Does Vinegar Go Bad? I Took an Unopened Bottle of Distilled White Vinegar From the Pantry the Other Day, and Realized That It Has an Expiration Date – 3 Years Ago!
I have several gallons of vinegar in storage. It’s generally inexpensive and pretty versatile.
I use distilled white vinegar for cleaning, laundry, and canning pickles in the summer. I also have Bragg Apple Cider Vinegar on hand for salad dressings and various medicinal purposes. I have a few bottles of white wine vinegar that I infused with fresh rosemary and garlic. It’s pretty tasty.
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I found a fresh bottle of distilled vinegar the other day and realized that it had an expiration date – three years ago, actually. Hence the reason for this post. Does vinegar go bad?
How Is Vinegar Made?
Vinegar is made by fermentation of the natural sugars found in either grains or fruit, which are converted to alcohol. The alcohol is then fermented a second time and it turns into vinegar. You might say wine is to grapes what vinegar is to wine.
Here’s a step-by-step guide to a deliciously simple beginner fermenting project: My First Ferment: Sauerkraut
The mainstays of the category – white distilled, cider, wine, and malt have recently been joined by balsamic, rice, rice wine, raspberry, pineapple, Chardonnay, flavored, and seasoned vinegar.
There Are Different Kinds of Vinegar. What Type Are You Most Likely to Find in the USA?
1. Authentic balsamic vinegar is aged for 12 to 25 years (the more expensive, the older) and must be made from the juice of a grape product, not from wine. It usually has about 4% acidity.
2. Apple cider vinegar is made from the juice or “must” of apples and is often sold unpasteurized with the “mother” still in the bottle. Apple cider vinegar has been used for centuries as a health ingredient. It has 5% acidity.
Distilled white vinegar is not produced by distillation at all, but by fermentation of distilled alcohol. The most common starting material is malt, because of the low cost. In the United States, corn is most commonly used.
This is the vinegar used for canning and has 5% acidity. Heinz also makes a “cleaning vinegar” with 10% acidity. It should not be used for canning or for making salad dressings!
The good news is that you can make apple cider vinegar at home. Preparedness Mama has already posted a step-by-step tutorial: Homemade Apple Cider Vinegar. It is a time-consuming process but it is well worth the wait.
3. Wine vinegar is made from red or white wine (grapes) and tends to have a lower acidity than white vinegar’s or cider vinegar’s, at 4%.
4. Rice or rice wine vinegar is made through the two-fold fermentation of sugars directly from rice or a concentrate of rice without distillation. Various flavors are becoming increasingly popular and easy to find in the grocery store.
It has a milder flavor than both cider vinegar and distilled vinegar. Acidity ranges from 4% to 7%. Check out this link to A Gardener’s Table for tips on canning with rice vinegar.
Does the Acidity of Vinegar Change Over Time?
Yes, it decreases. According to Dr. V, a chemistry teacher, there are two possible reasons. First, over time the vinegar absorbs water from the air and this dilutes the concentration thereby lowering the acidity. The second reason is related to stability. Over time the acetic acid (vinegar) slowly decomposes. This may also decrease the acidity.
Therefore, I would use only fresh vinegar for canning and pickling purposes, but that’s up to you. Older vinegar may have changed its acidity level and I won’t take the change using the three years (past expiration) vinegar for canning.
Expired vinegar still works fabulously for cleaning and other household purposes.
10 Semi-Common Vinegar Uses
- Clean your windows with vinegar and newspaper
- Preserve cucumbers
- Clean countertops
- Add it to laundry as a fabric softener
- Color Easter eggs
- Wart removal
- Stop itching – apply a paste made from vinegar and cornstarch. Keep on until itch disappears.
- Fruit and vegetable wash, use 2 T vinegar to 1 pint of water
- Remove lime stains from bathroom faucets
- Use vinegar as a natural deodorizer (many people swear by it)
- Descale an automatic coffee maker (you’ll need white vinegar, water, and two paper filters) – Just “brew” a solution of white vinegar and water (1:1 in a filled reservoir) halfway; let it rest for half an hour and resume the process. Rinse out the reservoir, get a new coffee filter, and turn the machine back on only with plain water.
