7 Things You Should Never Ever Clean With Vinegar, According to a Scientist and a Cleaning Expert

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Vinegar is like a magical concoction. I use it in the kitchen to clean the drain and I spritz it on the showerhead to remove built-up gunk. Although it can be quite handy in many cleaning situations, sometimes vinegar should not be used.

I talked to a cleaning expert and a food scientist about things you should never clean with vinegar. Ruojie Vanessa Zhang is an assistant research professor in food science at the University of Missouri and chair of the food chemistry division for the Institute of Food Technologists. Jessica Ek is a spokesperson for the American Cleaning Institute.

Why Vinegar Is Used for Cleaning

Vinegar, a solution of acetic acid and water, is a great cleaner and disinfectant, says Zhang. “Its acidic properties effectively dissolve mineral deposits, dirt, grease, and grime while also killing bacteria,” she says. “Vinegar is non-toxic, eco-friendly, and cost-effective, making it a versatile and safe choice for a wide range of cleaning tasks in the kitchen.”

Vinegar is also convenient because there’s a good chance you have some already on hand.

Ek points out that it can remove hard water residue on clothing, towels, and your showerhead. “It can help deep clean pots and pans, like bringing the shine back to tarnished copper cookware. It can be used to remove lingering odors,” she adds. She suggests using white vinegar so it won’t add colors or residue to whatever you’re cleaning.

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Things You Should Never Clean With Vinegar

Vinegar’s acidic makeup could damage some surfaces. Here’s when you should choose a different cleaning product.

  1. Cast Iron: Vinegar can strip away the seasoning on cast iron pans and that can lead to rust and damage, says Zhang. She recommends cleaning cast iron with mild soap and water.
  2. Hardwoods: Vinegar can damage the finish on hardwood floors or furniture. Use a cleaner specifically designed for hardwoods.
  3. Stainless Steel: Vinegar can be used to clean stainless steel, “but it may cause discoloration or damage if left on for too long or used in high concentrations,” Zhang says. “Use a mild soap or a cleaner specifically formulated for stainless steel.”
  4. Natural Stone Countertops: Vinegar shouldn’t be used on natural stone countertops like marble or granite. “The acid in vinegar can damage the surface by discoloring or etching the surface,” Ek says. Choose a cleaner made specifically for natural stone surfaces.
  5. Electronics’ Screens: Don’t clean your laptop, TV, or phone screen with vinegar. “Vinegar can damage the coatings on electronic screens, leading to streaks or discoloration,” says Zhang, who advises using a microfiber cloth and a screen-safe cleaner instead.
  6. Washing Machines and Dishwashers: It’s tempting to pour in some vinegar for a deep clean, but Ek advises against it. “The acid can also cause the rubber gaskets and hoses in your dishwasher to break down prematurely, so it should not be used to clean the dishwasher or the washing machine.”
  7. Grout: Vinegar can clean grout, but its acid nature degrades the grout over time. That can lead to mold growth and damage. Use a grout cleaner or baking soda and water for grout, Zhang says.
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