Updated on 10.06.11

Saving Pennies or Dollars? Vinegar

Trent Hamm

saving pennies or dollarsSaving Pennies or Dollars is a new semi-regular series on The Simple Dollar, inspired by a great discussion on The Simple Dollar’s Facebook page concerning frugal tactics that might not really save that much money. I’m going to take some of the scenarios described by the readers there and try to break down the numbers to see if the savings is really worth the time invested.

Calista writes in: Aside from the environmental benefits, does using vinegar for cleaning and household tasks really save any money? I can find white vinegar at the cheapest for 2.39 per gallon, and it seems to go really fast. E.g. if I were to use 1 cup for fabric softener as is suggested, I would be going through it like candy. Similarly, baking soda is not as expensive, but it does go quickly as well.

While there are a lot of household uses for white vinegar, it’s not always the absolute best bargain out there.

We’ll use the fabric softener example that Calista points out. As she mentions, it’s often recommended that you use one cup of white vinegar instead of fabric softener in a load of laundry. I often use half a cup myself, except on extremely heavy loads, and it seems to do all right in terms of making the clothes soft.

So, what does that cost? If you can purchase a gallon of vinegar for $2.39, and there are 16 cups in a gallon, you can do 16 loads of laundry with vinegar as the fabric softener for $2.39. That gives you a cost of 14.9 cents per load for white vinegar as a fabric softener.

On the other hand, one can easily find 120 loads of Downy for $15.99 – 13.3 cents per load.

Of course, with the prices being so similar, you can experiment a lot here to find out the right level of fabric softening for you. You might find – as I do – that half a cup of vinegar is the right amount for most loads of laundry (unless the machine is approaching over-full, which I rarely do). In that case, the price of using vinegar as a fabric softener drops down to about eight cents per load. Of course, there’s nothing saying you can’t use smaller amounts of Downy, either, though I’ve never really experimented with that.

Of course, vinegar has a wide variety of uses. Are the other ones cost effective? I ran the numbers on a few of them.

Window cleaner Typically, you mix one part vinegar with four parts water (and three drops of liquid dish soap at a negligible cost) for an effective window cleaner. You can purchase a 32 ounce bottle of Windex for $2.49. On the other hand, you could use a cup of vinegar, costing $0.15 as calculated above, along with three cups of water and perhaps a cent of dish soap, to make your own effective window cleaner. Winner: vinegar.

Spot-free dishwasher rinse Typically, you can use an equal amount of vinegar in your dishwasher as a replacement for a cleaner like Jet Dry. It works pretty well, based on my own experience. Of course, half a gallon of Jet Dry costs $18.49, while an equal amount of vinegar costs about $1.20. Winner: vinegar.

Plant remover I’ve found that if you pour a significant amount of vinegar on unwanted grass – such as grass in the sidewalk cracks – you can get rid of it. Of course, you’re talking a quart of vinegar to cover sidewalk cracks that are dealt with with just a few sprays of Roundup. You can buy Roundup concentrate for $30 which, when used in a tank sprayer, can get rid of all of the weeds on our sidewalk about fifteen times over (based on other observations – I’ve never used Roundup on our own sidewalk). It would take about a gallon of vinegar to achieve the same effect, which would bring the cost of the vinegar to about $38. Winner: Roundup.

I could go on and on with these comparisons. In some of them, vinegar would win the day in a landslide. In others, vinegar would lose running away. In yet others, it’s close enough that one could argue endlessly about the details of the comparison.

There are two key things to notice here. One, vinegar does a lot of things. The simple fact that you can compare it to so many different products demonstrates that. Two, vinegar is friendlier to the environment than virtually all of the other options. Vinegar is essentially just a product of the fermentation of alcohol, after all, which occurs naturally all the time and is easy to do in a kitchen environment.

