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You can use vinegar as a cleaner, but it can’t kill all pathogens, including the virus that causes COVID-19. It’s helpful to clean surfaces before disinfecting them to remove surface debris.

In recent years, vinegar has gained popularity as an all-natural cleaner. Many people like to use it to clean their sinks, countertops, and other household surfaces.

Around the home, vinegar can help eliminate odors and remove dirt. It can also be mixed with other ingredients, like baking soda, to scrub hard surfaces.

Vinegar can be an effective alternative to harsh cleaners, but it does have a few drawbacks, especially when it comes to its disinfectant abilities.

If you’re a fan of eco-friendly cleaning and want to know what vinegar can and can’t do, we can help shed some light on the matter.

First, it’s important to recognize the difference between cleaners and disinfectants:

  • Cleaners physically remove dirt, debris, and some germs from a surface. They don’t kill germs.
  • Disinfectants destroy germs on contact. These products kill or inactivate harmful germs, including viruses and bacteria.

As a cleaner, white distilled vinegar is a great choice. It contains 5 percent acetic acid, a compound that can dissolve dirt, debris, and grime.

However, as a disinfectant, vinegar has limited uses. It can only kill or reduce certain types of pathogens, such as:

These germs are known for causing common foodborne diseases.

A 2010 study also found that a solution with 10 percent malt vinegar can kill the influenza A virus.

Still, vinegar can’t kill all germs. This includes SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) hasn’t registered vinegar as a disinfectant. The EPA doesn’t review household ingredients for their effectiveness against germs.

Because of these limitations, vinegar may not be the best choice for adequately disinfecting your home.

To qualify as a disinfectant, a product needs to meet certain EPA standards. A disinfectant should be able to kill 99.9 percent of harmful germs within 5 to 10 minutes.

Products containing the following ingredients meet this criteria:

  • ethanol (ethyl alcohol)
  • isopropyl alcohol
  • hydrogen peroxide
  • quaternary ammonium
  • phenolic compounds
  • sodium hypochlorite (bleach)

These ingredients can kill multiple types of pathogens, including bacteria, viruses, and fungi.

Examples of potent disinfectant products include:

Check the label before buying a disinfectant. Look for the EPA registration number, which will be listed as “EPA Reg. No.”

When it’s time to disinfect your home or workspace, your technique is just as important as the product you use.

Keep the following tips in mind when disinfecting:

  • Clean dirty areas with soap and hot water before disinfecting. This will remove dirt and debris.
  • Always ensure the room is well-ventilated before using any disinfectants.
  • Be sure to disinfect frequently-touched surfaces like doorknobs, desks, and light switches. Do this regularly.
  • Disinfect frequently-touched electronics, like smartphones and remote controls, with wipes containing at least 70 percent alcohol.
  • Wear disposable gloves to protect your skin while you’re cleaning and disinfecting. Throw the gloves away and avoid reusing them once you’re done.
  • Follow the manufacturer’s directions for application, contact time, concentration, or amount of disinfectant to use.

Although vinegar is a poor disinfectant, it’s an excellent cleaner. Its high acidity can break down stubborn buildup of soap, dirt, and scum.

Vinegar can be used to remove dirt and dust from:

  • glass
  • windows
  • countertops
  • sinks
  • stovetops
  • coffee makers
  • showerheads

Vinegar isn’t safe to use on some surfaces, though. Its acidity may damage surfaces like:

  • waxed wood
  • granite
  • marble
  • soapstone
  • aluminum
  • cast iron


Never mix vinegar with bleach, as the combination will release dangerous fumes.

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If you’d like to use vinegar for cleaning, you’re in luck. There are many ways to use it around your home. Let’s look at some popular methods.

How to clean with vinegar

  • Unclog and refresh your drains. Pour 2 to 3 cups of boiling water down the drain. Follow this with a cup of baking soda. Next, pour 1 cup of white vinegar mixed with 1 cup of water down the drain. Cover, let sit for 10 minutes, then pour boiling water down the drain again.
  • Get rid of stains in mugs. Add 1 tablespoon of baking soda and 1 tablespoon of vinegar. Let the mixture sit for a few minutes, then scrub the mug.
  • Remove food residue in your microwave. Heat a solution of 1/4 cup of vinegar and 1 cup of water in the microwave. After the solution starts to steam, open the microwave and wipe off the food.
  • Get rid of soap scum in your bathtub. Soak a sponge with vinegar, then wipe down the tub. Apply baking soda, scrub, and rinse with water.
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Another option is to make a vinegar-based cleaner for your mirrors, shower, windows, and more.

How to make a DIY all-purpose vinegar cleaner

You’ll need the following:

  • 1/2 cup white distilled vinegar
  • 2 cups distilled or filtered water
  • a spray bottle

Pour the ingredients into the spray bottle. Tighten the lid and shake well. If you’d like to reduce the vinegar smell, add 10 to 20 drops of your favorite essential oil.

To use the solution, spray it on the surface you’re cleaning. Wipe with a clean cloth.

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Vinegar doesn’t work well as a disinfectant. According to EPA standards, a disinfectant should be able to kill 99.9 percent of disease-causing bacteria and viruses. Vinegar only works against some germs, like E. coli and Salmonella.

The best way to disinfect your home or workspace is to use an EPA-registered disinfectant. Check the product’s label for the EPA registration number.

You can still use vinegar as an all-purpose cleaner. Thanks to its high acidity, it’s great for removing dirt on surfaces like glass, sinks, and countertops.