White Vinegar (vinaigre blanc)


The most common bottle of crisp white that you’ll find in any Parisian apartment isn’t a musky Muscadet from the Loire, or a Petit Chablis from Burgundy. This one comes in a plastic bottle, has a screw top with a little opening just underneath so you can squeeze out a stream as needed, and costs less than a buck. It’s le vinaigre blanc, and it’s obligatoire to keep a squeezable plastic liter bottle handy in your kitchen.

(Not to say the other kinds of whites aren’t obligatory as well. Each just help hurdle different kinds of obstacles.)

Before I moved to France, I rarely paid white vinegar a second thought. My pantry was stocked with red wine and sherry vinegar, and a little bottle of fancy balsamic. But their importance is secondary to white vinegar, which does everything from keeping your wine glasses spotless to making sure your dishwasher doesn’t seize up on you mid-load, completely clogged by the infamous calcaire, never to wash another dish again.

I arrived completely unaware of it, and in my first apartment, apparently neither did the person before me because right after I moved in, one day, my dishwasher simply ground to a permanent halt. However I was fortunate regarding the laundry machine because a friend confided in me over lunch in a café shortly after I arrived, as if it was some big unspoken secret in Paris that you can’t just wash clothes or dishes without adding a little something “extra” to the load. (And now you can stop wondering what all those French people are talking about in Parisian cafés, if you don’t speak French.)

She advised Calgon, but a well-meaning friend from California came to visit and reprimanded me for having a box, saying it was an environmental catastrophe. Apparently the word hasn’t made it six thousand miles away because I see it in almost every household I visit, tucked under the kitchen or bathroom sink. But it was then that I made the switch to 100% white vinegar.

Now I add a squirt whenever I do a load of dishes or clothes, until my other half presented me with a dire picture of what would happen if I didn’t run a full cycle in each machine with a whole bottle of white vinegar and no dishes or clothes in it. I can’t quite bring myself to do it, thinking of the waste of running an empty machine, but I suppose that’s better than the alternative of scrapping the machine in its entirety for a new one.

The other day, I found out that someone had lost it outside of my front door. But I didn’t feel singled out though, because whoever it was practiced égalité and also graced my neighbor’s entrance as well. It’s not exactly the first thing you want to see in the morning (or in the evening…or the afternoon, either) but that’s life in the big city. And I’m thinking that in addition to installing dispensers with bags to pick up doggie droppings, I guess a few sickness bags might be a good idea as well. (And ashtrays, accompanied with an enforced fine for not using them.)

It was then that I learned that white vinegar isn’t just for keeping your appliances from the scrap heap but it’ll remove some of the toughest – and most unpleasant – stains and odors known to humankind. (Although I use the word “kind” somewhat loosely.) Honestly, who knew what an important role – aside from salad dressing – that vinegar would play in my life. It’s a great cleaner and I’ve since used it fill my larder with pickles, and for making homemade lait ribot (buttermilk), adding a touch to regular milk and letting it sit.

So I stock up weekly and pick up a new bottle as often as I can, because I’m going through it faster than the stuff I’m uncorking. And not just because some folks are feeling a little quesy late at night, but because it makes me feel like a local to have a couple of bottles under my sink, and I’m finding myself squeezing for a reason morning, noon, and night. But let’s just hope in the future, most of it is confined to afternoons and evenings.

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  • December 18, 2012 1:25am

    Also works great as a hardwood floor cleaner. Just dissolve 1/2 cup in about 2 gallons of water and mop away. Makes the wood shiny and squeaky clean. White vinegar is also great at preventing ear infections during the swimming season, especially in kids who never leave the pool. One drop of equal part vinegar and water solution in each ear once a week and you almost guaranteed not to get an ear infection….

  • Jennifer
    December 18, 2012 1:54am

    I use white vinegar as a fabric softener. Fabric softeners whether liquid or those dryer sheets are environmental nightmares like Calgon! Vinegar works just as well and loads cheaper! All those home made cleaners are so much cheaper and work better than anything you can buy.

