Vinegar is a wonder ingredient for household cleaning – but it's not a perfect match for every job.
If you are like me, when you first started with DIY cleaning using kitchen cupboard ingredients, you may have started using vinegar for everything. You may have washed windows and toilets and shelves with vinegar, you may have put it in your dishwasher and washing machine, made face masks and hair rinse with it, and otherwise sneaked it in everywhere a cleaning product was needed. And everything may have smelled like vinegar, but what a miracle this stuff is!
Except then you may have learned, whoops, this stuff is strong ... like, maybe it etched big white splotches into your marble countertop?I still love vinegar for cleaning, but there are some household items that do not feel the same way.
“There is a common perception that vinegar can clean everything, but it isn't the catchall ingredient that you might think it is,” Brian Sansoni, senior vice president of communications at the American Cleaning Institute, tells Consumer Reports.
And ain't that the truth. Consider the following:
1. Stone countertopsOnce I left half a lemon face down on my stone countertop (rookie mistake) and had a perfect half a lemon etched into my countertop afterwards. Acid and stone – like granite, marble, and soapstone – do not mix. The acid etches and dulls the pretty finish, and can even lead to pitting. The lesson: Don't use vinegar to clean a stone countertop – and if you spill anything acidic on a stone countertop, wipe it up immediately.
2. Clothing ironsSome people suggest using a little vinegar to clean the inside of your iron, but it's not a good idea. The acid can eat away at the heating element and wreck the whole thing. Read the instruction manual for your specific iron (good times, I know) and follow those directions for cleaning.
3. DishwashersReally, running vinegar through the dishwasher seems kind of like a great way to freshen it up. And many a blogger recommends using vinegar instead of rinse aid. When we previously wrote an explainer on rinse aid, we noted, "Many DIY advice-givers recommend using white vinegar, but while it might make your crockery corruscate, its high acidity can damage your dishwasher, especially any rubber parts in the rinse-aid cavity."
When Consumer Reports tested vinegar to see if it would remove water film, “It didn’t do a thing,” said Larry Ciufo, head of the dishwasher lab at CR. “It was perhaps better than nothing back in the day, but there are specially formulated dishwasher cleaners today that work really well.”
If you are still interested in the idea of using vinegar in your dishwasher, double check with the appliance manufacturer and get their blessing first.
4. Washing machinesI know a lot of people who use vinegar as a fabric softener. I have probably even recommended it at some point! But just like with dishwashers, it can corrode the rubber parts, like seals and hoses, causing leaks ... and nobody wants a leaky washing machine. My front-loading washer is dependent on a big rubber seal around the front to keep the water from pouring forth across the floor; and indeed, CR notes that front-load washers are especially susceptible to vinegar-related damage.
5. Egg messesReal Simple suggests not using vinegar to clean up messes that involve eggs "because the acid will react with the eggs, changing their consistency and making it more difficult to remove." I made a little egg mess to test this, and while I didn't notice a change in the egg glop after using vinegar, I did find it easier to clean up using hot water and a sponge.
6. Greasy messesIt would seem like something acidic would cut through grease, but greasy messes respond better to alkaline cleaners, like baking soda or Borax. For messy, grease-laden cookware and appliances, try a mix of baking soda and dish soap. Or this: The best DIY baking soda cleaner for tough kitchen messes.
7. Electronic screensAnother one I learned the hard way. Vinegar works for windows, so hey, why not computer screens? DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME! Not on your computer, phone, tablet, or television, says the person who had to live with a permanently streaked computer screen for a few years. Vinegar can mar a screen's surface and can hamper the responsiveness of a touch screen.
CR suggests using a soft sponge or cloth dampened with water. "For stubborn spots, try a solution of dish soap highly diluted with water, applied to the cloth and not to the screen itself. (As a guideline for how much soap to use, Panasonic recommends a 100:1 ratio of water to soap.)"
8. Wood furniture and flooringVinegar can eat away at the protective finish on some wood floors and furniture, making them appear sad and cloudy rather than rich and shiny. Use all-natural products that are specifically made for wood for best results.
For everything else, embrace the vinegar!