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Vinegar Uses and Sources of Information - A Compilation

Vinegar is an ancient natural fermented product with many medicinal, cooking, preservative, industrial, and household applications. It is twice-fermented, allowing the sugar or starch to feed yeast to form an alcohol. "An alcoholic liquid that has been allowed to sour." The second step is the addition of Acetobacter bacteria that, over time and with exposure to air, turns the liquid into acetic acid. Many readers may have encountered the vinegary smell of lunch grapes that got warm and quickly fermented and then soon smelled of vinegar. The commercial product is carefully produced to preserve the acetic acid qualities and food grade vinegar is made from fruits, potatoes, rice, or other whole grains, and water.


For table use and food preservation, companies produce vinegar at a standard 5% acidity, with a stronger form of white vinegar called pickling vinegar that is in the 9 to 10% acidity range. It is typical to find apple cider or white vinegar used in pickling.


A major reason for using vinegar for cleaning, as an herbicide, and other industrial uses, is to reduce the number of chemicals entering the water supply. When it comes to what enters the air, even vinegar (if very strong) can be dangerous to inhale, so be careful handling the vinegar applications.


If we can confine our cleaning materials to the more benign products such as vinegar, baking soda, hydrogen peroxide, dish soap, mineral oil, salt, and bleach (of all of these products, bleach is the one most likely to be dangerous if mixed incorrectly.)


The following list is assembled primarily from university sources highlights of the tips they offer and links to each site.


►From How Products are Made


Vinegar is made from a variety of diluted alcohol products, the most common being wine, beer, and rice. Balsamic vinegar is made from the Trebbiano and Lambrusco grapes of Italy's Emilia-Romagna region. Some distilled vinegars are made from wood products such as beech.


Acetobacters are microscopic bacteria that live on oxygen bubbles. Whereas the fermentation of grapes or hops to make wine or beer occurs in the absence of oxygen, the process of making vinegars relies on its presence. In the natural processes, the acetobacters are allowed to grow over time. In the vinegar factory, this process is induced by feeding acetozym nutrients into the tanks of alcohol.


Mother of vinegar is the gooey film that appears on the surface of the alcohol product as it is converted to vinegar. It is a natural carbohydrate called cellulose. This film holds the highest concentration of acetobacters. It is skimmed off the top and added to subsequent batches of alcohol to speed the formation of vinegar. Acetozym nutrients are manmade mother of vinegar in a powdered form. . . . . The design step of making vinegar is essentially a recipe. Depending on the type of vinegar to be bottled at the production plant—wine vinegar, cider vinegar, or distilled vinegar.


►From the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health

This article looks at how vinegar has been used historically, the nutrients, and how various sorts of vinegar can be used to flavor foods, to prepare or preserve foods, and gives a look at the types of vinegar (White Distilled, Balsamic, Rice, Wine, Apple Cider, and Malt).

It also hints at the uses of White Vinegar as a household cleaner.

Introduction to the article:

Not many foods play the role of both a prized cooking ingredient and household cleaner. The word vinegar derives from the French “vin aigre,” or sour wine. It has been traced back to 5000 B.C.E. in Babylon, not just for cooking but as a medicine, a preservative, and a drink to boost strength and promote wellness. Legend describes vinegar’s discovery when a forgotten wine was left in storage for several months, causing it to ferment and turn sour.


►The Penn State Extension office has important information about vinegar acidity levels:

5% Acidity is the Gold Standard

The standard vinegar used in home canning should be 5% acidity.


Look at the label to be sure that the vinegar you are using is 5% acidity. Sometimes vinegar will be labeled as grain; 5% acidity is the same as 50 grain. Most white and cider vinegars used for making pickles and salsa are 5% acidity, but not all. Acidity level below 5% may result in spoilage as it is not adequate to control microbial growth.


Only reduce the acidity when using a research-tested recipe that instructs you to add water to the product.


Be aware the water in the food also dilutes the concentration of the brine. Some recipes direct you to soak cucumbers or other food product in salt water for a period of time before canning them in the pickling brine—this reduces the amount of water going into the brine.


►For use in the garden, the University of Maryland Extension office has published Vinegar: An Alternative to Glyphosate?

It offers a discussion of how Roundup was supposed to work, and noting that there are many "inert ingredients" to do with the formulations that the EPA was examining:

Different glyphosate products vary in the type of active ingredient salt and the manufacturer proprietary compounds included in the formulated products. Proprietary compounds are listed on the label as inert ingredients and used for handling convenience, for easier mixing with other pesticides, and/or for aiding movement of the active ingredient from the leaf surface into the plant tissue (e.g. surfactants).

The important part of this article is the examination of alternative herbicides.