Does this save you money? It certainly can save you a bit of money if you’re selective in your uses of the vinegar. The key thing is, though, that it’s flexible. You can have one bottle of vinegar instead of lots of bottles of other stuff that will probably go bad before you ever use all of it. Add on top of that the friendliness to the environment and you’ve got a pretty compelling case for putting a bottle of vinegar under the kitchen sink instead of fifty other products.

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  1. Michelle says:

    You could also just go without fabric softener. I’ve never used it in my life.

  2. Becky says:

    Vinegar is also safer. If a child were to get hold of a bottle of vinegar, the worst that could happen is a child who smells like vinegar. If they were really determined to hurt themselves, they could get it in their eyes and that would be painful, but not do any permanent damage.

    If a child were to get hold of a bottle of Roundup, Windex, Jet Dry, etc. — something really bad could happen. This means more time and effort spent securing these products in a child- and pet-inaccessible location, and of course more care using them yourself, too.

  3. Sherri says:

    Around here you can get 2 gal. vinegar from Sam’s for $3.18. That reduces ALL cost comparisons quite a bit! I’ve been using it in the dishwasher since they removed phosphorus from the detergent–

  4. Steven says:

    Yup, I’m with Michelle. I’ve never used the stuff. I don’t see any reason to use it.

  5. josh says:

    Does vinegar really do the same job as Jet Dry? Can anyone else share their experience on that?

  6. Money Beagle says:

    We use vinegar as a general household cleaner as well which works very well. One part vinegar and one part water in the old spray bottles from 409 or Fantastik. We made that switch when we had our first child.

    We get a huge jug at Costco for a great price and it lasts a good long time!

  7. Des says:

    When we had a dishwasher we used vinegar instead of Jet Dry – I’ve never noticed a difference. It may depend on your water, though.

    I second what Becky said – if you have kids (or even pets) vinegar is a MUCH safer option to have around the house. (And with how nit-picky we all are about buying new cribs and car seats for safety, I would think that would be a very big selling point for other parents.)

    Additionally, I don’t care how much more vinegar costs, I will NEVER use Round-Up after watching Food Inc. et al. I would rather pull the weeds by hand (daily if need be) than send that company my money.

  8. Rita says:

    I started using vinegar almost exclusively years ago because of my cats. After my daughter became mobile, I threw out all the chemicals and use vinegar and bronners soap exclusively.(with the exception of laundry detergent). I did that so that if she ever gets in to it when I am not around the worst that will happen is she will taste something terrible and maybe sting her eyes, but no need to have her stomach pumped or any other traumatic measures taken at the er.

  9. Laura L says:

    I have read more than once that fabric softener coats both your clothing and the filter in your dryer.

    Regarding vinegar vs. Jet Dry, I actually prefer vinegar. Our water is very hard, and if we watch the amount of dishwasher detergent we use (less is more), that also helps A LOT to reduce or prevent water spots.

  10. valleycat1 says:

    For those who keep vinegar & water pre-mixed for cleaning, you can add a drop or two of essential oils to it to make the aroma more pleasing.

    I don’t use fabric softener in the washing machine, but have found that vinegar and/or baking soda in the wash cycle (with detergent) helps remove odors & dinginess, and with the water from our well, vinegar in the wash cycle also results in fluffier towels.

  11. Ellisa says:

    Vinegar is such a versatile household cleaner/deodorizer. I can buy two gallons at Sam’s Club for a little over $3, so its extremely economical as well. It does work just like jet dry in a dishwasher, but I guess that depends on hardness/softness of your water. Mixing some vinegar with water in a spray bottle also acts as a great carpet cleaner for spot treating spills or pet messes. I’ll even use it in my steam cleaner instead of commercially bought carpet cleaner since it works wonders to get out stains. As a fabric refresher, I’ll use the same spray bottle as for the carpet spot treatment and spray my couch and other areas that need to be freshened up. It smells like vinegar while its wet, but once its dry, you don’t notice an odor at all.

