Wow, that actually worked.

I have a one-gallon glass bowl, I think it was originally for an old mixer, that for several years I’ve used for the dogs’ water. It was a typical Joel’s-thing-that-holds-water, uncleaned since the Middle Pleistocene. This is only partially because I’m a slob: The well water here is really


really hard. Anything exposed to it for any length of time will form a layer of calcium thick and hard enough as to qualify as a mineral in its own right. You won’t scrub it away.

So the inside of LB’s water bowl was disgusting. I grew sullen and hostile at the sight of the thing. Aesthetically, there was barely any point in changing the water from day to day.

I did what I always do when I have a housekeeping problem that’s beyond my own modest male powers, I brought it up with Neighbor L.

“Vinegar,” she said. “Vinegar dissolves calcium.”

“I’ve tried vinegar in my [nearly new, and now terminally ringed] toilet,” I replied. “Doesn’t work.”

“No, no. Vinegar. Not vinegar mixed with water. It’s pricey, but if you dump a gallon of vinegar into that bowl it will clean out the grunge.”

So Monday during the weekly trip to town I went looking for vinegar. And sonuvagun…

I am clearly not the first person to wrestle with this problem.

Last night I gave LB water in one of the cheap stainless bowls I use for watering chickens in winter. Put his regular bowl in the sink and filled it with a whole jug of this stuff. The result was…alarming.

It bubbled. It sizzled. Nothing this chemically active should be going on in my one-and-only kitchen sink. Plus it turned a most unappetizing gray/brown. It was clearly attacking the bowl’s inner coating – most aggressively – and that’s what I’d said I wanted. Right? As far as I know glass is chemically impervious to pretty much everything, so this shouldn’t be ruining the bowl. Right? And if it turned out I was wrong about that, I’d chalk it up to experience and find LB a new bowl. I went to bed.

This morning what had happened inside the bowl was practically stomach-turning. I put on rubber gloves before carrying it outside to dump the contents and spray out the inside, because I didn’t want any of it on my dainty white hands. Then I gave the whole bowl the scrubbing of its antique life.

And I’ll be damned…

Again, this is probably nothing new to you. I grew up learning nothing about domestic stuff at all, and the past seventeen years have been one revelation after another in the fine art of playing catch-up. This particular one was kind of dramatic.

About Joel

You shouldn't ask these questions of a paranoid recluse, you know.
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21 Responses to Wow, that actually worked.

  1. Anonymous says:

    Yay, a clean doggie bowl! It is possible to etch your glass measuring cup into illegibility with the (im)proper application of chemicals. Not my fault, not my cup.

  2. MamaLiberty says:

    What a shame you didn’t pour the used vinegar and grunge into your toilet and let it set for a while. It would likely have cleaned that too. I use vinegar – the ordinary kind – for all sorts of things, and one of them is a regular application to all surfaces that get grungy with the mineral deposits. I put two cups of plain vinegar into the toilet tank every month, so the mineral deposits won’t get heavy on the inner workings of the valve and fill operation.

    The gallon of special vinegar probably cost far more than several dog dishes, but you did learn something important. Try ordinary vinegar, full strength, on things you want cleaned … probably should happen more than once every five years, however. LOL

  3. Michael says:

    White vinegar its also great for removing rust.

  4. M Ryan says:

    Well… seeing the results, I’m going to have to find some of that stuff. I have hard water, hard enough almost to walk on it plus iron. Ive tried vinegar and it just don’t work. Seeing this, well I’m off to the store.

    Thanks Joel and next time you see Land Lady please extend to her my thanks as well.

  5. Kentucky says:

    Claims to be 6% as opposed to “normal” 5%

    Searching “cleaning vinegar” i found some as high as 20% and 30%.

    Who knew?

  6. coloradohermit says:

    “The gallon of special vinegar probably cost far …”
    Even expensive, it’s probably still cheaper than Lime Away which is what I’ve usually used for mineral deposits. Thanks for the tip.

  7. Kyle says:

    Now youve got the cleanest item in the entire county

    start selling tickets to uncle joes clean-show!


    smell money$$$$$$$ lol!!!

  8. abnormalist says:

    See, we use normal distilled white vinegar around the house with laundry (+detergent) all the time to remove odors. Gets the stank out of my exercise stuff, and the dog smell outta the dog beds on a single wash.

    Also as lie $3 a gallon a the local mega mart its not a bad price

  9. Ruth says:

    I order 20% vinegar from Amazon as I can’t find it local. Works awesome as a weed killer too!

