The People's Perspective on Medicine

Can Vinegar Disinfect Counters?

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Q. I have a three-year-old and am expecting a new baby in a few weeks. I hate to use harsh chemicals to clean our house, and usually rely on good old soap and hot water, sometimes with vinegar or baking soda. I use bleach or Bon-Ami sparingly for some things.

I found a recipe for home cleaner spray–a simple mixture of white vinegar, water and a few drops of essential oil for fragrance. I spray this mixture everywhere, confident that I could eat it if I had to. It does a great job on the stainless kitchen sink, microwave, countertops and bathroom sink.

I’m under the impression that vinegar will be enough to kill germs, especially bacteria. Is that true? Do I need to add something more caustic to get the germs?

A. Vinegar is a great cleaner, but we didn’t know how well it could kill germs. We asked germ guru Charles Gerba, PhD, a microbiologist at the University of Arizona, Tucson. He has done field studies on household germs.

Dr. Gerba said that vinegar is useful as a cleaner and has some antimicrobial properties, but it is not considered a sanitizer or disinfectant. For disinfecting, dilute bleach is still best.

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About the Author
Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist who has dedicated his career to making drug information understandable to consumers. His best-selling book, The People’s Pharmacy, was published in 1976 and led to a syndicated newspaper column, syndicated public radio show and web site. In 2006, Long Island University awarded him an honorary doctorate as “one of the country's leading drug experts for the consumer.” .
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What about the use of rubbing alcohol on my counters as a disinfectant?

I would like to hear more about the green methods of disinfecting you have found. I run a daycare/preschool in my home and we are required to disinfect and sanitize. The recommendation is to use diluted bleach but I hate the stuff! I am looking for affordable green alternative that are safe and effective. Thanks for your help

Thank you for all your wonderful comments, I do use vinegar for some things but it is not my primary cleaning method because I have found things that are more effective. I have been using this for just about 3 years so my house is 100% green. And I actually cringe at the thought of bleach, yes it disinfects but is NOT safe, it is a known carcinogen (cancer causing). I feel very responsible that I can provide a safe home for my 4 children and that I help others do the same every day.

I am wondering why vinegar is not such a good disinfectant… it is used all the time in canning, and not just for flavor either.
There are a few great Essential oils that work wonderfully at germ killing. Thyme and Oregano oils both contain Thymol, which has been studied for anti-microbial properties. Cinnamon, All Spice, Basil and Clove all have Eugenol, which was studied with Thymol.
However, should anyone decide to check these oils out, please work with a Clinical Aromatherapist. These can be very irritating to the skin if applied directly or spilled when undiluted or not diluted enough. Even though these oils can be very irritating to the skin, they do not pose the respiratory problems that bleach can pose, especially for children. They should be safe and effective for household cleaning – and far safer than bleach.
Other good essential oils that are not as broad spectrum in germ killing, but are very safe and quite effective are Lavender, Tea Tree and Manuka. A blend of Lavender, Tea Tree and some Spearmint makes for a germ killing spree, and smells absolutely wonderful. Plus you get the aromatherapy benefits. Again, to ensure these oils would be good for each individual, contact a Clinical Aromatherapist before use.

Vinegar is not considered by the EPA to be a disinfectant, and I am glad to see that you are providing that information. Bleach is a disinfectant, if sprayed on a hard, non-porous surface, and then left for the requisite amount of time (the “kill time”). Nonetheless, vinegar can be a great cleaner — just not a disinfectant.

Food scientist Susan Sumner at Virginia Tech has found that spraying surfaces with vinegar, then hydrogen peroxide or vice versa (not mixed together in one bottle!) is very effective.
Tests run at V.Tech,indicated that bacteria on heavily contaminated food and surfaces were killed when the two components were sprayed on surfaces. See

What about peroxide? Will this disinfect better than vinegar?

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