    • Cyndy
      December 18, 2012 1:57am

      Okay. I loaded clothes into the washer, then poured a half cup of vinegar into the fabric softener tray. To my surprise, the vinegar poured out into the washer, onto the clothes. I have one of those front-loader, no-agitator machines. Wonder if something’s different about those.

  • December 18, 2012 2:16am

    I love this: and Ode to Vinegar! I honestly don’t know what I would do without the stuff- it cleans nearly everything in my kitchen as well as my bathroom, and goes into so many recipes. I mean, the pickle thing alone. No other reason needed!

  • hng23
    December 18, 2012 2:56am

    Mix vinegar & baking soda together; when it stops bubbling up you will have a thick paste that is excellent for cleaning shower tiles & the bathtub without scratching. I keep it in a spray bottle in the kitchen for rinsing cutting boards & counters; in the spring we use it for cleaning the windows. Cheap & eco-friendly!

  • December 18, 2012 3:50am

    I use baking soda and vinegar exclusively when I clean my house. Here’s a blog post I wrote about it:


  • Maureen
    December 18, 2012 5:18am

    Vinegar cleans out tea and coffee pots, Google uses for vinegar – and there is a forever long list from taking care of mildew, polish stainless to unclogging sinks. I use it routinely for my sink maintenance – put down as much baking soda as possible, follow it with vinegar (fizzes and foams). Then pour as much boiling water as my 12 qt pasta pot holds. I now do this as a monthly maintenace and have not had a problem for several years. Cheaper than the plumber.

  • Maureen
    December 18, 2012 5:51am

    to Kat about hydrogen peroxide – it is also good for blood stains. Pour some on the clothes and then wash. Comes out beautifully.

  • Zac
    December 18, 2012 10:32am

    And if anyone has a pet, they should know the importance of white vinegar, not only for cleaning accidents, but from preventing “marking” (neutering also helps!) I keep a dilution of 1:4 vinegar to water in a spray bottle for any pet accidents (which are few and far between now, thankfully!) so that my rugs and floor are kept clean and fresh. Plus if you have ‘real’ rugs like we do, the vinegar won’t damage the handmade rugs, and only help ‘set’ the dyes more permanently while removing any unwanted pet mistake. I’ve been using white vinegar to ‘make’ buttermilk for years – you never know when you might need to make a pancake or a cheddar cheese biscuit to go with shrimp and grits! So nice to hear that it’s almost universally recognized as a staple for cleaning and cooking. Sometimes the old ways are still the best ways.

  • Cath
    December 18, 2012 12:59pm

    Take one of those bottles of vinegar and put any old citrus rinds you have around into it and leave for a week or two. Then you will have that super expensive citrus cleaner that works at keeping your house clean and fresh smelling too!

  • Claire
    December 18, 2012 5:48pm

    I live in the UK and buy white vinegar every other week and never had any problem finding it in. Available in every supermarket I’ve been in, in 5 litre bottles if you can get to places like Macro or Bookers, and probably in most hardware shops. Impossible not!! Perhaps you could try asking for it?

  • Gregory Whitfield
    December 19, 2012 1:12am

    Chinese Style Pickled Vegetables.

    It took me a long time to finally find a recipe which works, and it used white (distilled) vinegar. (Did you know know it’s made from 100% alcohol?). I got the recipe from a Chinese woman named Betsy at a San Francisco flea market. It was exactly what I was hoping for in a quick pickled veg. BEtsy got it from an old Japanese woman, but this type of pickling is found throughout Asia.

    The brine is 1 part white vinegar, 1 part water, 1/2 part white sugar and pinch of salt. Amount depends on how many vegies you make. I usually make about a quart. You want the vegies to be covered in brine when you cook them.

    Vegies can include sliced carrots (I cut them on the bias like in Chinese prep), daikon, cauliflower. Always included as much sliced ginger as you care for, and the dried red chilis you get in spicy Chinese food. A Chinese friend whose family comes from Canton ALWAYS include shallots, and they are very very good.

