What’s the Difference Between Cooking Vinegar and Cleaning Vinegar?

published Dec 24, 2021
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Bottle of cleaning vinegar and cooking vinegar on kitchen counter

From cutting through grease on kitchen surfaces to sanitizing and deodorizing the inside of your dishwasher, it’s safe to say white vinegar has cleaning superpowers. If you don’t already have a big jug of it in your pantry, you can buy one for relatively cheap. But investing in vinegar isn’t as straightforward as you’d think. For example, is it better to buy standard white vinegar from the grocery aisle or choose a specially designated vinegar from the cleaning aisle?

According to Alex Varela, general manager of the house-cleaning service Dallas Maids, “cleaning vinegar” and white distilled vinegar are mostly the same. Just like alcohol, chloride, and ammonia, vinegar is a very strong chemical that’s typically diluted with water for household use. The difference between so-called cleaning vinegar and “regular” vinegar, Varela says, is the dilution. 

“Regular” white vinegar, which has a 4 percent to 5 percent concentration, is what you use in the kitchen. Because it is meant for human consumption, it needs to pass several tests, so the manufacturing process is “harsher” to ensure that the standards are met — no contamination from other products, for example. “It’s diluted enough that we can use it for cooking, but it still has enough ‘power’ as a cleanser,” says Varela. 

Cleaning vinegar, on the other hand, has a higher concentration. According to Varela, it can range from 6 percent to as high as 75 percent, which is 15 times more concentrated than cooking vinegar, making it a theoretically superior cleaner. But both are solid options for most messes you’ll encounter at home, he says. What’s important is that you know how to use them.

For example, while you can use cooking vinegar as cleaning vinegar, you definitely shouldn’t do it the other way around. “Cleaning vinegar can be harmful to your health because of the concentration,” Varela says. “Besides, because it’s not meant for human consumption, you could find traces of other chemicals, and some of them include a fragrance.”

Similarly, beware that the higher the concentration, the more careful you’ll need to be when handling it. For example, 75 percent concentrated vinegar is meant for industrial use only. And keep in mind that if the product has a higher concentration, you’ll need to use less of it. 

“So, if you are creating a mix using two cups of 5 percent vinegar, you would only need 1 cup of 10 percent vinegar,” Varela says. “Do the math for each type and decide what works best for you financially!” And if you use it constantly, buy gallons instead of liters — it will be so much cheaper in the long run.

One more tip: If you decide on buying cleaning vinegar, make sure to keep it away from the kitchen so no one uses it as cooking vinegar by mistake.

This post originally appeared on Apartment Therapy. See it there: What’s the Difference Between Cleaning Vinegar and Cooking Vinegar?