Bacteria - can vinegar kill germs - sustainability dad

Can Vinegar Kill Germs? (Or Are There Better Natural Options?)

Vinegar is widely used by the Eco-community as a natural antibacterial disinfectant but can vinegar really kill germs?

Well, the short answer is yes, but not all of them, and in some instances, it may need help.

Let me explain…

The Scientific Teaser

As of early 2020, there is very little scientific evidence that shows vinegar to be effective against serious viral threats.

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However, researchers from the Albert Einstien College of Medicine found that vinegar efficiently killed M. tuberculosis. However, it only achieved this feat after 30 minutes of exposure to a 6% acetic acid solution. Source

Whilst this is still impressive, I have to question how long I would want to leave vinegar on my countertops. However, if this is the scientific set time for killing germs, bear this in mind when reading the rest of this article.

So just how effective is vinegar when you want to kill your household germs? Do you have doubts about its efficiency?

Should you be changing back to the toxic commercial cleaners on the market? Or are there some hidden natural cleaners that can do the job better?

If you have these questions running around in your mind and want to be sure of the answers then read on. I promise that every question you have about the effectiveness of vinegar will be answered and explained here.

Plus at the end of the article, I will reveal the hidden natural cleaning alternatives that we should all be using.

How Effective Is Vinegar At Killing Viruses?

Vinegar is a combination of acetic acid and water made from a two-step fermentation process. The strength of the vinegar varies from about 4% acetic acid up to about 8%.

This is the strength of the most common kinds of vinegar however, it can go as high as 20%.

Although 20% is not the norm for edible kinds of vinegar so this would be a specialist home cleaning vinegar.

Unfortunately, this variable acidity range has a direct effect on how well it will perform as a germ killer. In addition to this, the strength of the vinegar is not the only factor involved.

Other factors may include the strength and type of germ. Plus the type of surface that it is on and the time allocated for it to work. Do you leave it for ten, twenty, thirty, forty minutes or more? It’s confusing.

So, knowing this, let’s look at how well vinegar performs against the viral activity common to most household surfaces.

Scientific Testing On – Vinegars Ability To Kill Germs

Research shows us two things. First, that vinegar performs well against Gram-negative organisms such as S. typhi and E. coli, on non-porous surfaces.

Second, it is less effective against Gram-positive bacteria such as S.aureus. Source

This clearly tells us that Vinegar IS effective at killing germs and viruses. However, it is NOT 100% effective in all cases on hard surfaces.

Further research also showed us that bleach was found to be a more effective pathogen killer than vinegar. In addition, bleach also successfully prevented the transfer of the organisms onto surrounding surfaces. Source.

However, in the home, vinegar is also used as a bacterial wash for food. So how effective is vinegar at killing germs on fruit soaking in a vinegar wash?

The Vinegar Wash Study

In a study, of the removal of viral-based pathogens from strawberries in a vinegar wash. Vinegar was found to be (ca 95%) effective and this was observed positively as a “significant reduction.” Source.

Therefore the conclusion is that vinegar can effectively kill some household germs and viruses. However, the number of other household germs not killed will only be significantly reduced, not entirely eliminated.

Is Vinegar Registered As An Effective Disinfectant?

Bacteria - can vinegar kill germs - sustainability dad

So we now know that vinegar is not effective against some strains of bacteria and viruses. It has also been established that the acidity strength, time on product and surface type all affect its ability to kill germs.

This is why vinegar is not registered with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as an effective household disinfectant.

Furthermore, the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends disinfecting surfaces with diluted bleach solutions or alcohol solutions made with at least 70% alcohol.

How Does Vinegar Kill Germs?

Vinegar is an acid of pH 2.0 which makes it a hostile environment for many microorganisms.

A microorganism is a broad term used to encompass bacteria, yeast, fungi and in some definition, viruses.

It is hypothesized that vinegar kills these microorganisms by destroying their cell structures and crossing the cell membrane. A release in protons then causes the weakened cells to die.

