Vinegar polishes cleaning regime

Vinegar is versatile and effective, not to mention inexpensive.

McClatchy Newspapers

What can tackle the germs and grease on your kitchen counters but also make your favorite pickles safe to eat?


In this age of harsh household-cleaning chemicals, some Americans look for safer, more natural alternatives. They need search no further than the kitchen cabinet for a cleaning solution their grandparents likely used. Vinegar, discovered by accident more than 10,000 years ago when wine went sour, is a versatile cleaner.

“Vinegar is one of those old-fashioned home cleaners,” said Cameron Walker, who works in the family health store, Five Seasons, in Ocean Springs, Miss.

“I can remember as a boy polishing the window with crumpled newspaper and vinegar until the windows squeaked. You can make them amazingly clean that way.”

With so many vinegars, which should a person use for household cleaning?

“Distilled white vinegar,” said Walker. “It doesn’t have color and often has more acidity and a higher evaporation rate. Besides, for cleaning, you don’t want to use a $10 bottle of fine balsamic vinegar.”

Then there are people such as Virginia Kenny, an operating-room nurse, who grew up in a vinegar-loving Italian family.

“They used vinegar for a lot of things, and you know we turn into our mothers,” Kenny said. “We use vinegar [to soothe] a sunburn, to clean tile floors, wash clothes, clean windows. The funny thing is I read somewhere to put vinegar in your wash water when you wash your bathing suits so they don’t fade. Been doing it for years. I think it works.

“As a child, I remember them rubbing us down in vinegar after we were out in the sun. It did feel cool, but I’m sure we smelled funny. But being Italian, what’s one more funny smell next to the garlic and anchovies?”

Actually, The Vinegar Institute says the scent dissipates quickly; the group recommends a bowl of vinegar in a smoky room to get rid of that unpleasant odor.

Vinegar is, by definition, a sour liquid created by fermentation that turns sugar into acetic acid. Its origin (from apples, grapes, etc.) and fermentation affect the taste, and that’s why it has so many uses in food.

But today the spotlight is on vinegar as an inexpensive cleaner, and The Vinegar Institute has plenty of advice. This worldwide industry association, based in Atlanta, was founded in 1945 by apple cider vinegar manufacturers. Donna Smith, the institute’s staff associate, fields inquiries from a public curious about vinegar uses.

“I get so many phone calls from elderly women who don’t have access to computers,” said Smith. “They tell me they’ve been using vinegar all of their lives, and they tell me uses I didn’t know. We’re constantly updating our Web site with vinegar tips.”

Take, for example, the toilet. The institute recommends putting three cups of white vinegar in the bowl, then flushing in a half-hour. Vinegar is good for drain maintenance, showerheads, stains, cleaning counters, sinks, floors, tubs and windows, and more.

For general cleaning, Smith said, “we recommend keeping a water-spray bottle filled with a solution of half white vinegar, half water.”


The Vinegar Institute offers uses and tips, drawn from sources such as consumer suggestions, articles and other publications.

These are passed-along cleaning solutions and have not been scientifically tested or documented by the institute or its members, which are vinegar producers from around the world.

UDeodorize kitchen drain: Pour a cup of distilled white vinegar down the drain once a week. Let stand 30 minutes, then flush with cold water.

UStreakless windows and clean refrigerators: Wash with a mixture of equal parts of distilled white vinegar and warm water. Dry with soft cloth.

URemove refrigerator smells: Place 1 cup apple cider vinegar in a glass in refrigerator.

UWash no-wax floors: To wash no-wax floors, add 1‚Ñ2 cup of distilled white vinegar to a half-gallon of warm water.

URemove carpet stains: A mixture of 1 teaspoon of liquid detergent and 1 teaspoon of distilled white vinegar in a pint of lukewarm water removes nonoily stains. Apply with soft brush or towel, rub gently. Rinse with towel moistened with clean water and blot dry. Repeat until stain is gone. Dry quickly, using a fan or hair dryer.

UWash fruits and vegetables: Add 2 tablespoons distilled white vinegar to 1 pint water. Rise off thoroughly.

UClean, disinfect wood cutting boards: Wipe with full-strength distilled white vinegar.

UClean woodwork: Wash painted walls, woodwork and Venetian blinds with a mixture of 1 cup ammonia, 1‚Ñ2 cup white distilled or cider vinegar and 1‚Ñ4 cup baking soda in 1 gallon of warm water. Wipe this solution over walls or blinds with a sponge or cloth and rinse with clear water.

URemove water rings: Remove by rubbing with a mixture of equal parts of distilled white vinegar and olive oil. Rub with the grain and polish for best results.

UClean automatic coffee maker: To dissolve mineral deposits, fill reservoir with distilled white vinegar and run it through a brewing cycle. Rinse thoroughly with water when the cycle is finished.

UClean the microwave: Boil a solution of 1‚Ñ4 cup of distilled white vinegar and 1 cup of water in the microwave. Will loosen splattered-on food and deodorize.

UGet rid of fruit flies: Place on the counter a bowl filled with 1‚Ñ2 quart water, 2 tablespoons sugar, 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar and a couple of drops of dish soap.

URemove bathtub film: Wipe with distilled white vinegar and then with baking soda. Rinse clean with water.

UUnclog showerhead: Remove corrosion from showerheads or faucets by soaking them in white distilled vinegar overnight. (Saturate terry cloth towel in vinegar and wrap around the showerhead or faucet.)

UWash clothes: Clothes will rinse better if 1 cup of distilled white vinegar is added to the last rinse water.

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