As much as you may love working in the kitchen, the reality is that there's always something to clean. A non-toxic alternative to commercial cleaners, white vinegar can handle the majority of your kitchen cleaning tasks. Vinegar is a brilliant low-cost cleaner that will remove dirt, grime, and stains, and it's incredibly simple to make a scented DIY cleaner that leaves your kitchen extra fresh and sparkling. While it is a cleaning powerhouse, vinegar is not the all-natural miracle solution that some people claim. Vinegar's acidity can cause irreversible damage, so it's critical to understand which surfaces vinegar should never touch.
How to Use Vinegar as a Cleaner
White vinegar has the ability to clean multiple things in your home, but you rarely want to use it at full strength. Instead, fill a spray bottle with an equal mix of white vinegar and water, and use it as an all-purpose cleaner. Don't worry about the vinegar smell because it disappears as soon as the surface dries.
There are several types of white vinegar, distinguished by the acetic acid content:
- Distilled white vinegar is typically diluted to around 5 percent acidity. It's primarily used for cooking but can make a decent light cleaner if that's the only bottle around the house.
- Cleaning vinegar is around 6 percent acidic. This is the best choice for household cleaning, but you definitely don't want to cook with it.
- White (or spirit) vinegar is the strongest, and the acidity can reach 25 percent. Since it varies so much, carefully examine the bottle. If it's considerably higher than cleaning vinegar, it's for outdoor and industrial purposes and too strong for indoor use.
No matter the strength, vinegar is not on the EPA's list of approved disinfectant cleaners because it will not kill all types of germs and bacteria. For the cleanest kitchen, use vinegar for regular cleaning and a commercial anti-bacterial cleaner on surfaces that need to be germ-free.
Don't Mix Vinegar, Bleach, or Hydrogen Peroxide
Combining vinegar with chlorine bleach or hydrogen peroxide can produce toxic fumes. Avoid mixing these liquids or alternating their use directly on surfaces.
Boost Your Vinegar Cleaner
It's easy to add scent and extra cleaning power to your vinegar solution. For instance, a few drops of tea tree, grapefruit, and lemon essential oils will give your homemade cleaner a bright scent that lingers after the vinegar smell dissipates. Just be careful to use essential oils in moderation, particularly if you have children or pets (generally, five to 10 drops of each oil is enough). While some essential oils have antimicrobial properties, studies are not conclusive, and these additives do not make vinegar cleaners a replacement for disinfectants.
You can also infuse vinegar with natural citrus peel: Before juicing a lemon, lime, or orange, remove the peel with a vegetable peeler, let it steep in your bottle of cleaning vinegar for two to three days, then strain out the peel.
Kitchen Counters, Floors, and Appliances
Instead of an all-purpose or floor cleaner, use a diluted vinegar mix to clean countertops, floors, and other kitchen surfaces. For counters, use the 1-to-1 water and vinegar in a spray bottle. It works on most appliance surfaces as well, including refrigerator interiors, plastic, and glass. Sometimes it's good to follow up by wiping the surface with a water-soaked cloth then a dry towel. While it will work for minor spills, vinegar is not an effective degreaser for the stovetop, and you'll have better luck with a mild detergent (even just a sink filled with soapy water).
Mixing 1 1/2 cups of water with 1/2 cup each of distilled vinegar and isopropyl alcohol makes a brilliant spray cleaner for vinyl and laminate floors, particularly if you have a microfiber mop.
Kitchen Sinks and Drains
Kitchen sink a little grimy and stinky? Turn to that dynamic duo of vinegar and baking soda. The combination works wonderfully on most sink surfaces and is a natural drain cleaner and deodorizer.
To clean the sink basin, sprinkle baking soda over the surface then spritz it with your vinegar-water solution. Give it a few minutes, and any grime and stains should easily scrub away.
For the drain, sprinkle a tablespoon or two of baking soda in the drain and pour in straight vinegar. It will foam and fizz—just like that volcano experiment from science class—as it works its way down the drain, cleaning as it goes. If there's any baking soda leftover, add another splash or two of vinegar until it's gone.
Coffee Pots and Tea Kettles
No matter how pure your water is, coffee pots and tea kettles need to be descaled regularly. Hardened calcium and other mineral deposits are a natural byproduct of heating water, impede water flow, and will make your favorite hot beverages taste not so great.
Whether you have a standard drip coffee pot or single-cup brewer like a Keurig, descale it every three to six months, depending on how much you use it. To do so, pour equal parts of vinegar and water into the machine and run the regular cycle. Afterward, run two or three cycles of plain water through the machine to rinse it out before brewing your next cup of coffee.
Tea kettles and gooseneck pots for pour-over coffee are equally susceptible to mineral buildup. For a monthly cleaning, bring a kettle filled with equal parts of water and vinegar to a boil, then remove it from the heat to cool completely before rinsing with water. Buildup in the spout is also likely: Heat that vinegar and water back up in the kettle, then pour it into a deep bowl, stick the spout upside down in the hot liquid, and let it soak for at least three hours before rinsing with water.
Pots and Pans
Over time, fats and oils will blacken the surfaces of your metal pots and pans. Cooks often consider this a sign of many fabulous homecooked dishes and think the patina produces better-tasting baked goods. However, there are times when you want to shine up your pans: Cover the surface with a paste of baking soda and vinegar, let it sit overnight, then scrub away the grime.
Microwaves are prone to splatters and splashes. Before they get caked on, take a moment to clean them up with your vinegar-water spray bottle. It works just as well on the microwave's interior as it does on the outside and just needs to be wiped dry. Another option is to steam clean it: Heat a microwave-safe bowl filled with equal parts of water and vinegar for a couple of minutes, then wipe the interior clean.
What Not to Clean With Vinegar
Vinegar is a great cleaner but it's also acidic, so it can eat away at some materials. Before you start spraying and scrubbing, it's important to know when vinegar will do more harm than good. In some cases, the damage may not be immediate, and that's almost worse because it might lead to costly repairs.
- STONE or WOOD: Never use vinegar to clean stone or wood (including marble or stone counters and hardwood floors) because it can etch or compromise the surface and dull the natural shine. Some manufacturers will even consider your flooring warranty void if you use vinegar.
- ALUMINUM, COPPER, CAST IRON: Avoid using vinegar on aluminum, copper, or cast iron utensils, pots, and pans, any of which could become pitted.
- STAINLESS STEEL: Stainless steel is tricky because it comes in different grades, and vinegar's acid may damage the surface of one thing while leaving another looking fabulous. This applies to stainless steel appliances and knives; if you're not sure how it will hold up, it's best to use an alternative cleaner or do a spot test.
- RUBBER: Rubber parts in dishwashers and some small appliances can become worn out from repeated use of vinegar (especially when it's not diluted with water).
- DISPLAY/TOUCH SCREENS: Often used as a streak-free window cleaner, vinegar can compromise the anti-glare or touch properties of digital screens, which are ever-more common in modern kitchens. It's best to use screen wipes instead.
United States Environmental Protection Agency. Selected EPA-Registered Disinfectants. 2021.
May, E., RN, BA, MPH. Vinegar; Not Just for Salad. National Capital Poison Center.
Wińska K, Mączka W, Łyczko J, Grabarczyk M, Czubaszek A, Szumny A. Essential oils as antimicrobial agents—myth or real alternative? Molecules. 2019;24(11):2130. doi: 10.3390/molecules24112130