Which Vinegar Is Used To Kill Germs In Natural Cleaning

The most common vinegar used in homes for natural cleaning is white wine vinegar at a strength of 5% acetic acid. You can find some stronger concentrations at specialist stores up to about 12% but these are rare.

Vinegar at 5% acetic acid will kill some household pathogens but will not kill all of them. Salmonella is a case in point and it is also relatively ineffective against the less dangerous S. aureus.

Apple cider vinegar is even less acidic at about 2% to 3% and is generally used for pickling or diluted for medical purposes. It does not make a good surface sanitizer and its dark color will stain materials.

How Can I Increase The Germ Killing Capacity Of Vinegar?

By adding other ingredients to vinegar you can increase its effectiveness as a germ-killing agent. However, this will not guarantee the new solution will work against all pathogens.

This is why vinegar is not accepted by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)  as a mainline commercial disinfectant.

Commercial cleaners need to be between 99% and 100% effective and therefore can be toxic to humans and the environment. Vinegar is seen by “the natural cleaners community” as a safe, non-toxic substitute which is adequate for the task.

However adequate may not be enough in some circumstances and a little help may be needed.

By adding lemon juice (citric acid ), salt or even heat to vinegar you can increase its effectiveness against certain pathogens. This is because the additives will target and kill those pathogens which the vinegar cannot.

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What Can I Add To Vinegar To Increase Its Effectiveness Against Germs?

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Lemon juice and vinegar are a great example of this. Both lemon juice and vinegar, if added to food separately, will kill pathogens.

However, if you mix them together and add this mixture to food the number of pathogens will reduce significantly, Source

So what about hard surface cleaning? Well, again, vinegar and lemon juice are great for this task. In fact, they are often combined in many surface cleaner recipes that you can find online.

The lemon juice may come in the form of an essential oil.

Other recipes may include various citrus oils or Tea tree oil.

However, I just have a quick word of warning about Tea tree oil. 

Tea tree oil has significant oral toxicity, may leave a film on surfaces, and can cause adverse skin reactions.

It must also be said that the addition of ingredients will not 100% guarantee the elimination of pathogens. This is due to the many differing factors that we have discussed so far.

Warning…Vinegar Can Kill More Than Germs!

I would always strongly advise against the random mixing of various household ingredients. This is especially true with vinegar as there are some potentially deadly combinations very easily mixed.

Please read: 5 Things You Should Never Mix With Vinegar When Cleaning

Furthermore, there are some surfaces around the home that will react with the vinegar within your mix and destroy their integrity. For the homeowner, this could prove to be costly as they might not be covered on any related insurance claim.

For more information please read: 15 Things You Should Never Clean With Vinegar And Why

Vinegar And Essential Oils - A Germ Killing Duo?

Whilst on the subject of things not to mix with vinegar I have one more additive I think we should discuss. This additive is one of the most popular additives and comes in the form of essential oils.

The advantage here is that some essential oils have antibacterial properties and are effective against Gram-positive bacteria. When you remember that vinegar is mainly effective against the Gram-negative bacteria you can then appreciate the significance.

A word of warning though. Essential oils are largely unregulated, known to be endocrine disruptors and unfortunately can be toxic to pets.

Therefore I would advise caution and a little light reading before using them around the home.

Please read:

Essential Oils and the Danger to Cats, Dogs, and Birds?

Why Use Vinegar To Kill Household Germs?

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Vinegar may have its limitations but it has been used as an effective sanitizer for the last 10,000 years. This is because it is incredibly cheap, non-toxic, and effective against a broad range of bacteria, viruses, and molds.

Other reasons for choosing vinegar as a household germ killer are:

  • It’s 100% natural and fully biodegradable
  • Can be used to sanitize stainless steel
  • Does not leave harmful chemicals as a residue
  • It’s easy to store, transport, dispense and use
  • Can be used in environmentally sensitive situations
  • It can be used on both food and food hardware
  • Can be applied to a wide variety of surfaces

As previously mentioned, both Tea tree oil and lemon juice/oil can be combined with vinegar to increase its germ-killing abilities.

