Here at Kitchn, I feel like we’ve established that German moms are superior cleaners. They clean things right away, aren’t afraid to get on their hands and knees, and vacuum their floors with military precision.
So recently I grilled a German girlfriend of mine, Steffi, who has two little kids the same age as mine, on her cleaning techniques. I wouldn’t say Steffi is the tidiest person — often, the sink is stacked with dishes and the kids’ toys are everywhere — but we all know there’s a difference between messy and dirty. And I have never once found a trace of food on the countertop or a crusty bit on a glass in her cabinets. She doesn’t have a cabinet full of store-bought cleaning elixers, so it’s actually kind of surprising that her house is so clean. And this is how I learned that Steffi has a secret cleaning ingredient she imports from Germany to keep her home spic and span: super-strong vinegar.
The vinegar Steffi uses is called Surig Essig Essenz. She buys it on Amazon, where they call it “spirit vinegar.” This stuff is 28 percent vinegar — compared to the 6 percent vinegar content in Heinz Cleaning Vinegar or the 5 percent vinegar content in their Distilled White Vinegar, which most people dilute in half to clean. So compared to Steffi, when I’m cleaning with vinegar I’m using 2.5 to 3 percent vinegar, while she’s using 28 percent. Um, what?
Now, Steffi emphasizes that she hasn’t found anything comparable on the market here, which I found surprising. After a little digging, I learned that in the U.S., they won’t let you sell vinegar marketed for food purposes above 5 to 6 percent strength. If you want something stronger, the only place you might be able to find it is at a garden center, where organically oriented vendors will sell up to 20 percent vinegar as an herbicide. (You really do learn something new every day!)
The danger seems to be that the acid in super-strong vinegar can eat at your surfaces and burn your skin. I asked Steffi about her surfaces and skin — and she’s never had a problem, although she does wear gloves and certainly doesn’t let her kids anywhere near the stuff. She also swears it cleans better than our weak American vinegar.
So, I don’t know. I have to admit I’m a little scared. And so far my weak American vinegar has been strong enough for my purposes. But I love the idea of a super-strong cleaner.
Would you try it?