Cleaning with Vinegar

- It's great for cutting through grease and deodorising

What about cleaning with vinegar?

Vinegar can be a really useful cleaning agent. It’s cheap, it’s safe, it’s readily available – and it works well.

If you want to explore alternatives to commercial cleaning products as part of your green living strategies, vinegar has a lot to offer.

There are lots of vinegar uses. It's really easy and safe to use, it's cheap to buy, (most people will already have some in the house) and you can get going with it as a cleaning agent in moments!

Read on for tips on how to use it.

How to use vinegar for cleaning

vinegar bottle

Vinegar is good for polishing surfaces and removing grease. It is often included in window cleaning sprays. But the truth is, most of the time you don’t really need all the other ingredients in the spray! Many of them are quite toxic for the environment and toxic for you.

For example, you can wash windows with simple household washing up liquid to remove the worst of the dirt. Then, when the windows are dry, or nearly dry, polish them with a rag with a little vinegar. A spray bottle is useful for this, so you can recycle the commercial one you were using previously. Just wash it out thoroughly and then fill it with vinegar, diluted 50:50 or more.

For an even better method of cleaning windows and for more detailed info on how to use vinegar for cleaning, please see below.

What type of vinegar is best?

Cleaning with white vinegar is ideal. You can use more expensive ones such as cider vinegar but there isn’t any extra benefit, except that cider vinegar is more likely to be organically produced, which is better for the environment.

You can also use any brown vinegar such as brown malt vinegar but it may stain certain surfaces, so test a small area first. For cleaning with vinegar around the house the type of vinegar is fairly unimportant but it is well to bear in mind that some vinegars are stronger than others.

Cleaning with vinegar - vinegar tips:

But vinegar smells!

Doesn’t it smell?

Yes, it does smell a little but the smell soon goes and it’s not unpleasant, especially when it is diluted. Dilute it at least 50:50 so that the smell is less intense.

There are no lingering, artificial smells left after you finish cleaning. Some artificial scents in many household cleaning products are particularly harmful for both us and the environment.

In fact, vinegar is good for removing lingering bad odours and can be used to freshen rooms and clean drains. Use it diluted as a deodoriser on clothes too, for example to freshen up garments that have picked up tobacco smells. Wipe down the item with a solution of vinegar and water on a clean damp cloth and leave the it to air for a couple of hours.

Cleaning with vinegar - vinegar tips:

Using vinegar with other cleaning agents

Can you combine vinegar with other cleaning agents?

Yes, but not just anything!

Vinegar works well with sodium bicarbonate or baking soda. You can also combine it with salt. This works well for cleaning metals such as brass and pewter.

Vinegar acid is quite strong, so if you experiment with combining it with other things, be careful. Always test out a very small amount and keep your face averted in case of toxic fumes.

Test out a small quantity on a small area of something unimportant to begin with. If you suspect that anything toxic is being created, dilute the mix well with water before disposing of it.

Do not combine it with household bleach. The fumes given off are toxic.

See Vinegar and bleach for more on this.

It's not worth combining vinegar with washing soda as the alkali and the acid neutralise each other.

The most useful combo I have found is vinegar with a little washing up liquid. See here for more details

If you have a favourite vinegar recipe for cleaning or any other vinegar uses, please share your ideas here!

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Is it really safe?

Cleaning with vinegar -- vinegar tips:

Vinegar is acidic and astringent and can be an irritant if used undiluted. It works as a solvent on some things which is why it is such a good cleaning agent.

Generally it is a very safe product and has been used for generations, so its properties are well understood, unlike those of many modern cleaning chemicals. It has been in use from ancient times, as it occurs naturally when wine, beer or other alcoholic drinks are exposed to the air.

The Romans made a sweet drink by brewing it up in lead cauldrons. This led to many cases of poisoning but it was the lead that was responsible, rather than the vinegar!

For us moderns, drinking cider vinegar is a great way to enhanced health.

Vinegar can be a great help in promoting health because of its cleansing and toning properties. Some people even use a vinegar diet to improve their health and to promote weight loss.

Read more about using cider vinegar as a health food here.

The main constituent of vinegar is acetic acid and it is classed as an irritant. The vinegar used in household cleaning is table vinegar in which the acetic acid is at 5 - 8% concentration. It is generally considered safe.

