What's in White Vinegar? - Plus 11 Ways to Use It

From green cleaning to lawn care, white vinegar is a miracle product

vinegar with cleaning supplies

The Spruce / Margot Cavin

White vinegar is a safe, green, and inexpensive ingredient for cleaning just about anything. Though there are various types of vinegar, distilled white vinegar is commonly used for housecleaning.

What is White Vinegar Made Of?

White vinegar, a clear, sour-tasting liquid, is fermented alcohol comprised of varying degrees of acetic acid and water, depending on the type.

But there's a multitude of uses for distilled white vinegar that go beyond cleaning—from yard care to pet care and more. Read on to learn about 10 surprising uses for that bottle or jug of distilled white vinegar sitting in your pantry.

illustration of uses for vinegar

The Spruce / Emilie Dunphy


Different types of vinegar have varying levels of acetic acid mixed with water. Note that a 1 percent difference in acetic acid content is significant.

  • Distilled white vinegar: 5 percent acetic acid (for kitchen and household use)
  • Apple cider vinegar: 5 to 6 percent acetic acid
  • Cleaning vinegar: 6 percent acetic vinegar (also known as white vinegar, but is not the same as milder distilled white vinegar, and not for kitchen use)
  • Horticultural/industrial vinegar: 20 to 30 percent acetic acid (not for kitchen use)
  • 01 of 11

    Natural Weed Killer

    Person pulling out weeds
    Francesca Yorke / Getty Images

    You don't always need horticultural vinegar for your weeds. Distilled white vinegar is strong enough to kill weeds, as well as plants you actually like, so instead of spraying it recklessly around your yard or garden, try painting it directly on the leaves of whatever plant you're trying to get rid of. Of course, if you're attacking weeds that sprout up from cracks in your asphalt, fire at will.

    For best results, use distilled white vinegar on a day of dry, sunny weather; vinegar needs some time in the sun to work its deadly magic on weeds.

  • 02 of 11

    Vinegar and Pet Care

    Dog In Bathtub
    Garry Solomon / EyeEm / Getty Images

    Dogs and cats can often be bothered by itchy, scaly ears, especially if you have a dog with floppy ears like a retriever.

    Dilute distilled white vinegar in a 1-to-4 ratio (1 tablespoon vinegar to 4 tablespoons water, for example), and let it soak into a clean rag. Then use the rag to wipe out the inside of your pet's ears.

    And if your pet gets sprayed by a skunk, vinegar is an easier acid to use than ketchup for getting rid of the smell, since ketchup itself doesn't rinse off all that easily.

    Finally, if unwanted cats are creeping around your yard, spray or pour vinegar onto their favorite litter box; felines can't stand the stuff!

  • 03 of 11

    Vinegar in the Dishwasher

    Woman unloading dish washer in kitchen.
    Dougal Waters / Getty Images

    There are at least two great uses for distilled white vinegar in your automatic dishwasher. First, it can be used as a cheap, effective rinsing agent to get your glasses, plates, and other dishes sparkling clean.

    Second, it can help to clean the dishwasher itself: Once a year or so (more if you have hard water), pour a cup of white vinegar into an empty dishwasher, then run it for a short cycle to get rid of the lime and soap build-up that can prevent your dishwasher from working at peak efficiency.

  • 04 of 11

    Vinegar and Car Care

    woman washing car window

    Nancy Brown / Getty Images

    Still sporting a bumper sticker you'd rather not display any longer? Remove it with a few squirts of undiluted distilled white vinegar. You may need to reapply the vinegar a few times to completely loosen the bumper sticker.

    Additionally, vinegar can be used as a glass cleaner and deodorizer in your car; you can even add it to your windshield wiper reservoir to keep your glass shiny if your car's owner's manual suggests it. Vinegar is acidic enough to ruin some motor parts, so don't add it to your windshield-washer fluid if your owner's manual advises against it. 

    You can also wipe down your windows with diluted vinegar in winter to keep them frost-free.

    Continue to 5 of 11 below.
  • 05 of 11

    Vinegar and Cut Flowers

    Woman arranging cut flowers

    chinaface / Getty Images

    There are all kinds of theories about ways to extend the life of cut flowers. Some folks swear by a copper penny, and others add lemon-lime soda or an aspirin. Try adding a few tablespoons of distilled white vinegar to the water, plus a dash of sugar.

    Most of the preparations seem to focus on one biocide (vinegar, bleach, copper), plus one source of sugar as a food supply. 

