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Four (4) things you need to know about cleaning with vinegar

  1. What is vinegar?
  2. Is vinegar safe?
  3. Never use vinegar for
  4. Safe uses for vinegar
Most of us are aware of the push to use environmentally-friendly products. And rightly so, the importance of using sustainable ingredients and packaging is critical to reducing our impact on the environment. For several years now, the Australian government has been working towards Australia’s 2025 National Packaging Targets[1], which the APCO regulates; these are:
  • 100% reusable, recyclable or compostable packaging.
  • 70% of plastic packaging is recycled or composted.
  • 50% of the average recycled content is in the packaging (revised from 30% in 2020).
  • The phase-out of problematic and unnecessary single-use plastic packaging.
As well as packaging, the ingredients of our cleaning products are under the microscope. So many are turning to vinegar as an alternative. We are bombarded with videos on using vinegar as a general cleaner around the house, BUT is it really the best alternative? Vinegar is still a chemical; even though extracted from a natural source, we must be aware that we should avoid using it on some surfaces and use gloves and glasses as a precaution.  

What is Vinegar?

The word vinegar comes from the French word “vin aigre” and is primarily used for cooking. Around 5000 BC, it was used as medicine, a preservative, and a drink to boost strength and promote wellness. Then more recently, it has been marketed as a natural alternative to main-stream cleaning products. The Harvard School of Public Health explains that; Vinegar is a combination of acetic acid and water made by a two-step fermentation process. First, yeast feed on the sugar or starch of any liquid from a plant food such as fruits, whole grains, potatoes, or rice. This liquid ferments into alcohol. The alcohol is then exposed to oxygen, and the acetic acid bacteria Acetobacter to ferment again over weeks or months, forming vinegar.[2] There are many kinds of vinegar on the market, and white vinegar is promoted as the best for cleaning as it is colourless. Most vinegar contains between 5-8% acetic acid. If the concentration of acetic acid is above this, it can be hazardous.   

Is Vinegar Safe?

Vinegar is a chemical (acetic acid) but not as strong as hydrochloric acid. Vinegar is safe in low concentrations if used correctly on some surfaces. Be careful heating vinegar, as it can give off strong fumes. Never mix with other chemicals like bleach and soaps, as this can cause a reaction that either neutralises both or creates poisonous fumes.  So yes, vinegar is safe for cooking and descaling a kettle or cleaning glass shower screens, but it can react with some rubbers and stone surfaces, destroying expensive appliances and benchtops. Note: Vinegar is NOT classified as ‘hazardous’ under ECHA or Safework Australia when under 10%. Most vinegar is around 6 – 7% acetic acid. It is a ‘food’ and is considered to be safe to handle without PPE as non-hazardous. However, 10 – 25% acetic acid is classified as Category 2 and an eye and skin irritant. Concentrations above 25% become corrosive.[3]  

