Can vinegar really clean everything?

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Hype or help? Photo by Michael Friberg.

Is vinegar really a miracle clean-all? According to eco lore (and vinegar marketers), this affordable kitchen staple can be used to remove blood stains from fabric, whiten bathroom grout and cleanse the human scalp. Some contend the non-polluting astringent can also soothe a bee sting or a sunburn, cure hiccups, bleach yellowed armpits on a t-shirt, banish coffee stains from a mug and even brighten a tired complexion. The killer ingredient is acetic acid, which destroys germs and bacteria and dissolves mineral deposits, along with making you taller and more likely to win a Pulitzer (some claims may be exaggerated). My mission was to put a handful of these allegations to the test. Previously, I’d used vinegar only in salads.

Apple-cider vinegar hair rinse

Mix 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar and 2 tablespoons warm water, pour over clean hair from root to tip, rinse with cold water.

The purpose of this rinse is to cleanse your hair of the buildup from styling products. After shampooing my hair, I rinsed with the vinegar and then rinsed with water. The result was clean feeling hair, but it had no sheen, and looked a shade darker when it dried. I also had some scalp flake-age when my hair dried.

Cat Box Freshening

Fill box with 1/2 inch white distilled vinegar, soak for 20 minutes, rinse with water.

Though I use liners, even a clean cat box has that hint of urine. I soaked my cat box, rinsed it with water, then stuck my nose in there hoping for the best. It was like a brand new never-been-peed in cat box! It had no smell at all, no urine, no vinegar, nothing. My cat didn’t even notice. This odor eliminating power of vinegar could be used in any container with a remainder stench; trash cans, diaper pails, recycle bins.

Operation armpit stains.

Pit-stain removal

Rub white distilled vinegar on stain, let soak for 20 minutes.

Oh, pit stains, why must you taint my favorite t-shirt?  After scrubbing my t-shirt’s pits, I rinsed it with water and let it dry. I excitedly held up my beloved shirt to check the results and found two pit stains staring back at me like a pair of unblinking eyes.

Coffee-mug stain removal

Add equal parts salt and white distilled vinegar, add a splash of lemon (optional), and scrub.

I play favorites with my coffee mugs, and always return to the same one. So it pains me to see it blemished with coffee stains that defeat even the toughest of dishwasher detergents. I took my mug added a half-inch of salt and half-inch of vinegar, squeezed a half of lemon in and scrubbed it with a sponge. The coffee stains began to disappear while I was scrubbing. I rinsed it out and found the inside of my mug stain free. This was so successful and amazing I even did my roommate’s favorite mug.

The face mask was more like a soup.

Strawberry Vinegar Face Mask

Take 5-6 strawberries, 1 tablespoon applecider vinegar, 1 egg white. Mash strawberries, pour in vinegar and egg white, mix together.

After I chopped/tried to mash the strawberries, I added the apple cider vinegar and egg white and whisked it all around to create something that looked like a salad dressing. I attempted to apply it to my face, but it went about as well as trying to smear a fruit smoothie on like a face mask and ended up more like a face rinse. My skin felt refreshed and clean afterward—much like every other time I wash my face.

Cleaning windows and mirrors

Add half water, half white distilled vinegar to spray bottle. Spritz on windows, then wipe.

Since I had no spray bottle to use, I dabbed a cloth in water and then in vinegar.  I wiped down my kitchen window, bathroom mirror, and bedroom mirror. I looked over the results with a skeptic’s eye, and was surprised to find great results. How have I lived so long and never known vinegar and water make such a great window cleaning team?

Clean Bathroom Grout

Dip a toothbrush in white distilled vinegar and scrub affected area. Wipe clean with a damp cloth.

For this one, I didn’t have a toothbrush I could spare so I used a wash cloth. I poured vinegar on the cloth and began scrubbing my grout. To my shock and amazement the vinegar was successful at removing the brown soap scum. I wanted to compare how the vinegar cleaned the scum versus a cleaner with bleach. I poured some Clorox with Bleach on a different piece of the cloth and scrubbed the grout. The grout I cleaned with Clorox was no whiter/cleaner than the grout I cleaned with vinegar.

So while I discovered lots of new and exciting uses for vinegar, there’s one thing this miracle cleaner can’t do—deodorize itself. How to get rid of that sour smell after you’ve used vinegar to clean every room in your home? One article suggests scenting the offending liquid with the squeeze of a lemon, or a few drops of essential oils. If that sounds like too much, there’s always Seventh Generation.


  1. author of vinegar book. it can do these things and so much more… and don’t forget red wine vinegar, herbal and others.
    OH! You’re my new favorite blogger fyi

  2. Our bath towels had a lovely mildew smell that would not go away, no matter how I washed them. I threw the towels & 2 cups of vinegar in the wash on the super high, sanitary setting without detergent. Then washed them again, same setting, with detergent no vinegar & they are brand new. No smell, super soft, it’s amazing.

