• Primary spotless use: Natural all round cleaner, disinfectant and deodoriser
  • Safe to use on most surfaces, both for home and body
  • Other uses: Condiment, digestive aid, antiseptic, solvent, insect repellent, skin soother, preservative, tonic
  • Main cleaning action: Cuts grease, breaks down mineral deposits, disinfects, conditions
  • Made by secondary fermentation of an alcohol, originally wine
  • Discovered by the Babylonians and used for thousands of years to pickle food, etc.


You can buy bottles of white spirit vinegar very cheaply in any supermarket, which is great as it is amazingly useful. Other vinegars have the same cleaning benefits, so use whichever you like around the home, with apple cider vinegar being particularly good for personal care uses, although again other vinegars will do too. Don’t worry about your home smelling like vinegar when you clean with it. The smell disappears quickly when it dries and takes away other odours with it. (To neutralise the smell while cleaning, try adding a little lemon juice to your vinegar. It is also very easy to infuse vinegar with other fragrances by steeping fresh herbs, petals or citrus peels in vinegar for a few days.) Cleaning with vinegar also helps repel ants and insects from your home. Do NOT use vinegar if you are using chlorine bleach: the resulting fumes are hazardous. (You’ll find ways to replace chlorine bleach in several places on the site depending on the task, many of them using hydrogen peroxide instead.)

What is it?

Vinegar is dilute acetic acid, also known as ethanoic acid (CH3COOH). Normally it consists of about 5% acetic acid and 95% water. Natural vinegars also contain small amounts of tartaric acid, citric acid, and other acids, depending on what they are derived from. Apple cider vinegar, for example, contains particular vitamins, minerals etc. derived from the apples it is made from, which presumably give it its particularly health giving attributes. Little conclusive research has been done on exactly by what and how it is that the many health benefits of vinegar are delivered.

Most store-bought vinegar is clear, having been refined, distilled and pasteurised to remove the characteristic cloudiness of natural, unfiltered vinegar. This cloudiness is caused by remnants of the mother of vinegar (more below) and some believe that processing to kill the mother gets rid of many of the vinegar’s health benefits. (So it may be worth seeking out a natural vinegar for consumption or if you are going to use vinegar medicinally.)

It is historically produced from wine, but can also be made from a number of other substances, such as various fruits (notably apples to make cider vinegar), grains (to make malt vinegars) and, most cheaply and commonly, cane sugar (to make spirit vinegar).

Vinegar is self-preserving because of its acidity and will keep indefinitely. Even if some vinegars eventually develop cloudiness or sediment over time, this is only an aesthetic change and will not affect the vinegar’s effectiveness, healthfulness or taste. Distilled spirit vinegar is unlikely to change at all over even a very extended length of time.

How is it made?

Vinegar is produced by fermentation of natural sugars into alcohol (yeast fermentation), and then further (secondary) fermentation into vinegar. The secondary fermentation is done by by the bacteria acetobacter, or acetic acid bacteria, in the presence of oxygen. The bacteria live in the jellylike mother of vinegar and need to be added to the liquid being fermented for vinegar to be formed. The bacteria are airborne, so leaving alcohol exposed to air will eventually allow some bacteria to find it and begin the process of making vinegar.

Mother of vinegar is a slimy, jellylike substance that forms on fermenting vinegar. Some of it will be found, or can form, in any vinegar that retains non-fermented sugars or alcohol. It is not very appealing but is completely harmless; in fact it is believed to have many health benefits, and is removed from commercial vinegar purely for aesthetic reasons. It contains the bacteria acetobacter, which is what turns alcohol into acetic acid. It also consists of cellulose, which is secreted by the bacteria to form a biofilm. The biofilm allows the mother to cling to the surface of the fermenting liquid where the bacteria remain exposed to oxygen, which they need in order to function. As the mother sinks or new liquid is added on top, a new mother will form at the surface.

To make vinegar at home you will need an alcohol base (typically wine, or apples fermented to make cider), a non-metallic container which allows air in (e.g. covered with cheesecloth), and a starter culture of acetobacter, or some mother of vinegar. Vinegar will form from the alcohol if it is kept in a warm, dark, aerated place. For details on making vinegar at home from wine see here, or from fruit juice see here or from apples see here (also talks about the health benefits) or here.

In industrial production the same principles are followed and an alcohol base is injected with oxygen to speed up the conversion to vinegar. The vinegar is then normally pasteurised and refined to clarify it.

What is it used for?

Vinegar has many culinary and medicinal uses and is useful in the garden as a natural weed killer and insect repellent. It is used extensively in cooking, dressing and pickling food. It can be added to soils deficient in potassium and is sometimes added to animal feed as a tonic.

Medically its uses include soothing burns, treating fungi, relieving colds and congestion, calming nausea and treating diabetes, arthritis and even cancer. Taking some vinegar with or immediately after a meal helps the stomach to digest food efficiently, which has a number of health benefits. Vinegar slows the conversion of starch into glucose (lowers the glycemic index of food) and helps boost the acidity of the stomach during digestion. It can be added to a soak or a compress to treat muscle soreness, swelling and inflammation. It is rich in potassium and helps rid the body of toxins. It also encourages the absorption of nutrients, notably calcium, so it is a good idea to dress green leafy salads with vinegar to get their full calcium benefit. Vinegar, especially apple cider vinegar, has been used and recommended as a general health tonic since ancient times.

Vinegar has extensive uses at home and you’ll see it frequently in spotless household cleaning methods, as well as for personal care. For further information, also look at these for loads more things you can do with vinegar, and apple cider vinegar.

What is its history?

The English word “vinegar” derives from the Old French vin aigre, meaning “sour wine”. The Babylonians discovered that allowing grapes to remain undisturbed produces wine. Soon after they found that leaving wine undisturbed and exposed to air, in turn produces vinegar.

Vinegar has a rich history and has been used for a range of purposes since ancient times. The Babylonians were using it as a preservative and condiment around 5,000 BC and traces of it have been found in Egyptian urns dating from 3,000 BC. Its healing and revitalising properties were well known in Biblical times. Hippocrates, the “father of modern medicine”, recommended it (especially taken with honey) as a daily general health tonic and to treat many ailments. It has been used to help treat scurvy and disinfect war wounds, among many other things. Despite its amazing array of health benefits and its long history as a tonic and medicine, little scientific research has been done on vinegar. This is probably because it is so cheap and easily available, meaning there is no profit to be gained from investing in research (most medical research is funded by pharmaceutical companies hoping to gain financially from the results).