Cleaning with vinegar is one of the best ways to clean your home naturally. Not only is vinegar cheap, but you’ve probably already got a bottle in your cabinets. The biggest question I’ve always received, though, is what kind of vinegar to clean with?
What is Vinegar?
Vinegar is acetic acid in an aqueous solution. Which means it is an acid in a solution of water. Acid strength is usually 5-8%, however, there are much stronger vinegars available on the market.
The acid is made by a double fermentation of sugars to ethanol using yeast. Then the ethanol is converted to acetic acid by bacteria. A variety of ingredients can be used to make vinegar, including grains, fruits, and other alcohols.
How Does Vinegar Kill Germs?
Before you decide what kind of vinegar to clean with, it helps to know why vinegar is good for cleaning.
How can a nontoxic food product be such a great disinfectant too?
It’s all about the acid. Vinegar is made of acetic acid. The acid in vinegar can actually travel through a bacteria cell’s membrane and cause it to die, according to this report.
That is why vinegar can actually kill salmonella, E. coli and other nasty stuff that you don’t want on countertops, toilets, dishes, etc. Vinegar (especially malt vinegar with 10% acid) can effectively kill the flu virus, according to this study. Vinegar is also great at killing tuberculosis bacteria, according to this clinical study.
Plus, vinegar cuts through grease, dissolves soap scum, remove hard water deposits, loosens sticky messes on surfaces, and more!
That’s why I’ve had so much success in using vinegar to:
- Kill germs in a kitchen sink
- Unclog a showerhead
- Clean a Toilet
- Clean a Washing Machine
- Disinfect Wooden Spoons
- Clean a Vinyl Fence
The Different Types of Vinegar
There are a variety of different types of vinegars, all made from different ingredients or different strengths. Here are some of the most common vinegar types and their acidity levels.
- White Vinegar This is the most common and the one you probably think of. Made from corn, it is a clear liquid. Acidity ranges from 3-30%. White vinegar used for cooking is generally about 5% acetic acid.
- Apple Cider Vinegar This brown vinegar is made from apples. Often used in cooking, detox drinks and as a nutritional supplement, ACV has an acidity level of 6-8%.
- Balsamic Vinegar Often used with tomato salads or in stews, this thick, dark colored vinegar is made from grapes. It generally has a 6% acidity level.
- Rice Wine Vinegar Another clear vinegar, it is made from rice. A lower acidity level of about 5% makes this a favorite ingredient in many recipes.
- Malt Vinegar Often used with fish and chips, this vinegar is made from malted barley grains, hence the name. It is a common acidity level at 6%.
- Sherry Vinegar Produced from sherry, the alcoholic beverage, this one is stronger with around an 8% acidity level.
What Type of Vinegar is Best For Cleaning?
Vinegar is a great nontoxic cleaner because of its acidity. So just about any vinegar would be great to kill germs with.
Yet white distilled vinegar is definitely the absolute favorite for green cleaning. White distilled vinegar is the clear liquid that you will find in lots of different sizes of bottles in the grocery store. So it won’t stain.
White distilled vinegar is often made from grains, such as corn. It can be produced for super cheap, compared to specialty vinegars using wine or apple cider vinegar that is raw and unpasteurized.
White vinegar can be bought by the gallon at major retailers for just pennies per ounce. I used it to make this vinegar gel cleaner and only spent 0.24 cents for the entire recipe!
Not only can white vinegar be used both for cooking and cleaning, but it is biodegradable, too. That means that this multipurpose product is safer for the Earth and our waterways than chemical-laden cleaners.
Can you use apple cider vinegar to clean?
Yes! But it depends on what you are cleaning.
In general, apple cider vinegar can be used to clean just as effectively as white vinegar.
The question is, would you want to, though?
If putting vinegar in your laundry or using it for a spot remover, you would want to use something clear rather than brown. So definitely use white vinegar instead of apple cider vinegar. (This is me being paranoid, but you might be fine using apple cider vinegar on your laundry.)
Most other methods of using vinegar to clean (such as a vinegar spray or vinegar wash) can easily substitute apple cider vinegar instead of white vinegar.
The smell of apple cider vinegar might be a bit more pleasant than white vinegar.