However, you don’t always need to mix products with the vinegar to boost its effectiveness. Sometimes you can achieve even greater results by cleaning with products separately.

What Products Can I Use Alongside Vinegar To Kill Germs

In order to obtain a high degree of sanitization on an area, you would be wise to scrub it down first.

This action of rubbing and scrubbing will reduce the number of bacteria present and expose the remainder to the vinegar.

Furthermore, the rubbing and scrubbing will also break down some of the protective slime secreted by the now exposed bacteria.

Bacteria - can vinegar kill germs - sustainability dad
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Vinegar And Baking Soda

Baking soda with its gentle abrasive action is the perfect scrubbing tool for this job.

Not only will it expose the bacteria, but it is also reported to be virucidal and will inhibit the growth of several fungi. So by using these two products alongside each other, surface sanitization will be improved.

Do not mix the two together however as they will simply cancel each other out and become ineffective. This is because one is a base and the other is an acid. Mixing them makes them inert and gives them a neutral pH score.

Yes, I know they are often used together in online recipes, but these recipes are wrong! The only benefit from the mix will be the fizzing action of the two chemicals which may dislodge grime.

Vinegar And Castile Soap

Alternatively, you could wipe down the surface with Castile soap and water and then sanitize the area with vinegar. This combination works as the soap sanitizes while the water simply flushes a lot of the bacteria away.

So now that we have a smaller amount of bacteria present, the vinegar can quickly work on whatever remains.

Other products that could boost the effectiveness of vinegar include microfibre cloths, hydrogen peroxide, ozonated water, and thyme oil.

Please Remember that vinegar, although widely used by the natural cleaning community, is not registered as a household disinfectant. If you need to kill a strong virus then other options should be employed.

Vinegar Used To Kill Germs To Aid Personal Health

The most common vinegar used for its health-giving properties is apple cider vinegar. This vinegar at 2% to 3% acidity is less acidic than white wine vinegar. Therefore it is easier on the body when ingested.

Dads TipIt is also good as a salad dressing when the salad contains fruit.

Diarrhea Buster

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Apple cider vinegar has long been used as an aid to digestion. It does this by acting as a gentle antiseptic in the digestive tract.

It is also believed that the malic and tartaric acids found in apple cider vinegar, help to bring the human body acid into balance.

While it is doing this it is also killing off any unfriendly bacteria in the digestive tract. So due to its healing properties in this area, diarrhea can be controlled in a relatively short space of time.

Toe Nail Fungus

I have to confess that I have never suffered from this but a friend of mine swore that this worked for him. (Although I didn’t want to check)!

White wine vinegar can be effective in killing the fungi which are attacking this part of the body. To do this, mix vinegar and warm water to a 50/50 solution then soak the feet for at least 15 minutes.

Second, apply a few drops of undiluted vinegar directly to the infection. Do this several times a day and you will kill the fungus.

Treating Infected Wounds

Did you know that it is documented that vinegar was used to treat infected wounds in the Middle Ages?

This usage was also repeated in further wars and it is still used today. Whenever antiseptic supplies run out or are hard to find, vinegar makes a good substitute.

It has also been discovered that warming the vinegar will further boost its effectiveness as a mild antiseptic. This feature is especially useful as a quick remedy to take the pain out of fresh piercings and wasp stings.

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Sore Throat

Bacteria - can vinegar kill germs - sustainability dad

A gargle of apple cider vinegar can help to decrease the bacteria or virus infection of a sore throat. I would recommend using a 50/50 mix of vinegar and water and spitting out the solution after gargling.

Repeat this process every hour and wash out the mouth with clean water immediately afterward. Doing this will prevent the acid from sitting on the teeth.

This is important as the vinegar will begin to erode the enamel of the teeth leading to future dental problems.

