If you’re like most people, you have a bottle of vinegar in your pantry. You might use it to make a salad dressing or add some flavor to your food. But it’s no secret that it is a multipurpose cleaner too. It can be used to clean everything from windows to floors, and it’s a lot cheaper than commercial cleaners.
But have you ever wondered how vinegar cleans? What are the ingredients inside vinegar that make it so effective?
This blog post will take a closer look at the science behind vinegar and how it cleans. We’ll also explore some of the different ways that it can be used as a cleaner. So if you’re curious about this all-purpose cleaner, keep reading!
Vinegar | How it Works?
Vinegar is basically an aqueous solution of acetic acid. It is made by the fermentation of ethanol or sugars by bacteria. The main ingredient is acetic acid, and it usually contains between four and eight percent of it.
Mainly vinegar is divided into two categories – pasteurized and unpasteurized. Pasteurized ones have lower acidity levels and are used mainly in the food industry. It is also known as “The Mother Vinegar.”
On the other hand, unpasteurized ones have a strong smell and are used mainly for cleaning purposes. In fact, unpasteurized ones are labeled “raw” and healthier than pasteurized ones.
However, vinegar is used in cooking, baking, cleaning, and pickling. It also has antibacterial properties. And that’s why it also works as a natural disinfectant.
The acetic acid in it can kill bacteria, viruses, and mold. It is so effective at killing bacteria that you can even use it as a food preservative. This makes it a great choice for cleaning areas that need to be disinfected, like countertops, sinks, and toilets.
Not only does vinegar kill germs on surfaces, but it can also freshen your home by getting rid of musty smells. It is a great cleaner, but it’s also super cheap. A vinegar bottle costs just a few dollars, and it will last for months. Compare that to the cost of commercial cleaners, and you can see why it is such a popular choice. 
7 Most Common Types of Vinegar
Vinegar can be made from various fruits, grains, and vegetables. You will find different types of it in the market, each with a unique smell and taste. However, the most common ones are given below –
1. White Distilled Vinegar
White vinegar is the most common type and you may also find one inside your kitchen cabinet. It is made from grains like corn and is mostly used for salad dressings and other tasty recipes. It has the highest concentration of acetic acid. Distilled white vinegar is also well-known for its cleaning properties. You can use it also for general cleaning purposes.
2. Apple Cider Vinegar
As the name suggests, apple cider vinegar is made from apples. It has a brown color and a slightly fruity taste. This type is also used in household cleaning tasks such as removing stains and polishing furniture items.
3. Balsamic Vinegar
Balsamic vinegar is made from grapes and has a dark brown color. It has a distinct sweet and zesty flavor used to cook different dishes or marinate meat.
4. Red Wine Vinegar
Red wine vinegar is made from – you guessed it right – red wine! It has a strong flavor and aroma and is mostly used in cooking, like salad dressings or marinades. It has a reddish color and can also be used for cleaning tasks such as removing stains from clothes.
5. White Wine Vinegar
White wine vinegar is made from the white wine and has a pale yellow color. It is less acidic compared to both distilled white and apple cider vinegar. But it is great for adding a new dimension to cooking!
6. Rice Vinegar
Rice vinegar is made from fermented rice and light brown color. It is used a lot in Asian cooking, especially in sushi. It has a slightly sweet taste and can be used for cleaning tasks such as polishing metal surfaces.
7. Malt Vinegar
Malt vinegar is made from malt and has a dark brown color. It is used in many British dishes such as fish and chips. And it is also a great cleaner for removing stains from surfaces like tiles or grout.
How Does Vinegar Clean?
So, now that you know the different types of vinegar, let’s look at how they actually clean.
Whether it’s white vinegar or apple cider vinegar, all types are acidic. And it’s this acidity that gives vinegar its cleaning properties. When you use it to clean, the acetic acid reacts with bases (the opposite of acids) to neutralize them.
You see, when it comes into contact with something dirty, the acid reacts with the dirt and breaks it down. This makes it much easier to wipe away. In fact, you might have noticed that when you clean with vinegar, you don’t need to scrub as hard as you do with other cleaners. That’s because the acid does a lot of the work for you!
But how exactly does this happen? Let’s take a closer look.
The Science Behind Vinegar Cleaning
Vinegar is made up of water and acetic acid – which is why it has that distinct sour smell. Acetic acid is a weak organic acid that is produced when ethanol or sugar is fermented by bacteria. The fermentation process creates vinegar – which contains between four to seven percent acetic acid. This makes it acidic in nature – with a pH level of around 2-3.
The pH level makes it acidic enough to dissolve mineral deposits (like calcium carbonate) and dirt. In fact, vinegar is often used as a natural cleaning product because it’s so gentle. However, it’s not so strong that it will damage your surfaces.