Safety tips

  • Be careful of using vinegar in close, confined areas and do not let it get into your eyes.
  • If it does somehow get into your eyes, irrigate well with plain water and consult your doctor if any irritation persists.
  • Do not breathe the fumes when cleaning with vinegar. They may cause coughing and irritation in the throat and nose.
  • As with any cleaning agent, keep it out of reach of young children.
  • Do not mix vinegar and bleach.

All this makes it sound as if vinegar is dangerous!

Cleaning with vinegar is perfectly safe if you take reasonable care and there are no nasty long term problems associated with its use.

I think it is best to use it in at least a 50:50 ratio with plain water (i.e. for every amount of vinegar, an equal amount of water), that way it is less pungent.

Cleaning with vinegar - vinegar tips:

More tips for cleaning with vinegar

Use vinegar diluted with a little water for lots of cleaning/freshening jobs about the house. About 1 tablespoonful of vinegar per pint of water is a good general purpose guide.

Don't use vinegar on highly polished floors, wood with varnished or waxed surfaces or on marble.

The acids in vinegar may cause damage to some floor surfaces and some wooden surfaces. If in doubt, test a small area in a part of the item where any damage will not show.

Windows can be polished with vinegar solution (see below for more detailed instructions). Rub up afterwards with old newspapers or use a microfibre cloth. This solution can be used for cleaning floor tiles with vinegar - and lino too.

Wood can be cleaned with a mixture of linseed oil and vinegar.

Cleaning windows - how to get the best shine!

For really stunning results with windows, try this:

Mix about 100ml of white vinegar in half a bucket of water. Use this solution to clean each window, wringing out an ordinary kitchen scourer (not a metal one!). This does not seem to harm the glass, but if you are dubious test a small area first. Some makes of scourer may be more abrasive than the average British one!

When you are satisfied that all the visible dirt is gone, screw up a piece of newspaper and rub the window vigorously until the window is dry. This normally doesn't take too long. It's getting there when you hear squeaky sounds!

Use extra newspaper when each piece becomes too wet. This results in windows which are practically perfect - no streaks or smears - and the cost is tiny. You also get a bit of good exercise for stomach muscles and arms! You can throw the used newspaper into your recycling bin, too. You can even compost it if there are no colour sections - some coloured inks are undesirable in the compost bin.

Cleaning with vinegar:

Vinegar for tackling stains and scale

Use a stronger solution (about 1:1 - one cup of vinegar for every cup of water) for dissolving stains and removing lime scale. It can be used in kettles, irons, sinks and on shower heads – anywhere where lime scale deposits gather.

It can be used to get rid of smells and clogged detergent in washing machines and dishwashers. Run a cycle with a cupful of vinegar in the detergent tray. Flush it away by using the rinse cycle. The residues left from detergent will flush away too.

I use vinegar in this way on all the domestic washing machines. It works very well. You can also deodorise your fridge by swabbing the inside with a vinegar solution.

Cleaning with vinegar:

Using vinegar as a general kitchen cleaner

I find it's good as a general kitchen cleaner together with eco-friendly washing up liquid. For wiping surfaces rinse out a cleaning cloth in water, add a tiny amount of liquid detergent and just up-end the vinegar onto the cloth briefly so that a little ends up there.

Just use it to clean as you would with any other kitchen cleaner. It removes grease and dirt effectively from the kitchen white goods too. Just rinse and renew the vinegar and detergent as necessary.

To make a more permanent solution take an empty washing-up liquid bottle or similar and fill it about 10th full of washing-up liquid detergent, preferably an environmentally friendly one such as Ecover. Add a similar amount of white distilled vinegar. Fill up the rest of the bottle with plain water.

Use this squirted onto a damp cloth for wiping down surfaces. Dilute it further if it seems too foamy. This cuts through grease very well and deodorises too. I've used it on sealed wood - such as kitchen cupboard doors and the kitchen table with no problems at all - but I don't use a lot of vinegar in the mix..

Vinegar can also be used for cleaning your oven. See A natural oven cleaner is easy to make for details.

Deodorising with vinegar

Vinegar can be used neat as a deodoriser.

For example, to clear a room of lingering tobacco smoke leave a bowl of vinegar in a warm place for a short time. A sill by an open window is ideal, where air is moving across the surface of the vinegar.

Fruit vinegar such as raspberry is good for this as it smells quite pleasant.

You can also tip some down the drains to keep them smelling fresh. Flush with water after you have left it to work for a while.

If you have tips for cleaning with vinegar, please add them in the comments below, or use the Your Tips! page.


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