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Should You Clean Your Appliances with Vinegar?

Vinegar seems to be all the rage these days.

Not only does this ingredient work well in a variety of home-cooked dishes and dressings, but vinegar also acts a natural alternative to many household cleaners.

Supposedly this cure-all solution disinfects germs and offers a superior clean, so your home and appliances smell fresh without expo sing your family to dangerous chemicals.

But is this age-old method as effective as people make it out to be? Let's take a closer look at the science behind vinegar to see if it lives up to the hype.

How Does Vinegar Work?

White vinegar comes from the direct result of two biological processes. First, alcoholic fermentation breaks down sugars in grains, fruits, and vegetables and converts the mix into alcohol. Next, acetobacter, a mild bacteria, breaks down the alcohol even further, converting the mix into a diluted form of acetic acid (about 5% acetic acid).

According to Canada's National Collaborating Centre for Environmental Health, the acetic acid in vinegar crosses the cell membrane of bacteria. This prompts a proton release, causing the cells to die. Because of this, vinegar works well as an antimicrobial cleaning agent.

Studies show that vinegar works particularly well against some strains of household germs and bacteria like salmonella and E. coli. Researchers conclude that vinegar (when combined with sodium chloride at an appropriate temperature) can help prevent bacterial food poisoning. And in other studies, vinegar (combined with lemon juice) can reduce salmonella typhimurium to undetectable levels after 30 minutes.

However, vinegar isn't perfect. It doesn't work as well on other bacteria species, such as S. aureus, L. monocytogenes, and other strains of salmonella.

How Does Vinegar Compare to Other Cleaners?

As a natural alternative to chemical cleaners, vinegar takes the lead. Compared to lemon juice and baking soda, vinegar exhibited the most antimicrobial efficacy. If your primary goal is to fight germs naturally, then make vinegar your first choice.

But vinegar still pales in comparison to commercial cleaners like chlorine bleach. Chlorine bleach can kill some of the most dangerous bacteria, including staphylococcus, streptococcus, E. Coli, and salmonella. It can also target many germs that vinegar would leave behind. If you want to sterilize your home and leave it free of germs, you'll do better if you choose a commercial cleaner.

And while vinegar does well against germs, it doesn't do well against dirt. Studies show that compared to ammonia and borax, vinegar came in last place for soil removal. If you want to clean as well as disinfect, you'll need more than just vinegar to make your home a sparkling haven.

What's the Best Way to Clean and Disinfect My Appliances?

Vinegar has a lot of advantages that make it an ideal cleaning solution: it's affordable, it's easy to use, and it kills some germs. Because of this, you should feel free to use vinegar whenever you do your spring cleaning.

However, due to its disadvantages, most experts recommend that homeowners use vinegar strategically instead of relying on it for every cleaning task in the house.

Start with Soap, Water, and a Little Elbow Grease

If you need a safe alternative to chemical cleaners, few things compare to old fashioned soap and hot water.

According to Professor Peter Collignon, a physician at Australian National University's Medical school, "you've got to clean the surface first" before worrying about disinfecting your appliances.

However, due to its disadvantages, most experts recommend that homeowners use vinegar strategically instead of relying on it for every cleaning task in the house.

And researchers conclude, "all [. . .] cleaners, including water, could conceivably have removed the soil [. . .] with enough cleaning strokes. Therefore, consumers who wish to use alternative cleaners may find them effective in removing soil if they are willing to work harder."

As nice as it would be to clean your refrigerator or stove without the work, it seems that you'll have to do at least some scrubbing to ensure a thorough clean.

To learn more about how to properly clean your appliances, you can read our earlier blog here.

Finish Up with Vinegar

Now that you've scrubbed your stovetop spotless, carefully consider whether you need to disinfect at all. The kitchen sink, for example, probably doesn't need more than a good cleaning. That chopping board, however, might still need disinfectant to catch any germs the soap and water left behind. And chemical cleaners should never go anywhere near the food in your fridge, so a vinegar solution may be a good choice there too.

To clean your appliances with vinegar, pour a 50-50 solution of water and vinegar into a spray bottle. Squirt the mix onto the area you want to disinfect and allow it to sit for a few seconds. Wipe it away with a clean wash cloth, and you should be good to go.

Watch Out for These Surfaces

Keep in mind that some kitchen surfaces do not respond well to vinegar, even if you dilute vinegar with water.

Do not apply vinegar to:

  • Hardwood floors. The acetic acid may dull and damage the hardwood finish.
  • Unsealed grout. Repeated cleanings with vinegar may deteriorate the grout.
  • Stone surfaces. Vinegar etches marble and granite countertops and stone floor tiles.

Now that you're an expert on vinegar, you can clean your oven, stove, and other kitchen appliances like a pro!