Most commercial cleaning solutions contain synthetic chemicals that have unpleasant odors and may come with health risks, especially to individuals with skin sensitivities or allergies. There are, however, some very effective non-chemical alternatives you can try that use ordinary household products, such as white vinegar.
A vinegar-based cleaner is very easy to whip up batches as an effective DIY green cleaning product and it is a great multitasker. With its powerful cleaning and disinfectant properties, this vinegar cleaner rivals any commercial cleaner for effectiveness and can be used for cleaning all-around your home. Scent it as you please with a variety of all-natural essential oils, which are environmentally friendly and biodegradable.
Why Cleaning With Vinegar Works
The low pH and acetic acid content of vinegar hinder the growth of microorganisms. Vinegar cleaner is, thus, a mild antiseptic, though it should not be regarded as a broad-spectrum disinfectant like bleach. Also, the essential oils add additional antibacterial, antiviral, and antifungal qualities to your all-purpose cleaner. Finally, the high acidity level of vinegar serves to loosen mineral deposits, such as lime and calcium, and will help dissolve soap scum.
The Chemistry of Vinegar
Vinegar is a natural by-product of plant fermentation; the household vinegar you buy is a mild solution that contains 5 percent to 10 percent acetic acid. For this reason, it is very effective at breaking down molds, grease (to a degree), and bacteria—substances that make up many household stains. The acidity of vinegar also serves as a mild antiseptic that hinders the growth of some bacteria. Its acidic nature also makes vinegar effective at dissolving mineral-based deposits, which by nature are alkaline in composition.
How to Mix an Aromatic Vinegar Solution
This recipe makes 8 ounces of the mixed solution, so multiply the ingredient amounts as needed to fit the size of your spray bottle. Also, this recipe creates a solution that is a 1:1 ratio of vinegar to water. This is a good balance for most cleaning projects, but for very tough jobs, such as cleaning excessive mold and mildew, you can increase the potency of the solution by changing the vinegar to water ratio to 2:1 (2/3 cup vinegar to 1/3 cup water, for example).
Do not mix vinegar with bleach. Combining these two ingredients can be highly dangerous because it will create toxic chlorine gas. In addition, vinegar can irritate your eyes if contact occurs. Flush liberally with water for 5 to 10 minutes if it gets in your eyes.
Using Essential Oils
Essential oils you might want to mix into your vinegar cleaning solution include basil, bergamot, cinnamon, clove, eucalyptus, grapefruit, lime, oregano, rosemary, and thyme. In addition, try these essential oil combinations that feature lavender and citrus scents:
- Lavender with tea tree (encourages relaxation)
- Lavender and orange (lifts your spirits)
- Lavender and peppermint (invigorates you)
- Lemon (brightens your mood)
If you get essential oils in your eyes, flush with water for 10 to 15 minutes. Consult a doctor if irritation persists. If you get essential oils on your skin, wash with soapy warm water. One exception: Lavender doesn't harm the skin; in fact, it is often used directly on the skin to treat burns, insect bites, and more.
Equipment / Tools
- Spray bottle
- Measuring cup
- Lint-free cloths
- 1/2 cup white vinegar (distilled)
- 1/2 cup water
- 12 to 24 drops essential oil
Choose Your Oils
Choose one or a combination of essential oils.
Add Vinegar, Water, and Essential Oils
Using a measuring cup and funnel, add the vinegar and water in the desired ratio, then the essential oils. Shake to combine.
Spray and Wipe
To use, spray any areas that need to be cleaned, wipe with a lint-free cloth, rinse well, and wipe dry with another lint-free cloth.
Label the Bottle
Label the bottle clearly so you do not accidently use it for or with any other type of cleaning solution.
Store the Bottle
Store the bottle out of direct sunlight or heat, which can change the chemical constituents in the essential oils.
Tips for Using Vinegar Cleaner
- For tough cleaning jobs, let the spray sit on the surface for several minutes.
- For mineral build-up around fixtures or excessive mildew in the shower, give this spray a few minutes to work before cleaning with an old, soft-bristled toothbrush or scrub brush. Then rinse well.
- To disinfect surfaces such as countertops, let the spray sit for at least 60 seconds before rinsing.
- For scrubbing action, try first sprinkling some baking soda in the sink, bathtub, shower, toilet, oven, or on the cooktop. Then, use the vinegar spray to dampen the baking soda, which will create a paste. Scrub away with an eco-friendly sponge or scrubbing tool, and watch as the built-up soap scum, dirt, odors, and mold disappear.
- To clean mirrors, simply spray on the vinegar cleaner and buff it dry with a natural, soft, lint-free cloth, such as an old T-shirt or a cloth baby diaper.
- To eliminate odors, use this spray as an air freshener. Vinegar is a natural deodorizer.
Additional Cautions and Warnings
- Stone: Do not use vinegar cleaners on marble, granite, and other natural stone countertops, floors, or furniture because the acids can dull and etch the surfaces.
- Egg: Don't use vinegar to clean up raw egg spills because the liquid egg will coagulate and make it harder to clean up.
- Hardwood: Be extremely cautious when using vinegar cleaner on hardwood floors (and furniture). Test it first in an inconspicuous area because some finishes may be damaged by vinegar.
- Irons: Although clothes irons do collect mineral deposits, most manufacturers warn against pouring vinegar or vinegar-based cleaners through them to remove mineral build-up. Read the instructions to determine how best to remove mineral deposits from your clothes iron.