As a bonus, though it will also kill any unhealthy bacteria in the mouth which can cause bad breath!

Athletes Foot

Vinegar will kill the fungus of athlete’s foot. It does this by changing the pH of your skin so that it cannot grow. If you need to do this simply soak your foot in a vinegar and water solution for three evenings in a row.

Kill The Slitheen

Not quite a bodily germ, virus or fungus but I thought it right to show the almighty power of vinegar.

If you are ever faced with a deadly onslaught of the Slitheen. Don’t laugh, it might happen. Just throw a bottle of vinegar over them and they will explode!

Bacteria - can vinegar kill germs - sustainability dad

Vinegar In Summary

Vinegar really is a miracle product when you consider that it has been used by us for at least 10,000 years. It’s even more remarkable to know that we are still making scientific discoveries about it.

Hopefully, you will have learned something interesting about how vinegar kills germs and how you can boost its natural capabilities. Remember also that vinegar is natural and will not harm the environment, unlike most commercial cleaners.

All that being said, please remember that vinegar is not the best option for killing viruses. You cannot be sure that you have killed all the little suckers and as such, the EPA will not register it.

However, a lot of the EPA registered products have some very strong and toxic chemicals in them. Not only can they be dangerous to us and the planet, but they can also be dangerous to all life.

Natural Cleaning Germ Killing Alternatives

Remember that no matter what product you are using to clear an area of germs, you must rub and scrub first. It is this action that helps to remove a lot of the germs.

This action also weakens and exposes the remaining germs to your germ-killing product!

Soap And Water

It can’t be that simple I hear you say.

Well, it may not be fancy but this is the job that soap was originally intended for. Soap is a detergent that was specifically designed to break up molecules, dirt, and grime plus kill the germs within.

Like vinegar, the soap works by breaking the integrity of the virus-cell walls. These walls then fall away and the virus simply falls apart and dies.

The warm water provides a suitable medium for all this to happen and then flushes the virus away from the site.

This is why a twenty-second soapy hand wash is always recommended during a virus outbreak.

Alcohol – Rubbing/Isopropyl

Rubbing alcohol (not Vodka) will kill strong viruses and is a good substitute for bleach. However, it must be at least 70% alcohol and used undiluted.

First, you must clean the surface with soap and water, or a baking soda scrub, rinse and then apply the alcohol. Rubbing alcohol is generally safe for a lot of different surface types but has been known to discolor some plastics.

Distilled spirits such as vodka are actually only about 40% alcohol so don’t trust the label!

Hydrogen Peroxide

Bacteria - can vinegar kill germs - sustainability dad

Hydrogen peroxide is the bleach substitute of the natural cleaners world. Although it is not as strong as bleach it will kill viruses. However, unlike bleach, it won’t harm the environment.

For it to be an effective virus killer however, you must use it neat and not dilute it. For maximum effect pour it undiluted into a spray bottle and then spray it onto the surface to be cleaned.

Next, let it sit undisturbed for at least 1 minute before wiping the area clean with a damp cloth. Hydrogen peroxide is also a great cleaner for the hard to reach cracks and crevices.

This is because it will kill the germs then naturally decompose into oxygen and water.

Salt

A strange one yes but if you have nothing else to hand then salt will do. Salt has been used as a cleanser since medieval times and probably before.

It’s a cheap cleanser that provides an inhospitable environment for bacteria and viruses to thrive. Simply make up a saline solution and wipe away.

Others

There are others such as citric acid, tea tree oil, and thymol oil but they also need further explanations. I believe this article is probably already too long and I congratulate you if you have made it this far.

I hope that you now have no doubts about the ability of vinegar to kill germs, bacteria or viruses.

However, if you do and don’t want to try one of the alternatives then please visit this page for a list of all EPA registered disinfectants.

On a final note;

Next time you are at the store and want a gentle non-toxic cleaner, remember vinegar, our 10,000-year-old friend.

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sustainability dad

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. 

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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.