Does Vinegar Go Bad? When Does It Expire?

Written by: Mike Marshall
apple vinegar

That old bottle of vinegar is starting to look a little bit different.

As for the smell, it’s just as bad as ever.

What does it mean?

Does vinegar go bad?

The answer might not be as obvious as you think. Vinegar is a rather unique culinary condiment because it’s almost everlasting. 

What do I mean by almost?

Keep reading to find out more!

How Long Does Vinegar Last

Most bottles of vinegar will come with an expiration date printed on the label. But that date is merely a formality and doesn’t actually show when it will spoil.

In fact, vinegar doesn’t go bad at all. 

Vinegar is usually made of water and acetic acid, so there are no ingredients that can spoil over time. 

This means that the shelf life of vinegar is practically indefinite. The acidity levels are high enough that the liquid manages to preserve itself. 

That’s true for both opened and unopened bottles of vinegar. Breaking the seal does nothing to its shelf life. 

With that being said, vinegar will change after a certain period. Over time, the acidity level will decrease, making vinegar less potent. 

This doesn’t mean you have to throw it away. You can still consume it after this period, but it won’t be as strong as it used to be.

The expiration date on the label, more or less, tells you when will the product change enough for you to want to get a different bottle. 

Optimal quality3-5 years
Shelf lifeIndefinitely

As you probably know, there are different types of vinegar – balsamico, apple cider, white, rice and wine. All of them have an indefinite shelf life. But the change in appearance is equally apparent.

So for instance, distilled white vinegar will never change enough for you to notice. You can use it 50 years later and it will still be as good as new.

Balsamic vinegar, on the other hand, might have some visible changes within 3 to 5 years from bottling. Other types of vinegar, excluding the white version, also retain their optimal appearance that long.

Again, this doesn’t mean vinegar is not safe to consume. Those changes are subtle, and won’t be noticeable in many dishes. 

And even after many years, when it turns much weaker, you can use it for cleaning and disinfecting purposes.

How To Tell If Vinegar Is Bad

As we already established, vinegar doesn’t spoil like milk or eggs. But over time, it diminishes in quality. The reason lies in acetic acid, the component that gives vinegar that sour taste and pungent smell.

Acetic acid is hygroscopic, meaning it absorbs moisture from the air. Naturally, as water molecules in vinegar increase in numbers, the whole concoction becomes more diluted. As a result, vinegar turns more alkaline.

This is bound to happen over time, but it doesn’t mean you need to throw vinegar away. It will still be good for meal preparation, although not as strong. 

After a prolonged period, you might notice a bit of sediment forming, making vinegar look cloudy. This usually happens with unfiltered vinegar. But even some products that are filtered will develop sediment after a few years of storage.

Even though it might not look great, sediment is by no means dangerous. It affects flavor in no way and doesn’t pose a threat to your health.

If it really bothers you, you can always take a coffee filter and seep vinegar through to make it crystal clear again.

When it comes to changes in color, that’s more apparent with darker types of vinegar, such as balsamic or red wine vinegar. Discoloration happens as a result of the Maillard reaction.

The Maillard reaction is a reaction between amino acids and reducing sugars, and it causes the browning in food. 

The rise in heat is one thing that causes this reaction, and that’s what causes those searing marks when we’re grilling meat. The change in color also causes a specific change in taste.

Another thing that causes this reaction is an increment in pH level. So you can safely assume that old vinegar in your pantry will be darker in color than it used to be.

Finally, you might also notice some kind of biofilm that looks like a piece of liver floating near the bottom of the bottle. We can all agree that it looks disgusting, but I assure you – it’s not dangerous.

In fact, if you find this in your bottle of vinegar, that’s a score! That slimy substance you’ve got is a mother.

That’s just a weird name for beneficial bacteria that feed on alcoholic liquids. The reason this form in your bottle is that certain sugars haven’t broken down all the way during the fermentation process.

If it grosses you out, you can strain vinegar with a coffee filter and throw the mother away. Or, you can use it to make your own batch of vinegar! You just need to transfer the mother to wine and let it do the magic.

How To Store Vinegar

bottle of organic apple vinegar

Since vinegar can’t really go bad, you can store it any way you want. But as we already know, certain chemical reactions can happen that affect the flavor, appearance, and potency of vinegar.

Still, there are a few storing tricks that can help you preserve it for as long as possible. 

An ideal place for keeping a bottle of vinegar is a cool place away from direct sunlight. A pantry or a kitchen cabinet is ideal. Keeping the bottle in the fridge is unnecessary, as it does nothing for vinegar in terms of shelf life. 

Well, if room temperature in your home is well above 100 degrees Fahrenheit, you might want to keep vinegar at a slightly cooler place. But otherwise, there’s no need for a fridge.

As for packaging, vinegar is best stored in a glass or plastic bottle it came in. Once you open it, keep the original cap. It’s important to keep the bottle sealed between uses, to prevent too much unnecessary air from getting inside.

When it comes to freezing, it’s technically possible to freeze vinegar. It has a slightly lower freezing point of 28 degrees Fahrenheit, so your freezer can reach that temperature.

But because of its almost indefinite shelf life, there’s really no point in freezing it. But if you want to, for any reason, you definitely can freeze vinegar.

Just keep in mind that you shouldn’t freeze an unopened bottle. Since liquid expands when turns into ice, the already full bottle will explode and make a mess inside your freezer.

Likewise, you should never freeze a glass bottle. Instead, transfer vinegar into a plastic bottle or an airtight container. Make sure to leave enough room for it to expand before tossing it into the freezer.

If you want to freeze vinegar in small batches, you can use an ice cube tray instead. But once it freezers, transfer the cubes to a releasable bag, to keep them away from air exposure.

For cooking purposes, you don’t have to defrost vinegar before using it. Just throw the ice cube into the pot and it will defrost almost instantly. 


Bottles of vinegar can sit in your pantry practically your entire life. 

Vinegar can never spoil, although its flavor and potency will decrease over time. 

But even if it becomes too bland for meal preparation purposes, old vinegar can be used for cleaning and disinfecting.

Related articles:

How useful was this post?

Click on a heart to rate it!

We are sorry that this post was not useful for you!

Let us improve this post!

Tell us how we can improve this post?

Photo of author


I’m not a pro chef by any means, but years of tinkering inside the kitchen have taught me a thing or two about preparing delicious, healthy food. So whether you’re interested in how to properly store food, figuring out side dishes for your main course, or even learning how to use a knife properly – I've got you covered.