Vinegar or Chlorine? Which is better for cleaning?

bleachvsvinegarAs the flu season approaches, I’m thinking … “d.i.s.i.n.f.e.c.t.” anything I can get my hands on. But I’m wondering if my obsessive vinegar use is good enough to fight those nasty germs that can wreak havoc during winter. My kids get sick at least once, like clockwork, no matter how many times they wash their hands and how religiously they take their vitamins.

So I was thinking, should I use bleach in drastic times like this? But I can’t even walk down the detergent aisle at the supermarket without gagging. One of the reasons why I make my own laundry detergent. And I use vinegar in my dishwasher too! I once walked out of a restaurant because of lingering chlorine smell. The underlying message wasn’t that appetizing anymore. “What was wrong with the restaurant that they needed to douce the place with chlorine?”

I had to do some digging to see if vinegar was enough to combat the upcoming flu season. I even dug up my old Microbiology class notes to see what works best on those invisible critters that cause so much havoc during winter.


bleachChlorine bleach is an oxidant and an extremely effective germ killer. Chlorine can kill mold on non-porous surface like tiles but not on porous surfaces like wood and grout. That’s why even if you use bleach to clean your bathroom, mold reappears after awhile. The water agent in the bleach, actually makes it grow in the crevices of the grout. Some say, bleach just makes mold turn white but does not kill it.

It’s recommended (and regulated) as a household cleaner by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), as being effective to kill microorganisms, such as the E. coli which responsible for many cases of foodborne illness. And it takes just a small amount to do its job – about 1 part bleach to 4 parts water.

But Chlorine is also very nasty. According to Material Safety Data Sheet, the vapor can cause harm to respiratory tract, lung, and the contact with chlorine can cause skin irritation. But the harm starts even before it ends up in your house as chlorine releases cancer-causing dioxin as well as brain-damaging mercury into the air during production. According to the American Association of Poison Control Centers, chlorine bleach poisons children every year.



The vinegar you buy in stores contains 5 percent acetic acid, which is strong enough to be antimicrobial. Some studies have found that vinegar, especially, in combination with 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 smell, well, vinegary, it won’t damage your airways when inhaled. And the smell dissipates rather quickly.

However, when it comes to food safety, vinegar hasn’t been as thoroughly tested as chlorine bleach. Studies that find it kills germs are somewhat vague in terms of how much of the germs are killed.  It would be great to have more specifics on its germ-killing capabilities since I’m concerned whether cleaning with vinegar during the flu season is enough to kill germs. But maybe for flu, it’s strong enough but for fighting some strains of germs for food borne illnesses, it’s questionable. But since I don’t handle meat that often, I am not too concerned. And when I do handle meat, it’s usually from a local farm where the chance of cross contamination is less.

So which is better?

I’d go with vinegar, for general cleaning, For my health and the health of the planet, vinegar is strong enough to handle most general cleaning tasks. Use full strength vinegar and never dilute it. In fact, if you dilute it, you may be intruding contaminated water. And if vinegar doesn’t work, I use hot soapy water with baking soda. Don’t mix baking soda (basic) and vinegar (acidic) because you will neutralize the two to make water.

I do have a small bottle of bleach, tucked away, for some reason. Probably a leftover from when I used to be stupid a non-greenie. Yea, that’s how old it is. I should probably throw it out. One word of caution about bleach – never use bleach in combination with another cleaner, even vinegar, and especially ammonia as toxic fumes can result. Remember, premade products don’t have to disclose their ingredients so you don’t know if it contains ammonia. You may unknowingly wipe down a surface that you just cleaned with bleach. (Mixing chlorine and ammonia results in a toxic chlorine gas).

What do you clean with? Vinegar or bleach? Or was that a stupid question?


  1. thelambscottage says

    Do you have something natural you use in the kiddie pool?  I just don’t like the idea of using chemicals in there with the little ones.  What’s your take on this?  or do you just drain it out every time?  I have considered using vinegar or baking soda in there, but I suppose you would still need some of those ph strips to figure out which one you need to add.  I would love to hear your insight on this.

  2. Steel says

    You stated you had a bottle of bleach “somewhere”. The problem with bleach is that over time, well.. it turns into water. If the bottle of bleach that you have “somewhere”, and you’ve had it over six months, it has lost it’s effectiveness for disinfection. If the bottle is about a year old..pretty much all you have left is salt-water.

    • Steel says

      Additionally, you state to not use vinegar in combination with bleach. In the laundry, I always use white vinegar as a softener, even when using bleach. There isn’t a dangerous chemical reaction. If you are using homemade soap i.e., borax, washing soda, baking soda, zote or fels, you can use bleach in the wash, and vinegar in the rinse.

      If you use clorox 2 in your homemade soap, you should not combine it with bleach, but its fine if you use vinegar in the rinse.

  3. Kate says

    Love getting helpful tips like this out of the blue. Now if I could just get someone to come and clean for me out of the blue!…….

  4. says

    There are several non-chlorine bleaches out there. I know Biokleen makes one. I’ve also added a little hydrogen peroxide to whites before — like bleach, don’t let it sit on the clothes or it could cause discoloration. But the truth is, in general, I don’t care that much how white my clothes are.

    I have resorted to bleach for very tough mold. But i feel so guilty, so I try hard to prevent prevent prevent mold. B/c I’ve never found anything super natural that makes a dent once it takes hold.

  5. says

    I own a child care center, and the Licensing agency recommends bleach. However, I know that chlorine bleach causes respiratory problems and aggravates conditions like asthma. Recently, I had a mold abatement specialist come in, and he told me that chlorine bleach in worse in the air than mold spores! That sold me, right there.

  6. says

    I use straight vinegar or the hydrogen peroxide and vinegar combo Amy mentions above. You can’t mix them in the same bottle because they create peracetic acid which can harm you if it creates a strong concentration. I took an old spray top and put it on my bottle of Hydrogen peroxide.

  7. Amy says

    Some years ago I read about this in Natural Home magazine — Vinegar and Hydrogen Peroxide used together take care of 99% of germs. The important point is that you can’t just mix them together (though I don’t remember why). You need to keep them in two separate squirt bottles and then squirt some of each on the area and then wipe down. I’ve now cleaned this way for years, keeping a bottle of vinegar and a bottle of hydrogen peroxide always on hand.

  8. says

    I would just use any soap, studies have shown plain soap is as effective as anything else for germ killing.
    A in wash whitener try oxy products, baking soda or soaking in powdered dish detergent.

  9. Al says


    I believe most people use bleach for washing (whitening) clothes, I think its main household use. Do know of an alternative to replace it?
    Thank you!

  10. Lisa @Retro Housewife Goes Green says

    I use vinegar, tea tree oil, or hydrogen peroxide in place of bleach. The local chicken I buy is cleaned with vinegar, which makes me very happy. :)

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