Vinegar isn't the best choice to kill germs and viruses.
Vinegar isn't an EPA-registered household disinfectant, and isn't recommended in place of alcohol or diluted bleach solutions.
However, the acetic acid in vinegar does have some disinfectant properties, and can kill some types of germs, so you may want to use it if it's your only option.
Vinegar is sometimes used as a household cleaner because its main ingredient, acetic acid, can help break down dirt and kill some types of germs. However, it's likely not your best option.
Vinegar is not registered with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as an effective household disinfectant, and isn't recommended in place of most commercial cleaning products. For example, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends disinfecting surfaces with diluted bleach solutions, or alcohol solutions made with at least 70% alcohol.
But if vinegar is your only option, it may still have some effectiveness, as it does have some disinfectant properties. Here's what you need to know.
Vinegar isn't the best option for killing viruses
Because the EPA regulates household disinfectant products, like bleach, they have been tested and clinically shown to kill bacteria and viruses - but vinegar is not an EPA-registered disinfectant.
While vinegar carries some disinfectant properties, it is not as effective as standard household cleaners, says Alex Berezow, PhD and vice president of scientific communications for the American Council on Science and Health.
"I don't really know why anyone would use vinegar when there are a bunch of cleaning products already on the market that are quite effective," Berezow says.
The acidity in vinegar makes it useful as a cleaner since it can effectively dissolve soap scum and shine surfaces. However, it is not potent enough to effectively disinfect surfaces, according to the CDC. Disinfectants that contain isopropyl alcohol or bleach are better, Berezow says, and you can clean surfaces with your own bleach or alcohol solutions.
Even regular soap and water are more effective disinfectants than vinegar, Berezow says, and can be used on countertops. To prevent the spread of coronavirus, the CDC recommends cleaning visibly dirty surfaces with soap and water and then disinfecting with diluted bleach solutions, alcohol solutions, or an EPA-registered household disinfectant.
Vinegar may kill some germs
Acetic acid, the main component in vinegar, helps break down dirt and chemically changes the make-up of germ cell structures. White distilled vinegar, the type found in grocery stores and typically used for cleaning, is about 4% to 7% acetic acid, while cider vinegar and wine vinegar are around 5% to 6% acetic acid.
Vinegar has been shown to have some disinfectant properties. For example, a 2010 study found 10% malt vinegar to be effective against the flu virus, and a 2014 study published in a journal of the American Society for Microbiology found a 10% solution can kill the bacteria that causes tuberculosis.
How to use vinegar to kill germs, if you need to
Because vinegar can be effective at cleaning away dirt and residue, and has been shown to have some disinfectant properties, it isn't necessarily a bad choice as a household cleaner. But if your goal is to reduce germs in your home, there are better options out there, Berezow says.
"If vinegar is the only thing you have, then I guess give it a shot," Berezow says. "But it's certainly not difficult to find soap for your hands, or bleach or alcohol solutions for countertops."
If you need to use it in your home, combine vinegar with water in a 1:1 solution, so equal parts water and vinegar. This combination can be used on stovetops, floors, sinks, countertops, walls, cupboards and windows. The set time for vinegar, meaning the time a disinfectant must be on a surface to kill germs, is 30 minutes.
The acetic acid in vinegar can also damage some surfaces, so vinegar is not recommended for use on aluminum, cast iron, waxed wood, or natural stone.
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