Which Is Better for Cleaning: Vinegar or Bleach?

published Jan 9, 2021
We independently select these products—if you buy from one of our links, we may earn a commission. All prices were accurate at the time of publishing.
Post Image
Credit: kazoka

Last year we were all forced to reassess our relationship with disinfectants, to come face to face with the fact that sometimes “natural” is not the way to go. Even the most crunchy among us—and I count myself in that crowd—started stocking up on bleach.

Personally, I hadn’t owned bleach for over a decade. Until I didn’t know if I’d be able to get my hands on any disinfectant when I wanted to. Having a triple pack of bleach from Costco made me feel like I had something to fall back on to keep my family safe. I probably used bleach more over the past few months than in the past several years combined.

But that doesn’t mean I haven’t abandoned my trusty distilled white vinegar and water cleaning solution. You see, both bleach and vinegar have a place in any cleaning arsenal. They’re not interchangeable. That’s because there’s a difference between cleaning and disinfecting, and you need different products for both.

(Incidentally, vinegar and bleach should never be used together. When combined, they produce deadly chlorine gas.)

Credit: Sarah Crowley/Apartment Therapy

The Difference Between Cleaning and Disinfecting

In a nut shell? cleaning is about removing dust, debris, and dirt—and yes, some germs—from the surface. Disinfecting is about killing germs. To be more specific, disinfecting refers to products that “kill virtually everything” on a surface.

The Difference Between Vinegar and Bleach

Vinegar is great for cleaning. It’s a mild acid, so it helps break down dirt, especially messes like mineral deposits left behind by hard water. And while vinegar does have “disinfecting properties,” meaning it does kill some pathogens under certain conditions and can inhibit the growth of some bacteria, especially those that are foodborne, it is not a registered disinfectant.

Bleach is great for disinfecting. A registered disinfectant, it will, by definition, kill 99.9 percent of germs that it comes into contact with, within five or ten minutes of contact. In contrast, the germs that vinegar does kill often need half an hour of contact to be affected.

Credit: Cat Meschia

So the answer to the titular question is vinegar. Vinegar is better for cleaning. But that’s because bleach isn’t intended for cleaning, but for disinfecting.

And, by the way, if you want to use bleach for disinfecting, make sure the area you want to treat is clean (and rinsed clean, if you used vinegar!) first. Dirt and organic materials can render disinfectants less effective.