A quick Google search on how to clean will bring up results hailing vinegar as a natural, non-toxic, sustainable and cheap store-cupboard cure-all for just about anything. But while it’s good for cleaning some things, it could cause irreparable damage to others.
This is because while vinegar’s acidity is good for descaling kettles, equally what causes it to corrode and dissolve limescale also means it can eat away at other surfaces in your home.
Read on to find out the top things to not clean with vinegar, as well as our recommendations for those wanting a natural and sustainable cleaning alternative.
Find out how to clean your home effectively and protect against COVID-19.
Despite what you may see online, you shouldn’t use anything acidic, whether vinegar or lemon juice, to clean mirrors.
This is because it can seep behind the thin coating and corrode the silver backing that gives every mirror its shine.
Instead use a non-corrosive, gentle cleaner along with a microfibre cloth.
2. Steam irons
While vinegar is a great way of flushing limescale out of your kettle (although you may prefer citric acid as it leaves less of a smell), you shouldn’t use it to de-limescale your steam iron.
It can permanently damage the inside of the iron by eating away at the protective coating inside and eroding the plastic, rubber and metal parts.
Almost all irons should have cleaning instructions in the manual, so that’s a good place to check first of all.
If your model has a self-clean function, in most cases all you’ll need to use is water.
Read our steam iron reviews to find one that will get through your laundry quickly and easily.
3. Stone or granite kitchen countertops
Neither vinegar or lemon juice should be used to clean natural stone surfaces, such as granite or marble, and metal, such as stainless steel.
While the vinegar won’t be on there long enough to cause a lot of damage, it can eat away at the surface and cause your granite or stone surfaces to lose their shine.
Kitchen countertops aren’t cheap to replace, so clean them with washing up liquid diluted with water.
Find out which washing-up liquids top our tough lab tests.
A quick read online for ‘how to clean a dishwasher’ will bring up results saying you can use vinegar in place of a dishwasher cleaner. Some also suggest using vinegar to descale your dishwasher, or recommend it as a rinse aid.
But vinegar can tarnish the stainless steel insides of your dishwasher and deteriorate any rubber seals, such as the door seal, pump and drain pipe, potentially leading to leaking in the long run.
And if vinegar mixes with salty residue during the cycle, it can discolour metal dishware and utensils.
You shouldn’t ever have to worry about limescale if you use dishwasher salt as it softens the water, and in terms of rinse aid and dishwasher cleaner, stick with products specifically designed for this purpose as they are the best choice.
Read our step-by-step guide on how to clean a dishwasher for more information.
5. Washing machines
Just like with dishwashers, many claim you can use vinegar as a substitute for washing machine cleaner, but in reality it can damage your washing machine.
Vinegar can corrode the plastic and rubber parts, potentially leading to leaks. So always invest in a dedicated washing machine cleaner.
You may also see claims that you can use vinegar as a natural fabric softener that won’t leave any residue, but again it could affect how well your washing machine works in the long term.
Not sure which washing machine cleaner to use? Read our washing machine cleaners compared guide.
6. Electronic screens
Vinegar can strip off the protective coating from your electronics, from TV screens to tablets and even smartphones.
Instead, wipe the screens of your electronic devices with gentle microfibre cloths to get rid of dust and other particles.
Then use isopropyl alcohol spray or wipes to remove germs and nasty microbes. It’s worth checking the manufacturer’s instructions for cleaning and maintenance advice, too.
Read our guide: Five ways to safely clean your mobile phone
7. Wood or stone flooring
Some swear by diluted vinegar for cleaning hardwood flooring, but the truth is that vinegar can actually eat away at the finish, even when diluted.
A safer option is to use a cleaning product that’s specially formulated for wood floors.
That means avoiding all-purpose cleaners, too, unless it specifically says it can be used on wood surfaces.
If your carpets could do with a clean, find out which carpet stain remover home remedy is best.
Some websites recommend soaking kitchen knives in vinegar to get rid of any rust spots. But, if used frequently, vinegar can dull and damage knives.
Don’t stick them in your dishwasher either, or wait too long to clean them.
The best way to clean your knives is to wash them quickly with warm soapy water immediately after use.
What to use instead: sustainable cleaning alternatives for your home
It’s understandable why you’d want to use vinegar. It’s often reported to be more ‘natural’ or gentle on the planet, both in how it’s made and after it goes down the drain
Another reason to opt for vinegar could be to avoid supporting large international conglomerate cleaning companies.
The bad news is that natural does not equal sustainable.
In addition, everything on the planet is made from a combination of a small set of chemical elements, so dividing things into ‘natural’ and ‘chemical’ can be misleading.
If you’re using vinegar to avoid potential harsh chemicals in cleaning products, you may be better off reading our advice on how to improve air quality at home.
The only real way of making sure the cleaning products you use are sustainable is if they are renewable and ethically-made.
Check for the following if you want a sustainable option:
- Is it ‘vegan’? In practical terms, this means whether the surfactants (surface-active agents) used are made using crude oil or vegetable oils.
- Is the bottle and cap recyclable? Is the plastic made from virgin plastic or has it been previously recycled?
- Is there a refillable option to avoid buying many plastic or glass bottles?
Also weigh up how much better at cleaning certain products could be.
This could lead to you not needing to buy it as often, as you use less to clean the same amount, saving the cost of it being manufactured, shipped and recycled.
Solid cleaning options that you dissolve in water are also becoming a growing option. These can come with glass bottles or you can use your own empty glass or plastic bottles.