  12. Kerry D. says:

    Beyond the likely cost savings, I think using vinegar is very worthwhile considering decreasing the toxicity to people/pets/environment and just the utter simplicity of one bottle in my cupboard that can do so many things.

    I echo that at Costco, two gallons are just over $3.

  13. Larabara says:

    I formerly used Jet Dry in my dishwasher and switched to vinegar with very good results. My dishes are clean with no spotty glasses.

    The only problem I have is that Jet Dry had a blue color that would fade to clear in the dispenser window as the dispenser got empty.

    Because of vinegar’s clear color, I can’t tell whether I need to refill the dispenser until my glasses get spotty again.

    I also use vinegar in my carpet cleaner, in the wash and rinse, to eliminate pet stains and odors. When the carpet is damp, it smells like vinegar, but dries to no smell at all. And the pets don’t re-stain the cleaned areas.

    And I’ve been putting half a cup of vinegar in my laundry rinse cycle for years, with very good results there as well.

  14. elyn says:

    I’m not sure why you need to use so much vinegar on the sidewalk plants- I use vinegar in a spray bottle to kill thistle (because pulling thistle makes it multiply), and it is used in exact proportion to how you would use Round-Up. Works excellently. The trick is to do it on a hot sunny day, since the sun works together with the vinegar to singe the plants to death… I agree though, that with grass and such, pulling it up by the roots is far more effective than spraying with anything.
    I agree with others that vinegar is extra cheap at Costco, and the uses are just endless. Didn’t know about the Jet Dry replacement idea. I’ll have to try it.

  15. Cheryl says:

    However, we just learned that the EPA does not authorize use of vinegar to kill weeds.

  16. SwingCheese says:

    @8, et al: I, too, made the switch to vinegar for environmental reasons. This was about 3 years before my son was born. But one of the spin off benefits was that, once he became mobile, we really didn’t have to worry about locking the doors under the sink, because all that was under the sink were baking soda and white vinegar. It has worked out well.

  17. deRuiter says:

    # 15 Cheryl “However, we just learned that the EPA does not authorize use of vinegar to kill weeds.” This is possibly because there is no vinegar lobby to wine, dine and bribe the EPA executives, to donate to the politcal party in charge in exchange for EPA approval. Think how bad it would be for the petro chemical business if Roundup AND vinnegar were judged equally efficient for weed killing! Even the most dense individual would know that vinegar would be less likely to polison their children and their environment than vinnegar, and sales of Roundup would suffer. Always follow the money!

  18. deRuiter says:

    Can’t see the need for fabric softener myself, dry clothes outdoors in the sun in nice weather, hang indoors when inclement. The constant barage of ads is not really intended to make your life better with “softer” clothing, it is intended to facilitate taking money from your pocket and putting that cash in the pockets of the people who own and run the chemical company which makes Downy Fabrc Softener and all those huge plastic containers in which it is sold, by making you think you “need” chemically softened clothing. Both the Downy and the plastic containers (made from petroleum) are environmentally destructive and if you don’t use them, the environment stays cleaner and you keep more of your own money. On the other hand, vinegar is a natural product and the containers in which is is packaged are very thin walled and recyclable. You can make your own vinegar if you like, from apples.

  19. Kate says:

    RE: Roundup (glyphosate)—
    A recent study by eminent oncologists Dr. Lennart Hardell and Dr. Mikael
    Eriksson of Sweden, has revealed clear links between one of the world’s biggest selling herbicide, glyphosate, to non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a form
    of cancer.
    People wonder why we have such an increase in cancer but they continue to buy this poison.
    I vote for vinegar!

  20. Ed says:

    I’m with Kate on this. A thoughtful person can mix the vinegar with a salt water solution to create a highly effective non-carcigenic herbicide.

  21. graytham says:

    We’ve been using vinegar in place of dishwasher rinse for years, with excellent results.

    We also occasionally add vinegar to the bucket of water when washing floors- it gets rid of the film left by the floor cleaner and leaves the floor very clean and shiny.

