How to Make a Vinegar Compress for Bruises and Sprains

by Sarah Pope MGA | Affiliate linksComments: 13

vinegar compress for sprains and bruises
Have you ever wondered what people used to do to treat bruises and sprains before the invention of the home freezer which allowed convenient access to the wonder of ice cubes 24/7?

I used to sometimes wonder about this, especially when my children were toddlers and absolutely refused to allow me to put ice anywhere near, let alone directly on their skin. Putting ice on an injury is not a comfortable process, after all, and not many young children I’ve ever encountered tolerate it very readily for more than a few seconds.

Forget the cute little ice packs in the shapes of animals or other friendly creatures. My children would have none of it, thank you very much!

As it turns out, there is a highly effective remedy for sprains, bumps and bruises that doesn’t involve any ice whatsoever. For mild cases, witch hazel pads work well. When more serious, a vinegar compress is very effective. If an herb like sage is utilized along with the vinegar to heighten the potency, then the remedy is called a vinegar poultice.

The application of a vinegar compress is written about in the elementary school reader, Elizabeth Blackwell, Girl Doctor, which chronicles the childhood of the first woman to receive a medical degree in the United States in 1849, Elizabeth Blackwell.

My daughter, who read this book last year, checked it out of the school library and brought it home to me last week. She told me that the vinegar compress was described in Chapter 2 and that I should write an article about it to help parents know what to do for bumps and bruises when their children can’t stand ice.

Children come up with such great ideas, don’t they?

She also gently scolded me for not writing about a vinegar compress last year when she was actually reading the book. She said it was high time I wrote about this and to do it right away because she needed to return the book to the school library pronto.

Ok then!  When your child feels that strongly about something, you pretty much need to do it, right?  I hope this remedy is helpful to many parents out there whose children dislike ice on bumps and bruises as much as my children did.

Vinegar Compress (plain or with optional sage leaves)


Vinegar (any type will do, I prefer homemade apple cider vinegar or raw ACV packaged in glass)

4-5 sheets of strong brown paper or bamboo paper towels

Large glass bowl (I use these)

Fresh sage leaves (optional)

Nontoxic food wrap (do not use plastic!)


Fill the glass bowl with about 1 quart of vinegar.  Cut large pieces of heavy brown paper (grocery store bags work great) or bamboo paper towels (not regular paper towels!) and fold them them over several times into strips. Each strip should be about 5 inches wide and 15 inches long.

Place each strip in the bowl of vinegar one at a time.

Remove the strip from the vinegar when soaked through and gently wring it out.

Wind the strip tightly around the affected area. Continue with additional strips until the entire bruised or sprained area is covered. The coolness of the vinegar compress should feel comforting and not painful in any way.  Cover snugly with nontoxic food wrap to keep in place if desired.

Change the vinegar compress often. Every hour or two would be optimal, but at the very least, each time it dries.

Within a few hours, the swelling should start to go down as the vinegar draws the bruising to the surface.

If you would like to use the optional sage leaves with the vinegar compress to increase the potency of this remedy, follow these steps instead to create a sage vinegar poultice:

  • Place sage leaves on a clean wooden cutting board and flatten out gently with a rolling pin to bring the juices to the surface. Be sure not to tear the leaves.
  • Place the bruised leaves in a medium sized pan and just barely cover with vinegar.
  • Simmer on very low heat for about five minutes. You should see a bit of steam as the leaves blanch, but be sure not to bring the mixture to a boil!
  • Remove the leaves and cool for a moment on a clean cloth.
  • Apply the sage leaves while still hot to the injury and cover with a towel to keep as much heat in as possible.
  • Leave in place for about an hour until the swelling begins to subside.
  • Repeat as necessary to speed healing and alleviate discomfort.

The plain version of the vinegar compress is a helpful remedy to have on hand when ice is not available like for camping or hiking excursions. Simply pack a small flask of vinegar and some brown paper strips in your first aid kit for emergency treatment of sprains and bruising.

Sarah, The Healthy Home Economist


More Information

Poultices: Modes of Use

How to Make and Use an Onion Poultice

How to Make a Castor Oil Pack

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