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What Not To Clean With Vinegar

Karen Carter

Shying away from toxic cleaning products has become priority for many homes over the past few years.  There are many benefits to eliminating harsh cleaning products from your cleaning routine.  Motivation behind this wave of healthy cleaning may stem from keeping kids and pets safe, health concerns and environmental issues.  Whatever the motivation, it’s nice to know there are a variety of neutral and natural cleaners readily available.  A neutral cleaner has a a pH of 7.  Dish soap is likely the most neutral cleaner you have in your home, however there are some mild stone cleaning products that are also neutral.

Know Your Vinegar


Vinegar is a great cleaning solution for spot cleaning carpet and many other household surfaces.  It’s natural and non-toxic, plus vinegar is relatively inexpensive. Here’s the kicker – vinegar is NOT a great cleaning solution for everything and it all comes down to the pH scale.

Before you get started cleaning with vinegar, it’s best to know what type you’re dealing with.  There are a variety of cooking vinegars available from red wine vinegar to champagne vinegar.  Both great for cooking but not so good for cleaning.  For cleaning purposes stick with a distilled white vinegar with a 5% acidity level and 2.5 pH.  Cleaning vinegar is also an option and has 6% acidity, but is not as readily available as distilled white vinegar.

Remember the pH Scale

Think back to that old pH scale from school.  It’s used to determine how acidic or alkaline different solutions are. The scale goes from 0 to 14. Seven is considered to be neutral. Anything below 7 is acidic, like lemon juice at a 3. Anything above 7 is considered alkaline, like bleach at 13.  Alkaline solutions are good at cutting through dirt, oils and grease.  Acids are better for removing minerals, calcium and rust.  Want more information on cleaning products and how they fall on the pH scale?  Check out this article by The Spruce for more detailed information.  

As the popularity of natural cleaners continues to rise, be aware that vinegar is not a good cleaning solution for everything.  

If you choose to clean with vinegar, you should know it is only 90% effective against bacteria and 80%-83% effective against viruses and mold/mildew.  

Citrus is also an effective natural, acidic cleaner.  There are many DIY recipes out there for homemade vinegar or citrus cleaning solutions, like this one from The Prarie Homestead.

What Not To Clean With Vinegar

Do not clean natural stone with vinegar.  Over time, the acid in vinegar could potentially etch stone like marble, granite or soap stone.  Cleaning natural stone with vinegar will likely remove the natural shine of the stone.  It’s fine to use vinegar on porcelain or ceramic tile.

Do not clean kitchen knives with vinegar.  As mentioned above, vinegar is only 90% effective against bacteria.  It will not sanitize your kitchen knives and dishes.  You’re best to stick with hot water and dish soap.  For the same reason, do not clean cutting boards with vinegar.

Avoid cleaning wood furniture with vinegar.  The acid in vinegar could potentially remove a finish from the wood.  Over time, wood cleaned with vinegar could have a dull or uneven look to it.

Still A Great Cleaning Option

As previously mentioned, vinegar is a safe and inexpensive cleaning option but it’s not right for every surface.  Before you get down and dirty with a gallon of distilled white vinegar, take a moment to consider the surface you are cleaning and what you are trying to remove from that surface.  Happy cleaning!

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