Vinegar Acidities – Levels and Usage

Reginald SmithAll About Vinegar, Recipes & Tips, Uncategorized, Vinegars33 Comments

We have talked about acidity a bit on this blog, from how to measure acidity and how it is different from pH to comparing the acidity of Coca-Cola and vinegar. Vinegar obviously comes in different acidities though. Which one do you  need? How do they help? Below is a quick and informative guide to vinegar acidities and their usages.

Acidity  is defined as grams of acetic acid per 100 mL water

<4% acidity This is not legal vinegar to be bought and sold, though what you use at home is your business. Never buy any vinegar (defined as vinegar) less than 4% acidity. Only vinegar in fermentation should be this weak. Kombucha and other fermented foods don’t apply since they are not vinegar and are not defined the same way.

4% acidity This is the minimum legal acidity level for vinegar in almost all countries. Most bargain and discount vinegar brands now are 4%. They don’t advertise this in large print so check the label. Only use for basic cooking and salad dressings. Do not use for canning. Vinegar this weak is less effective at cleaning as well.

5% acidity The standard acidity range for most vinegars. Good for use in canning if you are using good canning practices. Also can be used for any variety of cooking and most types of cleaning. Too weak to use for weed killer except in large amounts.

6-7% acidity Most wine and balsamic vinegars fall in this range. Balsamic vinegar of Modena is at least 6%. Can be used in any way from cooking to canning. Likely too expensive for cleaning. This is the typical upper range for food vinegar.

10% This is a high strength vinegar. Be careful consuming it as it is very acidic and can cause burns. Also wear gloves (latex or nitrile, not cloth) when handling since it can irritate your skin (especially cuts) and cause eye burning. This is the typical acidity of vinegar made in factories. It is superior at cleaning and is the lowest acidity for effective weed control though it will require more amounts than equivalent chemicals. Some Eastern European or Scandinavian countries sell this for cleaning or fish pickling.

For all vinegars over 10%, the instructions below are recommendations. You must read the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) for high strength vinegars before using.

15% The mid-level of high strength vinegar. Only used in cooking in amounts of 1/3 typical vinegar and usually used for cleaning and weed killing. Gloves and eye protection should be used when handling. Rinse of any skin contact immediately.

 

20-25% This is rarely sold to the public except as weed killer. It is made by centrifugation of lower acidity frozen vinegar crystals since vinegar bacteria can’t make vinegar this strong. Germany’s Surig sells Essigessenz which is 25% acidity and can be used for cooking in only very small amounts. Gloves and eye protection are required in even small amounts. Gloves should be latex or nitrile and eye protection should be chemistry lab type goggles, not plastic impact safety glasses. An apron and arm covering as well as a respirator should be used for handling large amounts. Only open or pour these vinegars in areas with good ventilation. Rinse any skin contact immediately and do not touch eyes or nose without thoroughly washing up. If using as weed killer, do not spray into the wind and do not spray anything metal you don’t want possibly corroding.

Surig Essig Essenz 25% vinegar. Image courtesy of Surig.

30% This is the upper limit industrial vinegar sold. Also made by centrifugation it has almost no other use for the general public except as weed killer. If using this as weed killer, ABSOLUTELY use hand and eye protection (chemistry goggles, not loose plastic safety glasses). No substitutes for latex or nitrile. Nylon can be corroded. Depending on your sensitivity, even a small spray mist can cause lung irritation so use at least a face mask if not a small respirator. Only spray or use this outside with plenty of fresh air. DO NOT spray into the wind, preferably use when there is no wind present. Do not spray metals or limestone as they will rust and corrode rather quickly.

If handling in larger quantities where there can be spills, a full protection suit (e.g. Tychem QC) like below and a respirator are required.

Tychem QC disposable coveralls.

 

33 Comments on “Vinegar Acidities – Levels and Usage”

  1. I am doing a science fair and need to know the pH level of rice vinegar what i am getting is 4.3%. can you help

    1. 4.3% sounds a lot like the acidity (is that what you got off the bottle?) No rice vinegar at legal 4%+ acidity will have a pH that high, more likely it is closer to 3. I can’t tell you what the pH of rice vinegar is since it varies by brand and type. Order a cheap pH meter off Amazon or at a local homebrew store along with pH 4 calibration solution and measure the pH directly. You can also use strips though they are less precise.

