I’m on a personal crusade to remove all non-environmentally friendly cleaning products from my home…. life… universe… well, I’ll start at home anyway. Not only does my house utilize a septic tank and I’m not supposed to have scrubbing bubbles living a dark life beneath my yard, but harsh chemicals are bad to breathe, bad to have eat through the skin on my fingers, and bad for the environment and water. So how on earth did humans clean prior to the chemical revolution? With what they had around them, of course. They usually had wine, or some sort of fermenting juice around, and after the fermentation was gone they had vinegar. Anything that smelled that strongly had to clean well, and it actually did and does. Undistilled vinegar, or acetic acid, has antiseptic and antibacterial properties that were written about by Hippocrates, the father of medicine.
There has been a foodie revolution with artisanal vinegars, and now people who rarely cook anything but a TV dinner know what Balsamic or wine vinegar is. If you’ve ever been to England you’ll know about shaking malt vinegar onto chips (French fries), which is absolutely delicious, by the way. But the vinegars found in grandma’s pantry were cider vinegar and white vinegar.
Cider vinegar has an old-fashioned flavor and is used in cooking, especially Eastern European foods. There was a huge health fad when I was little about the benefits of drinking apple cider vinegar, and people still swear by it. My mom gave us a glass of warm water with cider vinegar and honey in it to drink with our dinner. I got to really like the taste. Undistilled cider vinegar has a floating mass in the bottle; that is called the ‘mother’, and it is part of the fermentation process, and can be removed and used to help ferment other vinegars. People don’t like that mass, so they invented white vinegar which has little of the nutrition that cider vinegar has.
White vinegar is made from fermented grains, mostly corn, and this is the product that is now used in cleaning because it won’t leave a brown mark and is less expensive than other vinegars. There are hundreds of uses for vinegar, besides setting color when dying eggs. What vinegar is really valuable for here in Southern California with its mineral-heavy water, is to clean out those mineral deposits from machines and glassware. Glass vases that had acquired rings inside from holding tap water, which didn’t come out with a brush and soap, became clear and beautiful when I filled them with vinegar and water and let them soak for an hour. The same for a crystal decoration that is filled with water and hung to catch the light, filling the room with prisms.
It had mineral buildup and was ugly (now I use distilled water in it!), and after a vinegar and water soaking, and a little nudging with a long, skinny brush, it is beautiful again.
Hummingbird feeders must be cleaned regularly because the black mold that grows on the feeder holes will infect the hummingbirds and eventually kill them. I’ve always used a bleach solution to soak them. No more! I use hot water and vinegar to soak, then use straight vinegar and a brush to kill any germs around the bases. I’ve noticed that besides not being gassed with the chlorine bleach fumes, that the feeders stay clean just as long as they had when I used bleach to kill the germs.
I was talking with a friend about dishwashers and how glasses weren’t getting clean and the dishwasher just wasn’t performing well anymore. She passed on the tip from another friend to dump a whole gallon of white vinegar into the machine and let it run. The vinegar loosens up all that mineral yuck that clogs up the works. It works in drains, too.
Vinegar cuts through grease and grime, like that scary fuzzy layer on the top of your refrigerator, or that grease build-up over the kitchen range. I switched to cleaning windows with vinegar water and newspaper, and have had great success.
Combined with the alkaline baking soda (bicarbonate of soda), vinegar fizzes and was what made your fifth-grade Science Fair volcano erupt, or the toy submarine skim through the pool (I loved mine!). Mixed with some dish soap, these three ingredients work well to remove stains, such as those in the shower or on counters. Use the paste on an old toothbrush to clean up grout.
Other uses for vinegar include as a hair rinse, to make hair supple and shiny; in water when boiling eggs so they won’t crack and they’ll peel more easily (give them a cold water bath right after cooking, and try not to use very fresh eggs, which are very hard to peel after boiling). Run it through the coffee maker, or in the bottom of a kettle to dislodge the chunks of minerals that stick to the insides. Go on the Internet and search for lots of ideas on how to use vinegar in your routine. Vinegar is safe, efficient, natural, and its smell isn’t any worse than that of chemicl cleaners, and a lot easier on your lungs.