Alternative herbicides fall into 7 product categories: Natural acids (vinegar + citric acids), Herbicidal soaps, Iron-based herbicides, Salt-based herbicides, phytotoxic oils (clove, peppermint, pine, citronella), corn gluten, and combination products (including ingredients from multiple categories). This fact sheet concentrates specifically on acetic acid (vinegar) products.

This article offers ways to improve the effectiveness of organic herbicides, such as how to spread, use a surfactant, treat weeds when they're small, and the observation that "Lower concentrations at high spray volumes (i.e. 10% concentration in 70 gallons per acre) appear to be more effective than high concentrations at low spray volumes (i.e.20% concentration in 35 gallons per acre)."


The article also includes a pros and cons table to do with using vinegar as an herbicide, a list of commercial vinegar herbicide products, and an excellent list of references. 


►West Virginia University Extension's Apple Cider Vinegar Myths and Facts offers this tidbit:

The word vinegar comes from the Latin words for “sour wine” and has been used for thousands of years. Most people consume it in salad dressings or sauces; however, it has been used for many things. Vinegar is one of nature’s great gifts – a true natural product. Any alcoholic beverage, whether it is made from apples, grapes, dates, rice or plain white sugar, once exposed to air will naturally turn to vinegar. It is the bacteria in the air that converts the alcohol in cider, wine and beer into acetic acid giving vinegar its sharp sour taste.


Here are insights into the shelf-life of food vinegars from Iowa State University Extension and Outreach


Vinegar has an indeterminate shelf-life, especially if it is white vinegar. The shelf date is an estimate of the time range considered "prime" by the manufacturer, but there is no need to discard old vinegar. Some of the wine and cider vinegars can gradually change color over time and this may indicate a slight change in taste.


If an amorphous blob forms in the bottom of the bottle this is called the "mother," and it means the vinegar wasn't pasteurized or that the bottle was exposed to a vinegar bacteria after opening. Simply strain through a coffee filter if you wish to remove it.


Past it's Prime? Probably not:

Contrary to "when in doubt, toss it out," there is no need to toss out older vinegars. They are safe to use but may change over time. If the change is too bothersome for food preparation, vinegar past its prime can still be used for cleaning, weed control, fabric softening, and dying to name a few.


►More about vinegar and other household products for healthy cleaning, from the Utah State University Extension site:

These formulas are offered to help minimize the use of toxic substances in your home and reduce the cost of purchasing manufactured cleaning products. Results may vary and cannot be guaranteed to be 100 percent safe and effective. Before applying any cleaning formulation, test in small, hidden areas if possible. Always use caution with any new product in your home.


Embracing a greener lifestyle isn't just about helping preserve equatorial rain forests, it can also mean improving your health, padding your bank account, using less toxic products and, ultimately, improving your overall quality of life.


►You'll find a lot of home-remedy and cleaning ideas from the Michigan State University Extension

These include tips for cleaning soap scum, cleaning and polishing floors, counters, and windows, tar removal, pet accidents, digestive problems and skin irritation.


►The University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UFIFAS)

This site offers formulas for homemade household cleaners, including vinegar, rubbing alcohol, washing soda, borax, and more. They offer cleaning tips for floors, toilets, windows, laundry, and more, and conclude with the following excellent set of tips:

With all cleaning products remember:

  • It is best to mix just what you need and use it all.
  • Be sure that the container has a label. If you make your own cleaner, always label it.
  • Never put cleaners in food containers.
  • Store cleaning solutions out of children's reach.
  • Note: Use caution when making homemade cleaners! Mixing bleach with ammonia or vinegar will create toxic fumes that are very dangerous to your lungs and breathing!


There isn't much consumer information available about Industrial vinegar, at 30, 45, or 75% - but you should "think of this as an industrial solvent" – use only in well-ventilated areas, never on food. Only for cleaning or horticultural uses.


Recipes and Consumer Information

►Alton Brown Good Eats American Pickle highlights (view in snippits at that link or available for purchase to view on Amazon) and if you're interested in a sort of Julie/Julia knockoff, consider visiting the Allison/Alton blog at for the pickle recipes.


►The Vinegar Institute is a great place for more information about vinegar.

They offer several helpful printable PDF handouts to do with vinegar. In particular, Cleaning with Vinegar describes the household cleaning applications for regular strength (5%) white vinegar.


Government Publications

►The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) offers a number of helpful topics to do with not just safe cleaning but how to recognize the dangerous products around the house.


Safer Choice: Safer Choice helps consumers, businesses, and purchasers find products that perform and contain ingredients that are safer for human health and the environment.


Here is an EPA Household Hazards Hunt lesson plan:


List created by Maggie Dwyer, February 2022





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