Everything You Need to Know About White Distilled Vinegar

Patrick Bogans


Should you buy 5 percent? 20 percent? 30 percent? Wait, why isn’t it 100 percent?

Buying white vinegar can get confusing, and it's understandable. No one talks about where it comes from or how it works.

Luckily, vinegar isn’t hard to understand. Sure, it's not as cut and dry as say, picking up a toxic bottle of bleach, but it's worth doing the research. For one, you can use white distilled vinegar around your pets and your children without exposing them to toxic chemicals. Sounds like a good call to us.

Here's what you need to know about white vinegar before you choose the wrong concentration. 

First, what is white distilled vinegar?

Today, white vinegar is made with corn, which is distilled into corn alcohol (ethanol). The mixture is then fermented and put through a filtration process to create a crystal clear mixture. In its final form, vinegar is specific a mixture of acetic acid (ethanoic acid) and water.

Normal white vinegar (the kind you find at your local grocery store) contains 5 to 7 percent acetic acid and 93 to 95 percent water. 

However, white vinegar can be made with up to 30 percent acetic for agricultural or cleaning use. 30 percent is too strong for regular cleaning, but it can always be diluted. Remember acetic acid on its own is not considered vinegar.

So white vinegar isn’t just for food?

Correct. Vinegar has a number of acidic and antimicrobial properties, making it a useful household cleaner and a unique gardening tool.  It’s a practical substitute for toxic chemicals like bleach. Not to mention, it’s cheap.

Fill a spray bottle of vinegar to eliminate mold, grime, and grease safely. A mild vinegar solution can be used to clean:

  • Countertops
  • Windows and mirrors
  • Bathroom tile and grout
  • Showers, tubs, and sinks
  • Grills and vent hoods
  • Appliances

You can even use vinegar to remove laundry stains, polish metal, remove old stickers, or clean your wiper blades. Your imagination is the limit. Just be smart, especially if you’re cleaning wood or other delicate surfaces.

Vinegar can be used to adjust pH levels in soil or kill weeds. Gardeners and farmers find that 20 percent vinegar works best for eliminating clovers, dandelions, and other invasive weeds.

Should I use 20 percent or 30 percent vinegar for cleaning?

Depends on what you’re cleaning. Don’t use undiluted 20 or 30 percent vinegar to clean ordinary surfaces around the home. But you may use 20 or 30 percent for tough tasks, like removing rust. Use 20 or 30 percent at your own discretion. If you’re in doubt, add water to create a “weaker” mix.

How much water should I add to dilute vinegar?

Depends on the strength of vinegar you have. For ordinary tasks, the mixture should be at least 50 percent vinegar, 50 percent water. In most cases, if you’re working with 5 percent vinegar, you shouldn’t have to dilute it for cleaning or gardening.

For 20 or 30 percent vinegar, you may want to do some calculations. Or at least test a small, inconspicuous area before using the acid for the task.

If you want to tame the smell of the vinegar, grab some baking soda. Baking soda pairs well with vinegar, creating a fizzy, powerful cleaning paste that can be used around the home. You can either mix pour vinegar into a baking soda/dish soap mix, or sprinkle baking soda on the surface after using vinegar. Strain a lemon into the mix for a refreshing addition. 

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