natural disinfectant

This or That: Bleach vs. Vinegar to Kill Germs

Chlorine is an effective disinfectant solution, but it's hard on your lungs and bad for the planet. Is vinegar a better alternative?

This or That: Bleach vs. Vinegar to Kill GermsPhotograph By Thinkstock

Anyone who has, perhaps too eagerly, used chlorine bleach to crucify the germs living on a countertop, a cutting board, bathroom grout, or anywhere else probably knows that the harsh cleaner can singe your nose hairs, if not leave you gasping for breath. However, food-safety experts insist that it's the only material that should be used as a disinfectant solution against foodborne illnesses, and many bathroom-grout scrubbers are convinced that it's the only cleaner that will remove tough mildew stains. Could they be missing an equally effective alternative? Or is vinegar disinfectant best used as a second-string solution?

This: Chlorine Bleach Pros: Chlorine bleach is an extremely effective germ killer. It's one of the only household cleaning materials regulated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which means that it's been tested and shown to kill microorganisms, such as the E. coli, responsible for many cases of foodborne illness. And it takes just a small amount to do this—1 part bleach to 4 parts water—so you can stretch a bottle for quite some time.

Cons: The production process for chlorine bleach is pretty nasty; it releases cancer-causing dioxin as well as brain-damaging mercury into the air surrounding chlorine plants. If you have kids in the house, you need to take precautions: According to the American Association of Poison Control Centers, chlorine bleach poisoned 14,400 children under age 6 in 2007.

That: Vinegar Pros: The vinegar you buy in stores, whether apple cider, balsamic, white, or another kind, contains 5 percent acetic acid, which does have antimicrobial properties. Various studies have found that vinegar, usually in combination with table salt or hydrogen peroxide, can inhibit the growth of some strains of E. coli. It's also an effective mold killer. Its production doesn't take such a toll on the environment, and while it can be pungent, a whiff of vinegar cleaning mix won't sear your airways.

Cons: So does vinegar kill germs? The exact science is a little murky. When it comes to food safety, vinegar hasn't been as thoroughly tested as chlorine bleach. Studies that find it kills germs are generally vague in terms of how much of the germs are killed and how much are left behind. While we often recommend it for general cleaning, it would be great to have more specifics on its germ-killing capabilities, especially for people who have someone with a compromised immune system in their home, or some other reason to be extra concerned about germs. Also, some people do have a problem with the smell (though it's odorless once it dries).

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This or That? Go with…That. Vinegar…with a few exceptions. When it comes to your immediate health and the health of the planet, vinegar, a natural disinfectant, is probably strong enough to handle most germy tasks, and when it doesn't work, resort to hot soapy water. Use bleach as a last resort, use it sparingly (follow the 1:4 ratio), and make sure the room is well ventilated so you don't hurt your lungs. Also, never use bleach in combination with another cleaner, even vinegar, as toxic fumes can result. This is particularly dangerous considering that premade cleaning products aren't required by law to disclose their ingredients, and you may unknowingly use an ammonia-based cleaner before or after swabbing down a surface with chlorine bleach (mixing chlorine and ammonia results in a toxic chlorine gas).

Read More: 8 Great Homemade Cleaning Product recipes

At the same time, you have to realize that germs are everywhere, and it's impossible to eradicate them entirely from your house.

Here are a few instances when vinegar is best, or when chlorine may be needed, and ways to save money and use neither:
• Use vinegar as a produce wash. Susan Sumner, PhD, a food-safety scientist at Virginia Tech, has researched the effectiveness of vinegar since the late '90s. She found in one study, published in the 1997 issue of the journal Food Microbiology, that spraying vinegar and then spraying hydrogen peroxide on produce killed a majority of E. coli, Salmonella, Shigella, and Listeria bacteria. You can also mix it up, using hydrogen peroxide first, just as long as you don't mix the two together (they're less effective that way). Let the produce dry before you eat it.

• Use vinegar as a mold killer. The EPA actually recommends against using chlorine to kill mold, since it may kill the mold on the surface but not its root system deep behind the wall. The most effective way to control mold or mildew growth is to find the source of the problem, such as the crack in your bathtub grout. Vinegar will function in the same way as chlorine; so if you need a surface-mold killer, opt for the natural disinfectant that won't burn your lungs (chlorine is also hard on building materials, and causes them to break down faster). Spray vinegar on surfaces and leave it there to dry.