When you use vinegar to clean surfaces like countertops or floors, it will disinfect the area and kill bacteria. Additionally, vinegar’s acidity makes it great for breaking down mineral and calcium deposits, as well as soap scum and tough grime.
When you clean something with vinegar, the acid in it reacts with the alkaline substances on the surface that you are cleaning. As a result of this reaction, a neutral compound is formed, which is easier to rinse off. Due to its acidic nature, it can dissolve dirt, grime, and grease quite easily.
The cleaning power of vinegar comes from its acidity. Acidic substances can break down dirt, grime, and buildup. When you clean with vinegar, you’re actually taking advantage of its acidic properties to dissolve away tough messes. 
So, How Does Vinegar Clean?
The answer is simple – it’s the acetic acid. This ingredient is what gives its cleaning power. When you use vinegar to clean, the acetic acid reacts with the dirt and grime on surfaces, breaking it down and making it easier to wipe away.
Not to mention, it is super cheap compared to other cleaners on the market. So, next time your home needs a good cleaning, ditch the expensive commercial cleaners and reach for a bottle of vinegar instead!
Benefits of Using Vinegar for Cleaning
Though vinegar is a household item, it’s really great for cleaning. There are so many benefits of it for cleaning purposes. So, let’s learn about some of the benefits.
- It is a great alternative to expensive commercial cleaners. It’s very affordable, and it does the job just as well as the commercial cleaners.
- It is a multipurpose cleaner. You can use it to clean your floors, windows, countertops, and even your car.
- It is environmentally friendly. Commercial cleaners often contain harmful chemicals that can be damaging to the environment. Vinegar is a natural cleaner that doesn’t contain any harmful chemicals.
Choose the Best Vinegar for Cleaning
It’s no doubt that white distilled vinegar is the best for cleaning. Since it contains no coloring agent, it is more powerful than any other type in removing stains. It doesn’t stain the surfaces, which can happen from colored ones.
However, it is also more acidic than other vinegar. Pure distilled white vinegar contains about 5% acidity. This acidity level is also similar to most commercial cleaning products on the market. In fact, some might even argue that white vinegar cleans better than store-bought household cleaners!
So, it’s safe to use on most surfaces without damaging them. You can use a spray bottle to use it on most surfaces easily.
Common Uses of Vinegar Around House
As you know what type of vinegar is best for cleaning, let’s move on and see some of its most common cleaning uses around the house.
- Window Glass: Cleaning windows is one of the most popular vinegar uses. To make your own window cleaner, mix two parts of vinegar with one part of warm water in a spray bottle to use it easily.
- Countertops: You can use them not only cleaning but also disinfecting the countertops. Mix one part of water with two parts of vinegar and add a few drops of Dawn dishwashing liquid. Put this solution into a spray bottle and clean the kitchen countertops.
- Faucets: Sometimes, hard water stains or calcium deposits make the faucets look dirty. So, mix two teaspoons of vinegar and one teaspoon of salt to remove calcium deposits and other stains quickly.
- Showers and Tubs: Only by using undiluted vinegar you can easily remove the soap scum, mold, and mildew buildup from the showers and tubs. Be careful that not every type of tub is safe for vinegar.
- Laundry: For removing stains and odors from clothes, you can use white distilled vinegar. But don’t use other ones as they can cause stains on clothes. You can also add some soapy water while cleaning clothes.
- Appliances: Mix equal parts cleaning vinegar and water to use as appliance cleaner. Just spray this cleaner inside and outside the household items, including stainless steel appliances, and wipe away the stubborn stains using a microfiber cloth. Always double-check the cleaning caution of those appliances.
- Toilets: Bathroom surfaces are notorious for being covered in germs. You can easily disinfect these surfaces by spraying them with full-strength vinegar. Let it sit for a few minutes, then wipe it with a clean cloth.
- Tile Floors: Whether it’s the ceramic tile or vitrified tile, you can easily clean them all using vinegar and water solution. But it would help if you were careful about cleaning natural stone floor tiles. You can follow our full guidelines on cleaning floors.
So there you have it! Now you know how vinegar cleans and some of its common uses around the house. It is a great multipurpose cleaner and can save you money in the long run!
Be sure to use it safely and always test on a small area before using it on the entire surface.
What About the Vinegar Smell?
Since the vinegar is acidic, it possesses a strong smell, usually the white one. Some people don’t like this unpleasant scent. But don’t worry, the smell will dissipate quickly as it dries.
You can also add a few drops of essential oil to your cleaning solution to help with the scent. The lemon oil, lavender oil, and peppermint oil scent really good.
Or you could try using apple cider vinegar instead! It has a much milder smell since it’s been fermented. Some people also like its sweet fruity scents. Luckily, it can also clean as same as the white distilled vinegar.
But it has a dark color, so there is a chance of staining the surfaces. Suppose you mix equal parts of it with equal parts of hot water. In that case, it will become a diluted cleaning vinegar and won’t stain afterward.