  10. Vinegar – great for such purposes. I use it to de-scale the evap cooler every spring – clean out the coffee maker when it starts getting congested – and cleaned out a Pyrex bowl that probably looked like your water dish just a few weeks ago. I don’t bother with the ‘enhanced’ higher acidity vinegar – too pricey – and the 5% white vinegar works fine.

    I can source the vinegar at around $2@gal – so it’s not that expensive for things like the evap cooler which takes 10-15 gallons to fill and circulate for a few days. It keeps that expensive 8″ media clean enough that we’ve used it for over 10 years now and it looks like it’ll go at least 5 more years before we have to switch the media out.

    When I cleaned out that Pyrex bowl I just found another bowl that fit well within it so I didn’t have to use a full gallon to soak it. Used a bit more than a pint and just weighed down the other bowl so it would sit down on the rim of the one I was cleaning. Used but still clean vinegar goes back into a separate container for re-use in de-scaling the coffee maker or cleaning the Brita pitcher.

    Btw – there’s also what’s called ‘pickling vinegar’ which comes in around 8-10% acidity – but the cost is prohibitively higher versus plain white vinegar.

  11. Robert Evans says:

    A fun series of space operas, the Trader’s Tales of the Golden Age of the Solar Clipper, begin with the book Quarter Share, in which young Ishmael Horatio Wang becomes a hero to the crew by making drinkable coffee through the use of vinegar to clean filthy coffee urns. Good series of books, highly recommended!

  12. MamaLiberty says:

    PNO, I do things just the reverse, far as reusing the vinegar. I clean the coffee pot FIRST, then pour the vinegar into a jar to use later for things like descaling. Why put something contaminated through your coffee maker or water filter?

    Also, I used to have a water cooler in the desert, and each fall and spring would run vinegar through it. But I never used more than half a gallon. You probably don’t need to use that much! But there simply isn’t anything better for cleaning coffee makers and such things.

  13. jon spencer says:

    A pound of powdered citric acid will make quite a few gallons of cleaning liquid for a cost that is much less than vinegar.
    Eight dollars a pound from Amazon and that should make 50+ gallons of the same PH solution as vinegar.

  14. Joat says:

    Glacial acetic acid is $19 a quart on amazon, that’s basically 100% concentration vinegar, I wonder how quick that would remove hard water deposits.

  15. MrTweell says:

    For a toilet with lots of scale and buildup, get a gallon of pool acid – 28% muriatic (HCl) acid. A cup works wonders, just remember to have good ventilation.

  16. Joel says:

    I’d hesitate to use pool acid indoors under any ventilation conditions.

    Also, what effect would that have on a septic tank? Joel skeptical.

  17. Joat says:

    I wouldn’t worry about it with a normal sized septic system, but with your tiny 55 gallon drum system it might change the pH enough to be an issue.

  18. Hi – ML – well, I did say “Used but still clean vinegar…”. I don’t put grotty vinegar anywhere near the coffeemaker – I try to use good judgment as to what gets re-used for what. Though – as pinche’ as I am – when I finally discard vinegar by pouring it out over some plant I’m not fond of it’s probably alkaline by then.

    The cooler looks pretty crusty by end of season – even with a bleed pump that gets the water changed out regularly. The media in this cooler is a fiberboard honeycomb that’s 8″ thick instead of the more common thin cooler pads – harder to clean and too expensive to change every year. The capacity of the cooler when running is around 8-10 gallons – I’m not seeing where a PH rise from a cup or so of vinegar added would do much in that concentration. The cooler has no rust and the factory coating is still intact after 12 years – I’ve seen worse.

    The rising cost of vinegar since I started doing this has led me to wonder about going by a local pool supply shop and asking some questions – but I’ve been reluctant to get too carried away at this ‘mad scientist’ gig. (too many awkward explanations at the worst of times – y’know…) That said – the citric – and moreso the glacial acetic acid – certainly look interesting. Hafta’ look into this in my ample free time…

    Robert – it’s been a while since that book was out in free audiobook form – I’m betting about 10 years. Somewhere on this hard drive there’s a few iterations of his increasing shares.

  19. Robert says:

    Joel: Do track comment stats? Is this post approaching a record? Who knew vinegar would elicit such an enthusiastic response.

  20. Joel says:

    😀 Not nearly a record (that would be the latest “where’s Joel” thread) but yeah, I was also surprised. In eight years of daily blogging I still can’t predict what people will find worth comment.

  21. CMac says:

    If you soak a paper towel in the vinegar, then drape it over the calcium deposit and let the vinegar work you don’t need to use much vinegar at all in cleaning things. It works fine for toilets (drain it first) and bathtubs at least. From your description you might have needed to do it several times for your water bowl.

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