Vinegar is a common household staple for cooking, cleaning, and even DIY beauty remedies. Today’s most popular types of vinegar in homes are white vinegar and apple cider vinegar. But when it comes to acidity and cleaning power, which one is stronger?
The key factor determining vinegar’s strength is its percentage of acetic acid. Acetic acid gives vinegar its distinct tart, sour taste, and potent smell. It’s also what makes vinegar useful for household cleaning and pickling.
White vinegar typically contains about 5-8% acetic acid. It hits on the higher end of the acidity spectrum. Meanwhile, apple cider vinegar contains 4-7% acetic acid, landing on the slightly less acidic end of the range.
With its higher percentage of acetic acid, white vinegar has the edge regarding acidity and overall strength. Even when comparing the same brands, white vinegar is consistently more acidic than apple cider varieties.
pH is a measure of how acidic or alkaline a substance is. The pH scale ranges from 0 to 14, with 0 being the most acidic and 14 being the most alkaline. Pure water has a neutral pH of around 7.
White vinegar has an average pH of 2.5, which is very acidic. Apple cider vinegar is slightly less extreme at pH 3.5, still acidic but slightly less so than white vinegar. Again, white vinegar’s lower pH confirms that it is the more acidic and corrosive of the two.
White vinegar lives up to its name with a clear look and very clean, tart flavor. Some describe it as harsh or even medicinal tasting. It provides acidity without altering the flavors of recipes.
Apple cider vinegar has an amber color and significantly mellower taste. It offers a fruity, subtly sweet flavor plus a hint of apple aroma. The more rounded flavor profile makes apple cider vinegar the choice for vinaigrettes, marinades, and other recipes where you want a touch of fruity acidity.
So while white vinegar delivers pure acidic punch, apple cider vinegar’s gentler fruity notes make it a more palatable cooking ingredient. But neither can compete with balsamic’s rich, complex sweet-tart notes!
One area where apple cider vinegar has an advantage is nutrition. While white vinegar is purely acidic, apple cider vinegar contains small amounts of vitamins, minerals, and amino acids.
In just 1 tablespoon, apple cider vinegar provides:
- 3 calories
- 20 mg potassium
- 1 mg vitamin C
- 0.08 mg vitamin B6
- 0.04 mg vitamin B2
- 0.24 mg vitamin B1
- 0.08 mg vitamin A
- 90 mcg folate
- 4 mg magnesium
- 12 mg phosphorus
- 11 mg calcium
- 0.1 mg iron
It also contains important antioxidants like chlorogenic acid and polyphenols. The “mother” sediment contains probiotics and enzymes as well.
White vinegar has none of these nutrients. So while it may be the stronger cleaner, apple cider vinegar offers a bit more nutritional benefit. But don’t rely on vinegar as your main source of nutrition.
White vinegar’s higher acidity makes it the stronger option for household cleaning. With a pH of 2.5, white vinegar can better break down grime, dissolve mineral deposits, disinfect surfaces, and kill mold and bacteria.
Here are some examples of how white vinegar’s strength makes it ideal for DIY cleaning:
- Removes grease and soap scum – spray full-strength on shower doors and wipe clean
- Disinfects cutting boards – wipe with a 1:1 vinegar-water solution after use
- Deodorizes the fridge – place a bowl of vinegar inside to absorb odors
- Unclogs drains – pour 1/2 cup baking soda down the drain followed by 1 cup heated white vinegar
- Shines chrome – polish faucets with undiluted white vinegar using a microfiber cloth
- Whitens laundry – add 1/2 cup to the rinse cycle to brighten whites
- Cleans windows – spray a vinegar-water mix and wipe dry with newspaper or a squeegee
Apple cider vinegar can also be used for cleaning but may not be as effective due to its lower acidity. It also has potential to stain light-colored surfaces due to its amber color. So white vinegar is generally the superior choice for household cleaning and disinfecting.
For beauty purposes like hair rinses and DIY facial toners, apple cider vinegar is often preferred. The gentler acidity makes apple cider vinegar less likely to dry out hair or burn delicate facial skin when used topically.
Some popular ways apple cider vinegar is incorporated into natural beauty routines:
- Facial toner – Add 1 part apple cider vinegar to 2 parts water and apply to skin after cleansing. Rinse after 5-10 minutes.
- Hair rinse – Add 1-2 tablespoons to 1 cup water and pour over hair after shampooing. Rinse thoroughly.
- Bath soak – Add 1 cup apple cider vinegar to a warm bath and soak for 20-30 minutes to help detox and soften skin.
- Deodorant – Dab undiluted apple cider vinegar on clean underarms. Allow to dry fully before dressing.
- Skin exfoliant – Combine 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar with 1 teaspoon baking soda and gently rub on face in circular motions before rinsing.
The more acidic white vinegar may be too harsh for direct skin contact. But it can be added to bath water for a detoxifying soak if adequately diluted.
When deciding between white vinegar and apple cider vinegar, ask yourself:
- How important is the flavor? White vinegar adds pure sourness while apple cider vinegar contributes fruity notes.
- What’s my cleaning agenda? White vinegar has superior disinfecting and de-gunking power. But apple cider can work for more mild jobs.
