The label vinegar derives from the French vin aigre , "sour wine", which gives you the correct idea that it is a conversion of a fermented liquid like wine, beer or cider. Bacterial activity makes it into a weak solution of acetic acid, which is what makes vinegar sour. Vinegar is an ancient ingredient that has been used for centuries, not surprising given that the process of souring will occur naturally.

There are many kinds of vinegar available, many of which have been noded here on everything. Let me mention in particular one that hasn't: distilled white vinegar, made from grain alcohol. It was the only vinegar I knew growing up, and it's very harsh tasting, not the best choice for adding to foods. My mother used to use it to rinse my hair when I was a girl; it made my hair squeak when combed and didn't remove tangles, so I used to cry when she pulled that comb through. I hated it, and advise you to use a conditioner instead. However, white vinegar does makes a good environmentally friendly cleaner which cuts grease and grime well; just mix it with a little water and use it to clean household surfaces and windows. If they're really dirty, use a soapy cleaner first, then the vinegar solution after as a kind of rinse. You can also pour a little baking soda down a slow drain, followed by vinegar, to remove the clogs; this fizzes most excitingly.

Of the more palatable vinegars, I should extol malt vinegar, made from malted barley; it's mild in flavour and is often sprinkled on fish and chips in Britain and Canada. I miss malt vinegar when I have chips (French fries) in the States. Apple cider vinegar, well-described by mrklaw, has a fruity flavour and is thought to have medicinal properties. Glorious Italian balsamic vinegar, elixir of the gods, has been noded most ably by sneff, and I have written on the lovely mild rice vinegar. Vinaigrettes, dressings made from oil and vinegar, often use wine or fruit vinegars, usually made from berries.

See also sensei's How many ways can you say "vinegar"? for an alphabetical listing of types.

Vinegar should be kept in a cool, dark location. Once it has been opened, bacteria may cause it to become cloudy, and though this doesn't affect the taste, it does not look very nice.

Canadian author Robertson Davies, in a story from his High Spirits: A Collection of Ghost Stories has this to say:

Vinegar is, of course, a solution of acetic acid made, as the dictionary explains, from inferior wines; Canada, which yields to no country in the world in the production of inferior wines, has first-rate vinegar.

Using vinegar around the house

Vinegar is incredibly useful around the house. It is non-toxic, environmentally friendly, and economical. I find white vinegar to be the best for household use, as it is strong and cheap. However, a note of caution: like many other cleaning products, vinegar can remove colour from fabric and wax and varnish from floors. Patch test your vinegar solution first if you are at all unsure of the results!

Cleaning and descaling

In hard water areas limescale can build up on kitchen equipment, bathroom fittings, tiles, and generally anywhere where water passes regularly. Remove limescale from kettles by covering the element with equal parts water and vinegar. Boil the kettle and then leave it overnight. Give a quick scrub and then wash clean. The same process can be used on aluminium pots and pans, and will remove burnt on grease and food as well as lime deposits. Deposits on jars and vases can be removed using undiluted cold vinegar: apply and leave to soak for a few minutes.

For removing limescale from toilet bowls, shower bases and taps mix the vinegar with borax in equal parts. For toilets (clean it first!) bale out the water. Spread your vinegar/borax mix on the scale and leave for a few hours. Brush off and rinse thoroughly. Clogged shower heads should, rather than be smothered in this mix, be left to soak in a bowl of undiluted vinegar for a few hours then rinsed. For bathroom and kitchen tiles, use a rag to rub the tiles with straight vinegar. Rinse after about 15-20 minutes. This will also remove mildew.


Copper polishes up well with a 50:50 mix of vinegar and lemon juice. Rub with newspaper dampened with this mix and polish with a soft dry cloth. Clean and polish chromium with a rag soaked in vinegar. If these need cleaning prior to polishing, mix vinegar with flour and salt to form a paste. Rub onto the metal (this works on brass and pewter as well) and rub off.

Polish cutlery by mixing two tablespoons vinegar with a teaspoon or so of borax. Mix gradually with two cups of hot water. Soak the cutlery in this, then rinse thoroughly. Alternatively, do as when rinsing crystal: add a teaspoon of vinegar to the water when rinsing.

