Although hailed as an affordable, Eco-friendly cleaning marvel, there are simply some things that you should never clean with vinegar.
Primarily as these things don’t react well with acids and will become irreparable through repeated exposure. In fact, there are some surfaces, such as smartphone screens, that can be damaged from even a single application.
This is the reason why I do not recommend using it as your general homemade multi-surface cleaner. But stress the importance of learning more about this little miracle worker’s limitations as well as its applications.
So join me as I reveal 15 things that you should never clean with vinegar, and I explain why?
Firstly, be aware that if vinegar is left on too long or used in too strong a solution, the acid in the vinegar can dull the shine, leave a cloudy mark or even dissolve certain surfaces entirely.
For these reasons, I do not use vinegar undiluted as a multi-surface antibacterial cleaner. If you want a better antibacterial cleaner, please read my article; Can vinegar kill germs, or are there better natural options?
1. do not clean waxed wood with vinegar
Most hardwood floors, wooden frames, and furniture are coated with a layer of wax or paraffin wax. The manufacturers do this to give them a “like new,” polished look. Following this, they are then sealed with a light coat of varnish.
This gives them longevity and makes them water, and to some extent, stain repellant. Vinegar, however, bites into this coating and dissolves the wax underneath.
Therefore, to prevent damage, avoid using acid-based formulas, such as vinegar, on these types of surfaces.
2. never use vinegar on marble, granite, or other natural stones
Vinegar is an acid and will exploit the porous structure of natural stone, granite, and marble to begin corrosion.
Frighteningly in the case of marble, a single-use of vinegar can begin the process of internally dissolving the stone.
If vinegar is used consistently, it can also dull the polished surfaces and cause etching. Excessive applications will significantly reduce the structural integrity and massively impact the beauty of the stone.
Abrasive cleaners, such as baking powder, will also scratch the marble’s surface and dull it over time.
Therefore, I would recommend using hydrogen peroxide and a soft cloth instead of using acidic or abrasive cleaners.
Even better, use special stone soap such as Stone Care International Granite Cleaner, which can be found on Amazon.
Vinegar will also have the same negative effect on natural stone floors and granite but slower.
3. do not use vinegar on cast iron or aluminum pans
Aluminum dishes and cast iron pans chemical react with the acetic acid of vinegar. Therefore, they will be damaged from its use.
In the case of iron, the acetic acid of the vinegar causes an exothermic reaction.
This then produces heat and removes the protective coating on the metal, making it susceptible to rust.
Aluminum acetate is the compound created when aluminum reacts with vinegar.
Aluminum acetate is also soluble. This means that if you scrub the pan’s surface with vinegar, the aluminum will be slowly eaten away. It is for this reason that many DIY solutions for cleaning aluminum suggest using vinegar.
However, when cleaning aluminum, you should always start with the mildest method possible.
The best cleaners for aluminum are plain water, mild soap or detergent, and solvents such as kerosene, turpentine, or white spirit.
Care must be taken when using solvents as they are flammable.
4. never mix vinegar plus bleach and clothes
Never mix vinegar and bleach when cleaning clothes.
Vinegar + Bleach + Water = hydrochloric and hypochlorous acids.
(foul-smelling and bad for clothing).
Vinegar + Bleach = Toxic Chlorine Gas.
Chlorine gas was first used on the infamous day of April 22, 1915, in WW1. It produces a greenish-yellow cloud that smells of bleach and immediately irritates the eyes, nose, lungs, and throat of those exposed to it.
At high enough doses, it kills by asphyxiation.
So never mix vinegar and bleach under any circumstances.
5. Don't use vinegar on greasy dishes
Don’t use vinegar as a degreaser or to replace liquid soap for use on dirty dishes.
Alkaline/base cleaners like dish detergent are ideal for lifting grease, whereas vinegar will have little effect on it.
Many natural homemade recipes call for you to use vinegar as a degreaser. However, castile soap is a far superior option, so save yourself the elbow grease and leave the vinegar on the shelf.
6. Don't use vinegar on protein stains or spills such as egg
If you drop an egg (or have one thrown at you!), don’t use vinegar to clean the stain away.
The acid in the vinegar reacts with the protein causing it to coagulate.
This mixture will then form a solid or gluey substance that will be almost impossible to remove completely.
A dried egg stain can be removed from clothing by soaking the stain in a mixture of cold water and a liquid detergent.
The soaking should last at least 30 minutes before vigorously rubbing the stain. This process should be repeated until the egg is no longer visible.
7. Don't flush your iron with vinegar
Vinegar may be a great descaler, but irons are fragile, and running acid through the working parts may prove costly.
Given time, vinegar will dissolve the inner seals, and any protective coatings present within the chamber.
This is also true, to a lesser extent, of many dishwashers and washing machines.
However, it must be remembered that with these appliances, the vinegar is usually flushed out of the machine regularly.
Vinegar should always be avoided on dishwashers with seals made from polyacrylate, fluorosilicone, and Buna-N. This is because if the vinegar sits on the surface of these seals for a long time, they will eventually fail.
To best way to clean an Iron is not to use vinegar at all but to follow the manufacturer’s instructions. Usually, this is to fill the tank with distilled water, heat the iron, unplug it, and hold it over the sink with the soleplate facing downwards.
Now you can press and hold the self-cleaning button, which will eject steam and impurities from the iron through the soleplate.
