How to Use Vinegar to Clean Almost Everything (And What You Shouldn't Use it For)

Cleaning Home With VinegarHomeowners may be surprised to learn that one of the most effective cleaning agents is something that they keep in the kitchen. Vinegar offers a number of benefits for people looking to keep a clean, fresh-smelling space that is safe for children and pets. It also avoids the harsh fumes of many other cleaning products. Knowing how to clean with vinegar can give homeowners the information they need to take advantage of this natural and minimally-costly traditional cleaning option. This guide identifies which vinegar to use, a few considerations in creating a cleaning solution, and the best way to clean a variety of surfaces.

Why Vinegar Is a Great Cleaner

People might stock their homes or apartments with a variety of cleaning products designed for individual surfaces. This is certainly a viable approach, but vinegar may one of the best and most inexpensive. In studies, white vinegar has demonstrated that it can:

  • cut through grease
  • dissolve limescale on fixtures, sinks and toilets
  • eliminate most instances of bacteria and viruses

These benefits alone would make it a fairly viable cleaning option. It is also harmless when used appropriately. This means that someone who might balk at cleaning with bleach or ammonia in an unventilated space, due to the risk of inhalation, would not have the same problems with vinegar.

Which Vinegar to Use

There is a huge variety of vinegar options, and they are not all made equal. As a general rule, people use white vinegar for cleaning. It is an inexpensive kitchen item with many uses, culinary and otherwise. Colored vinegars, like those made from apple cider or wine, may tint the surface people want to clean.

Some vinegar products are not meant for consumption, but have cleaning applications. For example, cleaning vinegar contains about 6 percent acetic acid, compared to 5 percent for white vinegar. This increase in acidity can improve its cleaning power. More is not always better, however. Industrial vinegar has about 20-30 percent acetic acid and may not be appropriate for cleaning in the home.

How to Make an All-Purpose Vinegar Cleaning Solution

Making an all-purpose vinegar cleaning solution is fairly easy for most people to do with items they have around the house. Experts rely on distilled white vinegar most of the time because it is:

  • inexpensive, costing a few dollars per gallon
  • effective and safe for cleaning most surfaces
  • a popular staple in almost any kitchen

The most common vinegar cleaning solution contains one cup of vinegar mixed with one cup of warm water. Warm water helps to dissolve grease and hard water spots more quickly. People who are filling a spray bottle that they will use over time may want to mix the vinegar with distilled water, not tap water. Since vinegar has a fairly strong odor, some recipes add essential oils to produce a different scent. Homeowners should research the product before using it. Certain extra ingredients may not be safe for surfaces, or could alter the vinegar’s cleaning efficacy.

The high acid content and the distilled nature of white vinegar gives it a long shelf-life. This means that people can often mix a solution that they will use periodically throughout several days or even weeks without worry that it will go bad. People should keep in mind that if they add anything fresh to the cleaning solution to change its scent, like lemon juice, it may not stay safe for use longer than a day or two.

Vinegar/Water Ratios

Most vinegar cleaning solutions use a specific ratio of vinegar to another substance, usually water. The correct ratio depends on the surface and the type of cleaning needed. As a general rule, most natural cleaning experts suggest mixing one part vinegar to one part water. These recommendations typically rely on distilled white vinegar as the cleaning element. If homeowners are using cleaning vinegar, they may want to add a little more water to achieve a similar amount of acetic acid.

Mixing Vinegar and Baking Soda

Many recipes for natural cleaning solutions call for mixing vinegar and baking soda in warm or boiling water before using to clean. Most of the time, people may find this unnecessary. On its own, vinegar’s acidic nature makes it capable of cutting through oils, soap buildup, or even bacteria or viruses. When mixed with baking soda, which is highly alkaline, the acid is largely neutralized.

Baking soda can be a useful cleaning agent with vinegar, but its efficacy is limited. Mixing vinegar with baking soda into a paste may make it easier to clean a vertical surface, like a shower wall. However, baking soda is a solid that will dry hard if not cleared away. This means that the baking soda can eventually dry out and clog spray bottles.

