When it comes to cost-effective green cleaning, vinegar seems to be the holy grail product. But how effective is vinegar? Does a 1:1 dilution of vinegar efficiently clean your surfaces, or is this just another scam?
I’ve decided to conduct some thorough research to see if vinegar as a household cleaner is the real deal.
Green cleaning: Is Vinegar an effective cleaner?
Vinegar is well known for its pungent odour and countless uses in the kitchen. So how does this product make its way into household cleaning? Vinegar’s key component is acetic acid. But does it have the ability to remove dirt and grease?
Quick recap on cleaning
A surfactant is required to remove soil and grease and properly cleanse a surface. For this you require some form of soap or detergent. Therefore vinegar is not an effective surface cleanser. It does however, inhibit the growth of some bacteria and can be used as a disinfectant… in its undiluted state.
Disinfectant describes a product applied directly to an inanimate object. It destroys or irreversibly inactivates most pathogenic microorganisms, some viruses, but not usually spores.
Vinegar as a Disinfectant
Numerous studies have shown that vinegar has mild disinfectant qualities, providing the concentration of acetic acid is above 6% (what you typically find at the grocery store.)
A study on acetic acid found that it was effective at killing the M. Tuberculosis bacterium at a concentration of 6% over a time period of 30 minutes¹. Though a higher concentration of 10% acetic acid is more successful.
Acetic acid is not effective at killing E. Coli, S. Aureus, Listeria or Salmonella which are the primary bacterium one would want to disinfect within their home. Therefore, although vinegar does have the ability to disinfect for a very limited range of bacteria, it requires at least 30 minutes to do so.
I have noticed some popular websites stating that vinegar is effective against salmonella and E. Coli, but could not find any research to support those conclusions－ensure you thoroughly research before you trust what someone says with no peer reviewed evidence to back it up (yes, even me.)
Would I recommend it as your sole home disinfectant? Absolutely not.
If you’re aiming for the environmentally-friendly, sustainable and cost-effective route you may be interested in using a combination of vinegar and hydrogen peroxide. When these chemicals are combined they form a compound called peracetic acid.
Peracetic acid is a much more effective disinfectant and has the ability to kill more bacterium such as E. Coli.
However, it is important to note that Hydrogen Peroxide and vinegar should not be mixed prior to disinfecting a surface. Instead, one should be sprayed onto the surface followed by the other, then left to disinfect for 10-30 minutes.
Green Cleaning: Do I use vinegar?
I do use a vinegar and water solution to clean my reflective surfaces such as glass or mirrors. However, I personally do not use vinegar in any other application in household cleaning. I won’t dispute that vinegar leaves a streak-free shine, but it certainly isn’t going to protect you against Norovirus.
It is not effective at stripping away soil and dirt－you need a surfactant to do so. It is not an effective disinfectant because it requires such a long period of time and does not inhibit the growth of the most concerning household bacterium. It is essentially useless when used in a diluted state.
Instead, I personally opt for a chlorine bleach and water mixture to disinfect surfaces when there is a virus in my home. It is the most effective form of disinfectant. Yes, it is a caustic mixture and therefore should be used sparingly and when absolutely necessary.
If you are regularly cleaning your surfaces with a good surfactant, such as Castile Soap, you should only need to disinfect when necessary… like when your toddler brings home the next plague.
¹Cortesia, C., Vilchèze, C., Bernut, A., Contreras, W., Gómez, K., Waard, J. de, … Takiff, H. (2014, May 1). Acetic Acid, the Active Component of Vinegar, Is an Effective Tuberculocidal Disinfectant. Retrieved from https://mbio.asm.org/content/5/2/e00013-14.
Dvorak, G. (2008, May). Disinfection 101. Retrieved October 17, 2019, from http://www.cfsph.iastate.edu/Disinfection/Assets/Disinfection101.pdf.
EugenioAlvaroa, J., GildaCarrascob, & Paa. (2009, May 8). Effects of peracetic acid disinfectant on the postharvest of some fresh vegetables. Retrieved from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0260877409002374.
Fong, D., Gaulin, C., Lê, M.-L., & Shum, M. (2011, September). Effectiveness of Alternative Antimicrobial Agents for Disinfection of Hard Surfaces. Retrieved October 17, 2019, from http://ncceh.ca/sites/default/files/Alternative_Antimicrobial_Agents_Sept_2011.pdf.
Petri, E., Rodríguez, M., & García, S. (2015, July 23). Evaluation of Combined Disinfection Methods for Reducing Escherichia coli O157:H7 Population on Fresh-Cut Vegetables. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4555241/.