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Vinegar Vs. Bleach For Cleaning: Why Knowing Their Specific Purposes Is Crucial Right Now

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There’s no denying many old wives' tales surrounding self care hold their weight in gold: Honey as a healing face mask, mayo as a hydrating hair treatment, and tea tree oil for detoxifying the skin. But what the tales focused on home care, mainly the popular notion that vinegar is the cleansing equivalent to bleach. This myth has never been more relevant, and with the popularity and subsequent elusiveness of chemical cleaners, many are picking up the natural solution as a sanitizer. But how does vinegar actually compare to bleach? Unfortunately, experts say the differences between the two are more significant than one would think.

“Simply speaking, vinegar is nowhere near as effective as bleach, and ... it does not kill as many germs,” says Adil Bhaloda, Clinical Lead and Pharmacist at Prescription Doctor. “Of course, vinegar does kill some things, but it’s important to note it’s not a complete solution to disinfectant. It is only 90 percent effective against bacteria and around 80 percent effective against viruses and mold or mildew. Bleach, however, kills 99.9 percent of bacteria, viruses, and mold or mildew. This information can easily be looked up at the health department.”

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Indeed, according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), vinegar is not a registered disinfectant against COVID-19, while bleach certainly is. “If you need to disinfect (or sanitize), bleach is a much better choice than vinegar,” says Dr. Samantha Radford, a former human toxicology professor who currently runs science- and health-focused parenting blog Evidenced-Based Mommy.

While the two solutions obviously don’t go hand in hand, it’s possible for them to both serve separate purposes in your home cleaning routine. Vinegar can be used to clean household surfaces as well items like coffee pots, dishwashers, shower doors, bathtubs, rug stains, and clothes. “It helps remove oil residues, mineral buildup from hard water, soap residue, and stains caused by food and wine,” explains Dr. Maria Vila, DO, a family medicine specialist in Morristown, New Jersey and medical advisor for eMediHealth. “The important thing about vinegar is that it doesn't release fumes that can irritate your eyes and lungs and it is not toxic.”

For disinfecting purposes, however, bleach is the winning choice. “Bleach can be used directly or in a diluted form mixed with water to help clean surfaces,” says Dr. Vila. “Some of the surfaces bleach can be used to clean include countertops in kitchens, bathtubs, toilets, and of course, stains on white clothing. Remember that it releases fumes which can be irritating to the eyes, lungs and to your skin, so use gloves and make sure the area is well ventilated.”

According to the Department of Health's guidance on the use of bleach, if it contains 5.25 percent sodium hypochlorite it should be diluted as follows: “[A ratio of] 1:99 diluted household bleach (mixing 10ml of bleach with one liter of water) can be used for general household cleaning.” The department also advises that disinfected surfaces and articles be rinsed with water and wiped dry.

While in many cases, joining two powerful forces can be a good thing, that’s not the case with vinegar and bleach. “Although both vinegar and bleach are good cleaning solutions that most people have at home, you should never mix them,” says Dr. Vila. “Mixed chlorine gas will be released which is harmful and irritating.”

If you think you’re showing symptoms of coronavirus, which include fever, shortness of breath, and cough, call your doctor before going to get tested. If you’re anxious about the virus’s spread in your community, visit the CDC for up-to-date information and resources, or seek out mental health support.