White vs distilled vinegar

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Confused which vinegar is best used for what? Differencebetween.net explains the difference between the two. Reprinted with permission.

Try to look for vinegar in a local market and you would be surprised just how many kinds there are. There is a staggering 21 kinds of vinegar available commercially. That is excluding the countless home-made types. But out of the omnifarious range, distilled vinegar and white vinegar prove to be two of the most widely used. Sure, they’re both acidic, but how different really are they from one another?

white-vinegarMost people agree that the basic difference would be the level of purity. Simply put, distilled vinegar has been purified more than white vinegar. More than that, there are also dissimilarities when it comes to chemical structure, production and usage.

White vinegar is sometimes also called spirit vinegar. Contrary to its name, it’s actually clear. It is usually produced from sugar cane. It is made by allowing sugar cane extract to go through acid fermentation. In the process, the liquid is oxidised, causing the chemicals in it to change and become more acidic.

Another way of making white vinegar is by combining acetic acid with water. This variation is much sourer than the naturally fermented type. It has 5% to 20% acetic acid content and is regarded to be stronger than any other types.

Distilled vinegar, also known as virgin vinegar, is made from just about any type, for instance rice, malt, wine, fruit, balsamic, apple cider, kiwifruit, rice, coconut, palm, cane, raisin, date, beer, honey, kombucha and many others. As its name suggests, it is distilled from ethanol. ‘Distilled’ plainly means that the liquid component is separated from the base mixture. This produces a colorless solution with nearly 5% to 8% acetic acid in water, relatively weaker than white or spirit vinegar.

Both white and distilled vinegar are used not only for cooking, but as well as for cleaning, baking, meat preservation, pickling, and sometimes even for laboratory and medicinal purposes.

Since white or spirit vinegar contains a higher percentage of acidic content, it is more ideal as a household cleaning agent. It provides an eco-friendly solution for eliminating dirt and bad odour on a wide array of materials like fabric, metal, glass, fur, tiles and many others. It can also be used as a urine-cleaner for pets, as well as a natural herbicide or weed killer. White vinegar does not contain ammonia; it thoroughly cleanses without leaving a strong and harmful smell.

Distilled vinegar, being the milder variation, is more suitable for cooking, flavouring, food additives and food preservation. Additionally, it can be used as a household remedy. For instance, it is an effective way to cure or prevent athlete’s foot and warts. It is also very helpful in relieving sunburn and prevents the skin from peeling or blistering.

Both white and distilled vinegar are available in the market. Some households produce their own by fermenting fruit juices, slightly akin to production of wine.


  • White and distilled are types of vinegar. They differ fundamentally in their acetic acid content.
  • White, also known as spirit vinegar, has 5% to 20% acetic acid. This is generally higher as compared to distilled vinegar’s 5%-8%.
  • White is made by natural fermentation of sugar cane extract or by combining acetic acid with water. Distilled can be made from any time of vinegar, wherein more ethanol is separated from the base mixture.
  • Both distilled and white can be used in cooking, cleaning, food preservation, and for medical and laboratory purposes. However, since white is stronger than its counterpart, it is more suitable for cleaning and disinfecting. Distilled vinegar, on the other hand, is better for cooking, flavouring, food preservation and as a natural home remedy.


  1. Very well explained

  2. I have a pickled onion recipe that uses both Balsamic and Distilled vinegar. Is Distilled available in New Zealand and if not what would you use in it’s place? Thanks

  3. Corrine Fulton says

    Thank you for sharing this article on vinegar. I was out of white and had to use distilled in a recipe at the last minute, so you saved me a trip to the market, but that is not why I’m posting. This article is very well written, and the summary section at the end is a great feature. I have been Pinning articles to my Pinterest wall for years, & while most blog posts fall short in correct grammar, vocabulary, and structure, yours will proudly be pinned as the exception. Yes, I am an English teacher, and it always amazes me how many individuals post without having someone proof their page. You should be proud of the content as this is an excellent example of a compare & contrast paper to show students.

  4. Just like there is no such thing as ‘white chocolate’ and ‘red licorice (unless it has some anise extract in it)’, there is no such thing as the product called ‘White distilled vinegar’ or ‘distilled white vinegar’. Milk is white (and chocolate), but distilled vinegar is CLEAR AS WATER.
    I’ve suggested many, many times that companies drop the ‘white’ and just call it ‘distilled vinegar’ but they seem to be stuck in a space/time warp somewhere. There is no such thing as white wine, either. It’s clear.

    • You contradicted yourself by saying “no such thing as white chocolate” then saying 2 lines down “Milk is white (and chocolate)”. Would love to know how the companies you TOLD to drop the White took it.
      Anyway would not be without my White Chocolate and a bottle of SSB – white wine…

      • Nicole Angulo says

        There was no contradiction, milk is white and milk is chocolate, why did that need explaining? There really isn’t such a thing as white chocolate because when it’s white it has no chocolate in it, it is made from the white part (the fat) of the cocoa bean, not the cocoa (or chocolate) part.

  5. penney ness says

    I am trying to find white vinegar 20% for killing off weeds without herbisides etc. Fishpond no longer has access to it, and I am desperate for that, rather than turning to salt.
    Does anyone know where I may be able to purchase this.

  6. David Manago says

    I was interested in the difference of the two because I believe that I get an allergic reaction ( angioedemia )
    Around my face and lips, I can’t be sure but I have no
    problems when I eat a food with distilled vinegar a
    long as I don’t over do it. I have to ask which pickles
    they use when I by hamburgers or hotdogs! Still can’t
    find a definite trigger causing the reactions. Thanks, David

    • Rebecca McCarren says

      I’m NOT a doctor, but someone close to me has a severe allergy to SULFITES which is commonly found in pickled foods, dried foods (such as prunes), and as a preservative in thousands of products (even some crackers). It is also naturally occurring in grapes and oranges, as well as others. If you are reacting to pickles, I would investigate this possibility, even if you’re just ruling it out for your own peace of mind.

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