  • 06 of 11

    Vinegar and Cleaning Tiles

    person cleaning tiles with vinegar

    The Spruce / Margot Cavin

    Most people reach for the bleach when confronted with grungy or discolored ceramic tile, grout, and caulk. But distilled white vinegar is not only effective at cleaning and whitening tiles and grout, but it's also safer than chlorine bleach (especially for households on a septic tank, where bleach should never enter). Just spray full-strength vinegar on grout and caulk in the shower or kitchen, let it soak in for at least an hour, then scrub it off with a brush. (Use vinegar on grout infrequently or it can dry it out.)


    Distilled white vinegar often needs to be diluted when used to clean surfaces. For example, you would need to dilute a cup of vinegar with a gallon of water to clean wood floors, but you would want full-strength vinegar to clean mildewed tile and grout.

  • 07 of 11

    Vinegar and the Laundry

    bottle of white vinegar atop a pile of laundry

    The Spruce / Candace Madonna

    Distilled white vinegar has so many laundry-related uses that it's often stored right next to the detergent in green laundry rooms.

    For removing stains like mustard, ketchup, tomato sauce, grass, and underarm deodorants, spray a little white vinegar onto the stain before laundering. Soaking whites in vinegar will help bring back their whiteness.

    And just like in your dishwasher, vinegar helps to break down detergent when added to the rinse cycle, making clothes fresher, more colorful, and it gets rid of funky towel mildew. One cup should be plenty; add less when using a front-loading washing machine


    Never add any type of vinegar to chlorine bleach; it will create noxious chlorine gas, a potentially deadly compound.

  • 08 of 11

    Kitchen Cleaning With Vinegar

    clean your coffee maker out with vinegar

    The Spruce / Ana-Maria Stanciu

    Clean your coffee maker out with diluted distilled white vinegar every month or so. (Remember to run fresh water through it before making coffee.)

    Distilled white vinegar and salt can clean stainless-steel cookware and sterling silver, and undiluted vinegar disinfects cutting boards, especially those made of wood. And for cleaning microwaves, just pour a little vinegar into a bowl of water and microwave it for a few minutes—you can then easily wipe out grunge from the inside of your microwave.

    Finally, if your sink is clogged or the garbage disposal is smelly, try pouring 1/4 cup of baking soda down the sink, then add 1 cup of distilled white vinegar and cover the drain tightly. The reaction between these two compounds can power out clogs and odors. You may need two or more applications for tough clogs.

    Continue to 9 of 11 below.
  • 09 of 11

    Hard-Water Stains and Vinegar

    clean hard water stains with vinegar

    The Spruce / Margot Cavin

    If your toilet bowl, bathtub, or sink has lime deposits from hard water, soak or spray distilled white vinegar onto the grit. It should loosen the deposits enough to remove them easily.

    And for any appliance or fixture that's not working right because of hard water—especially irons, showerheads, and faucets—soak or spray distilled white vinegar and let the deposits crumble away.


    Click Play to Learn How to Remove Hard Water Stains in a Toilet

  • 10 of 11

    House Cleaning With Vinegar

    clean glass with vinegar

    The Spruce / Taylor Nebrija

    Distilled white vinegar is one of the world's best all-purpose green cleaners with dozens of cleaning uses. Diluted distilled white vinegar on a soft, lint-free cloth is excellent for cleaning windows, hardwood floors, carpet stains, fireplace bricks and irons, computer screens, devices, shower curtains, upholstery, mattresses, wood furniture (when combined with olive oil), and glassware. If it's in your house, you can probably clean it with vinegar.


    Do not use any type of vinegar on marble or other stone surfaces. The acid in all vinegars (and the acids in lemons and wines) can permanently damage these surfaces, so keep vinegar away from these stones.

  • 11 of 11

    Cooking With Vinegar

    A woman prepares apple cider vinegar, as she pores water into a jar of cut apples.

    EKIN KIZILKAYA / Getty Images

    There are many kinds of vinegar for culinary use, such as balsamic and rice vinegar. But distilled white vinegar is also a staple in the pantry for cooking and baking, so it pays to keep a gallon jug on hand.

    The tangy taste of distilled white vinegar can balance out the sweetness when making dressings, sauces, and marinades. The acid in the vinegar is also helpful during marinating to tenderize meats. And who knew that 1 tablespoon of vinegar could turn a cup of whole milk into buttermilk to make those fluffy pancakes? In addition, distilled white vinegar (used in tandem with baking soda) is sometimes used in baking as a substitute for eggs.

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  1. A case of acute inhalation injury caused by premeditated chlorine gas exposure. Respirol Case Rep. 2021 Mar 26;9(5):e00743.