The Tao of Vinegar

Distilled white vinegar isn't sexy, hip or new. But it may just be the most sustainable thing in your home.

Distilled white vinegar isn’t sexy, hip or new. But it may just be the most sustainable thing in your home.

In the heat of mid-summer, weeds can suddenly take over, rendering helpless even the most vigilant gardeners.

While most of you wouldn’t bat an eyelash at a container of chemical weed killer, you know there are still plenty of folks who believe chemicals are the only remedy for wayward weeds. It’s time to let them know that all it really takes to make the driveway stop looking like part of the lawn is a gallon or two of white distilled vinegar.

The rise and fall of a miracle liquid
Vinegar is pretty much as old as the hills, with records of its use by ancient Greeks, Romans and Babylonians. These early civilizations knew vinegar could help them preserve and season food, and they also may have explored its medicinal uses and ability to dissolve a variety of substances. (To learn more about the history of vinegar, check out

Vinegar’s popularity isn’t difficult to understand. It’s easy to make, even by accident. If you’ve ever left a jug of apple cider exposed to air for a while, you may have made yourself a batch of vinegar.* In the lab, vinegar is produced by fermentation and oxidation, which gradually transform the sugars in fruits (or other plants) first into alcohol and gas, then into the acetic acid we call vinegar.

Vinegar also has a seemingly endless number of uses, a fact not lost on those early civilizations. The miracle liquid was popular enough by 2000 BC to be produced commercially. And it remained popular for thousands of years…all the way up through your grandmother’s (or maybe great-grandmother’s) life time. Through the early- to mid-20th century, vinegar was a household staple, used to pickle and jar the garden’s bounty and keep the house clean. But gradually, manufacturers of “modern” cleansers and other household products convinced most homemakers to cast aside their vinegar, along with items like baking soda and boric acid.

Rediscovering vinegar…and getting back to the garden
Fortunately, a new generation of eco-conscious, DIY-life-stylists has gotten to know the virtues of vinegar. It’s widely available, incredibly inexpensive, good for a ridiculous number of  things and, of course, non-toxic for us and the planet.

And that brings us back to those weeds. If you’re ready to fight back against their stealth invasion of your driveway and walkways, follow these very easy steps:

1. Buy a few gallons of plain white vinegar at the supermarket. It costs next to nothing.

2. Purchase a sprayer like the one shown here. Any brand will do. What you’re looking for is a way to spray the vinegar without getting a cramp in your hand.

3. Fill the sprayer with vinegar, pump and turn the sprayer to the “on” position.”

4. Get spraying, preferably on one of those hot sunny days we’ve all had too much of this summer.

5. Watch and wait. Within a few days, your weeds will brown out in much the same way they would with chemical weed killer. You can then either let them further disintegrate or rake them up and discard in the woods.

There are many (many) other ways to make vinegar a part of your sustainable lifestyle. How are you using it these days?