7 Things You Should Never Clean with Vinegar

updated May 1, 2019
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(Image credit: The Kitchn)

Vinegar is one of those wonder ingredients people love to use all over the kitchen to do everything from descaling coffee makers to getting grime and rust off of small appliances. But even with so many applications, it’s important to remember that it’s a relatively strong acid, and that not all finishes and materials can handle it. While you might not notice a catastrophic change if, say, a little bit of your vinegar-based all-purpose cleaner lands on these surfaces, beware of using it regularly.

Here are seven things you should never clean with vinegar.

(Image credit: Maria Siriano)

1. Stone surfaces

Materials like granite and marble — and even natural stone tiles — aren’t as hard as those tough exteriors make them look. Vinegar’s high acidity can etch the stone, leaving marks you’ll never be able to erase.

(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

2. Cast iron pans

Part of what gives cast iron its unique cooking properties is the seasoning process — slowly building up a coat of oil that keeps it nonstick. Not only does vinegar cut through the film, but it can also react with cast iron, causing it to rust. So only wash your cast iron in water or (if you’re one of those people) gentle soap and water.

More on Cleaning Cast Iron

(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

3. Anything made of aluminum

Similar to cast iron, vinegar can react with aluminum leading to oxidation (read: ugly spots) on your aluminum pieces like pots and pans (or, in my case, my favorite moka pot). Skip it.

(Image credit: Jacqueline Marque)

4. Hardwood floors

While tile floors can take a beating, hardwood is a little more finicky. Now I know people are mixed here, as I’ve heard from a few people who swear by a diluted vinegar cleaner for their hardwood floors, but most flooring manufacturers urge you not to do it, as the strong acid can eat away at the finish and dull it over time.

(Image credit: Maria Siriano)

5. Waxed or unfinished wooden furniture and cabinets

Different wooden surface, same reason: Vinegar is too strong for the wax finishes on wooden furniture and waxed cabinets (like the kinds painted with chalk paint). It can eat away the finish over time. Instead, use a cleaner formulated for wooden surfaces.

(Image credit: Studio Firma/Stocksy)

6. Your phone or tablet

If you’re using your smartphone or tablet to follow a recipe, resist cleaning up spills or splashes with vinegar. The screen has a fingerprint-resistant coating that can be damaged with vinegar. (In general, a microfiber cloth dampened with water is your best bet.)

(Image credit: Brittany Purlee)

7. Your windowsill herb garden

While some tout vinegar as an insecticide, applying it directly to a plant will, unfortunately, kill it. That’s why many green gardeners use it as a weed killer!