Any time I’ve ever searched for green cleaning tips, vinegar ranks as the top miracle cleaner. Have you noticed that too? The blogs, newspaper articles, and magazines all say it’s the most versatile, accessible, and affordable cleaning product you can find. Mixed in with a little bit of water, it’s the A+ answer to gleaming glass, floors, bathrooms, and dishes! But is it really the answer to all my cleaning needs? Spoiler alert: The answer is ‘no’.
The Vinegar Myth Is Born
Before detergents came onto the scene in the 1950s, we used to clean with good old soap. But because the ol’ bar left residue behind, our cleaning routines included not only washing but rinsing too. We used water and vinegar—an acetic solution—because it made it easier to get rid of soap scum. And because this acetic solution made everything feel “squeaky clean”, the assumption was that vinegar made for a great cleaner. And that’s what started this new notion of using vinegar to get rid of grime.
Why Vinegar is NOT the Greatest Cleaner Known to Humankind
Science tells us that vinegar can be useful for some things. But it also tells us that it can’t do everything we’ve been led to believe it can do.
Before we go any further, here’s a refresher on basic high-school science (I know I needed it!) and how it relates to cleaning.
- All liquids are measured for their acidity or alkalinity based on the pH scale.
- Acids have low pH. Alkalies have high pH.
- Cleaners have low or high pH. Stains, dirt, and grime have low or high pH, too.
- In general, to clean properly, you should use an acidic cleaner on alkaline grime. And you should use an alkaline cleaner on acidic dirt.
So, where does vinegar fit in?
Household white vinegar is a moderately strong acid (about a 3 on the pH scale). It works well to clean alkaline stains and grime like hard water build-up and soap scum or acting as a rinsing aid from acid-resistant surfaces. (Notice the emphasis on the last part of that sentence? That’s because vinegar can do damage to lots of household surfaces including hardwood and vinyl floors or stone like marble, travertine and limestone.)
The point is that vinegar can’t actually clean a huge range of things like grease, ketchup, oils, coffee, face cream, and whatever else you’ve possibly spilled in your home. Think of it like this: you know how oil and vinegar in salad dressing don’t mix? This is because one is an acetic and one is an alkaline. The same thing applies when you try to use vinegar on greasy grime.
On the other hand, there are lots of types of stains, grime and dirt that are acidic in nature. That is why soap and detergent are so good at cleaning many of them, they are mild to moderate alkalies (8.1-11 on the pH scale).
Plus, soaps and detergents also contain surfactants, which mean they can also clean oily dirt well.
In addition, vinegar does not contain surfactants, so it cannot carry oil and grease away in the same way that soaps and detergents can.
But Wait. What About Vinegar and Baking Soda?
I’m sure you’ve seen the many recipes for green cleaning that call for combining white vinegar and baking soda. The fizz is supposed to be an indication of the cleaning power of this mix. Truth is, when you combine vinegar (an acid) and baking soda (a base), the reaction results in basic salt water and neutralizes out any cleaning power. But it does make for an exciting science experiment for kids!
What’s the Right Cleaning Solution?
To actually clean your house, you need something that cleans a range of things—from acetic to alkaline. The etee All Purpose Cleaner is a good example of this. It has a mix of plant-based ingredients including surfactants—additives that are useful as detergents and degreasers—as well as acetic substances that bust up things like soap scum. In other words, APC is the best of both worlds.
More good news: To expand its line household cleaners, etee has just released its Window Cleaner Concentrate in their famous plastic-free pods. Unlike vinegar that can only clean alkaline grime like soap spatters and scum, this window cleaner is scientifically formulated to properly attack ALL types of grime on glass surfaces whether that be greasy hand prints, muddy paw prints, dirt and dust. As an added bonus, it releases a fresh and natural pepperminty scent!
Want to try it out?
Thanks to the pandemic, we’ve all gotten a crash course on the importance of keeping our household surfaces clean. And if that means ditching the vinegar for some REAL cleaning power, so be it!
Cleaning power to the people,