The Vinegar Myth: Why Vinegar is Not a Great Natural Cleaner

The Vinegar Myth: Why Vinegar is Not a Great Natural Cleaner

By Emily McClements, Contributing Writer

Vinegar is a great green and natural cleaner, right?

Using vinegar as a multipurpose all-natural cleaner may very well have been one of the first things you read or learned when beginning your journey toward green and natural living. I know it was for me.

As soon as I could after learning about vinegar as a natural cleaner, I ran to the store and picked up a 2 gallon jug of white vinegar and an empty spray bottle and came home to start using this insanely cheap and miraculous non-toxic cleaner all around my home.

After all, it can clean pretty much anything around your house. There are like, 101 uses for vinegar, right?

I have to admit, after a few weeks of using vinegar for cleaning around my home I was underwhelmed, and my husband was annoyed. He really detests the smell of vinegar and would be perfectly happy if I never used it at home again.

I found that the vinegar did work really well for certain things, like degreasing the range hood in the kitchen, cleaning mold and mildew in the bathroom, cleaning and descaling the coffee maker, replacing Jet-Dry as a rinse aid in my dishwasher, and making a homemade daily shower spray to keep soap scum and mildew at bay.

But for actual cleaning, I felt like it really didn’t work very well. I would spray it on the sink in the bathroom, on the kitchen counters, or onto the floor and feel like I had to use a lot of elbow grease to actually get them clean.

Because of that, and the fact that my husband didn’t want me to use vinegar around the house, I switched to using my homemade Multipurpose Cleaning Spray to clean all around the house instead.

Then last year as I was doing some last minute research for my ebook, Green Your Life, I came across some interesting information regarding using vinegar as a natural cleaning agent.

Myth #1: Vinegar is an effective cleaner for removing dirt and grime around your home

Myth #1: Vinegar is an effective cleaner for removing dirt and grime around your home.

Despite all of the touted benefits of vinegar from just about every green and natural living blog, book, website, or expert (including myself until recently), a study published in the Journal of Environmental Health found that vinegar was the worst at soil (dirt) removal in kitchens and bathrooms out of all of the conventional and alternative cleaning products tested.

This study confirmed my experience stating,

“Vinegar was more effective in reducing microbial contamination than the other alternative cleaners but was least effective in removing soil. All of the cleaners, including water, could conceivably have removed the soil from the tiles 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.”

Well, let’s be honest, I’m not really willing to work harder. I spend enough time cleaning as it is. And I would like to know that the products I’m using are actually cleaning the surfaces and not just wiping the dirt around.

When it comes to actual cleaning, just like with washing our hands, basic soap and water are most effective for truly cleaning surfaces of dirt and grime, so a homemade cleaner made with castile soap or dish soap makes the perfect cleaning solution.

And while the study did determine that vinegar was not effective at removing dirt, it did find that it was effective in removing microbial contamination, and this is why vinegar is touted as a natural disinfectant.

So vinegar definitely still has an important role in a green and natural home. It’s best to use vinegar as a rinse to help to disinfect a surface after you have cleaned it with a soap-based cleaner. 

Now that we know that vinegar is not such a great cleaner to use around the house, I want to dispel a few other myths about cleaning with vinegar.

Myth #2: Vinegar and castile soap are better together

Myth #2: Vinegar and castile soap are better together.

I see a lot of homemade cleaning recipes that call for using castile soap and vinegar together. In fact, for a long time my most popular post for my homemade disinfecting wipes included both castile soap and vinegar in the recipe.

If vinegar is a great natural cleaner (it’s not) and castile soap is a great natural cleaner (yes, it still is) we can mix them together for even greater cleaning power, right? 

Then I read this post, and did a little experiment of my own, and found that vinegar and castile soap really don’t mix together at all. In fact, it turns into a kinda gross, curdled mess; not something you want to be cleaning your house with!  Be sure to steer clear of homemade cleaning recipes that call for a combination of both castile soap and vinegar. 

Myth #3: Baking Soda and Vinegar are a dynamic duo of green cleaning power!

This myth is a relatively new one to me as well! I mean come on, looking at that amazing fizzing action – that has to be an equally amazing natural cleaner, right?

