Fat makes food taste good, but greasy food has a way of lingering in the air — and on the dishes — long after a meal has ended. If you're sick of finding oil slicks on dishes you could have sworn were clean, you owe it to yourself to fill a spray bottle with vinegar and keep it near your kitchen sink.
Vinegar can't do half the things holistic wellness bloggers claim it can, but its degreasing and deodorising abilities make it an indispensable tool in my dishwashing arsenal.
I use plastic soup containers to store everything from stews to cocktail syrups, so to avoid flavour contamination, I need them to be completely clean. Generously spritzing a plastic soup container that once held coconut curry — or an especially olive oil-y ragú — with vinegar ensures that it emerges from the dishwasher squeaky-clean and ready for reuse. (If you don't have a dishwasher, pretreating greasy dishes with vinegar is even more important - especially if your tap water is hard.)
Since oil really hangs onto odours, a vinegar rinse will also prevent and/or alleviate the accumulation of cooking smells in porous materials such as plastic and silicone; I spray my silicone spatulas with vinegar and rinse them in hot water before each use to minimise the likelihood of transferring old food (or soap) smells to whatever I'm making. Vinegar also breaks down dried-out bread dough faster than anything else I've used, which has spared more than a few sponges from a foul, gummy demise.
As with any cleaning agent, vinegar has its limitations: It's neither a surfactant nor, at roughly five per cent acetic acid by weight, a broad-spectrum disinfectant. For gnarly, burnt-on grease, you're much better off using something like Barkeeper's Friend, and vinegar alone may not kill the nastier microorganisms found in raw pork or chicken. What's more, its acidity will corrode cookware made from reactive materials such as aluminium, cast iron, unlined copper and carbon steel.
But for an efficient light-duty degreaser and deodoriser - that also happens to be totally food-safe — vinegar is pretty hard to beat.
This article has been updated since its original publication.
If you make as much pasta as I do, you'll know it's a struggle to get tomato-based sauces out of your Tupperware collection. Many a plastic container have been ruined by the red/orange stains and faint aroma of Napoletana sauce. Fed up with making all my food vaguely pasta-flavoured, I've found some tips to get the pasta out of your Tupperware containers.