    Bring brine to the boil. Add all ingredients and bring it back to a boil and boil for ONE MINUTE. Drain vegies into colander set in a bowl so you can collect the brine. Let vegies cool off by themselves. Once the brine is cooled down (can be warm) combine everything in a (preferably) glass container which will go into the fridge for 24 hours, at which point they are done.

    You can leave the vegies in the brine or drain them. Keep refrigerated.They will keep at least a week in the brine; a few days drained. You can re-use the brine (but I usually make a fresh batch because it’s so cheap).

    The pickles come out colorful and crisp. It’s a nutritious snack to have available in the fridge. Good item for an appetizer table at a party.

    White vinegar is our friend!

  • December 19, 2012 4:27am

    I too use vinegar for cleaning my house from top to bottom. A spray bottle filled with half vinegar, half water, 1 tablespoon of liquid soap, 1 tablespoon of citra-sole (citrus cleaner) and a few drops of essential oil just for kicks. BUT, I must say that a shot of plain old white vinegar is also the secret weapon in my great aunt Mabel’s sugar cookies. I feel funny dipping into my cleaning cabinet when I make them, but the vinegar knocks them out of the park. Recipe here: http://garlicpig.com/2012/12/09/somethin-extra/

  • Sissy
    December 19, 2012 2:44pm

    David, I gave some of the lemon squares to my friend who gave me the organic lemons and she said she is closely guarding them to make sure no one eats more than their share — she and her family loves them! Also gave what was left to another friend who also raved about them. I found organic lemons at Central Market so making another batch this weekend for my family — they only got a few from the first batch. Thank you again for posting such a tasty (and easy) recipe. You’re adorable!

  • Sissy
    December 19, 2012 2:54pm

    Oh yes, and tried cleaning calcium out of my tea kettle with diluted vinegar and orange and lemon rinds. Worked like a charm — I can’t believe I didn’t know this — all these years wondering how to clean the calcium out of my teapot!

  • December 19, 2012 2:59pm

    I live in the UK and can find it in most supermarkets, probably the bigger ones rather than a corner shop or express.
    Amongst all the cleaning uses it is also great for getting the soot from silver after you’ve soldered it! If you warm it with coarse salt and add the silver in it will come out sparkling! Also good if you have tarnished silver chains :)

  • Jeremy
    December 19, 2012 11:43pm
  • December 20, 2012 3:50am

    I love white vinegar! Yes, mostly as a cleaner, rather than an ingredient in salad dressing. Have never thought to add it to my laundry though.

  • Nancy
    December 20, 2012 3:52pm

    I keep a spray bottle of vinegar for washing produce and general kitchen cleaning. Citric acid is also a super dishwasher de-gunker. I buy the generic Kool-Aid packets (without sugar) at 8 for $1. Yet another fine American product to hoard when you come Stateside!

  • jo
    December 22, 2012 8:23pm

    Best window cleaner around. No streaks. Also safe for cleaning mirrors as ammonia based cleaners can damage them.

  • December 22, 2012 11:31pm

    thank you for this tip! we just moved to paris and my dishwasher has not been cleaning well! i finally figured out that i have to add salt..and now i’ll be adding vinegar. i wanted to make biscuits for thanksgiving..could not find buttermilk. i’ll be making my own now. merci!!

  • fishsticksforme
    December 23, 2012 4:56am

    Sorry for the silly question, but does it leave a vinegary smell when you clean with it?

  • Maureen
    December 23, 2012 4:06pm

    On Oxyclean, I also agree that it works very well with hot water. I use bleach along with it. It bubbles furiously when the two are combined. I own a small hotel and staining on white towels is a major problem. I leave them soak overnight. I’d say 8 out of 10 come clean.

  • Carol D
    December 23, 2012 9:11pm

    Does anyone know if vinegar removes white rings on tables where hot liquid has come in contact with wood?

