Unrecognizable woman cleaning with vinegar

How to Clean with Vinegar: The Hero of Budget-Friendly Cleaning

Who says you need to break the bank to maintain a spotless home? Buckle up because we’re about to visit myriad secrets of plain ol’ white vinegar—the unsung hero of budget-friendly cleaning.

Unrecognizable woman cleaning with vinegar

Vinegar—it’s an all-natural, versatile cleaner that can tackle almost any mess without costing a fortune. In this guide, we’ll dive deep into the world of vinegar cleaning, covering everything from the different types of vinegar to where to find them and how to use them effectively without sacrificing health or safety.

Varieties of Vinegar

The world of vinegars is vast. You’ve got your apple cider vinegar, balsamic vinegar, and both red and white wine vinegar, and it goes right on to the most common and the subject of this guide—white distilled vinegar, commonly used for pickling and as a staple in many recipes and for—surprise—housecleaning!

5% Vinegar

  • Supermarket Stalwart: You don’t need to embark on a treasure hunt to find this one. You’ll find 5% white distilled vinegar (meaning that it is 5% vinegar, 95% water) in any grocery store or supermarket.
  • Jack of All Trades: Use it for everyday cleaning chores, like disinfecting surfaces, cleaning windows without a streak, and saying goodbye to mildew and soap scum.
  • Smell-Be-Gone: It’s also a pro at neutralizing odors, which means your home can smell fresh as a daisy without the hefty price tag.

20% Vinegar

  • The Elusive Cleaning Vinegar: At 20% acetic acid and 80% water, this one’s a bit of a maverick and might not likely be hanging out at your regular supermarket.
  • Heavy-Duty Cleaning: When the going gets tough with stains, mineral deposits, or stubborn grease, 20% vinegar is your cleaning cavalry. It’s like a superhero cape for your appliances.
  • Weed Terminator: Beyond household cleaning, this vinegar moonlights as an eco-friendly weed assassin in your garden.

30% Vinegar

  • The Powerhouse: This vinegar, aka “agricultural vinegar,” isn’t your everyday cleaner. At 30% acetic acid and 70% water, it’s a beast.
  • Use with Caution: Handle this vinegar with care. Its high acidity can be rough on surfaces and skin, so dilute it before using.
  • Rust Buster: If you’ve got rust, lime scale, or stubborn mineral deposits, this vinegar can go toe-to-toe with them and come out victorious.


Where to Get Vinegar

  • 5% Vinegar: Your neighborhood supermarket or grocery store is the go-to spot for this. Check the condiment aisle, and you’ll likely find it in various sizes and brands, all at reasonable prices. Both Costco and Sam’s Club offer large sizes of white vinegar at super budget prices.
  • 20% Vinegar: For this specialty item, you might need to broaden your shopping horizons. Visit specialty stores or browse online retailers for the best deals.
  • 30% Vinegar: As the heavyweight champion, you’ll need to head to specialized spots. Agricultural supply stores or dedicated online suppliers are your best bets for scoring this vinegar.

For convenience, here are links to Amazon that will help you to identify what you’ll be looking for:



The Art of Cleaning with Vinegar

Disinfect Surfaces

  • Mix it Right: Combine equal parts of water and 5% vinegar in a spray bottle. Spray it on kitchen countertops, bathroom surfaces, and anywhere germs lurk. Tip: For challenging situations, feel free to use 5% vinegar straight up.
  • Germ Vanisher: Thanks to its natural acidity, 5% vinegar is a germ-zapping powerhouse, making it an eco-friendly alternative to commercial disinfectants.

Crystal-Clear Windows and Glass

  • Simple Solution: Mix 1 part 5% vinegar with 1 part water in a spray bottle.
  • Streak-Free Shine: Spritz this mixture on glass surfaces and wipe them clean with a microfiber cloth or paper towel for a streak-free finish.

Tackle Appliance Buildup

  • For Coffee Makers: Fill the coffee maker’s water reservoir with a 1:1 mix of 5% vinegar and water. Run a brewing cycle without coffee grounds, then repeat with plain water to rinse thoroughly.
  • For Kettles: Boil a blend of 1 part 5% vinegar and 1 part water in your kettle. Let it sit for an hour, then rinse thoroughly.

