9 Mistakes People Make When Cleaning With Vinegar

A woman is upset after damaging her fridge with vinegar
Photo by Elnur / Shutterstock.com

Natural, inexpensive and versatile, vinegar is a great all-purpose cleaner. Wait … scratch that. Vinegar is a great most-purpose cleaner.

Vinegar’s cleaning muscle comes from acetic acid, a powerful cleaning agent that can remove grease, dirt and mineral deposits, and even kill some bacteria. But vinegar isn’t recommended for every cleaning chore. In fact, it can damage some appliances and surfaces in your home.

If vinegar is part of your cleaning arsenal, use it wisely and avoid these mistakes.

1. Choosing the wrong type

First things first. Though there are many types of vinegar, few of them are appropriate for typical cleaning tasks around the house. Those include:

  • Distilled white vinegar, or white vinegar: This versatile vinegar is famous for its excellent cleaning properties. Diluting it by mixing one part water to one part vinegar should be suitable for most cleaning purposes, though the ratio is a rule of thumb.
  • Apple cider vinegar: This vinegar can be used for many of the same cleaning purposes as white vinegar and diluted similarly.
  • Cleaning vinegar: Slightly more acidic than distilled white vinegar, cleaning vinegar is not safe to ingest. Look for it in the cleaning aisle of most grocery stores and dilute it as you would white vinegar.

2. Mixing it with other cleaners

Two powerful cleaners are better than one, right? Wrong. There are certain household cleaners that should never be mixed. Avoid combining vinegar and:

  • Hydrogen peroxide: Mixing hydrogen peroxide with vinegar creates peracetic acid, which can irritate your skin, eyes and respiratory system.
  • Chlorine bleach: When mixed, bleach and vinegar produce a toxic chlorine gas that can cause breathing problems, coughing and irritation of the eyes, nose and throat.

For more tips on using bleach safely, check out “10 Things You Should Never Do With Bleach.

3. Using it on stone countertops

Hey, you paid a lot for those gorgeous stone countertops. Protect them. Vinegar should never be used to clean any stone surfaces such as granite. Over time, the acid in vinegar damages the sealant and dulls the finish.

To keep your countertops pristine, check out these stone-safe cleaning methods from Merry Maids.

4. Adding it to the steam chamber of an iron

Resist the temptation to clean the steam holes of your iron by adding vinegar to the water reservoir. The acid can eat away the reservoir’s protective coating, eventually damaging the inside of the iron.

Check your owner’s manual for safer ways to remove limescale and gunky deposits. Today, many models have a simple self-clean feature using the iron’s own steam.

5. Using it to wash knives

According to Consumer Reports, the acid in vinegar can cause pitting and rusting on some grades of stainless steel. With their thin, exposed edges, kitchen knives are particularly susceptible to this acidic reaction.

Stay sharp. Instead of vinegar, wash knives with mild dish detergent and warm water.

6. Using it to clean hardwood floors

Keep your wood floors buff and beautiful — by keeping your mop away from the vinegar.

According to This Old House, vinegar can wear away the protective polyurethane coating on wood floors.

7. Adding it to the dishwasher

Running a dishwasher with a cup of vinegar inside is a popular method for removing hard-water film and stubborn odors. Bad idea. Vinegar can damage the rubber hoses and seals inside dishwashers and eventually lead to leaks.

It’s also ineffective at removing hard-water film, testing by Consumer Reports found.

Skip the vinegar and try a dishwasher cleaner — Consumer Reports cites the Affresh or Finish brands. It may cost a little more than vinegar, but significantly less than a new machine.

8. … Or the washing machine

Vinegar is bad news for the mechanics of your washing machine, too. Over time, the acid in vinegar can damage rubber hoses and seals, resulting in leaks and expensive repair bills.

9. Using it to clean electronic devices

Vinegar is great for cleaning glass, but the glass used to make the smartphone, computer and TV screens is unique. Vinegar can damage the anti-glare properties of this type of material and make touch screens less responsive.

Instead, CNET recommends making your own screen-cleaning spray. It’s safe and effective, and costs only pennies!

Disclosure: The information you read here is always objective. However, we sometimes receive compensation when you click links within our stories.

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