Is Vinegar a Disinfectant?

Vinegar has long been touted as an effective eco-friendly cleaning solution. Although the substance is an effective cleanser and does help remove dirt and eliminate odor, it has limited use for disinfecting. It is not quite up to par with chemical disinfectants when it comes to killing a wide variety of germs. 


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What Is a Disinfectant?

A disinfectant is a chemical agent used to kill bacteria, viruses, fungi, mold, and mildews found on surfaces and other objects. They are required to be used on clean surfaces because a build-up of dirt or oil can actually protect germs from the killing powers of a disinfectant. All disinfectants are registered with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to ensure that they do the job they promise and are safe for use.

There are some factors to pay attention to when on the hunt for the best types of products to choose as a disinfectant. The product label, for example, will have an EPA registration number that shows that the product was vigorously tested and proven to kill germs. The EPA website provides a list of products that are safe to use against different kinds of germs and viruses.

One common cleaning agent is alcohol, but it has to be of a certain concentration for it to work and will not work over time if the alcohol has time to evaporate. Ammonium compounds are also widely used as disinfectants, although recent research looking at their efficacy against the COVID-19 virus found that they may not be as effective as once thought. Studies have also found that when ammonium compounds were measured against bleach and hydrogen peroxide—two other popular disinfectants—they came up short in their abilities to kill viruses and other pathogens.

Both bleach and hydrogen peroxide are effective, but they are chemically harsh and can irritate the skin. Gloves should always be worn while using products containing these substances.

What's the Difference Between a Cleanser and Disinfectant?

While a cleanser works by using soap and water to remove germs from surfaces, a disinfectant uses a chemical agent to kill germs on contact.

Cleaning With Vinegar

Vinegar contains acetic acid, which is a compound that can help dissolve dirt, grime, and a limited variety of germs. It is so powerful that it can even dissolve mineral deposit build-up. It can be mixed with water for use in different cleaning tasks, such as washing windows and blinds, countertops and other kitchen or bathroom surfaces, and many other household cleaning jobs.

The great thing about cleaning with vinegar is that it doesn’t contain the strong chemicals that many household cleaners do, so it is safe to use for people who may be sensitive to those products.

Effect on Germs

Vinegar cannot be hailed as a true disinfectant because its ability to kill germs is heavily limited. Its ability to kill germs stems from its ability to destroy cell structures by changing the proteins and fats that make up the organisms. When it comes to bacteria, vinegar has been shown to be effective at killing some but not all species. Types of bacteria such as E. coli, M. tuberculosis, Salmonella, and Listeria can all be killed by vinegar.

Studies have also shown that vinegar, and apple cider vinegar specifically, could be effective at killing fungus as well. One particular study looked at apple cider vinegar and the Candida fungus and found that it was able to effectively kill the fungus on contact.

A lot of research has looked into the efficacy of vinegar against different kinds of viruses. Although there is limited recent research backing up the claims that vinegar can act as an antiviral disinfectant, one study published in 2010 found that the use of malt vinegar was effective at deactivating a strain of the flu virus.


Since vinegar is safe enough to eat, cleaning with it doesn’t require too many safety precautions. There are, however, some surfaces and objects that you should not use vinegar on.

Using vinegar to clean surfaces such as glass, appliances, coffee pots, and ceramic surfaces or fixtures is safe. White vinegar, specifically, can also be safely used as a stain remover for clothing. It can be used to help dissolve soap and detergent residue in the washing machine and brighten, deodorize, and soften clothing as well.

Vinegar should not be used on hardwood or no-wax floors, granite, or quartz. It should also not be used on electronics such as phone screens, computer screens, or TV screens as it could cause damage to any protective coatings they have.

The Danger of Mixing Vinegar with Bleach

Vinegar should never be mixed with any other cleaning agents, especially bleach. If it is, a chemical reaction could occur and give off a toxic gas known as chlorine gas. If inhaled, this type of gas could pose serious and possibly life-threatening health risks. Chlorine gas is so harmful that it was used in World War I as a chemical weapon.

How to Clean

To use vinegar as a cleaning solution, mix half a cup of vinegar with 2 cups of water. After it is mixed well, you will want to put the solution into a spray bottle, much like the ones other cleaners are in, and spray in appropriate areas you want to clean. When you’re done spraying, wipe it away with a clean cloth.

 A Word From Verywell

Although vinegar cannot kill all types of germs and viruses, it is still a great tool to use to clean your home. It is especially good for those who are sensitive to chemical cleaners or wish to use a more eco-friendly cleaning solution. Just remember to never mix vinegar with bleach, ammonia, or hydrogen peroxide to avoid any potentially fatal chemical reactions in your home. To find a disinfectant that will truly work and is safe to use, check out the EPA’s list of approved disinfectants or look for the EPA registration number on products before purchasing.

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Article Sources
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