- Make berry ink by using the directions below: with ½ C. Ripe berries (blueberries, cherries, blackberries, strawberries, elderberries, raspberries, etc.), ½ Tsp. Vinegar, ½ Tsp. Salt
Fill a strainer with the berries and hold it over a bowl. Using the rounded back of a wooden spoon, crush the berries against the strainer so that the berry juice strains into the bowl. Keep adding berries until most of their juice has been strained out and only pulp remains.
Add the salt and vinegar to the berry juice. The vinegar helps the ink retain its color and the salt keeps it from getting too moldy. If the berry ink is too thick, add a tablespoon of water. Store in a baby food jar.
Only make a small amount of berry ink at a time and, when not in use, keep it in an airtight container.
To find more similar ideas visit the Vinegar Institute’s Cleaning Page.
Is Vinegar as Effective as Bleach on the Germs in the Kitchen?
Yes, according to this Colorado State University publication, once 5% distilled white vinegar is heated to at least 150 degrees F it is as effective as bleach in getting rid of Listeria Monocytogenes, E. Coli, and Salmonella.
Can You Use Vinegar in Combination With Peroxide?
It turns out that you really shouldn’t trust EVERYTHING you read on Pinterest! After I wrote a post about a great natural, citrus rind-based cleaner that I found there, I learned the cold hard truth.
Vinegar and hydrogen peroxide MIXED TOGETHER become caustic, but only when you mix them together in the same bottle.
The proper way to clean with vinegar and peroxide is this:
First, you spray the surface with a straight vinegar solution and let it sit for a minute and wipe it off. THEN you spray with the peroxide and let it sit for one more minute and wipe it off. This Vinegar / Peroxide combination is effective on nearly all surfaces.
The CDC has published related information on this page. “Hydrogen peroxide is active against a wide range of microorganisms, including bacteria, yeasts, fungi, viruses, and spores. A 0.5% accelerated hydrogen peroxide demonstrated bactericidal and virucidal activity in 1 minute and mycobactericidal and fungicidal activity in 5 minutes.”
BONUS: Today Kitchen Stewardship has a terrific article about Using Hydrogen Peroxide for disinfecting. You really should check it out.
And Here’s the Verdict – Does Vinegar Go Bad?
No, vinegar has an indefinite shelf life and can safely be used for cooking and cleaning, long after its expiration date.
Why do they even give an expiration date? To sell more vinegar, of course!
Studies have been conducted by The Vinegar Institute and confirm that you can store vinegar indefinitely. It does not even require refrigeration. Its acidic nature makes vinegar self-preserving long time.
White distilled vinegar will remain virtually unchanged over an extended period of time. You may observe some color changes in other types of vinegar, but this is only an aesthetic change.
For instance, apple cider vinegar has an indefinite shelf life too, but the older it gets, you might notice changes that can affect its flavor and appearance.
This is especially true if you’ve stored the bottle of apple cider vinegar after opening it. You might also notice sediments on the bottom of the bottle. Those are perfectly normal. The ACV might not look like it did in its prime but it is safe to use.
So, it’s good news. My three-year-old vinegar is still good – which is fantastic because we’ve already used it several times. How about you, how many bottles of vinegar do you have on hand?
Stock up, because it has many uses and it doesn’t go bad!
For more info on food expiration dates lingo (best before, best by, sell by, etc.) and what each term means for you, check out our related post: Expiration Dates on Food Storage – Know When to Throw
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Hi, I’m Gabriela and I’m a prepping freak with a knack for frugal living – as if you could have one without the other. I’m also interested in all things DIY, green living, and homesteading. I’ve been dreaming of a self-sufficient, one-acre organic farm ever since I realized how fragile urban life really is. It takes one push of a button for millions to be left without running water. It takes no more than a four- to seven-day disruption in a city’s food supply for complete mayhem to break out. So, I’m now dutifully working toward keeping my loved ones safe when the brown matter (inevitably) hits the oscillating ceiling device, but I also like to share what I’m learning with fellow likeminded folks as I go.
Sara F Hathaway says
Great article to a question I have asked myself for a while. I agree with always using new vinegar for canning and I wondered how long my canned goods would really last. Knowing that the vinegar actually breaks down over time helps me realize that eventually it would not be preserving my food as well either.
