Concentrated Vinegar

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.

I'd like to know about...

Explore more

Want weekly tidbits of cruising information? Sign up for The Boat Galley's free weekly newsletter. You'll get the newest articles and podcasts as well as a few relevant older articles that you may have missed.

Do you find The Boat Galley useful? You can support the site when you buy from Amazon by using the links on this site or clicking below. No extra cost for you!

  • Allan Cobb
    Posted at 23 August 2013 Reply

    Always pour acid (in this case vinegar) to water. Never pour acid into water. This is even more important when mixing battery acid but would also apply to the more concentrated “vinegar” or glacial acetic acid (what chemists call it).

    • Marty Besant
      Posted at 06 December 2016 Reply

      Your first two sentences are contradictory. Never pour water into acid is the proper statement. Diluting acid releases heat (the solution gets hot, even may boil) Then the hot solution is concentrated acid.
      Pour acid into water, it still gets hot and stilll might boil BUT the hot solution is mostly water and less dangerous

  • Allan Cobb
    Posted at 23 August 2013 Reply

    Mixing acid and water is an exoteric process (releases heat). If you pour water into strong acid it can boil the water as you pour it into the acid causing caustic steam.

  • Janice Fleischmann
    Posted at 23 August 2013 Reply

    Good information, I think I will stick with the regular vinegar.

    • Lee
      Posted at 06 December 2016 Reply

      Citric acid is dry and I use that in lieu of vinegar to get rid of any of the water deposits left in the tea / coffee pot, head, etc etc. I also use it to descale the washer and dishwasher at home. Lastly, it goes in with the clothes to help release the detergent and to prevent buildup.

      The only vinegar on board is for our salads.

      It is dry and food safe. May want to consider

  • The Boat Galley
    Posted at 23 August 2013 Reply

    Oh I understand the joys of typing on a phone. Autocorrect has interesting ideas of what I want to say.

  • Claudia
    Posted at 24 August 2013 Reply

    There’s a simple solution to this: Just transfer the higher-concentrate vinegar to a different bottle. One that’s bright orange (or some other crazy colour) and clearly labelled with a skull and crossbones (the universal sign for toxic). The word “vinegar” wouldn’t even need to be on the bottle, you could label it household cleaner and put instructions for use on the label.

    I’m sure you could even find a container with a child-proof cap.

  • Wayne Hamilton
    Posted at 12 May 2014 Reply

    To add to Claudia’s comment, label it “Acetic Acid XX%”.

  • Ann
    Posted at 15 June 2014 Reply

    I buy a food grade vinegar from Germany that is 25%. It is Surig Essig Essenz,14 fl.oz. I pay 3.05 per bottle. It can be ordered online but then you have to pay shipping. My local international grocer sells it and I order about 18 at a time from them. It’s fantastic for cooking/salads, etc. and for cleaning. When diluted to 5%, it tastes way better than regular white vinegar. For me, it’s a staple I can’t live without. Hope you can find it!

    • Ann
      Posted at 15 June 2014 Reply

      I wanted to add that during food prep, one can add just a small amount for the vinegar flavor without having to add all the liquid that comes with the 5% vinegar. As an aside, at 25%, it can be used on toenails with a superficial fungal infection. Just keep it away from the skin. There are multiple uses for vinegar when the dilution can be controlled.

    • Bebop
      Posted at 01 January 2016 Reply

      I also use the same vinegar from Germany, Surig essig essenz. I love it-German vinegar tastes so much better than American vinegar. It’s really a shame it’s very hard to find locally, even at specialty/international stores.

  • Barbara Lowell
    Posted at 26 June 2014 Reply

    fabulous news … now to find it locally … thanx much all!

  • Sue
    Posted at 20 July 2014 Reply

    I have heard that vinegar will dissolve fibreglass too so that might be a consieeration in keeping vinegar concentrate aboard a grp boat. What would happen if it leaked into the bilge?

  • Rick Johnson
    Posted at 21 July 2014 Reply

    Great for killing weeds also (for us land lubbers in any case). No doubt would do a number on bugs as well.

  • Marc J. Kornutik
    Posted at 25 August 2016 Reply

    I know this is an old post but…
    In case anyone else is interested…
    Surig Essig Essenz 25% vinegar is available on Amazon. $11 or so for 16oz… So NOT for cleaning.

  • Marcel Noya
    Posted at 01 February 2017 Reply

    A brilliant post. Thank you. But as I am a Pharmacy Technician who served in the US Navy for 4 years (not a long time), I am acutely aware of hazardous chemicals and compounds. Just because it says “Vinegar” on the label is no clue as to its strength and corrosiveness! -M

  • robert smutak
    Posted at 10 February 2017 Reply

    I have a gallon of 99.85% Food Grade Glacial Acetic Acid. Can I dilute to make 5% vinegar for foods and salads.

    If so what would the formula be to make 1 gallon of 5%?
    could you post answer here please
    thank you

Post A Comment