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Apple cider vinegar is, according to some people, a great home remedy for, well, almost anything. Vinegar does have some antimicrobial properties, so what can you use it for? How well does it kill bacteria and fungi?

Vinegar has been used as a home remedy for many medical conditions for a very long time. Is that down to old wives' tales, or does vinegar really have great health benefits? If you believe alternative health advocates and people advising those who do not have access to modern medical care, vinegar — and especially apple cider vinegar with the mother, apparently — can be used to treat a great many different ailments:

  • Fungal infections
  • Generic skin problems that lead to oozing, pus, or itching
  • Skin burns
  • Headlice
  • Diaper rash in babies
  • Vaginal infections
  • Ear infections [1]

Vinegar, or acetic acid, can — of course — be created from many different naturally occurring substances, including rice, grapes, and bamboo. Many types of vinegar contain bioactive components including gallic acid, catechin, ephicatechin, and chlorogenic acid, conferring potential health benefits [2].  

Apple cider vinegar has, however, specifically been singled out for its health benefits, and is perhaps the most studied kind of vinegar. 

There is some evidence that apple cider vinegar and baking soda help with weight loss, that apple cider vinegar helps manage blood glucose levels, and that it keeps your cholesterol in check [3, 4, 5]. How potent an antimicrobial agent is apple cider vinegar, though — and how does it compare to other types of vinegar?

Vinegar As An Antifungal Agent

Vinegar has traditionally been used as a remedy for fungal infections like ringworm, athlete's foot, jock itch, dandruff, and dermatitis. particularly in Asian countries such as Thailand, Korea, and China. Though research shows that apple cider vinegar is more potent an antifungal treatment in combination with garlic extract than alone, it has indeed been demonstrated to have fungus-fighting powers. [6]

So, what fungal infections can you use vinegar for? Research indicates that:

  • Apple cider vinegar has antifungal properties against the common fungal infection Candida albicans. [7]
  • Vinegar has the ability to fight Trichophyton rubrum and Trichophyton mentagrophyte, making it a potential home treatment for dermatitis. [8]
  • Bamboo vinegar can protect plants against fungal infections. [9]
  • You can also "shampoo" your hair with apple cider vinegar if you suffer from dandruff, a condition not everyone knows is related to fungi [10]. 

That still doesn't mean that vaginal douches with apple cider vinegar are a particularly great idea, mind you. You may get rid of a Candida infection, but end up with skin irritation. Not something you want if you can avoid it, right?

Should You Use Vinegar To Treat Burns?

While vinegar is occasionally suggested as a first-aid remedy for minor burns, you will want to be careful with this. While vinegar can help neutralize chemical burns with alkaline substances more quickly than water does [11], there is also evidence that topically applied apple cider vinegar can actually cause burns [12].

You will, as such, want to remember that running, cold, tap water is the most commonly proposed first-aid treatment for traditional minor burns. 

Vinegar For Animal Bites And Parasitic Infections

If you are interested in the potential health benefits of apple cider vinegar and have been reading about them, I bet you haven't come across this one yet — apple cider vinegar can help you treat jellyfish stings! While vinegar might not offer you any pain relief, it can indeed help prevent more nematocyst discharge, limiting the damage the jellyfish sting does to you. [13]

Neither apple cider vinegar nor any other kind of vinegar has been found to be effective in the treatment of head lice, however [14]. 

Does Apple Cider Vinegar Fight Bacteria?

Were you thinking about using apple cider vinegar to clean your house — including some of its dirtiest spots, like the bathroom, kitchen, and the keyboard of your computer? Were you hoping to eliminate common pathogens from food items with apple cider vinegar? Or to use vinegar as an alternative to commercial, alcohol-based, hand sanitizers? Or even to try vinegar out as a mouthwash

You are in luck. Some of the most common nasty bacteria we encounter —  Escherichia coli, Listeria monocytogenes, Salmonella enterica, and Enterococcus faecalis — have all been proven to be sensitive to vinegar. [15, 16]

I hate to disappoint you, but vinegar is still a less effective antibacterial agent than chlorine. Plus, if you're planning on using vinegar as a mouthwash, you will want to be aware of the potential for tooth erosion, making it, well, something other than your first choice. Still, apple cider vinegar is much better than nothing at all in these cases. Raw lettuce is especially likely to contain nasty bacteria, and apple cider vinegar incidentally makes an excellent salad dressing. Hence, if nothing else, using apple cider vinegar as a disinfectant and seasoning in one is a great idea. 

The Bottom Line

The health benefits of apple cider vinegar might be — nope, are — slightly exaggerated. Vinegar, in general, is still a potent antimicrobial agent that is especially suitable for use in first-aid situations where you have nothing stronger on hand, however.

If you get stung by a jellyfish, have dandruff, get an alkaline burn, or just want to keep your house and salads free from harmful bacteria, apple cider vinegar can come to the rescue. 

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