Hi Sara, Good point. Canning your food would place it in an oxygen free environment. I think this would make it last longer. Just to be on the safe side, I just can enough to last us two years. That way I am constantly rotating the food, but I don’t have to preserve the same things every year.
Interest article this, but I recently found what appeared to be a stringy, gooey substance coming from the none air-tight vinegar dispenser that we use. Needless to say the entire contents were disposed off & got me wondering what could have caused this, as vinegar usually doesn’t have a use by date. Any suggestions?
Good Question Beejay – not much grows in vinegar, that’s why it’s so good for preserving. You’ve got me stumped on this!
Hi there maybe it was the “Mother” growing in the bottle of vinegar as it does with Apple Cider Vinegar?”
Regards Frances from South Africa
Joan Benken says
I have not heard the term “mother” in vinegar since my mother used it to describe the semi solid mass that formed in a bottle of cider vinegar. I have also seen it in a bottle of white wine vinegar. I just strained it out.
That was likely a “mother”. You could have used it to start another bottle of vinegar 😉 totally harmless.
Clayton Ross says
If it had exposure to air it’s probably vinegar eels, a small microorganism that can live in vinegar that has access to fresh air
I had a bottle of Braggs apple cider vinegar that did go bad. I opened it once and used some, then it sat for a month in cold temperatures. I tried some again and it was horrible almost as if it had been contaminated in some way.
Clayton Ross says
Vinegar does not break down in the hermetically sealed oxygen-free environment inside your canned food
perry teague says
MAMMA, what I would like to find, if u do not know is the exact formulas and recipees to make MY OWN vinager, all types, even the 15 yr balszmic which at my age I wont live long enough to see done but it would b a goal,,thank u pc,,
Hi Perry, I have not tried to make vinegar on my own. Mostly because it’s so inexpensive. This is a tutorial from Livestrong about making balsamic vinegar from wine that you purchase. Seems pretty straightforward. Let us know if you try it! http://www.livestrong.com/article/450646-how-to-make-balsamic-vinegar-from-wine/
I’m so happy I read your article! I’ve been wondering about vinegar for some time now. Thanks, you settled my curiosity about this subject. Love your posts!
Jay @CraftySpices says
Very well written article, we are very familiar with vinegar and use it for so many things, I totally agree with you specially when talking about the expiration dates and using only fresh vinegar for canning. But just as you mention, I would not get rid of old vinegar but instead use it for cleaning purposes, I love that I can clean even our babies toys with vinegar and not have to weary about chemicals like in Clorox or other cleaners.
Hi Jay, I love cleaning with citrus infused vinegar too. Like you, I do whatever I can to keep chemicals out of our house. My husband is a hard sell though – If I’m not careful he will sneak toilet bowl cleaner into the house!
I love to clean with a mix of vinegar & water with a few drops of dish soap. cleans better than anything I have bought in the store. cuts soap scum really well.
That’s good news for me too! The bottle of white vinegar under my sink is years old – I’m not even going to look at the expiration date. We go through the apple cider vinegar much quicker. Thanks for sharing all this information!
I love using vinegar and this is really informative taught me a lot of new things I did not know about it!
Angi @ SchneiderPeeps says
Wow, I had no idea that balsamic aged 12 -25 years. I love balsamic. Thanks for sharing with us at Simple Lives Thursday; hope to see you again this week.
Deborah Davis says
I use vinegar daily for cleaning produce and for household cleaning so this post is very helpful to me. Thank you so much for sharing your healthy , green and natural post with us at the Healthy, Happy, Green and Natural Party Blog Hop. I’m pinning and sharing!
hi just asking i accidentally used an expired apple cider vinegar on my food. Is it bad for health? thanks
How expired Dave? Did you live…
great article. does it matter whether it’s unpastuerized organic cider vinegar?
No, unpasteurized vinegar has the same expiration.
Great article! I have one more, does freezing vinegar hurt or change the vinegar?
I’m not sure Beth, I’ve never had cause to freeze vinegar. I know it has a lower freezing point of 28 degrees and I can only assume that it would not be harmed.
how do I know that the vinegar is good before buying it ?