What Not to Clean With Vinegar

Although people like to tout the natural and safe use of vinegar for cleaning, it is not ideal for every surface. Homeowners should avoid using vinegar for the following:

  • stone surfaces, like a granite countertop or slate tile floor
  • solid wood furniture
  • hardwood flooring, unless they have confirmed that it will not damage the finish
  • electronics, like computers or smartphones
  • egg spills, because the acid causes the eggs to coagulate and become difficult to remove

These recommendations should lead homeowners to approach any cleaning surface with care. Typically, people may want to test a small amount of the vinegar cleaning solution in a spot that is less visible and let it sit for a few hours. If it does not stain, discolor, or otherwise damage the surface, it is likely safe for use.

Using Vinegar Around the House

Using vinegar to clean the house is a fairly simple prospect. It rarely needs time to activate, so people can usually just mix the cleaning solution and start applying to the right surface. The best tools for cleaning depend on the surface or item that people want to clean. Homeowners who plan to use vinegar to clean the majority of the home may want to have the following tools handy for use:

  • microfiber cloth
  • washcloth or small towel
  • 1-gallon bucket with handle
  • small mixing bowl
  • cleaning gloves
  • spray bottle
  • squeeze bottle
  • grout brush
  • toilet brush

If people have a new surface to clean or have never used vinegar for cleaning, they should do a little more research to confirm the best approaches. Most of the time they can use the 1:1 ratio. There are times when they should do something else to make the cleaning quicker, more effective, or less damaging.

Countertops

Cleaning non-stone countertops is quite easy with vinegar. Homeowners should start by putting the vinegar solution into a spray bottle or small mixing bowl. They can wipe away food debris or heavy liquid spills to make cleaning simpler. Once the surface is essentially ready, they should spray a fine mist over the countertop, or soak a small amount into a washcloth for wiping. It is not necessary to make the countertop dripping wet for effective cleaning. The surface should be wiped until it is clean and dry.

Flooring

Most flooring types will work with vinegar, although homeowners should always confirm that it is safe for theirs. Cleaning vinyl or linoleum can be done with a spray bottle and washcloth or a mop and bucket. To clean ceramic or porcelain tile, homeowners should mix a cup of vinegar into a gallon of water. Soaking the tiles can make it very slippery, since they are not absorbent. As such, people may want to work on a small number of tiles at a time. An old towel to wipe dry will cut down on the odor and make the surface safer for walking. Recommendations for hardwood flooring usually call for a few tablespoons of vinegar in a half-gallon of water, lightly sprayed on the wood and wiped immediately.

Cabinetry

Cleaning cabinets with vinegar relies on the same 1:1 ratio for most cleaning surfaces. Homeowners can lightly spray on the solution, give it a few minutes, then wipe dry. This approach may not be appropriate for people who have solid wood cabinets, since it could damage the finish. Otherwise, homeowners should keep in mind that vinegar is not as effective at cleaning some types of surfaces, cabinets included. If the cabinetry is extremely grimy, it may take a drop of liquid dish soap in the solution for greater efficacy.

Showers and Bathtubs

People who have showers or bathtubs made out of plastic or porcelain, not stone, may use vinegar to clean it. It is simple for homeowners to leave a spray bottle in the shower that they can mist on the surface after taking a shower, wipe, and let dry for daily cleaning and disinfecting. Vinegar also works well for fixtures. Soaking a rag in pure white vinegar to wrap around the faucet or showerhead for a few minutes will help cut through limescale more quickly than spraying. For layers of hard water buildup, people may want to temporarily remove the fixture and soak it in vinegar for up to an hour. This will make it easier to scrub or get rid of clogs before replacing it.

Toilets

Acetic acid’s ability to eliminate hard water stains is a major benefit for the toilet. Few people want to spend their time scraping away the accumulation, and vinegar can help. Homeowners should start by pouring in a cup of white vinegar and using a toilet brush to spread it over the affected surface. If this is not enough to loosen up the stain for scrubbing, they may add a cup of baking soda to activate foaming. Hard water can build up in layers. This means that people with a lot of staining may need to perform this task several times over a few days before the bowl is completely clean.