The scent of vinegar might linger for about an hour if you’re using it as a cleanser. However, this may be a small price to pay while cleaning with this safe, natural, and eco-friendly agent.
However, if you are using white vinegar for cleaning, you can open windows to let the fresh air come in so the pungent smell goes away quicker.
When Not to Use Vinegar
You have already known some of the major benefits and some common uses of vinegar around the house. But do you know there are some cases when you shouldn’t use this cleaner at all? It will do more harm than good.
So, let’s learn about some issues when you should not use this household cleaning agent.
- Vinegar is too concentrated, so it can easily stain the fabrics. So, please keep it away from delicate fabrics.
- Though you can clean kitchen countertops using it but not the ones made of natural stone like marble or granite. It can scratch the surface or cause defects by reacting.
- Cleaning kitchen knives are important, but not with this natural cleaner. Cleaning fancy knives with vinegar can corrode the metal and dull the knife edges since it’s acidic in nature.
- Using it for cleaning spills is very common but not eggy spills. It will make the spill harder and thicker, making it difficult to remove.
- Using undiluted cleaning vinegar for waxed wood furniture and hardwood floors is really a bad idea. It can cause streaks or damage the finish. But you can use mixed equal parts of vinegar and water for this purpose.
- Keep any rubbery item from this cleaner, whether it’s on your dishwasher, refrigerator, or other areas. The acid inside it can eat away rubber.
- You can use it for cleaning appliances, but it’s not a good idea to use it on steam iron. It can damage such irons permanently by eating the inside and outside protective coating.
- It can also damage the upper coating of your electronic gadgets like laptops and mobiles. So, please don’t use it for cleaning such electronic screens.
Note: This cleaning agent is also not recommended for cast iron and aluminum items. [Source]
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Is cleaning vinegar toxic?
Though we all know how effective vinegar is for cleaning. But in stores, you’ll notice that some products are labeled as “Cleaning Vinegar.” So, why it’s different from white vinegar, and is it toxic to health?
Well, just like other types of it, cleaning vinegar is totally non-toxic and environment-friendly. But it also cleans more effectively compared to white ones. The main reason is their acidity level.
White vinegar contains 5% acidity, and on the other hand, cleaning vinegar has 6% acidity. It may seem that there’s only a 1% difference. But this 1% has made the cleaning vinegar 20% stronger than white ones. Still, it’s not toxic at all and completely safe to use. 
What happens when you mix vinegar and baking soda?
Mixing vinegar with baking soda is a common scenario while cleaning. But what happens when you mix these two together and why do they become powerful cleaning agents?
When baking soda is combined with this natural cleaner, something new is created. Carbon dioxide gas quickly foams up as a result of the combination. All of the baking soda can be reacted and consumed into the solution if enough vinegar is used.
Baking soda is a sodium bicarbonate compound, and vinegar contains acetic acid.
So, when these two mixes, baking soda’s bicarbonate ions react with vinegar’s hydrogen ions. As a result, two new chemicals are formed, namely – sodium acetate and carbonic acid. Then these solutions can clean any stain.
An impressive eruption occurs when a large amount of vinegar and baking soda is mixed in a container with a small opening. Many science teachers use this formula to teach students basic chemistry.
Is white vinegar harmful to breathe?
White vinegar usually contains 4% acetic acid. So, if you breathe liquid vinegar by mistake or intentionally, you will feel like drowning. If you breathe in “misted” ones as an aerosol, your lungs will be irritated and could develop into chemical pneumonia.
It has already been observed in workplace exposures. Concentrated acetic acid is extremely harmful to mucus membranes and can cause necrosis.
On the other hand, if you breathe in boiled vinegar, it may not cause serious damage. Still, it can inhibit normal breathing and irritate the lungs. But suppose anyone does this for a longer period. In that case, it can cause serious lung damage that leads to chemical pneumonia.
So, it is never a good idea to breathe in vinegar!
Does boiling vinegar clean the air?
According to Chinese people, boiling vinegar cleans the air. They believe that steam can cleanse the air and get rid of bad luck. That’s why they have been doing it for centuries whenever anyone got ill in the house.
So, does boiling vinegar clean the air truly?
However, there is no scientific evidence to support this claim. The acetic acid of vinegar can kill pathogens effectively. Still, the current scientific research shows that vinegar steam has no such power to clean or purify the air. 
Vinegar is an amazing multipurpose cleaner because it’s so versatile and inexpensive. Now that you know how vinegar cleans, you can use it with confidence the next time your home needs a good scrubbing. And, who knows? You might even save a few dollars in the process.
So there you have it!
If you have any tips on how to use vinegar for cleaning, let us know in the comments below! And be sure to check back soon for more helpful cleaning tips and tricks. Happy cleaning!`