|Australian Vinegar makes distilled traditional vinegar in South East Queensland.|
Because we are often suggesting vinegar as an eco friendly household cleaner and disinfectant, I wanted to understand how vinegar does kill germs.
It turns out that that it is the acetic acid in vinegar that kills bacteria and viruses by denaturing (chemically changing) the proteins and fats that make-up these nasties (source: Professor Peter Collignon, see below). Most general purpose white vinegars are about 5% acetic acid.
The stronger the acetic acid content the more effective the vinegar will be at disinfecting.
Unfortunately, due to the lack of transparency by mass food producers and poor standards of labelling, it is rare to find a vinegar that states the acetic acid percentage or even what it is made from. Generally the ingredients just say "Vinegar".
Some "vinegar" is made from petrochemicals
What we are presented with as vinegar today is not necessarily the vinegar "that our grandmothers used to clean with". As with so many things in our modern world, cheap petrochemical processes are corrupting how nature intended things to be done.
Acetic acid is the chemical name for the naturally occurring substance known as vinegar that is created from distilling or fermenting a grain or plant. However, it is also the name given to the synthetic product that is made from petrochemical derivatives such as butane!
Companies such as Monsanto and BP manufacture acetic acid on large scale that involves using carbon monoxide and methanol to create a chemical reaction, or heating butane in the presence of metal ions such as manganese, cobalt and chromium, which decomposes to produce acetic acid!
This is the "acetic acid" often used in foods as an acidity regulator and is labelled E206.
I have a hunch that "home brand" bulk White Vinegar is most likely acetic acid and is not made from fermented grains. While it is found in the supermarket with the edible vinegars and I assume must pass Australian Food Standards, I think you would be consuming synthetic acetic acid.
I was pleased to find this Australian Vinegar company that states it specialises in technically challenging 'Clean Labelled' vinegar which is free from allergens, sulphites, artificial colours and flavours and all 'E' numbers. Their brand is LiraH Vinegar.
Thank you to the TheEcoMum blog for your detailed article on this topic. This blogger recommends that to avoid synthetic vinegar look for mentions on the label of "distilled". Please read that article if you are interested in delving further.
Vinegar to kill germs
Back to using vinegar to kill germs. If you are trying to eliminate petrochemicals from your home, then the choice of which vinegar may be important to you. For others, using any white vinegar to clean is still a far preferable solution than toxic bleaches and ammonia.
Professor Peter Collignon recommends that when cleaning at home we should keep it simple.
Rather than concentrating on disinfecting or killing the bugs, we should focus on cleaning with hot soapy water and good old-fashioned elbow grease to physically scrub away organic material.If you do need to disinfect, clean first, then disinfect with the least toxic, most biodegradable product that does the job. Vinegar and alcohol wipes are at the least toxic and most biodegradable end of the scale when it comes to disinfectants.
"You've got to clean the surface first and that's usually enough. Then you have to ask yourself whether you need to disinfect at all," he says.
"For the kitchen sink, for example, you probably don't need anything except cleaning."
However, that dirty chopping board might warrant disinfecting – but only after you've given it a good scrub with hot, soapy water.
It's only the act of rubbing and scrubbing a dirty chopping board that can break down the slimy matrix around certain types of salmonella, allowing the disinfectant to then get to work.
As for commercial cleaners, Collignon says we don't always need the level of disinfection in the home that these products provide.
"We over-use chemicals," he says. "Instead of using one unit, we use 1000 units, and the benefits are marginal."
"All of us would like to use a magic potion so that we don't have to use the elbow grease. But that's a false premise."
I have yet to find in Australia any "cleaning vinegar" labelled with a stronger concentration of acetic acid such as you can find in the United States.
Nor have I found any vinegars promoting that they are made from "non petrochemical sources" -- again like some brands are already doing in the US.
But with your consumer purchasing power and questioning of the companies selling "vinegar" on Australian shelves without transparent labelling, it can change. Watch this space ....
Source: Professor Peter Collignon, infectious disease physician at the Australian National University's Medical School, who was interviewed for and ABC article.