RELATED: 15 Ways to Use Citric Acid to Clean, Descale, and Restore Just About Anything

Say Good-bye to Mildew and Soap Scum

  • Mildew Magic: Mix equal parts of 5% vinegar and water in a spray bottle.
  • Scrub-A-Dub-Dub: Spray this solution on mildew or soap scum in the bathroom or kitchen, let it sit for a few minutes, then scrub it away with a sponge or scrub brush.

RELATED: How to Make Ugly Soap Scum, Mildew, and Water Marks Disappear Like Magic


Conquering Stubborn Stains

  • For Fabric Stains: Dab the stained area with a mixture of 1 part 5% vinegar and 2 parts water. Rinse and launder as usual.
  • For Carpet Stains: Create a concoction with 1 tablespoon of 5% vinegar, 1 tablespoon of dishwashing detergent, and 2 cups of warm water. Blot the stain with this solution until it surrenders.

RELATED: Absolutely the Best Homemade Laundry Stain Remover

Banishing Odors

  • Air Freshener: Fill a spray bottle with 5% vinegar and spritz it around to eliminate odors.
  • Fridge Deodorizer: Place a small bowl of 5% vinegar in your fridge to kick out those unwanted smells.

Weed Warfare (20% Vinegar)

While there are multiple ways to kill weeds using white vinegar, using 20% vinegar is one of the best:

  • Safety First: Handle 20% vinegar with care, making sure to wear gloves and eye protection.
  • Recipe for Weed Destruction: Mix 1 part 20% vinegar with 1 part water and a few drops of dish soap. Spray this solution directly on weeds on a sunny day, but be careful not to hit your beloved plants.

Heavy-Duty Cleaning (30% Vinegar)

  • Dilution is Key: Always dilute 30% vinegar before unleashing its power. Start with a mixture of 1 part 30% vinegar to 3 parts water.
  • Safety Gear: Don’t forget to gear up with gloves and eye protection.
  • Targeting Tough Stuff: This mixture can obliterate rust, calcium deposits, and mineral buildup from surfaces like toilets, sinks, and showerheads.


Safety First

We’re all about saving money, but we won’t cut corners on safety. Here are some crucial safety precautions to remember:

  1. Breathe Easy: Ensure there’s proper ventilation when using vinegar to avoid inhaling fumes, especially in smaller spaces.
  2. Gear Up: When dealing with 20% or 30% vinegar, make safety your top priority. Wear gloves and eye protection to shield yourself from potential skin and eye irritation.
  3. Label It: Don’t forget to label your vinegar solutions clearly. It might sound obvious, but it helps avoid mix-ups or, heaven forbid, accidental ingestion.


Is vinegar safe to use on all surfaces?

Vinegar is safe for many surfaces, but it can damage certain materials like marble or granite. Always test in an inconspicuous area first and avoid using vinegar on delicate surfaces.

How do I dilute vinegar for cleaning?

A common ratio is one part vinegar to one part water for general cleaning. For tougher jobs, like removing soap scum or stains, you can use stronger dilution, i.e. 2 parts vinegar to 1 part water.

Will vinegar leave a strong smell?

Vinegar has a strong odor initially, but it dissipates quickly once it dries. You can also mask the smell with essential oils or by opening windows for ventilation.

Are there any surfaces I should avoid using vinegar?

Yes, vinegar is acidic and can etch or dull natural stone surfaces like marble or granite. Avoid using vinegar on these surfaces and opt for milder cleaners instead.

Does vinegar kill bacteria and viruses effectively?

Vinegar has some antimicrobial properties, but it's not as effective as commercial disinfectants. It's best used for general cleaning and may not kill all bacteria and viruses.

Can I use vinegar to clean carpets or upholstery?

Vinegar can be used to spot clean carpets and upholstery, but it's essential to test it in an inconspicuous area first to ensure it won't cause discoloration or damage.

Is vinegar safe to use around pets?

Vinegar is generally safe for pets once it has dried, but some pets may be sensitive to the smell. Ensure proper ventilation when cleaning and keep pets away from freshly cleaned areas until dry.

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3 replies
    • Mary Hunt says:

      Hi Linda! Using diluted apple cider vinegar for sunburn care is a popular home remedy, but it’s crucial to dilute it properly to avoid further irritation. For doctor-approved alternatives, Mayo Clinic and the American Academy of Dermatology recommend cool tap water compresses or baths, along with moisturizers, aloe vera gel, or hydrocortisone cream for soothing relief.

  1. Sharon Rowe says:

    I buy cleaning vinegar at Dollar Tree. On occasion I have found it at Walmart but it is almost always in stock at Dollar Tree.


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