My Kombucha Smells Like Nail Polish Remover

Josh Sherman
4 min read

I’ve been keeping a batch of the booch on the counter for quite a while now. My first SCOBY was gifted to me by one of the wife’s friends and my SCOBYs rode first class in the front seat when we moved from Tampa to Austin last spring.

While still in Tampa, I was keeping my extra SCOBYs in the refrigerator in the eloquently named “SCOBY Hotel”. It was just a jar, nothing fancy. Upon moving, I thought it would be best to leave the SCOBY Hotel on the counter instead of taking up valuable shelf space in the fridge.

Fast forward about 6 months. I had been keeping a whole mess of SCOBYs on the counter in a swing top jar from Ikea. I would burp the container periodically to make sure there wasn’t too much gas building up. After having a swing top bottle explode on the counter a few months back, I wasn’t going to take any chances!

So recently, for whatever reason when I went to burp the jar, I decided I outta give the SCOBYs a smell. In the past the jar had smelled like, you guessed it, kombucha! If you’ve never smelled it before, it has an aroma not unlike apple cider vinegar. Depending on how long it’s been since I had put in fresh sweet tea, it could smell really pungent, but still very much like vinegar.

Not this time! Shit was nasty and smelled like nail polish remover! If you’ve smelled nail polish remover, it’s a chemical solvent and it’s quite aggressive on the nose. Definitely not how I wanted all of my extra SCOBYs smelling.

Did a small bit of digging on the Internet and the prognosis looked quite grim. Most said the batch had gotten a bad bacteria and you need to throw it out, SCOBY AND ALL! Some folks recommended washing the SCOBYs and soaking them over night in spirit vinegar. I definitely wasn’t buying that my yeasty alien life forms needed to be taken out behind the barn and shot.

In fact, I’ve been fermenting stuff for so long now, I’ve been through quite a few bad bacteria trying to fuck up my yummies. My sourdough starter got sick and turned pink once. I’ve even had some batches of kraut and hot peppers acquire some funk. With a little bit of care and being adventurous enough to wait it out, you can usually nurse your ferments back to good health.

Armed with zero clue what spirit vinegar was, I set out to save my SCOBY Hotel!

And save it I did! Here’s a very loose set of steps that kicked out the bacteria or whatever that was creating the nail polish smell and left me with healthy SCOBYs!

  1. Dump your SCOBYs into a colander in the sink. Don’t reserve the liquid, it’s tainted and of no use (unless it actually acts as nail polish remover, I forget to check!)

  2. Thoroughly clean the vessel you had them in. Soap and hot water, don’t skimp. Or if you’re lazy, just throw it out and use a different vessel. Your call, figured I’d give ya some options ;)

  3. With your SCOBYs still in the sink, rinse them off with apple cider vinegar. I had some of the Bragg Organic Raw Apple Cider Vinegar, on hand. The kind with the mother in it. I would have used the store brand stuff if it’s what I had in the cupboard.

  4. Keep rinsing them until they don’t reek of acetone.

  5. Now that they are smelling a bit better, move them to their old container which should be super duper clean.

  6. Cover them with apple cider vinegar, cover the vessel with a towel or cheese cloth or something and let them hang out over night. They may still smell like nail polish remover the next day, if so, swap the vinegar and wait it out.

  7. Once the solvent smell stops coming back, add some sweet tea or some good booch from another batch. May want to pour out some of the straight vinegar if you don’t have much room in your SCOBY Hotel.

That was it, bathed them in vinegar and washed the jar, soaked in apple cider vinegar until they came around. Far cry from “just throw them out” advice from the interwebs, amirite?

My theory on this is that because I had my SCOBY Hotel closed off in a swing top jar, I had created a hot bed for bad bacteria to grow. I’ve been leaving my SCOBY Hotel open with a piece of cheese cloth on top. Since cleaning them off and letting them breathe, my SCOBYs have been quite active and new SCOBYs keep forming on the top! No nasty smells either ;)

Hopefully this guide will help a few booch making fermentistas out there!

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About Josh

Husband. Father. Pug dad. Musician. Founder of Holiday API, Head of Engineering and Emoji Specialist at Mailshake, and author of the best damn Lorem Ipsum Library for PHP.

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