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.