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10 Surprising Uses for Vinegar

From green cleaning to lawn care, white vinegar is a miracle product

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If you could invent a green-cleaning "wonder" product, it would probably end up being a lot like white vinegar. Safe, readily available and really cheap, there are perhaps hundreds of uses for vinegar, an acidic liquid originally created from wine gone bad. (Who knew bad wine could be so good?)

For some vinegar uses listed below, you'll need to decide how much you want to dilute white vinegar. On wood floors, for example, cleaning with vinegar requires one cup diluted with about one gallon of warm water. But for cleaning mildewed tile and grout, use full-strength vinegar. And if you have any more vinegar tips, share your ideas with us.

Vinegar as a Natural Weed Killer

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Vinegar is strong enough to kill weeds, as well as plants you actually like, so instead of spraying it recklessly around your yard or garden, try painting it directly on the leaves of whatever plant you're trying to get rid of. Of course, if you're attacking weeds that sprout up from cracks in your asphalt, fire at will. For best results, use white vinegar on a day of dry, sunny weather -- vinegar needs some time in the sun to work its deadly magic on weeds.

Vinegar and Pet Care

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Dogs and cats can often be bothered by itchy, scaly ears -- especially if you have a dog with floppy ears like a retriever. Dilute white vinegar in a 1:4 ratio (1 tablespoon vinegar to 4 tablespoons water, for example), and let it soak into a clean rag. Then use the rag to wipe out the inside of your pet's ears. And if your pet gets sprayed by a skunk, vinegar is an easier acid to use than ketchup for getting rid of the smell, since ketchup itself doesn't rinse off all that easily. Finally, if unwanted cats are creeping around your yard, spray or pour vinegar onto their favorite litter box -- felines can't stand the stuff!

Vinegar in the Dishwasher

There are at least two great uses for vinegar in your automatic dishwasher. First, it can be used as a cheap, effective rinsing agent to get your glasses, plates and other dishes sparkling clean. Second, it can help to clean the dishwasher itself: Once a year or so (more if you have hard water), pour a cup of white vinegar into an empty dishwasher, then run it for a short cycle to get rid of the lime and soap build-up that can prevent your dishwasher from working at peak efficiency.

Vinegar and Car Care

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Still sporting that McCain/Palin bumper sticker from 2008? That's embarrassing for a number of reasons. Remove the shame with a few squirts of undiluted white vinegar. (You may need to reapply the vinegar a few times to completely loosen the bumper sticker.) Additionally, vinegar can be used as a glass cleaner and deodorizer in your car -- you can even add it to your windshield wiper reservoir to keep your glass shiny IF your car's owner's manual suggests it. (Vinegar is acidic enough to ruin some motor parts, so don't add it to your windshield-washer fluid if your owner's manual recommends against it.) You can also wipe down your windows with diluted vinegar in winter to keep them frost-free.

Vinegar and Cut Flowers

There's all kinds of voodoo about ways to extend the life of cut flowers. Some folks swear by a copper penny, others add Sprite or Seven-Up, some drop in an aspirin, while still others advocate adding a few tablespoons of white vinegar to the water, plus a dash of sugar. (I haven't tried this, but it probably couldn't hurt.) Most of the preparations seem to focus on one biocide (vinegar, bleach, copper), plus one source of sugar as a food supply. If all else fails, you could try the commercial preparations, though they aren't as cheap unless you get them for free with your bouquet.

Vinegar and Cleaning Tiles

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Most people reach for the bleach when confronted with grungy or discolored tile, grout and caulk. But white vinegar is not only effective at cleaning and whitening tiles and grout, it's also safer than chlorine bleach (especially for households on a septic tank, where bleach should never enter). Just spray full-strength vinegar on grout and caulk in the shower or kitchen, let it soak in for at least an hour, then scrub it off with a brush.

Vinegar and the Laundry

Vinegar has so many laundry uses that it's often stored right next to the detergent in green laundry rooms. For removing stains like mustard, ketchup, tomato sauce, grass and underarm deodorants, spray a little white vinegar onto the stain before laundering. Soaking whites in vinegar will help bring back their whiteness. And just like in your dishwasher, vinegar helps to break down detergent when added to the rinse cycle, making clothes fresher, more colorful -- and it gets rid of funky towel mildew. One cup should be plenty -- add less when using a front-loading washing machine. Warning: Never add vinegar to chlorine bleach -- it will create noxious chlorine gas, a potentially deadly compound.

Kitchen Cleaning with Vinegar

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Clean your coffee maker out with diluted vinegar every month or so. (Remember to run fresh water through it before making coffee.) White vinegar and salt can clean stainless-steel cookware and sterling silver, and undiluted vinegar disinfects cutting boards, especially those made of wood. And for cleaning microwaves, just pour a little vinegar into a bowl of water and microwave it for a few minutes -- you can then easily wipe out grunge from the inside of your microwave. Finally, if your sink is clogged or smelly, try pouring 1/4 cup of baking soda down the sink, then add 1 cup of vinegar and cover the drain tightly -- the reaction between these two compounds can power out clogs (you may need 2 or more applications for tough clogs).

Hard-Water Stains and Vinegar

If your toilet bowl, bathtub or sink has lime deposits from hard water, soak or spray vinegar onto the grit. It should loosen the deposits enough to remove them easily. And for any appliance or fixture that's not working right because of hard water -- especially irons, showerheads and faucets -- soak or spray white vinegar and let the deposits crumble away.

House Cleaning with Vinegar

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Vinegar is one of the world's best all-purpose green cleaners with dozens of cleaning uses. Diluted white vinegar is excellent at cleaning windows, hardwood floors, carpet stains, fireplace bricks and irons, CDs and DVDs, shower curtains, upholstery, mattresses, wood furniture (when combined with olive oil), glassware -- in fact, if it's in your house, you can probably clean it with vinegar. Warning: The one exception is marble and other stone surfaces. The acid in vinegar (and lemon, and wine) can permanently damage these surfaces, so keep vinegar away from these stones.

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