Cleaning With Vinegar: Here’s Everything You Ever Wanted to Know

published Oct 28, 2020
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One of the best natural cleaning supplies you can buy costs less than $2. We’re talking about white vinegar: the versatile liquid that can help you clean everything from sinks to shower heads. If you’re not using this humble solution to its full potential already, here’s what you need to know.

While vinegar is an extremely handy thing to have on hand, remember it’s an acid, so you must take precaution when using it. For instance, you should never mix vinegar with bleach or hydrogen peroxide, as doing so can create toxic fumes that will irritate your respiratory system and can be very harmful. “Mixing vinegar with bleach will create chlorine gas, which is extremely toxic,” explains Diana Rodriguez-Zaba, president of Chicago-based Service Master Restoration by Zaba. Likewise, vinegar and hydrogen peroxide combine to create toxic peracetic acid, which can irritate skin, eyes, and lungs (yikes!). 

Also, vinegar’s versatility is not without limitations. There are a few things you should never clean with vinegar: Among them, upholstery, electrical items, and natural or porous stones (including granite). “Since vinegar is very acidic, it can damage fabric, corrode electronics, and etch into natural stone and marble, says Rodriguez-Zaba. And don’t bother trying to clean old stains with vinegar—they simply won’t come out with vinegar alone, she adds.

But for everything else, vinegar can be a seriously versatile cleaner…

Credit: Joe Lingeman/Apartment Therapy

How to Clean Anything With Vinegar

You can clean most surfaces, as well as porcelain, with a simple solution of vinegar and water. In a spray bottle, mix equal parts vinegar and water, says Rodriguez-Zaba. If you like, you can also add in five to 20 drops of your favorite essential oil—such as grapefruit or lemon—to help the solution smell less vinegar-y and leave a fresh scent on the cleaning surface, says Marilee Nelson, a cleaning expert and co-founder of Branch Basics. You can also add ½ to 1 teaspoon of dish soap for more surfactant action—or, better dirt removal.

Before you get to work, it’s smart to label the bottle (i.e, “vinegar cleaning solution”), so you remember what it is and don’t accidentally add other things to it that could make the solution toxic. Then, go to town using this solution to clean dirty dishes (like stubborn grease-stained pans), windows, your microwave, your toilet, and much more.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Design: Apartment Therapy

How to Clean Windows With Vinegar

To clean windows, you can the same basic half-and-half vinegar and water solution as above (with or without dish soap), but with one tweak: Use warm water in the solution. This is key to getting streak-free windows, says Rodriguez-Zaba. Spray on windows, then wipe them down with a microfiber cloth. You can also use a squeegee to get your glass sparkling clean.

If you do get streaks, don’t blame the vinegar. Streaking occurs for three main reasons: The solution is too concentrated, your water is leaving mineral streaks, or conventional cleaning products have left chemical residues behind, says Nelson.

To get rid of streaks, you’ll first need to remove the residue by using a cleaning solution of ½ cup distilled water (important, especially if you have hard tap water), two teaspoons dish soap, and ¼ cup of vinegar. It may take a few cleanings to completely remove old residue, Nelson notes.

How to Clean the Bathroom With Vinegar

Vinegar is excellent for cleaning bathrooms, because its high acidity deodorizes, dissolves soap scum, and loosens mineral deposits, says Nelson.

You can use the standard vinegar-water solution to clean your bathrooms, from toilets to showers (as long as they’re not porous stone). Vinegar is also handy for cleaning often-neglected spots in your bathroom, like faucet heads and shower heads. Simply add some vinegar to a plastic bag, then wrap the bag around the head and secure with a rubber band, says Rodriguez-Zaba. Let it soak this way for a few hours, then remove and wipe any remaining residue away. 

It’s worth nothing, however, that a vinegar-water solution does not qualify as a sanitizer or disinfectant, according to EPA standards.

Can You Mix Vinegar and Dish Soap? 

Yes. As mentioned above, adding a teaspoon or two of dish soap to your vinegar cleaning solution will help to remove more stubborn gunk.

Credit: Joe Lingeman/Apartment Therapy

Can You Mix Vinegar and Baking Soda? 

No, because the two compounds basically cancel each other out. With vinegar’s acidity and baking soda’s base, you will get mainly water as a result of mixing the two, says Nelson. Plus, if mixed in a closed container, vinegar will cause the baking soda to foam up and possibly explode (remember those junior high science projects?). Use them in succession, if you’d like—just don’t mix them, says Nelson. 

Can You Mix Vinegar and Essential Oils?

Yes. As mentioned above, adding fresh-smelling essential oils to your vinegar cleaning solution helps cancel out that strong, acidic smell, leaving a more clean, natural scent behind. For best results, use citrus oils like lemon, grapefruit, or lime, or florals, like calming lavender.

Can You Mix Vinegar and Hydrogen Peroxide? 

No. As mentioned above, this combination will create peracetic acid, which is corrosive and harmful to your skin, eyes, nose and throat, says Rodriguez-Zaba.

Can You Mix Vinegar and Lemon Juice? 

Yes. In fact, lemon juice can also help tone down the vinegar smell of your cleaning solution, in addition to coming in handy for cleaning glass surfaces around your home. Add one tablespoon white vinegar and two tablespoons of lemon juice to an empty spray bottle, then add one cup of hot water and shake to mix. You can also use a combination of ½ cup lemon juice and white vinegar as a kitchen degreasing spray.