The Cheap Pantry Ingredient That’s Way Better Than Pricey Store-Bought Cleaners

clean with vinegar
Photo Credit: Bonnin Studio

March 16, 2021

By Lisa Freedman

Do you have a bottle of distilled white vinegar in your cabinet right now? You probably do. And that means you also have one of the best, most versatile cleaning supplies out there. See, vinegar is an incredible cleaning agent and you can get a gallon of the stuff for just a few bucks, making it a budget-friendly alternative to specialized cleaners. Instead of dropping $5 for a bottle of glass cleaner and another $5 for a descaling solution and another $5 on a floor cleaner, you can save your money—and the storage space—and just go with one big bottle of vinegar. Read on to find out why it works and how to clean with vinegar. 

Why Vinegar Is the Best Cheap Cleaner

With a pH of around 2.5, distilled white vinegar is a pretty strong acid. It’s more acidic than coffee and orange juice but less acidic than your stomach juices or the liquid inside batteries. (The scale goes from 0 to 14—7 is neutral and 0 is the most acidic.) Because it’s so acidic, vinegar can break down hard water build up, shine up windows and glass, help to dissolve stains, and more. It’s very acidic, yes. But not so acidic that it becomes unsafe to handle (though it should be noted that you should not use vinegar to clean natural stone like granite or marble because it can leave permanent etch marks behind). 

8 Ways to Clean with Vinegar

Now that we’ve had that quick science lesson, let’s take a look at some of the most effective ways you can clean with vinegar. 

1. Clean your coffee maker.

To safely clean your coffee maker, just fill the water chamber with a half-vinegar-half-water solution and run a cycle or two. If you can pause the cycle halfway through on your machine, do that and let the solution sit for a bit before you restart it.

2. Descale your faucet.

If you live somewhere that has hard water, you may notice that your faucet tends to get gunked up over time. The easiest way to clear things up: Fill a plastic baggie with a 1-to-1 vinegar-and-water solution and slip it over the faucet. Let it sit for at least 30 minutes and then run the water.

3. Clean your windows.

Fill a spray bottle with one part vinegar and one part water and then spritz your windows before wiping them down with a microfiber cloth. This will also work on glass-faced cabinet doors.

4. Clean your oven.

The best way to clean your oven is actually surprisingly hands off: Make a paste of baking soda and water and apply it all over the inside of your oven. Let the paste sit overnight and then spray the hardened paste with vinegar. The vinegar will cause the paste to foam up, making it easy to wipe everything up.

5. Shine up stainless steel.

Fill a spray bottle with vinegar and spritz your stainless steel appliances. Then use a microfiber cloth to wipe off the vinegar—just be sure to follow the grain. 

6. Clean the inside of the microwave.

Fill a microwave-safe bowl with two cups of water and two tablespoons of vinegar. Microwave the solution for about five minutes or until the water begins to boil. Then, keep the door closed and let the steam soften the mess. After a few minutes, you can use a sponge to wipe down the inside without having to use much elbow grease.

7. Clean hardwood floors.

Whether you prefer a mop or a spray mop, you can use a diluted vinegar solution to get your floors sparkling. Just mix up ½ cup of vinegar with a gallon of warm water and you’ll have an effective, inexpensive floor cleaner. 

8. Lift water rings from wood furniture.

Got some non-coaster users in your household? Mix equal parts vinegar and olive oil together and rub the solution into water rings that have set on your wooden coffee table. Use a soft cloth and work with the grain.