8. Never clean pearls with vinegar
Pearls are made up of calcium carbonate, limestone, and marble.
Unfortunately, the vinegar will react with the calcium carbonate causing the pearls to dissolve.
Clean pearls by gently wiping each pearl using a soft white non-abrasive cloth dampened in lukewarm water. Don’t be tempted to soak pearl necklaces or bracelets, as this can weaken or stretch any delicate threads.
9. never use vinegar to clean your smartphone or laptop screen
Some computer screens and smartphones have an oleophobic (oil resistant), protective coating on them. Vinegar will react with and destroy this coating very quickly.
This coating is there to prevent oily fingerprint marks and other such stains. Removing it with vinegar will cause operating issues, create further problems, and invalidate warranties.
Always use a soft, lint-free, non-abrasive lens cloth and a 70% isopropyl spray to wipe down the screen gently. The spray can be picked up from most opticians or camera stores.
10. Don't use vinegar on heavily greasy surfaces
Vinegar can be an effective degreaser on light greases, such as those found on countertops.
However, vinegar is far less effective than soap on anything else but light grease.
That is why soap is the king of the kitchen, and it is used heavily in commercial areas, whereas vinegar is not.
Use castile soap instead of vinegar and save yourself the arm pain received through hard scrubbing or mopping.
11. never use vinegar on carbon steel knives
Vinegar can cause carbon steel to darken and become blotchy, most likely not the look you are going for.
Plain old soap and water are far more effective.
12. Truly stubborn stains
Try as you might, blood, ice cream, grass stains, and dried ink simply won’t come out with vinegar alone. Depending on the material, they could be just too tough for our acid friend and may need a little coaching from another source.
Try an enzyme-based cleaner for these bad boys as a long soak in vinegar, over time, may do more harm than good.
Blood is also a protein stain, as mentioned above, so avoid using vinegar.
Try my recipe of 1 part baking soda and 2 parts cold water, leave for 40 minutes, then rinse and wash.
13. never use vinegar to shine your houseplant leaves
While vinegar can be useful as a cleaner, disinfectant, or even insecticide, you shouldn’t spray it directly on plants as it can damage them.
However, you can use the power of vinegar as a plant killer to your advantage by using it a weed killer. (Sorry, snails).
14. Don't use vinegar on unsealed or damaged grout
Grout that hasn’t been sealed or needs to be resealed due to age or damage should never be cleaned with vinegar.
This is because grout contains cement, which is a base, and the acid of vinegar will immediately begin to neutralize it.
It does this by penetrating into the spaces occupied by air and exposed grime within the grout. It will then begin to chemically react and disintegrate the cement content within it.
If, however, you have sealed your grout and it is kept in good condition, the vinegar won’t be an issue to you (even on colored grout).
Don’t use bleach on colored grout, as bleach will discolor the grout.
I have included two recipes and methods for cleaning grouts safely.
Sealed grout – Dilute with 2 parts vinegar, 1 part water. Spray it on; let stand for 15 min, wipe clean with a very damp sponge using a baking soda/water solution to neutralize the vinegar’s acidity, then wipe clean water using a damp sponge.
None sealed grout – Use Hydrogen Peroxide (This has a tendency to discolor things, especially fabrics), Dilute and spray it on; let it sit for 15 min.; then wipe clean. Warning: Do not use with Bleach.
15. Don't use vinegar to eliminate pet stains on your carpet
Vinegar is a great disinfectant and will clear some stains on your rug or carpet very effectively and deodorize the smell.
However, If your pet has an accident on the carpet (or your cat has a “deliberate” accident,) don’t use vinegar to eliminate the problem.
The reason being that although the pet stains may have disappeared from your sight to your pet, the underlying odor will remain.
So, as cats and dogs like to revisit or re-mark their territory in specific places, you may well find yourself with another stain and another bottle of vinegar.
It would be best on this occasion to work through the stain with an enzymatic carpet cleaner, which can be found in most good pet stores.
If you wish to mask the odors using essential oils, please read my post on; Essential oils and the danger to cats, dogs, and birds.
Not quite in the brief, but I thought the next item was worthy of a mention due to its dangerous nature!
Do not mix vinegar and hydrogen peroxide
Vinegar and hydrogen peroxide are both effective disinfectants, so what happens if we combine the two?
Firstly I have to say that I would never recommend that you start your own chemistry lab at home.
Never start mixing “safe” chemicals to see what the result would be.
No chemical is ever truly safe, and even the experts get it wrong sometimes, so, please…
Don’t Do It!
A combination of vinegar and hydrogen peroxide will produce peracetic acid.
Peracetic acid is highly corrosive, and although its toxicity is relatively low, it can still irritate the skin, eyes, and nasal membrane.
It is a highly effective bleach for these reasons, but to be honest, it is far safer for you to keep these two ingredients apart.
So there we have it, My ultimate list of 15 things that you should never clean with vinegar, plus a bonus item to keep you safe.
I hope this list was useful to you and helps to keep you, your family, and your products safe and well.
Mark Aspland is a proud father of two boys and an amateur actor and green living enthusiast. He has been sharing hints, tips, and sustainable living content on his website Sustainability Dad since august 2019.
He now has an army of like-hearted individuals passionate about the environment and how to affect positive change through peaceful action.