• Use separate cutting boards. Hydrogen peroxide and vinegar, and even salt and vinegar, will cut down on some level of foodborne bacteria. For thorough protection, rather than resort to chlorine, simply use separate cutting boards for produce and for meats, and wash both in hot, soapy water when you're finished.

• Use wood for your meat. Researchers have found that wood cutting boards are less likely to harbor bacteria than plastic, and if you're still worried about lingering germs, microwave it. Microwaving plastic has no effect on germ growth (plastic doesn't get hot enough fast enough for the technique to work), but it will kill germs on wood.

• Replace your sponges—for good. Sponges can harbor more bacteria than any other kitchen tool. Rather than soak them in bleach, switch to an alternative that you can throw in the wash, such as dishcloths or reusable wipes.

For more ways to keep your house clean without punishing your lungs, try one of these 8 green cleaning recipes that really work!


Published on: September 28, 2009

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clear by water

i have seen canadian tv show and they said, that after chemicals you must to clear surfase by water in 7 times.


Can anyone tell us which brands of vinegar are made from fermenting with petroleum derivatives? I would like to avoid them. Thank you.

We use vinegar in our professional green maid service

At Planet Hugger in Arizona (and soon to be Calif as well), our cleaning crews have been using Vinegar to clean inside of our client's homes. We find that you can't beat it for being effective at leaving a streak-free finish on certain counter surfaces and floors--- and yes it does kill germs. The germs cannot survive in an acidic environment. For best results, you should leave your vinegar and water solution to sit for a minute or so before wiping to allow it to do its job at killing mold, bacteria and germs. Of course, this is just one of the tools we use. We also have a full range of eco-friendly green household cleaning products that we produce and retail at We are so excited to see people going back to the natural ways of cleaning! So it might smell a bit like your dad's old smelly socks for a short while when you're using the vinegar, but the smell soon dissepates along with any other foul odors (since its good at ridding of odors too), and in its wake leaves a glorius shine! Here's to vinegar!

I use Vinegar!

I have a serious chemical imbalance of the brain a central nervous system and wanted to go "GREEN" in washing my hands, hair, and environment. I make hand cleanser for general use in both the bathroom and the kitchen. I make a cornstarch gel on the stove with water. I add a touch of honey, organic extra virgin olive oil, plenty of apple cider vinegar and rosemary oil. That's the hand cleanser. I bathe first with a cloth and water in the shower and then scrub my whole body with 12 oz. of water and 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar. Rinse well. I smell good and feel very clean. Also I use baking soda on my scalp to cleanse my hair. Rinse with water. Afterwards, I put 12 oz of water and 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar into plastic cup and rinse the ends of my hair. Physically, I have been feeling better. I plan to do much more with vinegar for household use, both diluted and full strength.

This or That: Bleach or Vinegar to Kill Germs?

I think this was a really good useful article about using bleach or vinegar. Thanks.

Vinegar as an Disinfectant

There are more concentrated forms of vinegar,used as a safer weed killer. Very hard to find. Would this type be more effective?

Bleach or vinegar to kill germs

This article was helpful but could use a little more detail. Should vinegar and hydrogen peroxide be used full strength? How do you dilute the salt? After the big spinach recall we have learned that E. Coli can be inside your vegetables, so all the cleaning in the world won't help that. Killing too many germs can lead to a weakened immune system and eventually lead to auto-immune disorders, so I'd say don't be too obsessive about sterilizing your home. Caution with meats can't be under rated though! I recently saw that boric acid is good for killing dry rot and that there is a boric acid gel that is supposed to be able to seep below the surface to eradicate the fungus that causes it--don't know if that's true.

exterior mold on deck/house

Will vinegar work as well as bleach on exterior surfaces? To prepare decks, houses etc for painting the mold needs to be killed and the dirt washed off with power washing. My husband uses bleach most of the time. He has used vinegar but he says it is not effective. Is there some technique to make vinegar an effective exterior mold killer?

Bleach or Vinegar to Kill Germs?

This info.was very helpful.I did know that vinegar was a germ killer, but I didn't know it worked well as a surface-mold killer, opt for the natural is always the best way to go. The info. on cutting boards was also helpful. Thank you,

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