Cleaning Guides

Is Vinegar Really Antibacterial? What Really Kills Germs

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Vinegar is a must-have product at home, and its uses are endless, even outside of the kitchen. Besides being used in most salad dressings and cooking, it’s also a common ingredient in homemade cleaning and disinfecting products. It’s cheap, natural, and chemical-free, an excellent choice for nature lovers. And since keeping our Australian homes safe from viruses has been a hot topic lately, you might be wondering does vinegar kill bacteria? Is it really good for disinfecting?

Well, the answer is it depends. While vinegar can be an effective alternative cleaner, it’s not that powerful in disinfecting, as you will see further into the article. There are a lot of studies and tests around vinegar’s properties and its combination with other eco products.

So if you:

  • Looking for a green disinfectant and not sure vinegar kills germs;
  • Want to know what makes one product a disinfectant;
  • Don’t know if vinegar is safe for all types of surfaces at home.

Read on to learn the facts from the pros. We’ve gathered everything you need to know about vinegar’s cleaning and disinfecting abilities.

Table of contents:

Cleaners VS disinfectants

Let’s first clarify the difference between cleaners and disinfectants. Cleaners’ primary purpose is to remove dirt, build-up grime and other impurities. They also eliminate bad smells from the surfaces. Cleaners can kill some germs or physically remove them, but not all of them.

On the other hand, disinfectants can’t dissolve and remove soils on surfaces, and most can’t remove odour. Their main purpose is to kill all the germs on the treated area. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) approves detergents that kill 100% of the bacteria and viruses in up to 10 minutes as commercial household disinfectants.

contain soap and other cleaning substancescontain quaternary ammonium chloride (QUATS), peroxide, isopropyl alcohol, or bleach
remove dirt, debris, and grimecan’t dissolve build-up grime
physically remove germs and kill some of themkill germs like bacteria and viruses

Vinegar as a cleaning product

So, is vinegar a disinfectant? The answer is both yes and no. Vinegar is not classified as a disinfectant by EPA. That means even if it can kill some germs, it’ll not completely disinfect your surfaces. The acetic acid in the vinegar attacks the germs’ cell structure and changes it, but it cannot deal with all of them. And it’ll not help you against SARS-CoV-2.

However, US studies show that vinegar can kill some food-borne pathogenic bacteria as well as Escherichia coli bacteria and Salmonella on leafy vegetables. Moreover, higher temperatures and adding salt to the vinegar can increase its antibacterial activity.

While it’s not the best antibacterial option, vinegar can be a perfect eco-friendly multipurpose cleaner and a good part of your sustainable way of life. Household white one contains 5 – 7% acetic acid, which is powerful enough to dissolve stubborn dirt and remove unpleasant smells.

Home-made bleach and alcohol solutions are more effective disinfectants than vinegar ones.
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What you can clean with vinegar

Homemade solutions with vinegar are great and easy way to perform your environmentally-safe cleaning session while at the same time freshening the surfaces at home.

With vinegar, you can effectively clean:

  • Windows and glass – It dissolves water stains and leaves the windows crystal clear and streak-free. Remember that cleaning mirrors with vinegar is not a good idea, as the solution can corrode the silver backing if it leaks behind.
  • Drains – By breaking down accumulated dirt, vinegar can unclog minor blockages and remove the foul odours from the drains.
  • Sinks, bathtubs and tails – Vinegar makes bathroom and floor surfaces shiny and the grout and cracks of the tails free of debris. It also prevents bacteria and mould build-up.
  • Cupboards and countertops (if not made of natural stone or waxed wood) – It will effectively remove the stains and fingerprints from the surfaces.
  • Stovetops – The acidity of the white wine vinegar will loosen the food stains and remove the grime. For solid dirt combination of vinegar and baking soda, left for 20 min will do the job.
  • Walls – Vinegar is the ideal eco way to remove stubborn wall stains, including nicotine stains from smoking. It doesn’t damage the colour of the walls. To ensure that, you can first test on a hidden spot on the wall.
  • Microwaves, coffee makers, and tea kettles – Solution with vinegar and baking soda will loosen the microwave’s food stains, mineral buildups and bad smell. It’s also suitable for descaling coffee makers and kettles.
  • Washing machines, dishwashers and fridges (without the rubber parts) – You can easily clean and freshen the inside parts of the machines. However, you should not add vinegar to the washing cycle because the acid can damage the rubber gaskets or water hoses and cause leaks.

Here is how to use vinegar as an all-purpose cleaner:

  1. Prepare the solution

    Mix equal parts of white vinegar and water in a spray bottle. Add some drops of essential oil if you want to reduce the sour smell. Shake it well, and you are ready to clean.

  2. Apply it on the surfaces

    Spray the solution on the surface. Use it for stovetops, countertops, sink, the tiles in the kitchen and the bathroom, as well as windows.

  3. Leave it to work and wipe

    Leave the mix for a few minutes to work. If you want to benefit from vinegar’s anti-germ properties, leave it for about 30 min. After that, wipe with a clean cloth.

Keep in mind that you don’t have to mix vinegar with castile soap or bleach. The acid will release toxic fumes and take back the soap’s oils. If you notice a strange smell while mixing household cleaners, leave immediately and ventilate the space.
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What you can’t clean with vinegar

Just as acetic acid reacts with the organic chemicals in dirt and stains, it can damage some surfaces in your home, especially the organic ones. Here is the list of things you must be careful with:

  • Device screens – Vinegar can damage the anti-glare finish of the screens and can even affect the performance of touch screens. Use a specialised screen cleaning product instead.
  • Aluminium, copper, cast iron and low-quality stainless steel items – Keep away these metals from vinegar as it will remove their finish and will make them rust and corrode faster. Use specialised products for these items too, or stick to classic dish soap and warm water solution.
  • Clothes iron – Never pour vinegar into the iron tank, as it can damage the lining inside and other metal parts. Most irons have a self-cleaning function that you can use with clear water.
  • Rubber parts of kitchen appliances – While vinegar is safe for the plastic and most of the metal parts of the appliances, it can damage the rubber parts and gaskets. Clean them with soapy water.
  • Ranges – Vinegar can damage the metal’s enamel on some ranges, but even if not, it will not break down the greasy build-ups that these appliances accumulate. Get an alkaline cleaner instead. It will easily degrease the build-ups.
  • Wooden flooring and furniture – You shouldn’t clean wood floors, and waxed surfaces with vinegar as the acetic acid can damage the shiny finish, making it look cloudy and dull. Stick to cleaners specially manufactured for waxed wood or dish soap and water mix.
  • Natural stone, including marble and limestone – Vinegar will remove the coating of natural stones and can dissolve any sealants if such are applied. Instead, use a universal non-aggressive detergent. Again, dish soap and warm water solution is enough in most cases. Rub with a soft scrub pad to remove stubborn stains.

While this is an extensive list of items vinegar can damage, it’s always a good idea to test your solution on a not visible part before starting the cleaning process.

As you already know, vinegar is an excellent option if you want a solution that can clean, deodorise, and kill around 80% of the bacteria and viruses in your house. You better stick to EPA-approved products, if disinfection and sanitisation are what you need.

Not sure what product to use for cleaning and disinfection your home?

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  • Vinegar is not approved as a disinfectant by EPA.
  • Still, it can be used as an effective and eco-friendly household cleaner.
  • Leave it to work for about 30 min if you want to kill around 80% of household germs.
  • Don’t use vinegar to clean device screens, rubber parts and gaskets, iron, copper and aluminium, waxed wood and stone.

We hope this article answers all the questions you have about vinegar. Please, leave a comment below and share your experience with eco cleaners.

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