    1. Maybe…I need more information. What type of mold and do you just want to kill mold or deactivate spores as well?

    1. Some varieties may be available on Amazon but most popular there is typically the very high strength 30%. You can dilute 30% vinegar with 1 parts 30% vinegar and 2 parts water to get 10% but you need to be careful handling. If you live in an area that has ethnic German, Polish, or Russian markets they often import 10% vinegar which is popular for cooking and canning.

      From personal experience, use a spray bottle to mist weeds, don’t squeeze the 10% vinegar directly from the original bottle since the kill zone can be wide and vinegar kills non-selectively.

    1. No unfortunately those mixed together give 7% acidity. You need to dilute a higher acidity vinegar (20% or 30%) to get 14% acidity.

  2. I have an old recipe for a current or blackberry cordial that calls for weak vinegar. Would that be 4 or 5 percent or diluted even farther. The recipe says to soak the berries in the weak vinegar for 24 hours then drain, juice and add sugar. If that helps to determine what “weak” vinegar means.

    1. It really is unclear what “weak vinegar” means. I would guess 1 part vinegar to 1 part water. Or if you are aiming for Kombucha style acidity dilute 5% vinegar with 4 parts of water to 1 part of vinegar.

    1. You have two options: first is to add more alcohol (coconut wine). The second is to seal it off to air to stop fermentation. It is declining due to a process called overoxidation where the vinegar bacteria begin metabolizing acetic acid to water and carbon dioxide once the alcohol runs out.

  3. I’m currently using a PH meter to measure acidity- I don’t have a Titration setup. How can I figure out percentage of acidity based off of the PH reading? My various projects have had large varying readings yet smell and taste like vinegar. Please help. Thank you!

    1. Hi Christopher, the quick answer is there is no reliable method to go from pH to acidity across all vinegars. You can perhaps manage it for white distilled vinegar but any else such as fruit, wine, cider, etc. has chemical peculiarities that skew the result. If you don’t have a titration setup many wine labs like Eastern Wine Labs or Cornell will test it for about $15.

      In broad terms, I have never had a “done” vinegar above pH 3.5 but this is not an exact statement either. Some like apple cider vinegar can have 5% acidity at 3.5 while some need to be below 3 for a similar acidity.

    1. The only way to be sure is to test it with a pH meter but the theoretical pH value for 4% white distilled vinegar is 2.47 or about 2.5.

  4. I’ve been using 24% vinegar that I buy in Sweden. I’ve been using it by diluting to a lower percentage for such things as pickling herring, which calls for 12% vinegar. Is European acidic percentage calculated differently than domestic vinegar? Everything I see in the stores in Sweden is 24%. This site puts that in weed killer range.

    1. If the term “acidity” and a percentage are used, it is calculated the same globally. EU acidity and US acidity are the same. If it uses the term ‘grain’ you have to be careful since this is interpreted different ways in different countries.

  5. There’s also glacial acetic acid (100%), which is used in laboratories (use proper gloves, clothing, eye, face protection).
    I’m sure it would kill weeds.

    1. Sure, but given its ability to cause harm to the user and kill all plants, good and bad, it is overkill. I would recommend nothing stronger than the 30% vinegar commonly available on Amazon.

  6. Hello
    I am doing a chemistry experiment in school where I am determining the difference between the supposed concentration of ethanoic acid stated by the bottle and the experimental value that I will obtain. However, the bottle doesn’t state what the concentration is measured in it just say 12%, is that millilitres or grams? and is it per the whole bottle which is 1L or per 100ml? I am trying to compare to the experimental value which is in moles per cubic decimeter. Thank you.

    1. Is it food vinegar or laboratory grade acetic acid? If it is food vinegar, it is almost certainly 12% meaning 12 grams per 100 mL H20. If laboratory acetic acid it is probably 12% acetic acid by volume.

