Next time you're at the grocery store, grab a jug of vinegar. Or maybe two. Because this cheap pantry staple has an impressive number of alternative uses. Think cleaning, gardening, pet care, laundry, health care and more.
At its most basic level, vinegar is acetic acid that's mixed with water, trace chemicals and flavorings. Even more simply, it's fermented alcohol -- likely created unintentionally thousands of years ago when someone's attempt at making an alcoholic beverage went awry.
Distilled white and apple cider are the two most used forms of vinegar in the U.S. But Ireland favors malt vinegar, Asians opt for rice vinegar and in the Mediterranean, wine vinegars (sherry, red and white) are all the rage. Many vinegars are also flavored with ingredients like fruits, herbs and spices.
But when it comes to using vinegar in projects not related to cooking, it's best to go with the distilled white and apple cider varieties. So grab a bottle of each before checking out these 12 great and unexpected uses for vinegar.
- Insect salve and repellent. Just a dab of white vinegar on a bug bite will lessen its sting and itch, plus help disinfect the area. But don't use vinegar on any bite where the skin is raw. Apple cider vinegar works as an insect repellent; rub some over your arms and legs, or wherever the bugs are swarming.
- Kill weeds and remove ants. No need to buy chemical-laced sprays to get rid of dandelions and other unsightly weeds. Simply spray them with distilled white vinegar instead. You'll need to apply the vinegar on a dry, sunny day. If it rains after your application, reapply once everything dries out. If anthills begin to proliferate on your property, spray them with a mix of equal parts water and distilled white vinegar. Since these industrious insects hate the smell of vinegar, they'll soon move out. Toss this spray in your car whenever you're on your way to a picnic, too, in case ants try to spoil your fun.
- Enhance bricks. If your exterior brickwork or brick fireplace is starting to look dingy, combine equal parts of distilled white vinegar and water in a spray bottle. Spray the mixture on the bricks, then let it sit for several minutes. Use a cloth to wipe it off or, if needed, a scrub brush.
- Clean Fido's ears. If your dog's ears are dirty or appear to be bothering her, mix together 4 tablespoons of water and 1 tablespoon of distilled white vinegar, then apply to the inside of her ears with a clean rag. Don't do this, however, if there are any cuts in her ears.
- Open a tight jar. Can't loosen that spaghetti sauce lid? Turn the jar upside down, then pour warm distilled white vinegar around the neck joint. It should open easily.
- Clean scissors. Are the blades on your shears sticky or gummy? Wipe them down with distilled white vinegar, then dry. Don't try water first, as it may rust your scissors. And it usually doesn't get rid of sticky residues.
- Remove smoke odors. Smoky odors aren't pleasant, whether we're talking burned popcorn, fire damage or cigarettes. To remove such odors, fill several shallow bowls with either distilled white or cider vinegar and place them around the room. The stinky smell should be gone within 24 hours (longer for more serious smells, such as soot after a fire). For more immediate relief, try dampening a cloth with vinegar and waving it around the room. If you're not partial to the smell of vinegar, add a few drops of lavender oil to it.
- Car care. Vinegar is quite useful in the care of your car. Use it to remove bumper stickers and decals from chrome by soaking them with distilled white vinegar, then scraping the residue off. In cold climes, wiping or spraying your car windows with vinegar in winter will help keep frost at bay. A combination of three parts distilled white vinegar and one part water can last a few weeks. Finally, wipe off your windshield wiper blades with a rag dipped in distilled white vinegar whenever their cleaning action diminishes.
- Fruit fly trap. Every year, tiny fruit flies can suddenly appear in your home, flitting around your fruit or dive-bombing into your glass of wine. Drown these annoying creatures by setting out a bowl of apple cider vinegar with three drops of dish soap in it. The fruit flies will be attracted by the scent, then sink and drown in the mixture. Or, pour some apple cider vinegar into a jar or glass, then cover it with plastic wrap and secure with a rubber band. Poke some small, fine holes in the wrap so that the flies can get in but will have a hard time exiting.
- Remove pit stains. Everyone hates it when their shirts develop unsightly underarm stains, whether the stains are from sweat or from antiperspirant. If this happens to you, take some distilled white vinegar, rub it into the stains, then launder as usual. Before tossing the shirt into the dryer, check to make sure the stains are gone. If they're not and you dry the shirt in the dryer, it will bake them in. Instead, re-treat the stains and then set the shirt in the sun. This will help bleach out the offending marks.
- Stop cracked eggs. Eggs often crack when dropped in a pot of boiling water, particularly if they're coming straight from the fridge. Adding 2 tablespoons of vinegar to each quart of water (before boiling) will keep your eggs from cracking and make them easier to peel afterward.
- Make hair shine. This old-time trick is still touted by many as a way to dissolve shampoo buildup while leaving your hair with a fetching sheen. Just mix 1-2 tablespoons of vinegar (apple cider or white) with 1 cup of water, then pour over your head and massage it into your roots after you've shampooed. Make sure to thoroughly rinse it out to get rid of the smell. While this mixture is safe for your hair, even if color-treated, it's best to use this rinse just once a week. Vinegar is still acidic, after all.