Never Use Vinegar For

As mentioned above, vinegar is an acid that will react with some surfaces. Before cleaning anything, refer to your user manual to ensure vinegar will not damage it. Some articles warn about the use of vinegar; ‘The Science of Vinegar’ [4], ‘9 Things You Should Never Clean With Vinegar’[5], ‘7News, Repairmans Urgent Warning – Stop Using Vinegar in Your Washing Machine'[6], and ‘8 Ways Not to Use Vinegar’ [7]. While vinegar is good at cleaning many things, you shouldn’t confuse it with soap. Alkaline cleaners like dish detergent are ideally suited for lifting grease, whereas vinegar will have little effect on it. If you have a greasy, tough household cleaning job, reach for regular soap and leave the vinegar on the shelf. In these articles, they explain NEVER USE VINEGAR for:
  1. Clothes Iron – Most irons have a protective coating inside the chamber which the acid (vinegar) can eat away and then corrode the exposed metal.
  2. Countertops – Vinegar is an acid and will breakdown the sealers and some minerals in stone benchtops. Leaving them dull and etched.
  3. Dishwashers – Some manufacturers warn that the acetic acid can eat away the rubber parts of the appliance—door seals, rubber pipes etc.
  4. Electronic Screens – Have an anti-glare coating which vinegar can remove this coating and make touchscreens less responsive.
  5. Flooring – Like stone benchtops, flooring often has a protective coating that vinegar can destroy, voiding your warranty.
  6. Knives – Vinegar can leave some stainless pitted.
  7. Small Appliances – Vinegar can be used on hard plastics and glass, but avoid rubber or metal parts, or you could void your warranty.
  8. Washing Machines ­- Like dishwashers, Some manufacturers warn that the acetic acid can eat away the rubber parts of the appliance—door seals, rubber pipes etc.
  9. Cars and Furniture – Vinegar removes wax and polish from surfaces.
  10. Some Metals – Cast iron and aluminium are reactive surfaces in many household appliances.
  11. Never mix with Bleach – Although bleach and vinegar are powerful cleaning agents, they make a powerful chemical weapon when mixed together. This reaction creates chlorine gas, that stuff used to clear the trenches in World War I.
  12. Insecticide – Don’t spray directly onto plants. The acid will burn and kill plants.
Note: Vinegar and baking soda are only active while they are foaming. After the foaming has stopped, they have been neutralised and have little effect.   

Uses for Vinegar

  • Glass Cleaner – Combine one (1) part water with two (2) parts vinegar in a spray bottle.
  • Odour Removal – Combine one (1) part water with two (2) parts vinegar and wipe the surface. DO NOT USE on stone benchtops.
  • Calcium Deposits from Tapware and Showerheads – Combine two (2) teaspoons of vinegar and one (1) teaspoon of salt. Scrub with the solution and rinse off with clean water.
  • Toilets – Pour two (2) to three (3) cups of undiluted vinegar into the toilet bowl and allow to sit for up to three (3) hours, then scrub and flush. Vinegar helps reduce any build-up and deodorises the toilet.
  • Unclogging Drains – Mix vinegar and baking soda to unclog a drain. The two will combine to create water and carbon dioxide, AKA the ‘volcano effect’, increasing the pressure in the drainpipe and dislodging some of the clogging material.


Vinegar is an excellent alternative for cleaning many items around the home. Ensure you use the right mix of vinegar and water to get the best results. Always read your user manual before cleaning anything with vinegar to reduce the risk of damaging them. NEVER mix it with other cleaning products.    References:
  1. APCO, AUSTRALIA’S 2025 NATIONAL PACKAGING TARGETS. Available at https://apco.org.au/national-packaging-targets [Accessed 27 October 2022]
  2. Harvard T.H. CHAN School of Public Health, Vinegar. Available at https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/food-features/vinegar/ [Accessed 27 October 2022]
  3. Clean Plus Chemicals, Cleaning Vinegar Safety Data Sheet. Available at https://cleanplus.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/785-GHS-CLEANING-VINEGAR.pdf [Accessed 2 October 2022]
  4. Networx, The Science of Vinegar. Available at https://www.networx.com/article/the-science-of-vinegar [Accessed 27 October 2022]
  5. Consumer Reports, 9 Things You Should Never Clean With Vinegar. Available at https://www.consumerreports.org/cleaning/things-you-should-never-clean-with-vinegar-distilled-white-vinegar-a3336471803/ [Accessed 23 February 2023]
  6. 7News, Repairmans Urgent Warning – Stop Using Vinegar in Your Washing Machine. Available at https://7news.com.au/lifestyle/repairmans-urgent-warning-stop-using-vinegar-in-your-washing-machine-now-c-7920982 [Accessed 23 February 2023]
  7. Networx, 8 Ways Not to Use Vinegar. Available at https://www.networx.com/article/8-ways-not-to-use-vinegar [Accessed 27 October 2022]
  8. Healthline, Cleaning with Vinegar. Available at https://www.healthline.com/health/cleaning-with-vinegar#glass [Accessed 27 October 2022]

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