Chances are you've got a big bottle of vinegar in your pantry right now that you only use it as a condiment. Prized for thousands of years, this fermented liquid was discovered by accident when products like wine, beer, and cider spoiled, turning them sour. But did you know that vinegar -- particularly the distilled white and apple cider varieties -- has hundreds of household, beauty, medicinal and even horticultural uses?
Here are 20 unusual, thrifty, and eco-friendly uses for vinegar that you may not have thought of.
1. Condition hair
Silky, shiny, buildup-free hair using a single cheap, natural product? Sign me up! It may sound odd, but using apple cider vinegar as a rinse after shampooing really does work like a dream. It removes residue from the hair shaft and closes the cuticles. Just add half a tablespoon of vinegar to a cup of water, plus a few drops of essential oil if you like. Pour it on in the shower and then rinse it out. Sure, your hair will smell like salad dressing for a while, but once it's dry, the smell dissipates.
2. Kill weeds
A few rogue weeds can wreak havoc in an otherwise flawless lawn, vegetable garden, or flowerbed and are especially annoying when popping up in the cracks of a sidewalk or driveway. Forget pricey weed killers full of toxic ingredients -- household vinegar really does kill unwanted plants; stronger vinegar made for horticultural use, which is 25% acetic acid, works even better.
3. Remove underarm stains
Unsightly sweat stains can really ruin an otherwise beautiful blouse. Ironically, if you use aluminum-based antiperspirants, they're even more likely to appear, thanks to a reaction between aluminum compounds in these products and salts in your sweat. Spray full-strength white vinegar on the stain before washing, and it will disappear.
4. Soften fabrics
Add 1/2 cup of white vinegar to the wash cycle, and not only will it prevent lint from clinging to your clothes and keep colors bright, it'll also remove soap scum from both the clothes you're washing and the washing machine itself. Vinegar is also recommended in place of dryer sheets -- simply add 3/4 cup to your washer during the final rinse cycle.
5. Remedy sore throats
Many people recommend sipping or gargling with a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar in a cup of warm water to soothe a sore throat. Add a few tablespoons of honey (also a seriously versatile product!) to this mixture in order to make it even more effective and far more palatable.
6. Deter ants
Got trails of tiny ants weaving their way around your home? These annoying insects aren't big fans of vinegar, so spraying a 50/50 mixture of white vinegar and water anywhere you have seen them can help encourage them to move out. The vinegar also erases the scent trails that they use to indicate sources of food to their brethren.
7. Soak sore muscles
Apple cider vinegar helps draw out lactic acid, which accumulates in muscles after exercise, causing that sore feeling. Mix a few tablespoons of vinegar into a cup of water, dip a cloth in the mixture, and apply it to sore areas for 20 minutes.
8. Freshen air
Whether it's smoke, mildew, pet odor, or lingering whiffs of burnt casserole, bad smells can make a home less than welcoming. Store-bought air fresheners just cover up the smell with strong, clearly artificial scents, creating disturbing hybrid smells that only serve to worsen the situation. Acetic acid in vinegar absorbs odors, so spritzing it around the room will neutralize the smells. You can also use it to wipe down surfaces in the room that needs freshening.
9. Remove stickers
If you're just getting around to removing that Kerry/Edwards decal from your bumper, or trying to peel a price tag off a new purchase, you'll never guess what magic ingredient is about to make your life a lot easier. Warm a little bit of white vinegar on the stovetop or in the microwave and then dip a rag into it. Hold the rag over the sticker until it's thoroughly saturated, and it will peel right off without leaving sticky residue behind. This trick also loosens wallpaper adhesive.
10. Cure hiccups
Most doctors claim that hiccup cures don't actually work, but tell that to the thousands of people who swear by vinegar as a way to ease these involuntary spasms. It's not clear how a shot of vinegar would actually help -- other than to distract you with its acidic flavor -- but next time you've got a bout of the hiccups, give it a try.
11. Clean crusty paintbrushes
So you forgot to clean your paintbrushes last time you used them, and now they're so stiff and crusty, it seems that you'll have to throw them away. Not so fast! Fill a saucepan with undiluted white vinegar and bring it to a boil over medium heat. Dip the paintbrushes into the boiling vinegar, one at a time, dragging the bristles along the bottom of the pan. Continue this process until the paint is dissolved.
12. Dissolve rust
The acetic acid in vinegar reacts with iron oxide to remove rust from small metal items like hinges, nuts and bolts. Simmer them in a saucepan full of vinegar, then rinse well with water to prevent the vinegar from further affecting the metal.
13. Eliminate stale odors
You know how lunchboxes and other food containers can take on a funny smell after a while? Vinegar can take care of that, too. Either wipe down the surface well with white vinegar or, in severe cases, leave a cloth soaked in vinegar in the container for a few hours to absorb the odors.
14. Remove mineral deposits
Calcium and lime deposits from hard water don't just stain coffeemakers and bath tubs, they can actually clog showerheads and reduce dishwasher function. Run a mixture of half water, half white vinegar through your coffee machine to remove them. Use straight vinegar as a rinsing agent in your dishwasher to prevent buildup, and wrap a vinegar-soaked cloth around stained faucets until the deposits can be easily scrubbed away. To clean a clogged showerhead, remove it from the pipe and place it in a saucepan full of white vinegar. Simmer for just a few minutes, being careful not to allow it to boil, and then wash off the stains.
15. Neutralize spice in foods
You've got a dinner disaster on your hands: One too many shakes of cayenne powder has turned your award-winning chili into an inedible five-alarm blaze, and your guests are waiting at the table. Vinegar to the rescue! Add white or apple cider vinegar to your food, one teaspoon at a time, to neutralize the spice.
16. Prolong the life of cut flowers
Bouquets of cut flowers brighten a room all too briefly, often wilting after just a few days. Squeeze a little extra enjoyment out of your arrangements by adding two tablespoons of white vinegar per quart of water in the vase, which will keep them perky just a little bit longer.
17. Clean glass, plastic, chrome, and floors
A half-and-half solution of water and white vinegar will cut the grime on the shelves and walls of the refrigerator and eliminate spoiled-food smells too. Full-strength vinegar will remove tough smudges on glass and make porcelain sinks shine. Make it into a paste with a little baking soda to scrub chrome, or mix 1/3 white vinegar with 1/3 rubbing alcohol, 1/3 water, and 3 drops of dishwashing liquid for an economical floor cleaner. Just be sure not to get vinegar on marble, granite, or slate surfaces.
18. Treat fungal infections
Fungal infections like athlete's foot, toe nail fungus, and dandruff are definitely no fun. White vinegar and apple cider vinegar can both be applied topically to affected areas of the body to kill fungus. For foot-related ailments, soak in a solution of one part vinegar to five parts water for about 30 minutes a day.
19. Tenderize and kill bacteria in meat
Marinate meat overnight in apple cider vinegar, and it will be delectably tender. This can reportedly also kill the bacteria that causes food-borne illnesses, including e. coli.
20. Open drains and freshen garbage disposals
Clear a clogged drain without the nasty, headache-inducing chemicals. Dump about 3/4 cup of baking soda down the drain and chase it with 1/2 cup white vinegar, then plug the drain. Leave it for about 30 minutes before rinsing with a kettle full of boiling water. You can use the same trick to clean and deodorize garbage disposals, or freeze vinegar in an ice cube tray and grind them up in the disposal to clean and sharpen the blades at the same time.
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