The Biggest Mistakes You're Making When Cleaning With Vinegar

If you're looking for an eco-friendly and cheap alternative to commercial cleaning products, homemade mixtures that feature vinegar as a key cleaning ingredient are definitely the way to go. Vinegar is a versatile cleaning product for your home that does wonders at tackling grime, dirt, soap scum, bacteria, and other yucky build-ups due to its acidic nature, as per Healthline. When mixed with additional components, such as dish soap, lemon oil, and baking soda, vinegar is the multi-purpose cleaning solution that will last ages and won't break the bank. There's also no need to worry about the pungent smell let off by vinegar as it quickly dissipates within an hour or so after cleaning. If you have an extra-sensitive olfactory sense, using essential oils in your vinegar-based cleaning products also goes a long way to ward off unpleasant scents.

While using vinegar as an alternative to chemical-laden, store-bought cleaning products is becoming increasingly more popular, there are certain precautions to keep in mind, such as which type of vinegar to use and which surfaces are appropriate to clean with this specific product. Keep scrolling to learn about the most common mistakes people make when using vinegar to clean and how you can avoid making them yourself.

Using any type of vinegar

One of the biggest mistakes people make when choosing a vinegar to use for cleaning purposes is grabbing just any type of vinegar from the grocery store. You may be overwhelmed looking at the choices available in most grocery stores — in addition to the more popular white and apple cider vinegars, there's also malt, balsamic, red wine, rice, beer, black, apricot, cane, and champagne, among several others, as per Webstaurant Store. It's important to know ahead of time which vinegar is best for cleaning so as not to purchase the wrong one and potentially damage the surfaces of your home. 

Money Talks News outlines the best types of vinegar for cleaning purposes: distilled white vinegar, white wine vinegar, apple cider vinegar, and cleaning vinegar. Both distilled white and white wine vinegar are optimal for cleaning as they are colorless and there is no risk of staining. Cleaning vinegar is the only one not adequate for consumption due to its extreme acidity, and will likely be placed in the laundry or cleaning section of the supermarket separate from the rest of the vinegars. While all four of the aforementioned vinegars are suitable for cleaning, you should make sure to properly dilute them in water beforehand. Depending on the area and surface you are cleaning, the diluted vinegar mixture can be created ahead of time and stored in a handy spray bottle to make it easier to use when you need it. 

Using vinegar to clean everything in your house

While vinegar can be a powerful cleaning agent when used correctly, it is not appropriate for every surface or item in your home as it can cause damage. One frequent mistake people make is cleaning wood surfaces with vinegar, which can cause streaks that you won't be able to easily remove, as per Ace Handyman Services. Even when properly diluted in water, the acid in vinegar damages the fragile wood while the water leaves its own unsightly stains. The same goes for wood flooring. 

Another surface that should be avoided when using vinegar-based products is granite, according to Bob Vila. The chemical components found in vinegar can ruin the shiny surface of a granite countertop. In some cases, the damage caused by vinegar can require costly sanding and polishing repairs. If you have marble countertops, you'll also want to skip the vinegar as the acid can cause physical deformations in the surface. Bob Vila cautions against using vinegar to clean ceramic flooring as well. The acid is too harsh for the surface of the tiles and can destroy the finish and grout over time.

According to Good Housekeeping, many people use vinegar to treat stains in their clothing. However, these stains are best treated with specific laundry products as vinegar does not contain adequate cleaning power nor the necessary enzymes to remove them. The acid present in the vinegar is unable to properly dissolve and remove the stain.

Mixing vinegar with other chemical products

While vinegar should, and often times must, be diluted in water to avoid damaging the surfaces and items in your home during the cleaning process, many people also like to add some essential oils, such as lemon oil, to give the mixture a fragrant scent. Vinegar can also be used in conjunction with baking soda for an extra kick of cleaning power. However, another big no-no is mixing vinegar with certain other household cleaning products, as noted by Money Talks News. Depending on the chemicals present in the cleaning products, mixing them with vinegar can not only cause blemishes or destroy the surfaces you clean, but can also cause injury to you or others present in the home by releasing toxic fumes.

One such household cleaner that should never be mixed with vinegar is chlorine bleach. The chlorine in bleach reacts with the acetic acid in vinegar to create a dangerous gas known as chlorine gas, which is yellow-green in color and damages the respiratory system when inhaled. Hydrogen peroxide is another cleanser that creates a harmful chemical substance when mixed with vinegar, which is known as peracetic acid. This corrosive acid also attacks the respiratory system and can inflame the sensitive membranes of your eyes and nose. Another couple of products to avoid mixing with vinegar are ammonia and rubbing alcohol.

Using vinegar to clean certain household appliances

You may have heard that cleaning your dishwasher and/or washing machine with vinegar is a proper alternative to dishwasher and laundry detergents. Vinegar is also typically recommended to disinfect these appliances and get rid of any soap residue. While there is no denying that vinegar has the capability to disinfect and clean your dishwasher and washing machine, Knieper Team Real Estate cautions against doing so. The reason is simple: The acidic nature of vinegar can damage the hoses and rubber parts of these machines that function to keep water from escaping. The hoses are necessary for allowing water to enter and drain from the appliances. If damaged, you'll end up with leaks and other issues that could be costly to repair or require you to replace the equipment entirely. 

While vinegar with a low acidity level can be used on occasion in your dishwasher and washing machine, make sure you avoid using it too frequently. If you need to remove soap scum and hard-water films from these appliances, you're better off splurging on store-bought products that have been proven safe to use frequently and over time.

Using vinegar to clean up certain types of messes

Vinegar solutions are great for getting rid of grime, dirt, and caked-on foods, but should not be used for certain types of spills, such as eggs. If you've ever accidentally let an egg (or more!) drop on your kitchen floor, you're aware of the goopy mess this makes. It may be tempting to use your vinegar spray when sopping up the eggs with a rag or paper towels. However, this is not the best way to clean egg spills. Cleaning specialist Lily Cameron explains how vinegar reacts with eggs to create an even more difficult mess to clean up, as per Family Handyman. "Cleaning egg messes with vinegar solution will cause the protein enzymes in the egg to coagulate and will make the stains even more impossible to clean up," Cameron says. The coagulated eggs form a glue-like substance that becomes sticky and hardened.

You will also want to opt out of using plain vinegar to clean any oil or grease-based spills, according to CNET. The acid found in vinegar is simply not as effective at cutting through grease as a product with an alkaline pH, such as most soaps and dishwashing detergents. Depending on the nature of the spill, a cleaning solution of vinegar mixed with dish soap will be far more effective than vinegar alone.