Walls and Doors

Vinegar in water can even be used to clean painted walls and doors, as long as homeowners take care. Flat paint calls for careful wiping, to avoid removing the finish. Cleaning with vinegar and water is easier with a semi-gloss or glossy finish. People should put 2-3 tablespoons of vinegar in a gallon of water, mix, and pour it into a spray bottle. They can lighting spray the mist onto the dirty surface and wipe clean with a microfiber cloth or clean sponge. Homeowners should use the least amount of water possible and avoid scrubbing, as this can remove the paint.

Windows

Having streak-free, clean windows is not particularly difficult with vinegar. Window cleaning experts suggest doing this task when the sun is not shining directly on the window, to avoid streaks. After wiping the window of dust and debris, homeowners should spray a 1:1 vinegar/water solution onto the glass. A cloth or sponge helps to wipe away spots and allow the glass to dry quickly. For very dirty windows, people can use more cleaning solution and a squeegee to remove excess liquid. Hard water spots may call for scrubbing with a soft cloth and pure vinegar to remove them.

Upholstery

The natural de-odorizing capability of vinegar makes it an ideal choice for soiled or smelly upholstered furniture. This may not be appropriate for very old fabrics or those whose colors are likely to run. After vacuuming the fabric to remove dirt, homeowners can spray a combination of cool water and vinegar onto the stains or affected area. If odor is the only problem, they may allow it to dry and reapply as needed. For stains, they may want to scrub using a soft cloth to lift it.

Large Appliances

Keeping large appliances clean requires attention to the interior and exterior. Although almost any appliance can be cleaned with a vinegar solution on the outside, it may take a special approach to clean the inside, including:

  • Dishwasher or Clothes Washer: Run a cup of vinegar on a short cycle to eliminate soap accumulation and limescale
  • Oven: Spray vinegar on the interior to cut grease and wipe clean
  • Refrigerator: Spray walls, shelves and door to clean and de-odorize

People who have stainless steel appliances may need to use a different cleaner for the surface, to avoid streaks or damage.

Small Appliances

Vinegar can be used to clean the interior of small appliances, depending on the type. For example, people may want to run a 1:1 solution of water and vinegar through their coffee machines once a month. This will help to:

  • disinfect in case of mold
  • remove hard water accumulations
  • get rid of strong odors

Cleaning the interior of the microwave also works better with vinegar. Homeowners can take the same solution and put it into a microwave-safe bowl. Microwaving it on high for about five minutes will loosen food splatters and grease, making them easier to wipe clean.

Cooking Tools/Utensils

Many homeowners hate the way that mixing bowls, food preparation tools, and storage containers take on the color and odors of the food they hold, and vinegar is a viable solution. Soaking the item in a vinegar and water solution is an effective way to remove stains and eliminate odors without damaging it. Homeowners should avoid using boiling water when cleaning plastic, as the surface can warp or leach toxic chemicals. The acid in the vinegar can damage knives or the handle, so people may want to use a different cleaning solution for knives and knife blocks.

Clothing

Heavy detergents can take their toll on even hardy clothing items, but vinegar helps to remove it. Over time, clothing washed repeatedly will start to collect detergent residue. This may make the fabric feel different or fade the color. When homeowners notice this, they can place the clothing items in a bucket or bathtub with vinegar and warm water to soak overnight. This will remove most of the accumulation. To prevent this from becoming a regular problem, people may want to wash their clothes in a washing machine with a cup of vinegar on occasion.

Although vinegar is a safe way to clean virtually any surface, it is not entirely without risk. Acids that are perfect for cleaning can be hard on the hands or face, if people sustain prolonged contact. Mixing cleaning solutions, even traditional ones, may prompt a reaction that homeowners are not prepared to manage. Vinegar and water is a great solution for most cleaning needs, but people should avoid mixing it with anything else until they have confirmed it is safe. This will help to ensure a safe and effective result.