Using vinegar around the house
Vinegar is incredibly useful around the house. It is non-toxic, environmentally friendly, and economical. I find white vinegar to be the best for household use, as it is strong and cheap. However, a note of caution: like many other cleaning products, vinegar can remove colour from fabric and wax and varnish from floors. Patch test your vinegar solution first if you are at all unsure of the results!
Cleaning and descaling
In hard water areas limescale can build up on kitchen equipment, bathroom fittings, tiles, and generally anywhere where water passes regularly. Remove limescale from kettles by covering the element with equal parts water and vinegar. Boil the kettle and then leave it overnight. Give a quick scrub and then wash clean. The same process can be used on aluminium pots and pans, and will remove burnt on grease and food as well as lime deposits. Deposits on jars and vases can be removed using undiluted cold vinegar: apply and leave to soak for a few minutes.
For removing limescale from toilet bowls, shower bases and taps mix the vinegar with borax in equal parts. For toilets (clean it first!) bale out the water. Spread your vinegar/borax mix on the scale and leave for a few hours. Brush off and rinse thoroughly. Clogged shower heads should, rather than be smothered in this mix, be left to soak in a bowl of undiluted vinegar for a few hours then rinsed. For bathroom and kitchen tiles, use a rag to rub the tiles with straight vinegar. Rinse after about 15-20 minutes. This will also remove mildew.
Copper polishes up well with a 50:50 mix of vinegar and lemon juice. Rub with newspaper dampened with this mix and polish with a soft dry cloth. Clean and polish chromium with a rag soaked in vinegar. If these need cleaning prior to polishing, mix vinegar with flour and salt to form a paste. Rub onto the metal (this works on brass and pewter as well) and rub off.
Polish cutlery by mixing two tablespoons vinegar with a teaspoon or so of borax. Mix gradually with two cups of hot water. Soak the cutlery in this, then rinse thoroughly. Alternatively, do as when rinsing crystal: add a teaspoon of vinegar to the water when rinsing.
Cleaning windows with vinegar is well known. Add some vinegar (about two to three tablespoons, depending on the quantity of water) to a bucket of water and wipe windows. Buff with a dry cloth.
Polish leather with undiluted lavender vinegar.
Vinegar seems to most people to be the last thing on the planet anyone would want to use as an air freshener – but believe me it works! Most air fresheners one can buy in shops have an added scent, and of course vinegar does not. It is an air freshener in the sense that it removes bad smells, rather than makes your room smell of lily of the valley. Vinegar is useful as an air freshener for people with respiratory problems who find synthetic fresheners aggravate their condition.
To remove cooking smells from the kitchen, boil a cup of water with a tablespoon of vinegar in it. As mentioned for polishing, add a teaspoon of vinegar to washing up water to remove smells from utensils. As a spray air freshener (this bit is fun) put a teaspoon of baking soda in a spray bottle, and add a solution of two tablespoons vinegar and two cups of water. It foams. Once this has stopped, replace the bottle lid and spray solution as required.
To deal with a smelly drain boil 20cl of vinegar and pour immediately down the drain unless you have plastic pipes. If the pipes are plastic, let the vinegar cool a little first. After ten minutes, run water down the drain.
Ant, flea and insect repellent: wipe floors with a 50% vinegar solution. Spray houseplants with that solution (not too often…) to deter greenfly. Spray along ant trails to deter them.
Chewing gum: forget freezing hair and fabrics with gum, just apply some hot vinegar and rub gently. This works particularly well on wooden and tiled floors.
Laundry: add half a teacup of vinegar to the rinse cycle of white loads to brighten them. To remove sweaty stains from clothes, dab with straight vinegar immediately before washing. For ink stains, soak the fabric in cows’ milk for an hour. Cover with a paste made from vinegar and flour. When the paste has dried, wash shirt as per usual. Spray a weak vinegar solution onto a tea towel and iron any clothes prone to become shiny through that tea towel. la petite mort informs me that vinegar will also get rid of that coating on new towels that stops them absorbing water properly.
Plants: add a tiny amount of vinegar and sugar to water for cut flowers to help them live longer. In hard water areas, acid loving plants such as rhododendrons and azaleas can suffer. Mix a cup of vinegar with a few litres or so of water and water plants with this, once a week at most.
As a general rule, acidic vinegar will remove alkaline stains and build up. Solutions of baking soda work the other way round.