I personally taste-tested a variety of distilled white vinegar substitutes to find the best one for every occasion. Whether you’re on the hunt for the closest flavor match, in need of a last-minute pantry substitute, or want a swap that fits your diet, I’ve got the answers.
Apple cider vinegar is the best substitute for distilled white vinegar. You can use it in all the same ways as white vinegar, including canning, cleaning, and even as a hair rinse. If you want something more mellow, white wine vinegar is a good option. You can also use lemon juice.
I made small batches of quick pickles to test several distilled white vinegar substitutes.
Distilled white vinegar comes from grain alcohol. It has a very sharp, sour taste with no added flavor notes. It’s a popular option for pickling, baking, and marinades.
Its high acidity and cheap price have also made it a popular household cleaner, where you can use it for everything from cleaning windows to softening fabric. You can also use it in the garden as a weed killer. It’s very versatile!
Here are the substitutes I tested and my verdicts:
|Substitutes||How to Substitute||Verdict|
|Apple cider vinegar||Good for cooking and cleaning||10/10|
|White wine vinegar||Mellower acidity||9/10|
|Rice vinegar||The unseasoned variety||8/10|
|Lemon juice||Citrsuy flavor||8/10|
|Malt vinegar||Citrusy flavor||7/10|
|Citric acid||Mix with water||8/10|
Apple cider vinegar
Apple cider vinegar makes for an excellent substitute for distilled white vinegar. It’s easy to find and you might already have a bottle in your cupboard! It’s slightly less sharp tasting, but most have a 5% acetic acid level, which means you can use this vinegar for pickling (although it will darken your pickles slightly).
As you might have guessed by the name, apple cider vinegar has a slight fruity flavor, but it’s not overwhelming. I actually found it very pleasant. Another positive of this vinegar is that it’s just as versatile as white distilled vinegar. You can also use it for cleaning, deodorizing, and even for rinsing your hair.
How to substitute: Replace distilled white vinegar in a 1:1 ratio with apple cider vinegar.
White wine vinegar
White wine vinegar is a good option if you want a substitute with more depth. It’s mellower than distilled white vinegar, and it retains a small amount of the flavors of the original wine. I often describe the taste as crisp.
The milder flavor makes it great for dishes with more delicate flavors because it can add acidity without overwhelming the other ingredients. Some varieties will have 5% acetic acid, so you can use it for pickling, but always check the label to make sure.
Red wine vinegar is also an option, but it has a deep red color and a more robust wine-y flavor, making it pretty different from distilled white vinegar.
How to substitute: Replace distilled white vinegar in a 1:1 ratio with white wine vinegar.
Rice vinegar (unseasoned)
For those seeking a less acidic alternative, rice vinegar could work for you. It’s milder and slightly sweeter than most other vinegars. Compared to white distilled vinegar, the acidity is much less potent.
This vinegar can be used in a 1:1 ratio to keep things mild, or you can increase the amount you use to get a stronger sour kick.
Be cautious, though! Make sure you’re using the unseasoned version because the seasoned variety has added salt that will mess with your recipe. If you do accidentally end up with the seasoned version, don’t add any extra salt to your dish.
How to substitute: Replace distilled white vinegar in a 1:1 ratio with unseasoned rice vinegar for a mild effect, or double the amount for a stronger sour hit.
Looking for a non-vinegar alternative? You can’t go wrong with lemon juice. Although its tang isn’t as sharp as distilled white vinegar, it makes up for it with a citrusy kick that will brighten any dish.
It works as a replacement in most things from salad dressings to marinades to baking and cleaning. But I wouldn’t recommend using lemon juice for long-term pickling. The acidity in lemons comes from citric acid and not acetic acid, and you can’t be sure of the exact acidity level because it varies based on things like the ripeness of the lemon.
Pro tip: To get the most juice from your lemons, pop them in your microwave on high for a quick 20-second spin. Or follow The Domestic Geek’s lead and roll the lemons against the counter to loosen up everything. Cut them lengthwise too!
How to substitute: Replace distilled white vinegar in a 1:1 ratio with lemon juice.
If you’re looking for a less tangy substitute with a unique flavor profile, malt vinegar could be your pick. Its acidity is on par with distilled white vinegar but it also has a warm, nutty flavor that distracts from the sourness.
I loved these added flavor notes with my pickles, but they also ended up a lot darker than the ones made with distilled white vinegar.
Heads up – malt vinegar is made from malted barley, so you can’t use it if you’re gluten-sensitive. It’s also a lot more common in the UK than in the USA.
How to substitute: replace distilled white vinegar in a 1:1 ratio with malt vinegar.
Citric acid is another non-vinegar alternative that’s closely related to lemons. This concentrated powder is extracted from citrus fruits, and it has an intensely sour flavor to match distilled white vinegar’s tang.
A starting point would be ¼ teaspoon dissolved in a tablespoon of water, replacing an equal amount of white vinegar. But feel free to add more if you want a more sour taste.
It might sound fancy, but you can easily find citric acid in grocery stores. Keep an eye out for anything labeled “sour salt” – it’s the same thing!
Psst… again, because of how important the acidity level is for long-term pickling or canning, always consult a reliable source when adjusting ingredients in these recipes.
How to substitute: Replace 1 tbsp distilled white vinegar with ¼ teaspoon of citric acid dissolved in a tablespoon of water, adjusting to taste.
Other substitutes to consider
The suggestions above are my top picks for distilled white vinegar substitutes. But they’re not the only options. Here are other alternatives you can consider:
- Champagne vinegar: This is a less acidic and more expensive option. It has delicate floral notes that go perfectly with seafood and lighter protein like chicken.
- Sherry vinegar: This is just as acidic as distilled white vinegar but has subtle nutty notes that’ll add depth and complexity to your dish. For best results, go with a more aged sherry.
- Dry white wine: White wine has a very mild acidity that can help balance your dishes in a pinch. It will only work in small amounts and not in applications where vinegar is to be the base (like pickling brines).
Substitutes to Avoid
While I was researching, I came across lots of substitute suggestions for distilled white vinegar, but not all of them were successful in my experiments.
For instance, I love regular balsamic vinegar, but you can’t use it in place of distilled white vinegar. It has a prominent fruity sweet flavor that can easily overpower your dish.
Raspberry vinegar is another suggestion, which actually has a distilled white vinegar base. But the infusion of raspberries brought a berry-like sweetness that can also take over your dish’s main flavor. And it’s much more expensive.
What substitutes can you use instead of distilled white vinegar for cleaning?
Apple cider vinegar is the best substitute for distilled white vinegar for cleaning. However, you need to be careful because its tinted color can stain fabrics and light surfaces. You might also be able to find ‘cleaning vinegar’, which is specially formulated for tougher cleaning tasks.
For non-vinegar options, you can’t go wrong with baking soda and hydrogen peroxide.
Best Distilled White Vinegar Substitutes + 2 To Avoid
- 1 tbsp white wine vinegar
- 1 tbsp rice vinegar
- 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
- 1 tbsp lemon juice
- 1 tbsp malt vinegar
- ¼ tsp citric acid + 1 tbsp water
- 1 tbsp white balsamic vinegar
- Cook your meal according to the recipe.
- Add your chosen distilled white vinegar substitutes at the appropriate cooking time.
- Mix until thoroughly combined and continue with the recipe.