  7. There are two brands which you can get from some foreign food shops here in the UK which are very high acidity. There is the Surig Essig Essenz (as you already mentioned on this post) from Germany with 25% Acidity and there is the Perstorp Attika (another one that seems to be similar) from Sweden with 24% Acidity in it. Both say that they can be used for Pickling and Dressings and Cooking and i am very surprised that there are no major safety warnings for using them. Can i ask has anything been done to them to make them safer then most other Vinegars you would buy with 24%/25% Acidity? Or are these the same as any other Vinegars with 24%/25% Acidity? Could you use these Vinegars for your Pickling and Dresings and Cooking and any various other food purposes without diluting them first? Or would it be dangerous to consume these Vinegars without diluting them first? Many thanks.

    1. Thanks for your comment. These are the same as any other 24% and 25% vinegars and I would recommend safety using latex gloves at least and even eye protection since splashes will be painful or even damaging. You need to dilute these in cooking. If a recipe calls for 25% vinegar, use the amount in the recipe. If a recipe calls for normal vinegar, use only 1/5 the amount recommended for these high strength vinegars.

      They are good weed killers though undiluted but again have personal protection equipment on. If using outside a face mask may even help in case the wind blows the fumes back in your face.

  8. Many thanks for the reply. I was confused as i thought that such strong vinegars would have much more safety warnings on them. I have never used such vinegars so i am not too familiar with them. I notice you have said if a recipe calls for the 25% vinegar than to use the ordinary amount. So i presume that you are saying that there are some recipes that actually don’t require you to dilute the 25% vinegar first? What sort of recipes would this be? How would this be safe to consume? Would this be certain recipes that involve cooking the vinegar which perhaps would make it safer to consume? I am just interested about this. Thanks again for your reply and excellent website.

    1. If vinegar and water are both added to the recipe, then use 25% less water and the effect will be the same. If only vinegar is being added you can’t replicate the effect of 7% vinegar by adding more 5% unfortunately. You need to find a higher acidity (like Essig Essenz on Amazon) and dilute it down.

  9. If you have made red wine vinegar at home, can you use bicard to reduce the level of acidity rather than simply diluting with water?

    Cheers
    Matt

    1. I wouldn’t recommend adding bicard (do you mean sodium bicarbonate?) It will combine with acetic acid to make the salt sodium acetate and make the vinegar salty. Dilution with water is definitely better and you get more vinegar as well.

  10. Hi Reginald, thank you very much for all the work you put into this site and your vinegar.

    What are the hazards of <4% vinegar? I have a 2.5% honey vinegar. The wine I made was likely too weak, or I over-diluted it. If that is the case, am I correct to believe that the vinegar is stuck and re-introducing the mother will not raise the acidity further?

    I understand how <4% can be dangerous in regards to canning/preserving, but is it potentially harmful for regular on-the-salad consumption?

    1. Hi, there are no serious chemical hazards of vinegar that weak though you still wouldn’t want it in your eyes. As far as use as a condiment, it should be fine. That acidity level (if you are sure that 2.5% is accurate) is high enough to prevent bacterial growth (except vinegar bacteria) and shouldn’t cause a problem in consumption. If it ever gets cloudy or smells bad though (see overoxidation in this article), toss it.

  11. Hi Reginald,

    First, Thank You SO MUCH! You are an incredible resource when it comes to vinegar! Second, my question… which is more of a dilemma to begin with.
    I live in a rather small town, and since this covid madness began, the residents here have all started a garden or constructed greenhouses (which is what we did). And of course, since everyone now has a garden, everyone is now canning. It is impossible to find ANY proper canning supplies, including 5% acidic vinegar.
    Naturally, I have the 4% (I wondered why it was still on the shelves! LOL). Finally my actual question: Is there ANYTHING that I can do to the 4% to make it 5%? Any help you can offer is greatly appreciated.

    Thank You in Advance!
    Have a Fantastic Rest of Your Day,
    Laura ♪

    1. Unfortunately, there is nothing that can be done to make 4% vinegar to 5%. I am surprised vinegar is in such short supply but I can email you and find out details.

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