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17 ways to use distilled vinegar beyond cooking

Whether you want to refinish some wood, remove nasty odors or clean things in an all-natural way, vinegar has your back.

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Alina Bradford, Taylor Martin
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1 of 20 Taylor Martin/CNET

17 unusual uses

Vinegar is a multiuse powerhouse. While it may primarily serve as a versatile cooking ingredient, it does so much more. 

For example, it's an all-natural cleaner and a deodorizer, it removes gum from carpets and it can even stain wood. Plus, it's inexpensive. 

Here are all the ways you can use this dynamo around the house.

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Clean windows and mirrors

Vinegar makes a fantastic window cleaner. Simply pour vinegar and water into a spray bottle, then forget about ever buying Windex again. 

The exact mixture varies depending on who you ask, but roughly equal parts of each works quite well.

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Fight fog, too

A cleaning solution of half water, half vinegar also helps fight fog. So, it's particularly great for the bathroom mirror or your car windows.  

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Prevent fading

When it comes to laundry, vinegar practically does it all. 

To start, adding vinegar to a standard wash cycle will help keep colored fabrics from fading. Just pour in half a cup of vinegar (118.3 milliliters) when adding detergent. 

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Natural fabric softener

Distilled vinegar works very well as a natural fabric softener. Simply add half a cup (118.3 mL) before the last rinse cycle. This will also help fight static -- though the aluminum foil balls method is far more effective.

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Brighten whites

To brighten whites without bleach, you can also bring a mixture of equal parts water and vinegar to a boil. Add the white garments, allow them to sit for several hours and then wash them in your washing machine.  

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Remove stains

If you have darker shirts with deodorant stains, vinegar can help remove those, as well. Turn a stained shirt inside out and saturate the armpit areas with white vinegar. 

Use a washcloth or soft brush to gently work in the vinegar. Let the shirt sit for at least an hour and add it to a standard wash cycle.  

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Nix musty smells

For mildewed fabrics, adding half a cup (118.3 milliliters) of vinegar to the last rinse cycle in a washing machine will help remove the smell.  

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Remove campfire smells

For campfire scent on something you can't throw in a washing machine, such as dry-clean-only garments, place them on a clothes hanger. 

Hang the clothes hanger in the bathroom, either on a shower curtain rod or towel rod. Close the drain in your tub, and turn the hot water on in the shower. When the tub has filled, add roughly 4 cups (approximately 1 liter) of vinegar to the water in the tub. Leave the garment hanging for 10 minutes and the odor should go away.  

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Brighten tile grout and fiberglass showers or tubs

If your shower or tub has started to show buildup of grime or mineral deposits, a touch of vinegar mixed with baking soda is all you need. Saturate a wash cloth with white vinegar, sprinkle baking soda on one side of the wash cloth and rub the grime away.

For harder mineral deposits, like limescale, place the saturated rag on the problem area and allow it to sit for several minutes before scrubbing.  

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Polish grout

For grout, create a paste by mixing baking soda with water in a small dish. Apply it to the grout, then spray the baking soda with the diluted vinegar solution and scrub with a soft brush or wash cloth. Rinse with water and dry.

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Remove gum

If you somehow got gum stuck in a carpet or on a piece of fabric, vinegar can release the gum and remove the stain. The trick is that you have to boil the vinegar.  

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Applying the vinegar

First, manually remove as much of the gum as you can. After bringing the vinegar to a boil, pour a small amount onto the gum. Use a scrub brush or an old toothbrush to start working the gum out of the carpet or fabric. It will take some elbow grease and patience, but the gum will eventually come out.

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Steel-wool wood stain

If you're building something out of wood or refinishing wood furniture and want to add an aged look to it, all you will need is some vinegar and steel wool.  

Note that different vinegars will change the outcome of the aged look. Distilled vinegar will provide a browner finish, apple cider vinegar will give the wood a slightly blue tint and balsamic will provide a slightly green hue. Optionally, you can add coffee to the solution to make the end result a slightly deeper brown.  

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Making the stain

Make the aging solution by dissolving a steel-wool soap pad in the vinegar. Pulling the soap pad apart first will speed up the process, but you will still want to let the mixture sit for at least 24 hours before using it. The longer it sits, the more effective it will become.

To apply it, use either a brush or painting sponge to spread the solution, or for smaller items, you can simply dip them into the solution. For a more dramatic appearance, allow the wood dry for several hours between applications.

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Clean drip coffee maker or teapot

If you use a drip coffee maker, you can use vinegar to clean it every few months. Add several cups of vinegar to the water chamber and run the coffee maker until there is no more vinegar in the tank.

After cleaning with vinegar, you will need to run multiple cycles of water through the coffee maker before attempting to brew coffee.

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Remove buildup inside drains

If you have a sink that is draining slowly, you can use vinegar and baking soda as a temporary fix.

First, pour 4 ounces (113.4 grams) of baking soda in the drain, followed by half a cup (118.3 milliliters) of distilled vinegar. Place the drain cover in the drain, and let sit for 15 to 20 minutes.

While waiting, bring several cups of water to a boil. Once time is up, pour the boiling water down the drain to wash away the baking soda and vinegar.

If this doesn't work, it may help to repeat the process one or two more times. Just know that this isn't meant to be a replacement for manually cleaning pipes. If you have a more serious clog or have standing water in the sink, it likely will not work.

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Remove odors from hands

If you've been working with particularly pungent ingredients in the kitchen or standing around a campfire, vinegar can remove unwanted scents from your hands and clothes.

If you've been cutting onions, for instance, thoroughly rinse your hands with vinegar before washing them with soap. This will remove the onion scent from your hands.

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Cleaning out the microwave

No one likes cleaning a microwave. But vinegar can make it easier. Place a mixture of equal parts water and vinegar in a microwave-safe dish and microwave it for 2 minutes. The mixture should come to a boil. 

Let it sit in the microwave for another 30 seconds, then use a washcloth or sponge to begin scrubbing away at caked-on grime.

For particularly stubborn grime, place a vinegar-soaked washcloth on the area and let it sit for 30 seconds to a minute, then scrub the stain away.

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Unclog a shower head

Vinegar and a plastic bag can unclog a showerhead.

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