Don't underestimate the power of vinegar, experts say. "Vinegar has a variety of helpful attributes, and of course it's a naturally occurring product," says Mary Findley, owner of Mary Moppins Cleaning Supplies and author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Green Cleaning. When buying vinegar, she cautions people to read the labels, since not all vinegars are equal. Findley, who also serves as a cleaning advisor and sustainable living coach, recommends using distilled white vinegar that's made from grain and is labeled as "food safe." Avoid apple cider and wine vinegars, which don't produce the same results.

Top 10 Ways to Use Vinegar

One bottle of distilled white vinegar can handle a variety of jobs. Here are Findley's favorite ways to use vinegar—indoors and out.

  1. Rely on vinegar as a window and mirror cleaner that won't smudge. Mix 1/3 cup distilled white vinegar and 1/4 cup rubbing alcohol in a 32-ounce spray bottle, then add distilled water. Grab an old cotton t-shirt, which won't leave lint, and start rubbing.   
  2. Pour a cup of vinegar in the toilet at night before retiring. The acidic nature of vinegar neutralizes the alkali in water that forms hard-water rings. The next morning, scrub with a nylon toilet brush to remove the rings. Repeat monthly to keep the rings from forming. (Warning: This method is not effective if your water comes from a well. Well water contains iron and not alkali.) 
  3. Use vinegar in your laundry to remove soap residue, soften clothes and prevent static cling. Add 2/3 cup to top-load machines or 1/2 cup to front-load machines by pouring it into the fabric softener dispenser. Good-bye costly dryer sheets and fabric softener. Use in every load. 
  4. Rid your home and yard of mold and mildew using vinegar. Spray it on your shower or bathtub grout, and pour it on your sidewalks, driveway, and patio for an environmentally safe option to toxic mold removers. 
  5. Clean your carpet by mixing 2/3 cup of vinegar per gallon of hot water. Vinegar reactivates the cleaner left in the carpet from the prior cleaning. It removes both the cleaner and dirt so the carpet stays cleaner for longer periods. Or if you prefer using a cleaner, rinse with vinegar solution to rid the rug of soap residue.
  6. Remove lingering odors and bacteria in your carpeting from pet urine, feces, cigarette smoke or vomit with 1/2 cup of vinegar mixed with a gallon of water. The solution will also discourage your pet from returning to the area. 
  7. To control mold and odor, clean your diaper pail by wiping it down with vinegar. 
  8. Pour a tablespoon of vinegar directly over the base of broad-leaf weeds. The liquid will seep into the ground down to the roots to kill the weed and prevent it from returning. (Just avoid spilling the vinegar on the surrounding grass and flowers.)  
  9. Discourage ants from entering your home by dampening a cloth with vinegar and placing it on the interior of your home at the place of entry. (Use a small plate or plastic lid to protect the surface.) The smell will deter them. You can also kill ants outdoors by pouring vinegar into an anthill.  
  10. Mop wood and laminated floors with a cotton towel lightly sprayed with a vinegar solution made from 1 tablespoon of vinegar added to a 32-ounce bottle of water. (Just avoid using microfiber rags, as these can scratch the surface.)

A Word of Caution

When using vinegar to clean your home, Findley suggests trying it on a small section first and waiting 24 hours to be sure it won't cause any damage to the area. "Vinegar should never be used on ceramic tile, granite, marble, slate, or any of the composite surfaces like Corian," she points out, "since after several uses, it can pit and cause damage to these delicate surfaces."

Mary Findley reviewed this article.


Findley, Mary, owner of Mary Moppins Cleaning Supplies, author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Green Cleaning. Email interview 9 March 2013.