What Cleaning Vinegar Is and How to Use It

Cleaning vinegar and tools
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When you visit a grocery store, you'll discover a wide variety of vinegars on the condiments aisle—balsamic vinegar, rice vinegar, apple cider vinegar, red wine vinegar, champagne vinegar, and distilled white vinegar. All of these add brightness and acidity to recipes. Many of us also use vinegar for laundry and cleaning around the house; however, for true cleaning vinegar, you'll need to head to the cleaning products aisle or a hardware store.

What Is Cleaning Vinegar?

The only difference between cleaning vinegar and distilled white vinegar is the level of acidity. They are both made through a process where alcohols are distilled from grain and allowed to ferment as microorganisms process the alcohol into acetic acid and water or vinegar.

The distilled white vinegar you see in the condiment aisle contains around five percent acetic acid and 95 percent water. Cleaning vinegar contains around six percent acetic acid. That doesn't sound like much of a difference, but cleaning vinegar is 20 percent stronger than white distilled vinegar for tackling cleaning chores.

While you can use distilled white vinegar for cleaning, do not use cleaning vinegar for salad dressings or making pickles. The product may contain impurities that are not approved for consumption and the level of acidity is too strong to be tasty.


If you are purchasing cleaning vinegar at a hardware or large home improvement store, do not confuse it with industrial vinegar. This product is used by professional landscape crews to kill weeds. Industrial vinegar contains up to 20 percent acetic acid and is dangerous for indoor cleaning because of the fumes and because it can permanently damage surfaces.

Why Use Cleaning Vinegar?

Cleaning vinegar is less toxic to the environment and less expensive than many commercial cleaning products. It is highly effective at removing odors and whitening whites in laundry, cutting through tough grime like soap scum, and unclogging sink drains.

With cleaning vinegar, you can make your own cleaning products by diluting it with water or adding some dishwashing liquid and clean nearly every surface around your home.

How to Use Cleaning Vinegar for Laundry

  • Cleaning vinegar will help remove tough odors like mildew, urine, cooking odors, and sweat from washable clothes. For a large load of clothes, add just 1/2 cup to the final rinse cycle. Adjust the amount if you are doing a small load of laundry.
  • For white, 100 percent cotton items, cleaning vinegar can be used to help remove ground-in soil and brighten the fabrics. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and then remove it from the heat. Add 1 cup of cleaning vinegar and the white socks, underwear, or towels. Let the items soak overnight and rinse well.

How to Use Cleaning Vinegar for Cleaning

  • To remove soap scum from ceramic tile, clean porcelain surfaces (tubs and toilets), and dirt from painted woodwork, fill a spray bottle with one part cleaning vinegar, one part dishwashing liquid, and two parts water. Spray onto dirty surfaces and allow to sit for five minutes to begin cutting through the grime and then scrub with a nylon-bristled brush or wipe away with a microfiber cloth.


When working with cleaning vinegar, wear rubber gloves. The strong acetic acid can cause irritation to skin and nails.

  • To unclog slow-running drains, pour at least one quart of boiling water down the drain. In a medium bowl, combine one cup of hot water, one cup of baking soda, and one cup of cleaning vinegar (Warning: there will be fizzing!). Pour the vinegar mixture down the drain and let it work for at least 10 minutes. Finish by flushing the drain with another quart of boiling water.
  • For cleaning windows and glass, mix equal parts cleaning vinegar and water in a spray bottle.

When Not to Use Cleaning Vinegar

  1. Do not use cleaning vinegar or any type of acid to clean marble, granite, limestone, or any natural stone countertop or floor.
  2. Do not use cleaning vinegar to clean cast iron or aluminum pans or surfaces. It can pit the metal.
  3. Do not clean knives with cleaning vinegar. It can cause pitting on the thin stainless steel edges. If used at full strength, it can even pit stainless steel appliances.
  4. Do not use on finished or waxed wood surfaces. It can remove the finish.
  5. Do not use cleaning vinegar, even in a diluted form, on electronic screens like televisions and laptops. The acid can damage the anti-glare properties.
Article Sources
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  1. Feldstein, Stephanie. Chemical Burn From Vinegar Following an Internet-Based Protocol for Self-Removal of Navi. Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology, vol. 8, no. 6, 2015, pp. 50.