- Am I using it topically? Apple cider vinegar is gentler for DIY beauty uses.
- Do I care about vitamins? The little nutrition in ACV may give it an advantage for some.
- Does color matter? White vinegar is better for cleaning light surfaces while apple cider vinegar could stain.
- What’s my storage situation? Unopened white vinegar has an indefinite shelf life. Unopened apple cider vinegar stays good for about 1-2 years. White vinegar may be better if you don’t go through vinegar quickly.
- Am I pickling? The higher acidity of white vinegar makes it safer for pickling. Apple cider vinegar could result in spoiled vegetables or contamination when pickling.
- What aromas do I prefer? White vinegar has a stronger, sharper smell compared to apple cider’s mellower, fruitier fragrance. Consider which scent you find more pleasant if aroma is a concern.
- Do I want cloudiness? Unfiltered apple cider vinegar has a cloudy sediment called the “mother.” If you prefer a clear vinegar, choose filtered apple cider or white distilled.
Key Comparison Points
|Attributes||White Vinegar||Apple Cider Vinegar|
|Acidity||Higher (5-8% acetic acid)||Lower (4-7% acetic acid)|
|Flavor||Tart, sour||Mild, fruity|
|Nutrition||None||Trace amounts of vitamins & minerals|
|Cleaning Power||Stronger due to higher acidity||Moderate cleaning strength|
|Beauty Uses||Harsher if used undiluted||Gentler for hair and skin recipes|
|Cost||Typically cheaper||Typically costs more|
|Shelf Life||Indefinite when unopened||1-2 years when unopened|
|Pickling Safety||Recommended||Not recommended|
|Aroma||Strong, sharp||Mild, fruity|
|Appearance||Clear||Can be cloudy if unfiltered|
When to Use Each Type of Vinegar
Now that we’ve compared white vinegar and apple cider vinegar side-by-side, how do you decide when to use each one? Here are some recommendations based on their distinct properties.
When to Use White Vinegar
White vinegar’s high acidity makes it ideal for:
- Cleaning and disinfecting delicate surfaces – White vinegar can safely clean glass, chrome, porcelain, and other smooth non-porous materials. The high acidity cuts through mineral deposits, soap scum, and grime without damaging the surface.
- Cooking without altering flavors – White vinegar adds bright acidic taste without overpowering other flavors in recipes. Use it for light pickling, poaching fish, deglazing pans, or anywhere you want acidity without sweetness.
- Boosting laundry power – Add to the rinse or wash cycle to help remove stains, brighten whites, and deodorize towels and sheets. The acidic environment helps break down grime.
- Weed control and gardening – Spray full-strength white vinegar on unwanted weeds to kill vegetation. Use a diluted mix to acidify soil for blue hydrangea flowers.
- DIY beauty recipes requiring stronger acidity – White vinegar can be used in preparations like toner and foot soaks if the pH is buffered with a carrier oil. Always patch test skin first.
When to Use Apple Cider Vinegar
Apple cider vinegar is the better choice when you want:
- Milder acidity and fruity flavor – Use apple cider vinegar in salad dressings, marinades, chutneys, and other recipes where you want a mellow acidity and subtle sweetness.
- To avoid damaging surfaces – Apple cider vinegar is less likely to etch or discolor more porous surfaces like granite, wood, or bone. The gentler acidity makes it safer for cleaning delicate materials.
- More nutrients and antioxidants – While neither vinegar is a major health tonic, the trace nutrients give apple cider vinegar a slight advantage.
- To clean pets – Apple cider vinegar is mild enough for dogs and cats. Make a gentle shampoo by mixing 1 part vinegar with 2 parts water.
- For beauty and hair uses – Apple cider vinegar is less likely to dry and damage skin and hair. But always dilute in water before using topically.
How to Substitute Between Vinegar Types
White vinegar and apple cider vinegar can be used interchangeably in many scenarios, especially if diluted. But expect some differences in the results when substituting one for the other.
To swap apple cider vinegar for white vinegar:
- Use 25% more apple cider vinegar to account for the lower acidity. For example, use 1 1/4 cups apple cider vinegar when a recipe calls for 1 cup white vinegar.
- Add a sugar or fruit juice pinch to balance the more sour white vinegar.
- Expect a lighter flavor and color. The fruity notes of apple cider will be missing.
To replace white vinegar with apple cider vinegar:
- Use 25% less apple cider vinegar to avoid over-acidifying a recipe. For example, use 3/4 cup apple cider vinegar to replace 1 cup white vinegar.
- Be aware of a bolder fruit flavor and amber color being introduced.
- You may need to increase other seasonings like herbs, salt, and pepper to balance the mellower acidity.
- Don’t use apple cider vinegar as a direct sub for pickling and preserving. The acidity levels are crucial for safety in those applications.
The Bottom Line
While apple cider vinegar and white vinegar share the same main ingredient, their differences give each one advantages for certain uses. In a pinch they can pinch hit for one another, especially when diluted. But expect some variations in flavor, color, and acidity.
Keep both vinegars stocked so you can take advantage of their unique benefits. White vinegar for potent pickling and cleaning. Apple cider vinegar to dress salads and tone hair. Let your specific needs and tastes determine which one you reach for.