The truth about cleaning with vinegar and bi carb

bi carb and vinegar for cleaning

Cleaning with a paste of bi carb and vinegar is a waste of both substances. I use both in my zero waste cleaning routine, but separately.

The advice to combine vinegar and bi carb (baking soda to my North American readers) for cleaning is pervasive and well intentioned, but ignores a basic rule of chemistry.

Bi carb is a base and vinegar is an acid. When combined, they produce mostly water and sodium acetate (a salt). Now, water is still a decent cleaner and a wonderful solvent. In fact, when I have baked on grime on my glass stovetop, my first step is to pour on a layer of plain water to soften and dissolve the soil, before following up with something like castile soap and/or an abrasive scrub brush. But if we want to clean with water, let’s just clean with water from the start. That’ll save trips to the store and money to buy the ingredients (yes they are cheap, but still).

The advice to mix bi carb and vinegar is vexing because bi carb is a mined, non-renewable resource. When we use it, better to use it properly. Furthermore, if we want others to join us in using less toxic cleaning ingredients, the substitutes must work better than the incumbents. I firmly believe that a very small collection of mostly food grade substances can satisfy all of my cleaning needs, but only when used properly.

How I use bi carb and vinegar for cleaning

For most day to day cleaning, I rely on elbow grease and diluted castile soap, which is made from olive oil and works brilliantly to remove dirt. The first step in removing bacteria is mechanical.

Vinegar is great for cleaning windows, cutting grease, and as an added disinfection step. It kills the flu virus, salmonella, e.coli and other pathogens – even the bacteria that causes tuberculosis (with the proper amount of exposure). However, I do not disinfect daily. There are good and bad types of bacteria, and nature hates a vacuum, so I don’t see the point in overzealous disinfection. I live in a house, not a hospital.

I use bicarb sparingly and infrequently. I keep a shaker bottle in the bathroom cabinet and use a sprinkle to scrub the sink (and as a face exfoliant). After I’ve mechanically scrubbed away grime and bacteria using a rag and the abrasive bi carb, I’ll rinse with water, then spray on vinegar to disinfect.

I suppose my point in all of this is to say that good old soapy water is underrated and the combination of bi carb and vinegar is overrated, and worse, wasteful.

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