so much more than a salad-dressing base or a natural way to clean your countertops.
Most vinegars are 95% water and 5% acetic acid, and it’s the acetic acid that works most of the miracles. Which type to use? White, apple cider, and white wine vinegars are your best bets for household uses, since they won’t leave stains or discolorations the way that balsamic and red-wine vinegars will.
Grab a bottle, shake it up, and get ready to view vinegar in a whole new way!
De-stink your car
Going on a long car trip? Store a bottle of vinegar and a bowl in the trunk of your car. Leaving a bowl of the pungent stuff in a car overnight will remove any odors left behind by your travels (think: carsick kids, pet musk, food smells).
Clarify swimmer’s hair
Contrary to what you might think, hair problems from swimming pools aren’t caused by too much chlorine. The discoloration is actually from copper residues that get into water from pipes and other pool equipment. If you find your hair turning 50 shades of green this summer, rinse it with a mixture of ¼ cup cider vinegar and 1 pint water. The acetic acid dissolves the oxides in copper that are making it green.
Fight foot odor and athlete’s foot
Both conditions can be improved by soaking your feet in vinegar. For foot odor, give them a 10-minute vinegar bath once a day; the acetic acid will kill odor-causing bacteria. For athlete’s foot, rinse feet in a solution of one part water and one part vinegar twice a day before applying an anti-fungal cream. The vinegar will help dry up any moisture in your skin that allows fungus (and odor) to thrive.
Brighten your whites
White vinegar is a tried-and-true stain remover for clothing; add a cup to the rinse cycle to keep whites bright, to remove soap buildup inside your washing machine, and to get rid of odors in your clothing. The acetic acid eats through soap scum.
Beautify your hands
Keep a bottle close to your kitchen sink, too, because it’ll remove stains from your hands left by berries, beets, and other potent produce. Rub plain white vinegar on your juice-stained hands after washing them with plain soap to get rid of any stains.
Make tangy fruit salad
Speaking of berries, soak your summer strawberries in a little red wine vinegar for about an hour. You’ll enhance their flavor and add antioxidants. Red wine vinegar has just as many healthy antioxidants as red wine and grape juice.
Soothe jellyfish stings
Several studies have found that the acetic acid in vinegar can counteract the stinging and pain caused by jellyfish venom. A study published in The Medical Journal of Australia found that dousing vinegar on tentacles left in your skin for at least 30 seconds will also prevent the release of more venom. Although medical professionals caution that hot water is a more effective treatment, vinegar is far more portable. Toss a bottle in your beach bag before you hit the ocean this summer (any type works).
Kill weeds naturally
Many garden supply stores will sell acetic acid, the main component of vinegar, as a week killer in concentrations much higher than what’s legally allowed in vinegars sold at grocery stores. But that also makes them more dangerous to handle, since the higher acid content is more likely to burn your skin. If you want a non-toxic, homemade solution to keep weeds out of cracks in your driveway or walkways, mix undiluted vinegar with a squirt or two of dishwashing soap—the surfactants in soap help vinegar penetrate the leaves and roots—and spray your weeds until they disappear. The repeated application of vinegar will acidify your soil, making it less hospitable to future generations of weeds.
Vinegar Is An Effective Household Cleaner
The Natural Disinfectant In Your Kitchen Right Now
By Markham Heid
The claim: Vinegar may work as an effective (and cheap!) household cleaner, says a study published in the onlline journal mBio. Acetic acid—the active ingredient in vinegar—is powerful enough to kill the type of drug-resistant bacteria that causes tuberculosis.
The research: When the study team exposed several drug-resistant types of dangerous bacteria to a 6% solution of acetic acid for 30 minutes, the numbers of the bacteria dropped to undetectable levels. The active ingredient in vinegar may have the ability to “pass the bacteria membrane,” explains study coauthor Howard Takiff, MD, of the Venezuelan Institute for Scientific Research. Once inside the membrane, the vinegar component could raises the pH levels to a point where the bacteria can’t survive, Dr. Takiff hypothesizes.
What it means: While most store-bought white vinegars contain 5% acetic acid—probably not enough to eradicate the disease-causing bacteria used in the study—that should still be enough acid to kill many types of household bacteria, Dr. Takiff says. While his research doesn’t compare white vinegar’s disinfectant properties to those of commercial cleaners, he says they both kill bacteria while neither is powerful enough to sterilize.
The bottom line: “Vinegar has been used as a disinfectant at least since the Roman times,” Dr. Takiff says. And while higher concentrations of acetic acid may eventually be used as a surgical disinfectant, he says you can use store-bought white vinegar as a cheap and non-toxic cleanser in your home. Wipe white vinegar onto dirty surfaces and give it 20 minutes to kill bacteria, Dr. Takiff suggests.