Vinegar is mentioned as the, “go to,” cleaner in virtually all the posts and videos you will ever see on the subject of natural cleaners; however if used incorrectly it quite literally has the power to kill you! In this post I will enlighten you to the dangers of four things that you should never mix with vinegar when cleaning.
All that being said, vinegar is still a very important tool in your natural cleaning toolkit. When used alongside other natural cleaners such as baking soda, castile soap, and essential oils the results can be simply amazing. However it’s when we start mixing these products together that our problems really begin.
Here’s where the problem usually starts.
Many online recipes frequently advise you to mix vinegar with other ingredients. They do this in order to somehow boost its effectiveness and turn an ordinary cleaner into a super cleaner. This may then encourage you to do the same and you may decide to do a little bit of experimenting of your own.
When this happens you can quite quickly run the risk of turning perfectly harmless ingredients into a deadly cocktail or at best a useless sludge. With all this in mind here is my list of five things you should never mix with vinegar when cleaning…
1. Vinegar and baking soda
The two most popular online recipes requiring you to mix these two ingredients together, are for a multipurpose spray cleaner and for an effective drain cleaner. Both are not your best options and here’s why…
Look out, here comes the sciency stuff!
When baking soda and vinegar are mixed together, hydrogen ions in the vinegar react with the sodium and bicarbonate ions in the baking soda and start a chemical reaction.
The result of this initial reaction is the formation of two new chemicals which are carbonic acid and sodium acetate.
Carbonic acid is what you find in most fizzy drinks, (it is this acid that is unblocking your drains etc).
Just like the carbon dioxide bubbles that are found in fizzy drinks, the carbon dioxide bubbles that form are the result of the carbonic acid decomposing into water.
This bubbling gas then rises to the top of the mixture, and is evidenced by the fizzing and frothing that you see and hear. (It is this action that displaces the blockage in your drains).
The end result of all of this visually explosive chemical reaction is water (H2O) and sodium acetate (C2H3NaO2).
Consequently the net result of all this activity is a solution of foul tasting salty water. Not a natural household multipurpose cleaner as advertised by the many people who refuse to see the natural chemistry at work. Now who would want to clean down all their surfaces with slightly salty water?
What should we be doing?
The simple truth is that in the case of a multipurpose cleaner, you are far better off using a neat or 50/50 mix of vinegar and water, spraying this onto a cloth and applying this to the surface to be cleaned. This recipe will sterilise the surface and begin breaking down the light grease deposits.
Once done you can then apply the baking soda as the abrasive and finish by rinsing off the residue with a damp cloth. However this may leave a white residue and is still less effective than using a multipurpose cleaner which includes castile soap.
I believe that if you are going to use a neat,or a 50/50 mix of vinegar, then this is the way that you should be doing it, however a lot of the online gurus don’t give you this information. They tend to follow the flow of everyone else’s advice and refuse to raise their heads above the parapet with a view of their own.
For me the actual truth is that baking soda and vinegar react chemically, because one is a base, and the other is a weak acid. This means that when they are brought together they immediately begin the process of cancelling each other out.
(Basic schoolboy science).
This is why I would never mix these two ingredients together. I would however recommend the homemade multipurpose cleaner recipe as I quoted earlier or the separates solution.
2. vinegar and castile soap
Another much touted recipe for natural homemade cleaners that I see very often is one which puts the cleaning power of the soap and the disinfecting power of the vinegar together in one mixture sharing the same container.
This is never a combination that works well and if you were wondering why not, then here’s the reason why.
Look out, another sciency stuff bit coming up!
Vinegar is an acid and castile soap is a base. When you mix them together, the great grease-cutting ability of the soap and the disinfectant quality of the vinegar are cancelled out by each other.
Moreover, the vinegar “unsaponifies”the soap, which means that it is reduced back to its original oils composition. What you have in your bottle and have unconsciously created is an oily curdled mess. This mixture then clogs the spray or cloth that you are using and leaves a deep claggy coating over whatever it is that you were attempting to clean.
A far better way to use these two items is to use your castile soap based multi surface cleaner first to remove the grease. Once done wipe down with a damp cloth and then use a vinegar solution to disinfect the cleaned area. This is a superior method to the neat, or 50/50 mix, followed by a damp cloth wipe down method mentioned at the beginning of this post.
If you are washing dishes, then simply hand wash them with the soap, rinse, then spray them with a light vinegar solution to disinfect.
There are many cleaning tasks which can be completed in this way but please always use these two items separately and don’t mix them together.
Alternatively use Sal Suds, unlike castile soap, Sal Suds is a detergent and can be combined with vinegar. This is achievable because it has a different chemical composition compared to castile soap.
One other word of warning would be that, as castile soap “unsaponifies” when it comes into contact with acids, please check that your essential oils/additives are plant based, and not juice based as stated on the ingredients list of your recipes.
3. vinegar and hydrogen peroxide
Vinegar and hydrogen peroxide are both effective disinfectants so what happens if we combine the two together?
Firstly I would never recommend that you start your own chemistry lab at home. Never start mixing together, “safe” chemicals to see what the end result would be. No chemical is ever truly safe and even the experts get it wrong sometimes, so please… just 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 cause irritation to 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.
4. vinegar and bleach
As I have already demonstrated in this post it is never a good idea to mix your cleaners together, or as my old chemistry teacher used to say:
“Chemistry is an insane thing and what you don’t know could kill you!”
Without a firm understanding of how chemicals react with each other you are quite literally playing with death. Never has this been more true than when you mix vinegar and bleach together. The resulting effect of mixing these two products together is the production of chlorine gas.
This gas is a killer and here’s why!
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 together under any circumstances.
vinegar + Bleach = Toxic Chlorine Gas.
5. Vinegar, Bleach and water
Vinegar + Bleach + Water =hydrochloric and hypochlorous acids. (foul smelling and bad for clothing).
The chemical substance of hydrochloric acid is the aqueous, (water-based), solution of hydrogen chloride gas. It is a strong acid which is highly corrosive and clear in color with a strong pungent smell. It is also the major component of gastric acid which is naturally produced by cells in the human body in order to aid digestion.
When vinegar, bleach and water are mixed together in a washing machine hydrochloric and hypochlorous acids are formed. These acids may be weak due to the large water content in the machine but they still have the potential to be dangerous. These acids are both foul smelling and corrosive and direct contact should be avoided.
So in conclusion, next time you feel like mixing things together to see what happens, remember this post then stop and reconsider your actions.
If you can’t do that then think of this quote and take in its full meaning.
“There’s nothing about my life that is an accident.”
of the seventies rock band T-Rex, shortly before his fatal car crash.
Mark Aspland is a proud father of two boys, would be 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 followers who are like hearted individuals passionate about the environment and how to affect positive change through peaceful action.