  3. Thanks Mike. I actually tried it on my long-suffering bathroom floor grout and it worked amazingly well. But the bath does kind of reek of vinegar now. So does my kid’s diaper pail.

  4. vinegar really is amazing. it’s also a great floor cleaner.

    once our current cleaners are all dried up, we are going to try cleaning with vinegar, castile soap and essential oils for everything. we’ll see how it goes.

    cheap and eco-friendly.

  5. Put the vinegar and water in an empty windex spayer and never buy anything but vinegar again! Have not tried it on grout. That is my next project. Pit stain removal is the funniest. You are my new fav blogger too.

  6. Our friends have an infant and sometimes use our washing machine. They recently used a white-vinegar rinse to try to get to stains in the diapers left by zinc oxide. The stains remained, for the most part BUT the best thing is that the rinse seemed to resolve the tendency (for now at least) to get mildewy. Thanks for the other tips!

    • what a nice person you are with letting friends with an infant clean their poopy diapers in your washing machine. but who the heck would use cloth diapers if they didn’t have a washing machine to begin with?

  7. I use the apple cider vinger on my hair once a week. But I use a 1/4 cider to 1 3/4 water and pour over my scalp when in the shower. I let it sit there for awhile before I do some serious rinsing. It has helped a great deal with reducing my dandruff and itchiness. The con… smelling like salad until your hair dries.

  8. For cleaning glass and even LCD display screens and other shiny objects, I never use pure white vinegar, but I mix 1 part each of water, white vinegar and 70% or higher rubbing alcohol. It cleans quite well and the smell is not that bad.

    You should also do something on the cleaning power of 90% or better rubbing alcohol. Works better than paint thinner for small areas and won’t distort the surface beneath.

  9. As a company we have tried the e cloth and water and it does work really well but i find the vinegar and water does an even better job because it doesn’t ever smear and if you dont mind the smell of fish’n chips its also a plus. The steam cleaner is something i am looking into getting will make the job a lot easier and will hopefully do a better job.

  10. I use white vinegar for everything. Besides dishsoap (which also cleans carpet stains) and laundry detergent, it’s the only household cleaner I purchase. It’s a fabric softener, all-purpose cleaner (including hardwood floors), cat box deodorizer, cofeemaker cleaner. I don’t mind the smell. It’s clean and natural. Way better than chemical fragrances.

  11. In order for the hair rinse to work, you must use apple cider vinegar with the mother enzyme, not HEINZ from your super market. Pasteurization not only kills bacteria but all living enzymes rendering it no different from white dead vinegar which is useless in terms of health, but it will clean just about everything. Its not just the acetic acid that helps your hair, but the trace nutrients that are present. ACV balances the ph level of your hair and helps to open the nutrient path ways that supply your hair. Chemicals like “sodium lauryl sulfate” found in many shampoo’s,soaps, and tooth paste is a foaming agent (that which causes the foaming we all like)is the same cleaning agent in car engine decreaser’s.

    • This is probably a stupid question but do you think diluted apple cider vinegar (organic could possibly whiten teeth?

  12. You can just use salt to remove coffee-stains from your favorite mug. Use the same procedure–that is, throw some salt on it and scrub–and it works just as well.

  13. Vinegar is *great* on coffee. I put a glug in the water reservoir on my (mother-in-law’s) coffee maker, let it sit for a while and run it all the way through. No more rancid coffee.

    Same for thermoses and the moka pot. Want to see something disturbing? Dilute some vinegar in the top of your pot and pour it through the basket to the bottom chamber. Take the basket out and pour it back into the top chamber, and then back through.

    Then turn the pot upside down and pour it through there.

    If your pot is anything like mine you’ll be a little horrified at how clogged it was. A few passes (with the same vinegar) and it rinsed right through.

  14. Vinegar and salt mixed together makes a fantastic copper cleaner. It will take off all the tarnish and leave it that beautiful red/orange that you like about copper.

  15. As a professional home-cleaner, I wanted to add that though vinegar is a great cleaner in most instances, it should NOT be used on marble and many stone counters/floors. It has a a PH that will score and muddy polished stone surfaces. In my experience, the most versatile surface cleaner is dish detergent and water (with a warm, clean water rinse).

  16. A few years ago I went to only using vinegar in my rinse cycle instead of fabric softener. The vinegar softens the fabrics and doesn’t leave a film on my clothes. I even started using apple cider vinegar and it leaves a pleasant apple smell for a few days and then it disappears.

  17. I use white vinegar in my dishwasher in place of the $5 a bottle Jet Dry rinse aid. Work greats.

    I also use it in place of fabric softener in my wash. The vinegar smell does not last. It will deodorize
    if you use it as a prewash and during the wash cycle.

  18. I have heard a lot of times that rinsing your hair with vinegar makes it look really good, but I’ve never tried, because my scalp is very sensitive and I don’t want to additionally irritate it. Although, I am definitely going to try the strawberry-vinegar face mask. It sounds good to me and I hope the results will be satisfying. Thank you for this article :).

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