Nature is the great provider, but when we think of its many gifts, we tend to think of the big ones: food, air, water, and the like. Yet much of what nature offers, while not necessarily crucial, is no less extraordinary. And lately I've been considering what may be its single most impressive minor wonder of all: the magical essence called vinegar.
It started with strawberries. The season is in full swing here in the northern borderlands, but you gotta eat quick because even the best-tended berries start rotting within hours…unless you know the trick I tried last week: bathe them in a 10:1 water-to-vinegar solution. Washing delicate berries before storage is, I know, a death knell. But not with vinegar in the mix. Our berries are still holding their own days later. Vinegar zapped what could have ailed them, and it got me thinking… Just how amazing is this stuff?
The short answer is pretty-darn-oh-my-goodness-yes-amazing.
Vinegar, a.k.a. acetic acid, is what happens when alcohol itself ferments. The bacteria that feast on things like wine and cider produce it as their waste product. But this highly acidic effluent is hardly "waste."
In our house we have all kinds of vinegars (wine, rice, balsamic, malt, cider) for cooking, and a big jug of plain old distilled vinegar for everything else. It's a great substitute for all kinds of products. Here are a few of my favorite uses for this incredible natural resource:
- When our drains are clogged, I toss down a half cup of baking soda followed by a cup of vinegar to gets things flowing.
- Run a cup or two through the coffeemaker to remove clogging mineral deposits. (Run a few cycles of water afterward so your coffee doesn't taste like salad!) It's great for coffee-stained dishware, too, and I use it in our washing machine and dishwasher to similar water-deposit-dissolving effect. I've even soaked clogged showerheads in it.
- Zap mildew in bathrooms and other places.
- Combine equal parts vinegar and olive oil to remove water stains from wood. (Always rub with the grain!)
- Deodorize anything anywhere. (I've yet to meet the odor that won't wilt under a vinegar assault.)
- Remove haze from glassware. (Just soak, rinse, and air dry.) It's also great for removing the haze that accumulates on the inside of my car's windshield, which I've heard actually comes from (ick) the fumes emitted by dashboard vinyl.
- I pour it on driveway weeds to keep little used parking areas and other places where wheels rarely go from looking overgrown and abandoned.
- Biggest pet peeves: a nasty can opener blade.
- Cleaning our toothbrush holders and electric toothbrush stands. These can get pretty nasty, but vinegar keeps the guck away.
- Cutting goop of all kinds. The decorative antique pie pans we keep behind our stovetop get grimed to high heaven by cooking splatters but vinegar washes it right off. And it removes errant stickers, glues, adhesives, and other forms of goo, too.
- Before we had a garage, I would spray a 3:1 water/vinegar solution on the car windows for simple, frost-free winter mornings.
Those are a few of my favorite vinegary things. What are yours? Let us count the ways we love vinegar in the comments box below!
The Inkslinger has written about environmental issues for over 20 years and is a freelance writer for some of America's most iconoclastic companies and non-profits. His true loves include nature, music of the Americana/rock and roll variety, interior design, books, old things, good stories, pagan rituals, and his wife of 24 years, with whom he lives in an undisclosed chemical-free rural Vermont location along with his teenage daughter and two infinitely hilarious Australian shepherds!