However, if you use the apple cider vinegar with the “mother,” such as Bragg’s apple cider vinegar, you are paying for extra health benefits that will be lost using it as a green cleaner. The “mother” in apple cider vinegar is beneficial bacteria that’s great for ingesting it, but is not necessary for cleaning. It is an expensive substitution for cleaning with vinegar.
Even apple cider vinegar without the “mother” can be more expensive than white vinegar. A recent price comparison at Target showed that a 64 oz. bottle of white vinegar was 0.03 cents an ounce and a 64 oz. bottle of apple cider vinegar was 0.05 cents an ounce.
What is the difference between cleaning vinegar and white vinegar?
Cleaning vinegar sounds like the perfect solution for green cleaning around the home, right? After all, if you’re wondering what kind of vinegar to clean with, you would probably choose a product labeled a cleaning vinegar.
Whether or not you need to buy a special cleaning vinegar depends on how much money you want to spend, how much you hate the smell of normal vinegar, and what you are using it to clean.
For instance, Heinz All Natural Cleaning Vinegar suggests it is the perfect answer for all of your natural cleaning with a special cleaning strength. Heinz also states that the Cleaning Vinegar is safe for cooking, too. Yet the acidity is 6%, only 1% more acidic than normal white vinegar.
White House, another big brand for vinegar, also has their line of All Natural White House Foods Cleaning Vinegars. Choose either unscented or one of their lemon or lavender scents. Their cleaning vinegar is 6% acidity, as well.
Is that extra 1% of acidity going to do much more for your normal day to day cleaning? That’s your call.
Of course, cleaning vinegars can actually have a less powerful acidity than normal white vinegar, too.
The Laundress Scented Vinegar is a pleasant smelling vinegar great for cleaning. It’s just vinegar and fragrance. Aunt Fannie’s Cleaning Vinegars are a line of different scented vinegars at 3.5% acidity using essential oils and a sugar surfactant (a common substance in cleaners and this one is all natural).
You can always make your own scented cleaning vinegar using essential oils, such as this recipe for an all purpose kitchen cleaner.
Of course, some cleaning vinegars are actually industrial vinegar. That’s completely different when making your decision. Keep reading to see why.
What is industrial vinegar?
I was shocked when I was browsing items in a German food store and came across a small bottle of vinegar. It was a tiny bottle, but the price was a bit steep. After reading the label I discovered why. It was 20% acidity vinegar. (I think it was used for pickling.)
Most vinegars that you will find in grocery stores are 5% acidity. Some specialty vinegars will have a 6-10% acidity.
But 20% acidity? Yikes!
With so many choices, it’s definitely hard to decide what kind of vinegar to clean with.
Vinegar with a high acidity is called industrial vinegar or agricultural vinegar. It can come in strengths such as 20% acidity, 30% acidity and higher.
The higher acidity makes industrial vinegar a potentially harmful product to be working with, even though it is natural. You MUST make sure that you take proper precautions to not splash the product on your skin or in your eyes. The smell is extremely strong, as well, so proper ventilation and even wearing a mask is a must.
What Do I Use Industrial Vinegar For?
So why is there such a strong vinegar for sale? Industrial vinegar or agricultural vinegar is great for using outside.
After I found the 20% vinegar at the German market, I went home to research what it could be used for. After seeing so many ideas for using it outside on plants, I went back to the market to buy a bottle to try it out. (I later started ordering industrial vinegar online because it has been VERY difficult to find in retail stores. It’s also VERY heavy to ship. That’s where Amazon Prime comes in handy with free shipping!)
Industrial vinegar is great for killing plants quickly. Even the toughest plants and weeds. Perhaps that’s why it’s also called agricultural vinegar.
I used industrial vinegar to kill weeds in my driveway and patio and shared my tips and tricks for organic weed killing. But I learned a lot about the dangers of industrial vinegar while using it. It is extremely noxious to smell. The smell is so strong that it burns. And it will linger in your backyard and make your neighbors think that you are strange.
While using agricultural vinegar on my patio bricks to kill weeds in between the stones, I found that the industrial strength vinegar actually bleached the stones for a few days. They seemed to bounce back and not be bleached anymore, but definitely do a patch test first.
Can you use balsamic vinegar to clean?
Balsamic vinegar can have an acidity similar to white distilled vinegar. Which means it could cut through grease.
