Updated: Feb 13, 2020
by Patty Collins
I’ve been compared to the dad in My Big Fat Greek Wedding when it comes to my obsession with white vinegar. I’m like the dad who believes Windex is a solution for everything, but with vinegar. Let’s look at this inexpensive product and see why it should be a staple in your pantry, laundry room, and shower - particularly as an athlete!
Vinegar is a liquid that consists of CH3COOH (acetic acid) and water.
The acid is produced by fermenting ethanol. We think of it as something we used in cooking, salad dressings, and pickling, but that is merely the tip of the iceberg. Because of its chemical compound, it carries a multitude of uses.
White vinegar washes away odor causing bacteria in our tri kit, helmet and shoes. Think about all the funk that builds up in our gym bag, laundry pile, or running and cycling shoes. Bring on the white vinegar.
I add ¼ cup of white vinegar to EVERY load of laundry. I use the recommended amount of laundry detergent and haven’t found a difference in whatever brand I buy (liquid, powdered, or capsules). Less face it, as triathletes, and many of us, parents, our laundry can smell quite pungent by week’s end. Some of us drive to our morning workout and then work a full day, which means our gym bags or cars potentially smell like a junior high gym locker. To dispel any concerns, the smell of vinegar is not present once the laundry is dry.
I clean my helmet (inside padding, nylon webbing, the whole thing), cycling shoes and running shoes on the top shelf of my dishwasher. I spray them all down with a 50/50 water/vinegar solution and run my dishwasher on the rinse cycle. No, I don’t put other dishes in the dishwasher at the same time, but I’m sure I have done things much more unappealing than washing my helmet with a few plates and glasses. I have a few friends who bring their helmet into the shower and use shampoo while washing their hair. This is a great option as well.
But speaking of showers, I have lots of swimmer friends who exchange idea about pricey shampoos and conditioners to combat chlorine, to keep our hair from looking like a dried bale of hay. However, I’ve stuck by a few trusty inexpensive solutions. After a swim, I’ll rinse my hair in a 50/50 solution of white vinegar and water in the shower. No, it doesn’t smell great, it smells terrible…however, once your hair dries, there is no scent. I also put a bit of fractionated coconut oil in my hands, rub them together, and then run through my hair, concentrating on the ends, which tend to become dry. Truly, my hair only sees shampoo and conditioner a couple times per week. I realize my thick coarse hair is not the same as everyone elses. However, the vinegar will break down the chlorine molecules that cling to our hair.
So WHY is Vinegar my choice for so many things…. well, let’s channel our inner Science Guy.
Vinegar is a mixture of between 4-5% of a chemical called acetic acid in water. This acid is versatile and can mix with water, alcohol and almost any other kind of liquid, even gasoline, reaching places that other cleaning products can't. When it is dissolved in water, acetic acid breaks apart into two components, the hydrogen and the remainder of the molecule, called the acetate. The hydrogen will try to bond to any molecule that it encounters, acting like a third wheel and weakening the molecule's structure. The hydrogen is great at cleaning stains made from alkali substances, like soap, urine, and limestone.
Vinegar has an acidity of 2.5 to 4.0 on the pH scale . The acidity of vinegar helps to dissolve soil particles by adding a charge to them. These newly charged soil particles become attracted to the positive and negative charges in water. The soil is pulled into the water by strong intermolecular electrostatic forces and thus can be easily removed.
The acetate component has an extra electron that hangs off the molecule. The electron acts as a magnet to other atoms, especially metals, to make new molecules. For example, the acetate reacts with molecules in rust and grime and changes their makeup so the water can dissolve them. Acetic acid also gets rid of odors by killing off the bacteria and fungi that cause them. Its acidic nature destroys the cell structure of bacteria, and it stops fungi from turning sugar into energy.
So stock up on white vinegar and see the many ways you can put it to work for you!