The Fantastic Powers of Vinegar: 8 Household Uses to Replace Toxic Chemicals

Homemade Vinegar in a glass bottle surrounded by apples and grapes

The many uses of Vinegar: Spare the environment and your wallet at the same time.

My great grandma knew it: Vinegar is an extremely versatile household remedy to countless problems. I, meanwhile, grew up in a household using all the cleaning supplies you see advertized on TV. It is only as an adult that I have discovered how many toxic chemicals could easily be replaced by a natural, cheap, and powerful solution (still a chemical, I know): Vinegar

For most applications and unless otherwise specified, that is white vinegar, or acetic acid, to be precise. Regular vinegar meant for consumption would work the same way, but may leave a sticky residue and lingering smell.

White vinegar, meanwhile, should evaporate completely and not smell like anything once it’s dried. In fact, it works as a deodorizer for smelly textiles, for example, but more on that below.

You can find white vinegar in the household sections of most well stocked stores.

1. As a bathroom, kitchen, and tile floor cleaner

Being an acid, vinegar works extremely well against limescale. The stronger the concentration, the better it works (but the more advisable wearing gloves is). By concentration, I mean the acid content declared in percent on the package, usually between 5% and 30%.

You wouldn’t want to drink white vinegar, but it’s food safe when applied to surfaces, as opposed to commercial cleaning solutions that really don’t work any better.

Combined with a tiny bit of soft soap, you’ve got yourself an all purpose bathroom and kitchen cleaner that can tackle anything you don’t need a crime scene cleaner for. Just don’t use it for plastic or wooden surfaces, only metal, stone, tile, you get the picture.

Obviously soda and bleach have their place and their uses too, but for bathrooms and kitchens, I don’t need anything else.

2. For descaling aerators, shower heads, kitchen appliances, etc.

Similarly to the above use case, emerging an aerator full of limescale in a glass of vinegar over night will return a shiny, descaled part the next morning. You can use food grade vinegar for this.

As well as aerators, you can use the same technique for anything that is submersible in a container.

For larger items, you may instead want to pour some vinegar over a towel, and then wrap that towel around the item. For example the rim of a large pet’s water dish.

3. As a water and fabric softener

What makes hard water hard is essentially what leaves limescale stains, and what is dissolved by vinegar: Calcium.

A relatively recent test by a German consumer advice magazine (Kassensturz) found that fabric softeners don’t really work at all in the sense that they do not soften the water, but rather apply a polymer film over the fabric that feels soft to the touch. Plus perfume, of course. To make matters worse, that film clogs microfiber towels, rendering them useless.

Vinegar, on the other hand, actually softens the water, which in turn means the washed clothes will feel soft. As an added bonus, the vinegar neutralizes bad odors instead of adding an artificial perfume.

All you need to do is add vinegar instead of fabric softener to the softener compartment of your washing machine, filling it to the max level indicated.

You can also throw a cup of vinegar in directly with the load. In this case you have to be careful to add less detergent, as you’re essentially creating softer water, which will foam more. I didn’t realize this the first time and had to deal with a washing machine that was “boiling over” with foam. On the plus side, you can save detergent this way, if you strike the right balance.

Note: Acetic acid may damage rubber seals over time, so if you’re not sure about the materials in your washing machine, you can use citric acid instead for much the same effect. Citric acid also doesn’t have a smell, which is a bonus if you’re not a fan of vinegar smells, even if they’re temporary.

4. To preserve colors in laundry

Vinegar added to the laundry directly actually has the effect of setting dies, and thus preventing colors from becoming washed out.

In this case, you can’t substitute citric acid, so be sure it’s worth the risk to your washing machine’s seals.

I just mention this as a disclaimer because it’s technically true and I want people to be aware. In actuality, my friend’s mom has been adding vinegar to her laundry for 30+ years and it hasn’t harmed the machine yet. I’ve been doing it for 5 with no issues so far.

5. To kill mold

Wiping small mold clusters, for example on a bathroom ceiling, with a cloth doused in vinegar will kill the mold. This is in contrast to bleach, which is often recommended but only… bleaches the mold and doesn’t kill it.

Of course if the underlying problem isn’t remedied, the mold will come back. So this is best used in combination with a strong dehumidifier, if the problem is humidity (which it usually is).

6. To fix the musty smell from (old) washing machines

To close the laundry portion of this list, periodically adding a cup of vinegar to an empty run at boiling temperatures will kill off the mold in old and smelly washing machines, fixing the “My laundry smells musty after washing (or leaving it in the machine)” issue.

7. To neutralize urine smells from pet accidents

Granted, I’ve already mentioned the deodorizing properties of vinegar, and also granted, it doesn’t have to be a pet that had the accident, but this is so useful it deserves to be mentioned separately. Anyway, acetic acid neutralizes ammonia.

Usually if a pet (or child, or drunk adult) has an accident somewhere, you’d just clean, wash, or burn whatever was affected. If that’s not possible, however, as is the case with mattresses, couch cushions, or car seats, you need a different solution, assuming you can’t afford to keep buying new ones every time it happens.

Enter vinegar.

What you do to remove urine stains and smells from a mattress, for example, is to:

  1. Dab the wet spot with a towel first. Don’t push down too hard, as you’ll just press the liquid deeper into the material.
  2. Pour white vinegar over the spot and let it sink in and set for about 10 minutes. Just enough to cover the area. About a cup for a cat sized pee stain.
  3. Dab dry with a towel again. This time you may push a bit harder.
  4. Cover the area with baking soda, about one cm (half an inch) high. This will absorb the moisture from below. Leave for as long as is convenient, ideally at least a few hours. (Do NOT use baking powder – there is an important difference. You want Sodium Bicarbonate.)
  5. Scrape off and/or vacuum up the saturated baking soda (depending on what your vacuum can take).

Et voila, you’ve got yourself a slightly stained mattress that at least doesn’t smell like pee anymore.

8. As a cure for hiccups

It might seem bizarre, but it’s the only supposed cure for hiccups that has ever worked for me and it works every time, without fail. Now I personally like the taste of vinegar, but the same isn’t true for others, and most of my family and friends have been very reluctant to try it, but it works for them too.

All you do is drink one tablespoon of vinegar (drink it, don’t slurp it), et voilà, no more hiccups. I guess the “shock” does something to your diaphragm, but the truth is I don’t really care why it works. It just does.

Obviously you’d use food grade vinegar for this. I recommend using balsamico.

And there you have it, folks. I hope you find this information as helpful as I did when I learned it. I’m sure there are even more uses for vinegar, such as adding it to salad. If and when I find more, I will update this list. Feel free to add any I forgot in the comments below 🙂

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