Between cooking and cleaning, most boaters use quite a bit of vinegar. For us, we used far, far more for cleaning* than for cooking.
But when we were getting ready to cruise more out-of-the-way areas, we always had to balance how much vinegar we wanted to take versus how much space we had.
A few weeks ago, Michael and Robin Mangione (they’re casting off in just a few months!) wrote me that they had found some concentrated vinegar in a local Korean grocery. It was a 25% solution, whereas regular white vinegar is 5%. The vinegar concentrate must be diluted before use (do NOT consume it without diluting).
This sounded pretty good to me — by diluting it myself, it would take up a lot less space.
So I started doing some looking around. I couldn’t find any vinegar concentrate at the grocery stores in town, and then began looking online. I discovered that 20% vinegar is used frequently in organic gardening. It’s not food grade, so it’s cheaper — and it comes in gallon jugs. And I could find it locally. That could be just perfect for cleaning!
I also discovered that you can buy 60%, 80% and even 97% vinegar concentrate . . . hmm, those sounded even better. But a quick bit of research showed me that those concentrations are all lethal if consumed straight. A 10% solution is considered an irritant and consuming a 20% solution is going to make you sick — at 25% it’s actually corrosive. (Source) That started me re-thinking all of this.
While we all have plenty of things on board that would make you very sick or kill you if you ate them. BUT — and this is the biggie — they’re not labeled with the name of something that we do eat. And that’s the problem with something labeled “vinegar.”
In the small space that is a boat, it’s hard to find a place to put something so that it won’t make it’s way into the galley . . . or where a child might find it. Say a child who decides to make salad (that was my job from the time I was about 4, making a vinegar and oil dressing, so I can picture it happening very clearly).
I can also see my husband Dave deciding to pour vinegar down the head while I’m away from the boat, thinking to be a nice guy and do the stinky job while I’m gone. And since he doesn’t cook, it wouldn’t dawn on him that the bottle labeled “20%” was really strong. And I’m not knocking him, but he very well could forget that I’d told him about not using the vinegar without diluting it. And instead of just cleaning out the head hoses, they could be eaten up. I’m not 100% sure that they would — I know it would depend on the hose material — but the thought of a potentially non-working or leaking head makes me really wonder if I need that extra space.
It could also be a real problem if the container broke . . .
So, for the bottom line: This is one of those things that I’d consider carefully before doing — and I don’t think I would. If I did decide to use a concentrate, I’d immediately mix the 20% solution 1:1 with water to bring the concentration down to 10% (dilute it outside and wear rubber gloves). That would cut the space required in half from the regular vinegar and would be a lot less toxic than the 20% solution. I’d label the containers with permanent marker “Don’t Eat” or something like that. If I had kids or regularly had guests aboard who liked to help in the galley, I just don’t think I’d want even the 10% solution on board. Particularly if I was out of range of immediate medical help.
*Vinegar is great for wiping down fiberglass and Formica surfaces to both kill germs and mold/mildew. Vinegar is also fantastic to put down the head to keep calcium deposits from building up, particularly if you are in salt water. It also makes a great and environmentally-friendly drain cleaner for the galley and head.