How Does Vinegar Work as a Cleaner?

Basic Vinegar

Vinegar is a natural by-product of vegetables, fruits, and grains. It's both edible and biodegradable and has a long shelf life. Any alcoholic beverage left exposed to the air will eventually become vinegar. It's inexpensive to make and dilutes easily with water. You can use it to clean even the greasiest mess. Think of it as an all-around versatile liquid.

How Vinegar is Made

Vinegar is acid based. The acids in the vinegar come from a fermentation process where grains, fruits, and vegetables are broken down with a biological process that turns carbohydrates into acetic acid. Two processes combine to make vinegar. Alcoholic fermentation occurs when sugars are broken down by yeast. Acetobacter, a mild bacteria, are then added to the mix to convert the alcohol to acetic acid.

Fermentation is a carefully controlled process. The resulting acetic acid isn't the vinegar you'll see in the bottle at the grocery store. The many varieties of vinegar have vitamins and minerals added to impart a particular flavor. The acetic acid is simply the starting point for vinegar.

The Role of Acid

Typical, store-bought vinegar contains a 5 percent solution, and the acid it contains quickly breaks down molds, grease, and bacteria.. Vinegar can serve as a streak-free window cleaner. It's excellent for cleaning the sink garbage disposal and for disinfecting the refrigerator. You can use it to remove wax buildup from floors. It can also be employed as an insect repellent. Cut vinegar 50-50 with water to dilute the solution.

The Advantages of Vinegar

Vinegar is biodegradable and won't harm the environment. It's effective and safe enough to use to kill grass or weeds. One study showed vinegar kills 99 percent of surface bacteria, 80 percent of germs, and 82 percent of molds on a counter. Vinegar is also relatively cheap. A large bottle of plain white vinegar will cost less thana single bottle of household cleaner that can only clean part of the house. Cutting the vinegar with water makes it last even longer.