Monday, November 28, 2011

Non-toxic cleaning: How vinegar works

Cleaning with vinegar is a great way to reduce chemical exposure at home

Vinegar is an effective cleaning agent.
Many of our previous blog posts decry the use of harsh chemicals in common household cleaning products, which can add to poor indoor air quality in the home.

One of the things we always say is to replace chemical cleaning products with natural cleaning agents such as vinegar. But how does vinegar actually work?

In a Networx article “The Science of Vinegar” Julian Taub explains what makes vinegar so effective for everyday cleaning chores.

What is vinegar?

Vinegar usually consists of water with 4-5% of a chemical called acetic acid. Acetic Acid is a weak acid (although the concentrated form can be a skin irritant); it is antibacterial and antifungal, meaning it can neutralize bacteria and fungi and thus remove odors.

When it is dissolved in water, acetic acid breaks apart into two components, the hydrogen and the remainder of the molecule, called the acetate.

The hydrogen will try to bond to any molecule that it encounters, that is why they are great at cleaning stains made from alkali substances, like soap, urine, and limestone.

Unlike harsh chemicals, vinegar maintains a balance within water of about 1% separated acetic acid, making it safe to use on cleaning surfaces, but slightly less effective in fighting grease or carbon buildup on cooking utensils.
Cleaning with natural ingredients is
better for your health and well-being.

Cleaning with vinegar

You can use vinegar on most cleaning surfaces, especially in the bathroom and kitchen and the floors, but it shouldn’t be used everywhere (see below).

Most people will dilute vinegar with water to create an effective cleaning agent, and you could also add some fresh lemon juice. Don’t worry about the vinegar smell; it disappears once the vinegar evaporates.

Do not mix the vinegar with alkali-cleaning products such as soap, lye and bleach because they will both become ineffective and/or create poisonous fumes (with bleach).

However, the neutralization effect can be used effectively for unclogging drains. Mixing vinegar and baking soda will create a “volcano effect” – the reaction between the two creating water and carbon dioxide will increase the pressure in the drain pipe and dislodge some of the clogging material.

The author warns against using vinegar on clean upholstery, serious drain clogs or ovens. It should also not be used on metals, including iron, stainless steel, bronze or copper.

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