  • Adrian
    January 2, 2013 9:01am
  • January 3, 2013 4:46pm

    David, we live in an area with extremely hard water, do not own a water softener, and got our first dishwasher just a few years ago. It was a disaster until we decided to try white vinegar. First we ran a cycle, dishwasher empty, adding a couple cups of vinegar after it had been running for 20 minutes. Then we began setting a cup filled with vinegar on the top rack in each load. Worked wonders – keeps our dishwasher clean and gets all the hard water deposits off the dishes and glasses and silverware. Then we tried cutting back to half a cup of vinegar. Worked beautifully. Right now we’re experimenting with just 1/3 cup.

    I chuckled at your cute little bottle. We buy four huge gallon, or even gallon and a half, jugs of the stuff at a time. Wouldn’t be without it.

  • January 3, 2013 7:24pm

    was somewhere out of David-range when you uploaded this article but now I’ve found it when going through the Ginger Crunch….. and boy, this IS a find! I also have a bottle white vinegar but only used very little of it for boiling eggs and cleaning windows – now a whole NEW range of marvellous uses is unfolding before my unbelieving eyes, what a treasure chest this blog is!
    Thank you – with a bit of a delay – for making my days every so often and for
    – telling us off
    – handing out great news,
    – educate us in so many ways (how to behave – it seems this is quite necessary)
    – giving us a chuckle and much mirth
    – spoiling your readers with absolutely wonderful photos
    – and finally writing some of the best prosa possible in these times
    Happy New Year and may we all live better, long, happy, and be more content

    • Jan (The Montrose, Houston, Tx)
      January 3, 2013 7:45pm

      I bought a gallon jug of distilled white vinegar at my local Kroger, fondly nicknamed Disco Kroger due to its location. I’ve so far cleared up a slow-draining kitchen sink, cleaned my wood floors (they sparkle now!), cleaned out my dishwasher, softened my jeans and t-shirts, and last night I cleaned my ceramic-top range. It hasn’t shined like that since I bought it.

    • Jan (The Montrose, Houston, Tx)
      January 3, 2013 8:05pm

      Vinegar Pie! I haven’t tried it yet, but I remember my mom making this. I vaguely remember it being like a pecan pie sans the pecans.

      • Sue from New Braunfels, Texas
        January 3, 2013 8:17pm

        I used to make vinegar pie. Will have to make one again! thanks for the prompt.

        • Jan (The Montrose, Houston, Tx)
          January 3, 2013 8:31pm

          I remember the vinegar pies from Thanksgiving dinners in the ’50s (yep, I’m REALLY old). The pecan pies were for the adults and the vinegar pies were for the kids.

  • January 3, 2013 9:09pm

    David; with regards to the very hard water in Paris, I’ve an addendum: We HAVE bought and installed a water softening device for all the waters used in the house and we have noticed a very distinctive bettering (English?) of performance (dish washer, laundry, kettles, cooking).
    Have also new dish washer which takes about an eternity to wash (2h48 I think) but with the use of the right product (and only THAT one!) we had the cleanest glasses EVER.
    A costly investment but we find it well worth having it.
    I have copied all comments and shall read through this when I’ve more time. Thank you once more.

  • January 5, 2013 8:42pm

    On behalf of all my glass and dishware, laundry, whites and others, thank you so much.

  • Peggy
    January 9, 2013 2:24am

    I buy it by the gallon and use it for everything . . . really!

  • January 9, 2013 7:44pm

    And don’t forget the coffee pot!

    • Jan (The Montrose, Houston, Tx)
      January 9, 2013 7:57pm

      Has anyone tried the Vinegar Pie recipe yet? I swear it’s good.

  • January 11, 2013 6:51pm

    I use vinegar as a fabric softener, too.

    Also, here’s another really awesome use of vinegar:

  • Maxine weingarden
    January 13, 2013 5:26pm

    Thanks so much. I cleaned my drain for the first time with vinegar and hot water

  • jw
    January 13, 2013 7:41pm

    Probably someone’s already mentioned this but if you spill milk on the way home from the market or anything to which milk has been added, such as a cup of coffee, on your car’s upholstery (which we all know can happen easily while you are driving) or carpeting, cleaning with a solution of white vinegar and water goes a long way toward removing the very sour, unpleasant odor that can worsen over time.
    Ehh! Other people’s cars smell bad. Have you noticed?