However, balsamic vinegar is very dark. It is made from grape must, rather than grains that white distilled vinegar is made from.
The color and darkness of balsamic vinegar means this vinegar is not smart to clean with. It can stain the surfaces and fabrics you are wanting to clean. For instance, you definitely would not want to use this product for cleaning retainers with vinegar.
Plus, the cost is way more than white distilled vinegar. There is no reason that you would want to clean with balsamic vinegar.
Does Balsamic Vinegar Expire?
If you have old balsamic vinegar, you might be tempted to clean with it rather than throw it out. But does balsamic vinegar go bad? No, it never expires.
However, you may find sediment on the bottom. Or the color might look different. And using it for cooking might not give you the best results. But the acidity in the vinegar does not expire or evaporate. So you can use it for cleaning.
Can you use white wine vinegar instead of white vinegar to clean?
Yes, you can use white wine vinegar to clean.
However, the cost of the specialty vinegar would make it much more expensive to use than white distilled vinegar.
Only use this option if you’re trying to use up a bottle of white wine vinegar that you are getting rid of anyway.
How to Mix Vinegar and Water for Cleaning
The best way to use vinegar to clean is to mix it with water and use in a spray bottle.
There is no one right way to mix vinegar and water. Using equal parts of both vinegar and water will make a basic all-purpose cleaning spray that is very effective.
If you do not like the smell of vinegar, you can dilute the solution and still have effective results. Mix one part white vinegar with 3 parts water for a more gentle cleaning solution without as much odor.
I personally keep a small spray bottle with undiluted white vinegar handy for tough stains, such as baked-on-food on pots and pans or for cleaning the toilet bowl.
What Not to Clean with Vinegar
Just because it’s natural doesn’t mean that vinegar will work on everything in your home. The acidity level can actually damage some surfaces.
Do not use vinegar on marble, limestone, granite or other polished stone! The acid in vinegar will dissolve the outer finish and your surface will end up looking old, drab and dull.
Never use vinegar on iron, including pots and pans. Acid will dissolve iron.
Electronic devices, such as TVs, cell phones, computer screens, stereos, etc. should never be sprayed with a vinegar cleaner. These electronics need to have a more gentle cleaner without acids.
Be careful when using vinegar in a mopping solution for sealed hardwood floors. Too much acidity can remove the polish.
Where can I buy vinegar for cleaning?
Now that you know what kind of vinegar to clean with, where should you buy vinegar for cleaning?
Vinegar can be found in all major retailers and grocery stores.
Specialty vinegars, such as industrial vinegar, can sometimes be found in garden centers. I have only found industrial vinegar in small, independent garden centers. I also found 20% vinegar in German markets.
Some people have reported seeing agricultural vinegar in mass retailers, such as Lowe’s. It might depend on your specific store and location.
Vinegars with a strong acidity can be bought online. Amazon is a great place to buy vinegar. Amazon’s brand of vinegar is actually a really great deal, and as part of Prime Pantry you don’t have to worry about shipping charges for the weight.
Thanks to Amazon’s partnership with Whole Foods, you can buy organic white vinegar for a really great price, too!
The weight of a vinegar bottle is heavy, which means that shipping costs can be huge on other sites. Keep that in mind. Use Amazon Prime for free shipping for Prime eligible items.
Vinegar is great for cleaning toilets! Here’s the easy ways to use vinegar to clean a toilet.
And, check out these easy homemade toilet bowl cleaner tablets to make!
Friday 26th of November 2021
Thank you so much for doing the research on this. It’s very enlightening. Makes a person wonder why we changed from the simple and relatively safe products to all the dangerous junk we’ve been sold.
Sunday 5th of December 2021
Thank you, Jeannette!
Rosalind M Crockett
Tuesday 7th of September 2021
I found 30% industrial vinegar at Wal Mart...19.97/gal. I use it to kill unwanted vegetation...but be careful, it will kill everything it touches. So much better than the chemicals found in Round Up and such.
Thursday 9th of September 2021
I agree! I recently found it at Walmart, too, which was surprising. You definitely don't want to spray it on anything that you wouldn't want to shrivel up.
Wednesday 27th of May 2020
I've read that the 1% extra acidity in cleaning vinegar makes it 20% stronger. So while it only seems like 1%, 20% stronger seems like quite a bit.
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