Vinegar is the home pantry cleaning ingredient many people swear by for nearly everything. Greasy stove? Cleaning with vinegar will help. Smelly carpet? A quick spritz solution will help get rid of unpleasant whiffs. Grotty bathroom tiles? You've guessed it. White vinegar.
So unless you've been living under a rock, you've probably used vinegar to freshen up your best microwave or fridge. You might also know how easy it is to get carried away when cleaning with it... However, even basic white distilled vinegar that you can buy from Amazon (opens in new tab) is pretty potent so you do need to check that you're not going overboard since there are some things that you really should not clean with vinegar.
What can't you clean with vinegar
It's some select surfaces and materials that absolutely shouldn't be cleaned with vinegar. We're not just talking about vinegar being ineffective in these instances, but it can actually be harmful. We've asked cleaning and home experts to name the things in your home you should never clean with vinegar, and what you should use instead.
1. Natural stone
Want to know how to clean countertops? If yours is made from granite or marble, then make sure that whatever it is you use, it's not vinegar. As cleaning experts from Molly Maid (opens in new tab) point out, 'vinegar has a pH value of 2.4, making it highly acidic. Even diluted, it can etch natural stone. Makers of stone countertops and floor tiles strongly advise against using it on their products.'
Basically, if it's natural, don't use vinegar – just stick to warm water and a mild soap like Dawn (opens in new tab). Porcelain and quartz are fine to clean with vinegar.
2. Sealed hardwood floors
By sealed we mean coated with wax. Cleaning expert and founder of Steam Clean Queen (opens in new tab) Emma Barton has a strong warning for anyone who wants to clean their wood floors with vinegar: 'be prepared to write a check in thousands of dollars for the repair. Chemicals used to produce the wax coating crumble and decompose under vinegar. It leaves white patches on the flooring, unsettling to look at.' Yikes. Again, stick to mild soap and water, or a dedicated wood floor cleaner.
3. Egg spills
'Never use vinegar on an eggy mess', cautions Molly Maid. 'The acidity will cause it to coagulate and become even more difficult to clean.' If you've spilled egg on the floor, just mop it up with a paper towel and remove any remnants with an all-purpose cleaning spray (which you can get on Amazon) (opens in new tab).
4. Your coffee machine – if you have purchased a warranty
You may have heard that vinegar is great for descaling your coffee machine. That is true, and many people swear by cleaning their coffee machines with vinegar. However, Oli Baise, the Founder of coffee blog Drinky Coffee (opens in new tab) warns coffee lovers that 'if your manufacturer knows that you have used vinegar to clean your machine the warranty will be voided.
'Therefore if you have purchased a machine with a warranty (I know Nespresso
upsell 24-month warranties, for instance), then it's worth opting for specialized descaler rather than using vinegar.'
5. Freshly painted wood
If you've recently finished a DIY furniture painting project, don't clean said furniture with vinegar. Tony Adams a painter and Co-Chief Editor for DIYgeeks.com (opens in new tab), explains that 'if you apply vinegar to painted wood, the vinegar will soften the paint and the paint will peel off after a while. It takes vinegar 10 minutes to fully dissolve water-based paint, while it takes up to 30 minutes to fully dissolve oil-based paint.
The vinegar can also discolor the wood if it's not heavily diluted with
Painted wood, for example kitchen cabinets, can be successfully cleaned with dishwasher liquid and water.
6. Wool rugs
Spent a hefty sum on the best rug your money could buy? If it's made from real wool, do not clean it with vinegar. Ben Hyman. the Co-Founder and CEO of Revival Rugs (opens in new tab), says he wouldn't: 'The acidity could permanently damage the fibers. Instead, I would blot the spill up and then use a small amount of clean water and blot some more. If the stain is persistent, you could use a small amount of dishwashing soap mixed with water. If all else fails, get your wool rug professionally hand-washed.'
Needless to say, vinegar also shouldn't be used on sheepskin rugs for the same reasons.
7. Kitchen knives
The best kitchen knives can cost a lot, so you don't want to ruin those gorgeous sharp blades with vinegar. Lily Cameron, a domestic cleaning expert at Fantastic Services (opens in new tab), says that 'the acidic properties of white vinegar can cause corrosion to the metal blades and dull the knife’s edges. For such utensils, stick to washing them with warm water and soap and thoroughly drying them afterward.'
8. Electronic screens
Whether it's your laptop or your TV, Cameron says vinegar is a big no-no, because 'white vinegar will strip away the protective layer on the surfaces of electronic devices. For them, it’s best to use a microfiber cloth and a specially formulated cleaner for electronic screens.'
9. Rubber parts and items
'The strong acidity of white vinegar can wear down the rubber seals of your best fridge, washing machine or other types of appliance. The material will degrade over time and cause them to use up more energy, leading to higher bills. To clean them, dissolve baking soda in warm water.'
10. Cast iron or aluminum pans
Last but not least, if you've spent hundreds on your cast iron skillets or quality aluminum pots, do not ruin them with vinegar. Paul Moody, home cleaning expert and the Founder of Pro Mover Reviews (opens in new tab), warns that 'aluminum and cast iron chemically react with the acetic acid in vinegar and can damage them.
'With iron, the acetic acid in vinegar causes an exothermic reaction that causes heat and removes the protective coating on the metal and makes it susceptible to rust.
'When aluminum reacts with vinegar, it creates aluminum acetate, which is soluble. When you scrub the surface of the pan with vinegar, the aluminum will slowly be eaten away.
'The best cleaner for cast iron is plain water, wiped dry after cleaning. And for aluminum, plain water, and a little mild detergent.'
Once you've finished cleaning your cast iron skillet, you will need to reseal it with an oil (linseed or rapeseed works well).
Vinegar is still brilliant – just not for every single thing for your home! Avoid using it on these surfaces and you will avoid costly replacements and repairs.