This kitchen pantry staple is great for dissolving grease and grime, but is it a disinfectant?

By Melanie Fincher
March 17, 2020
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While you might know vinegar as an ingredient used to balance fatty flavors in cooking, others know it is a catch-all cleaning solution. Vinegar is a tried and true remedy for tough-to-clean cookware and grimy kitchen messes, but does it have what it takes to kill harmful bacteria and viruses? We looked to the experts at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for answers. Keep reading to learn whether or not vinegar is a disinfectant.

What Is Vinegar?

White vinegar is truly a miracle worker. It's perplexing how the same ingredient can be used to dye eggs, clean grease, and preserve foods. So what is this pantry staple actually made of? Vinegar is a solution comprised of 5 to 10 percent acetic acid and 90 to 95 percent water.

Acetic acid is made through a process of fermentation, where ethanol alcohol is processed by tons of microorganisms. Anything that has alcohol in it can make vinegar — wine, hard cider, and more. White vinegar is made from a vodka-like spirit distilled from grain.

Vinegar's acidic nature is used to balance out creamy or fatty flavors in cooking, preventing dishes from becoming too heavy. But its uses go even beyond the kitchen.Today we're looking at the question: is vinegar a disinfectant? Here's what you need to know.

Is Vinegar a Disinfectant?

If you're hoping to eliminate germs like those that cause colds, flus, and other viruses, it's best to shelve the vinegar. Vinegar is not an EPA-registered disinfectant or sanitizer, which means it won't kill 99.9 percent of bacteria and viruses, as is deemed a safe level by public health standards.

Vinegar has been proven to have some disinfectant properties, however it's not nearly as effective at killing harmful viruses and bacteria as commercial cleaners. And because it does not kill 99.999 percent of bacteria and viruses, it doesn't meet the criteria required to be considered a disinfectant.

So, what is vinegar good for then? Cleaning. Cleaning, as defined by the Center for Disease Control, is the process of physically removing dirt and other impurities for surfaces or objects. This process doesn't necessarily kill germs, but by removing them it lowers their numbers.

Vinegar vs. Bleach

While vinegar is not classified as a disinfectant by the EPA, guess what is? You guessed it, bleach. When cleaning, bleach should be diluted with water. Bleach solution can be classified as either a sanitizer or a disinfectant, depending on the concentration of bleach.

Bleach is a cost-effective and sure-fire way to kill germs. However, you should be careful not to use it too liberally. Overuse of disinfectants can lead to harmful health and environmental consequences. It's best to save it for things like toilets and sinks that can come into contact with dangerous bacteria or high-touch areas like door-knobs and faucets.

One last reminder: Never mix vinegar with bleach or hydrogen peroxide. The combination can result in toxic vapors.

When to Use Vinegar

We've established that vinegar should not be your first line of defense against harmful bacteria and viruses. However, it does have some helpful uses when it comes to cleaning (remembering our definition of cleaning as stated above). Having some white vinegar on hand at all times (like this gallon-sized jug available on Amazon) is a good idea for cleaning everyday grease and grime.

The acidity will help dissolve and soften tough-to-clean spots, making them easier to wipe away with a sponge. Use it to clean dirty sinks, greasy stovetops, dirty sheet pans, stainless steel cookware, and even your Instant Pot.

The Bottom Line

While vinegar is a cheap, effective, and non-toxic solution to breaking down grease and grime, it's not a disinfectant. If you're trying to kill harmful bacteria and viruses, refer to the EPA's list of registered disinfectants.

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