Unfortunately, the answer is no. The reaction of the vinegar and baking soda does create a fun fizzy reaction, but that reaction actually breaks the solution down into basically water with a little bit of sodium acetate, a.k.a. salt. So it’s really just a light salt water solution. Again, not so great for deep cleaning around the house, huh? (Note: Baking Soda is still a great natural abrasive cleaner.)

Homemade Deep Cleaning Soft Scrub

So, if vinegar isn’t a great cleaner, what should you use instead? Here’s a recipe for one of my favorite deep cleaners. It’s a homemade soft scrub that has natural bleaching and whitening qualities, so it’s great to use in the bathroom or kitchen! 

Homemade Deep Cleaning Soft Scrub


1 part castile soap (I usually use 1 or 2 tablespoons, depending on how large of a surface I’m cleaning)
1 part cream of tartar
Spray bottle of hydrogen peroxide


Mix together castile soap and cream of tartar in a small bowl until a paste forms. Scoop out the paste with a sponge, rag or your hand and rub over the surface your cleaning.

Spray the surface down with hydrogen peroxide and then let sit for a few minutes. Scrub to clean and rinse surface off with water.

There are many more homemade cleaning solutions you can use to clean all around your home. Check out my 31 Days to Green Clean series for even more homemade and natural cleaning tips, tricks and recipes! 

What’s your favorite homemade natural cleaning solution to use around your home?

About Emily McClements

Emily is a blessed wife and mama to three little ones. She is passionate about caring for God’s creation and people by being a good steward of the resources He has provided. As part of her journey towards living more “frugally green” she blogs about the things she is learning and the changes she is making at Live Renewed.

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  1. I don’t think I would call these myths as much as I would consider them misconceptions. I don’t think I ‘ve ever read an article from a reputable source that recommended straight vinegar as a good cleaning solution. I’ve always seen it used in recipes for mutlipurpose cleaners that include dish soap, water and sometimes another ingredient or two. The formula I use includes dish soap, vinegar, water, and rubbing alcohol, and it works great with no rinsing. It’s certainly easier than making a paste, using it after a spray, and then having to rinse.

  2. Jumara English says:

    I think the ratio needs to be just right for the Dr. Bronners and vinegar to work. I make an amazing all purpose spray with both plus water and essential oils, and it is never goopy. It does smell amazing, however, and kills grease. Play around with it before you give up on it completely. :)

  3. You said that baking soda and vinegar break down into salt,and that salt is not a good cleaner. Obviously, this is not the intended result, but salt has traditionally been used to disinfect surfaces for centuries. It also has the added benefit of being an abrasive.Salt is actually a very good natural cleaner.

  4. My all purpose cleaner is in a spray bottle of mostly water with about one third to a half a cup of vinegar and a 1/2 tablespoon of dawn. I LOVE it. I use it on everything. I get the cleaning power of the soap and water plus the disinfecting power of the vinegar and it leaves no residue as long I don’t add too much soap. I’ve been using it for years and I still love it and the smell stopped bugging me long ago. I almost quit because of that but I kept with it and have saved hundreds of dollars since I never have to buy cleaning supplies.

  5. Well water and my Norwex Enviro Cloth are my favorite, but I may be a little biased. Less waste and even the kids can do it.

  6. Courtney says:

    I agree with the previous two comments. Having to “work harder” doesn’t mean vinegar isn’t a great natural cleaner. I sometimes use it in combination with baking soda by using baking soda to scrub up dirt or grime, and then disinfecting and “rinsing” with vinegar. Most of the time, though, I just use vinegar. I don’t find that I have to put in any extra elbow grease at all, and the smell disappears after it dries. It’s cheap and has been really effective in my home. :)

  7. Baking soda and vinegar don’t work well premixed, but do work well together while the fizzing is happening. It great for loosening up the scum that natural soaps leave when you have hard water.

  8. I think this is a red herring argument. Vinegar is great when used properly – as a disinfectant. Because it does not remove soil does not mean it’s not a great natural cleaner. Lots of things become useless when used improperly. =) I’ve never tried the author’s version of soft scrub, but I do find that baking soda and a little water work great for cleaning my bathroom and kitchen. (And are quite a bit cheaper!) After scrubbing with baking soda I often times rinse with vinegar water. Seems to work in our home. =)


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