Since it’s not possible to open the bottle and test it, just me sure that you purchase it within the best by date.
edward McCluskey says
Why, after decanting from a plastic vinegar bottle, does the vinegar 1) form a clear but formed film,and later ( days ) turn the clear vinegar to a clouded appearance.
i like this post however i wonder if vinegar stored in plastic is different than vinegar in glass containers my grandmother stored it for years in the glass containers long before plastic came out and never had any trouble with it just a thought
Bryan Snyder says
what about fruit pulp vinegar? still indefinite?
I have an abundance of mint this year and have tried freezing it after chopping it up and freezing in ice tube trays using vinegar as the liquid medium into little cubes ready for my mint sauce on my Sunday lunch. All relevant websites suggest using water but my thinking is that the mint will need to be dried out before combining with vinegar whereas if the vinegar is already added – – – Voila!!
I have only used one cube so far (still plenty in the garden) and although it seemed ok, it had a slightly reddish tinge to it. Has anyone tried this themselves? should I continue freezing the mint with vinegar?
Sabra Fenske says
I was given several jars of handmade infused vinegars for Christmas – gorgeous! – and worry about getting them used up. I know vinegar lasts forever, but when you add fruit/herb infusions, even though they may or may not be strained out, what about then? They don’t last forever.. Shall I strain and freeze or just use these up over the course of the next few years?
Thanks so much for input! Appreciate it a lot.
I would make a point of using them in the next few years, Sabra.
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Adair Lawrence says
Thanks for sharing such an informative article. I am wondering because my apple cider vinegar expiration date is expired. But, after reading your article, I still used it.
Ted Emery says
I wanted wanted make some pickled eggs recently and used white vinegar from a 3/4 empty plastic bottle. I put them into the fridge to cure for 3 weeks before trying them, they were not pickled at all. I checked the vinegar bottle and it didn’t smell like vinegar at all, more like water. I noticed that it had expired 6 months earlier and was slightly off color.
Clayton Ross says
You are being overly cautious, think about this from a logical way. According to your own article balsamic is aged up to 25 years then sold and sits in people’s pantry for many more years. But you won’t use 3 year old vinegar that you know has be stored well and closed tite. There point of acid in canning is to achieve a specific pH of the canning solution. This is what makes it safe not the number of acid % on the bottle . This can be achieved with pH test strips you can test all your canning mixes . This is the next level and will let you accurately achieve safe ph level using lemons limes, home made vinegar ect. A pack of 100 test strips can be had on Amazon for a few dollars.
Angie Behrbaum says
I spent the day looking for the extremely strong smell that seemed to be everywhere but mostly in the kitchen. When I opened a lower cabinet the smell took my breath away and nearly knocked me over (my sense of smell is too good). Nothing in this cabinet but bottled water, a few pots/pans but then I saw the plastic bottle of white vinegar. I thought I found it. I pulled the bottle out and saw that it had never been opened; I had to pull away the plastic ring in order to unscrew the top. I smelled the vinegar, thinking it would be very strong, but the smell was very, very faint. I assumed after what just hit my nose, the vinegar was nothing. So I prepared for the worse and called for natural gas assistance, as that was the only other thing in the cabinet. An unused but sealed gas pipe/valve for a gas stove.
They came out and determined it was not a gas leak. I pulled all my water bottles out of the cabinet and noticed the ones sitting at the base were wet and I assumed a few were leaking but then I realized the base was soaking wet. I grabbed some paper towels to soak it up and smelled the towels. Knocked me on my butt again and smelled exactly like vinegar only the plastic bottle of vinegar was unopened.
It appears the white vinegar permeated through the plastic; the nice strong vinegar molecules and when introduced into the air, it turned into a liquid. This essentially left water with a very small amount of vinegar in the unopened container and the amount of actual vinegar from the bottle was sitting in the bottom of my cabinet in pure, wet, liquid form.
How does this happen? The plastic container was probably sitting in the cabinet for 2 to 3 years. I can’t find anything on the internet about the chemistry of vinegar and cheap, porous plastic and I’m dying to know the physical science of this.
I’d like to know too …I think my red wine vinegar is gone bad ..Its in a glass bottle in the cupboard. It has lumps of thick rings and don’t look appealing at all.