Vinegar is frequently recommended as a household cleanser, and can be effective on some stains and surfaces. Vinegar is inexpensive, easy to obtain and environmentally friendly. Cleaning vinegar or white vinegar – not apple cider vinegar or wine vinegar – is most commonly chosen for cleaning.
However, it’s important to remember that while vinegar does work as a disinfectant to some degree, it is not as effective as bleach or commercial cleansers when it comes to killing germs. If you are going to use vinegar as a cleanser, it’s important to decide whether your ultimate goal is to clean, or to disinfect. If you want to disinfect – that is, effectively kill most bacteria – you may wish to use a disinfectant spray or cleanser that has directions for killing germs, or a bleach and water solution (one tablespoon of bleach in one gallon of water).
Vinegar is about five percent acetic acid, which helps it break down the structure of some dirt, oils, films, stains and bacteria. But that acidic agent can also harm some surfaces, so test it in an inconspicuous area. Vinegar is not recommended for use on natural stone, waxed wood, cast iron or aluminum. “Set time,” or the time a disinfectant must rest on a surface in order to work effectively, is also important. The set time for vinegar can be up to 30 minutes. For example, to clean the insides of food-stained pots and pans, soak them in a mixture of one-half cup of white vinegar diluted with one gallon of water for 30 minutes. Then rinse in hot, soapy water.
For use around the home, combine vinegar with water in a 1:1 solution to clean and freshen many surfaces. Use this solution on glass, windows, walls, cupboards, floors, sinks, stovetops and coffee makers. Be cautious when using vinegar to clean surfaces with a high risk of food contamination, such as cutting boards and refrigerator shelves/drawers. To disinfect these areas, it is recommended to use a bacteria-killing bleach/water solution or disinfectant as described above.
NEVER combine vinegar with bleach or hydrogen peroxide. Toxic vapors can result.
Additionally, vinegar has a very distinctive odor. The odor generally disperses after the vinegar has fully evaporated, but keep this in mind if you or someone in your household is sensitive to strong odors.