Cleaning windows with vinegar is well known. Add some vinegar (about two to three tablespoons, depending on the quantity of water) to a bucket of water and wipe windows. Buff with a dry cloth.

Polish leather with undiluted lavender vinegar.

Air freshener

Vinegar seems to most people to be the last thing on the planet anyone would want to use as an air freshener – but believe me it works! Most air fresheners one can buy in shops have an added scent, and of course vinegar does not. It is an air freshener in the sense that it removes bad smells, rather than makes your room smell of lily of the valley. Vinegar is useful as an air freshener for people with respiratory problems who find synthetic fresheners aggravate their condition.

To remove cooking smells from the kitchen, boil a cup of water with a tablespoon of vinegar in it. As mentioned for polishing, add a teaspoon of vinegar to washing up water to remove smells from utensils. As a spray air freshener (this bit is fun) put a teaspoon of baking soda in a spray bottle, and add a solution of two tablespoons vinegar and two cups of water. It foams. Once this has stopped, replace the bottle lid and spray solution as required.

To deal with a smelly drain boil 20cl of vinegar and pour immediately down the drain unless you have plastic pipes. If the pipes are plastic, let the vinegar cool a little first. After ten minutes, run water down the drain.

Other uses

Ant, flea and insect repellent: wipe floors with a 50% vinegar solution. Spray houseplants with that solution (not too often…) to deter greenfly. Spray along ant trails to deter them.

Chewing gum: forget freezing hair and fabrics with gum, just apply some hot vinegar and rub gently. This works particularly well on wooden and tiled floors.

Laundry: add half a teacup of vinegar to the rinse cycle of white loads to brighten them. To remove sweaty stains from clothes, dab with straight vinegar immediately before washing. For ink stains, soak the fabric in cows’ milk for an hour. Cover with a paste made from vinegar and flour. When the paste has dried, wash shirt as per usual. Spray a weak vinegar solution onto a tea towel and iron any clothes prone to become shiny through that tea towel. la petite mort informs me that vinegar will also get rid of that coating on new towels that stops them absorbing water properly.

Plants: add a tiny amount of vinegar and sugar to water for cut flowers to help them live longer. In hard water areas, acid loving plants such as rhododendrons and azaleas can suffer. Mix a cup of vinegar with a few litres or so of water and water plants with this, once a week at most.

As a general rule, acidic vinegar will remove alkaline stains and build up. Solutions of baking soda work the other way round.


A name given to the person who with a whip in his hand, and a hat held before his eye, keeps the ring clear, at boxing-matches and cudgel-playing ; also, in cant terms, a cloak.

The 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue.

Vin"e*gar (?), n. [OE. vinegre, F. vinaigre; vin wine (L. vinum) + aigre sour. See Wine, and Eager, a.]


A sour liquid used as a condiment, or as a preservative, and obtained by the spontaneous (acetous) fermentation, or by the artificial oxidation, of wine, cider, beer, or the like.

⇒ The characteristic sourness of vinegar is due to acetic acid, of which it contains from three to five per cent. Wine vinegar contains also tartaric acid, citric acid, etc.


Hence, anything sour; -- used also metaphorically.

Here's the challenge: . . . I warrant there's vinegar and pepper in't. Shak.

Aromatic vinegar, strong acetic acid highly flavored with aromatic substances. -- Mother of vinegar. See 4th Mother. -- Radical vinegar, acetic acid. -- Thieves' vinegar. See under Thief. -- Vinegar eel Zool., a minute nematode worm (Leptodera oxophila, or Anguillula acetiglutinis), commonly found in great numbers in vinegar, sour paste, and other fermenting vegetable substances; -- called also vinegar worm. -- Vinegar lamp Chem., a fanciful name of an apparatus designed to oxidize alcohol to acetic acid by means of platinum. -- Vinegar plant. See 4th Mother. -- Vinegar tree Bot., the stag-horn sumac (Rhus typhina), whose acid berries have been used to intensify the sourness of vinegar. -- Wood vinegar. See under Wood.


© Webster 1913.

Vin"e*gar, v. t.

To convert into vinegar; to make like vinegar; to render sour or sharp.


Hoping that he hath vinegared his senses As he was bid. B. Jonson.


© Webster 1913.

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