    We don’t use fabric softener- for years we used those drier sheets, but then stopped doing that too. We don’t see any difference.

  22. SLCCOM says:

    If your kid gets into Roundup and drinks it, unless s/he uses chlorophyll to get nutrition, nothing will happen.

    Seriously, folks, please ONLY use reputable sites for your toxicology information! The National Institutes of Health, PubMed, and WebMD are reputable. Anything that is a .org has an ax to grind and generally is written by people who need to get on Prozac and anti-anxiety medication.

  23. valleycat1 says:

    Food for thought: according to an old article (maybe 2010) in the WSJ, “Seventh Generation’s co-founder, Jeffrey Hollender, wonders why more people haven’t stumbled upon laundry’s big, dirty secret: “You don’t even need soap to wash most loads,” he says. The agitation of washing machines often does the job on its own.” The bloggers I saw who picked up on that at the time did their own wash tests & verified that they could get clothes just as clean as usual with very little, if any, detergent. Commenters agreed.

  24. Sara says:

    I once poured vinegar into the Jet-Dry dispenser of my dishwasher, and at the end of the cycle, there was a trail of rusty residue coming from the dispenser. The same thing happened for months every time I ran the dishwasher! That is one substitution I am not going to try again.

  25. EngineerMom says:

    I also agree with Becky on the safety factor. We switched almost entirely to vinegar, baking soda, and salt as cleaning supplies when we had kids specifically because I didn’t want to have to worry about kids getting into potentially deadly chemicals.

    The only things we still use are BonAmi (which is also pretty nontoxic) and Raid for killing wasps.

    Toilet bowl cleaner we were able to get rid of when I started cleaning the toilet on a daily basis with a mild soap solution (soap chips dissolved in a bit of water kept in a can with the toilet brush). However, if you don’t clean it daily, you very quickly get back to needing the harsher chemical cleaners!

  26. EngineerMom says:

    Oh, and we don’t use fabric softener. I do run a dryer sheet with our clothes occasionally in the winter to de-static, but that’s about it. Fabric softeners coat the fibers of fabric, rendering them incapable of adequately absorbing water. Since the things that get washed most often around here are towels, cloth diapers, and my children’s clothes (both sensitive to perfumes and dyes), a box of dryer sheets lasts us at least 6 months!

  27. Jill says:

    For unwanted plants in sidewalk cracks, pour boiling water on them. It does a great job and is essentially free.

  28. Stacy says:

    We use vinegar in the laundry, the dish washer and just about any other in-house cleaning solution. I’m allergic to fabric softener and scented laundry detergents so I’ve never used either. I have considered purchasing a Downy ball and filling it with vinegar.
    However, vinegar did NOTHING for our weed problem. Neither did Roundup (even mixed double the recommended strength), rock salt, boiling water, bleach or any other concoction I read about. We would pull by hand and have weeds again 2 days later, even with a weed guard fabric. We finally stumbled onto another weed killer that worked- apparently it contains a different herbicide than Roundup (which our weeds are evidently immune to).

  29. Jade says:

    According to my grandma, vinegar is good for getting sweat and oils out of your clothes. The fabric softening benefit is nice too, especially for those of us who break out in hives whenever we wear clothes washed with fabric softener.

  30. Brittany says:

    It also repels mosquitoes! Drinking vinegar is pretty horrific, but vinegar pills are one of the most effective mosquito repellents I’ve ever tried (I think they’re marketed at weight loss supplements?). Basically, you sweat vinegar–not the best smelling for polite company, but if you’re going to be in the woods for a while, well worth it.

  31. Natalie says:

    I once read in a magazine to mix vinegar with water 50:50 and leave a few days (apparently it goes back to full strength vinegar). Whether or not this is true, I don’t know, but I do it and have four litres of vinegar for $1.09 instead of two, and have for a decade or so. I have seen no noticeable effects of watering the vinegar down, FWIW.

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