How I Clean My Counters with Vinegar

I’ve been bit by the cleaning bug this weekend, so you’ll have to bear with me here.  I just really want to share with you something that, if nothing else, will perhaps help you save a few dollars on the counter or other surface cleaner you may be buying.

A few years ago, Cook’s Illustrated published their findings of a study regarding the effectiveness of expensive produce cleansers.  You know, those spray bottles you see in the produce section touting their ability to get your vegetables squeaky clean?  They researched four different methods of cleaning* and came up with somewhat surprising results.  Apples and pears were split into four groups:

  1. Cleaned with antibacterial hand soap (not suggested by anyone, just done for purposes of the study)
  2. Cleaned with a vinegar solution (one part vinegar, three parts water)
  3. Cleaned with water and a scrub brush
  4. Cleaned with water only

Why they didn’t use a commercial vegetable cleanser, I’m not sure.  Perhaps their goal was actually to look for alternatives to these pricey solutions.  In any case, the one that worked the best?  The vinegar solution: it killed 98% of the bacteria on the surface of the fruit.

So, with that in mind, I’ve switched my cleaning supplies**.  I keep a spray bottle of one part vinegar to three parts water next to my sink and use it to wipe off my counters.  The funny thing is, that I actually rarely use this spray bottle for my produce. What can I say? I’m a person of habit, and I have just gotten so used to washing my apples with water and scrubbing a lot.

I use distilled white vinegar and water, and instead of having to measure out the portions each time, I spent a few extra minutes the first time I measured them out marking the points on the bottle where I should fill first with water, then with vinegar. Handy for a lazy person like me.

I don’t like commercial cleaning products and tend to avoid them. We did most of our cleaning with bleach (for the bathroom) and vinegar (for the floors) already anyway. We also invested in a few inexpensive wash cloths in fun green and blue colors and rotate them through.  Now, each night after we finish washing dishes, we squirt all the surfaces in the kitchen, including the kitchen table, and wipe them down with our cloths.

You might think our whole kitchen constantly smells like vinegar, but it doesn’t. That’s because the vinegar smell dissipates after it dries. Some people put orange blossom water or essential oils in their sprays, but I don’t like to because it just confuses my taste buds when I go to make and eat something with orange blossom water (imagine if those smells in commercial cleaning products were actually edible and suddenly you went to eat it in a dish – ew).

For the longest time I would get so frustrated, because I’d have to rotate through cloths so quickly (every day in some cases). I hate doing laundry (as I said, I’m lazy), and I just couldn’t keep up with these cloths. This is because they’d harbor the bacteria I would wipe up from the counters, no matter how hard and well I rinsed them out afterward. The smell alone was enough to gross me out, not to mention thinking that they canceled out any good I did using my vinegar solution with cross-contamination right back onto my counters.

And then suddenly, a couple months ago after years of this struggle, it dawned on me: If I use the spray bottle of vinegar solution to kill bacteria on my counters, couldn’t I do the same with these cloths?

Bingo! I have been able to extend the life of these cloths between washes and only switch them out once or twice a week now. Each time I use it to wipe something up, I rinse it well with hot water, wring it out, and then give it a few good sprays on both sides before hanging it up to dry above the sink. No more bacteria, no more smells, much less laundry. It’s a win all around!

How do you clean your counters? What’s your favorite cleaning tip?

Vinegar Counter and Surface Cleaner

1/4 cup vinegar
3/4 cup water

Mix vinegar and water in a spray bottle and use on counters and tables. I also spray my plastic meat cutting board after I wash it and leave it in the dish drain to dry. The vinegar and smell will dissipate as it dries.

*I can’t link directly to the Cook’s Illustrated article because it is under their pay-only portion of the site which doesn’t have universal access, so I have linked to an NPR review of the study as well as the Cook’s Illustrated homepage.

**A quick note on food safety: this method for cleaning counters would not be condoned by a health inspector, and it probably doesn’t kill 98% of bacteria like it does on the smooth skins of apples and pears. I haven’t done my own scientific analysis, but my personal experience suggests it’s pretty darned close. In over two years of using it I have no reason to believe it’s not effective enough.

3 Comments to “How I Clean My Counters with Vinegar”

  1. Awesome! I’m really trying to use more homemade cleaning remedies,I’m definitely going to do this. I bought some rags for the kitchen from Target that are anti-microbial or something and they never smell. But it sounds like you found a solution!

    • Thanks Kelsey! I highly recommend this system. Let me know how it works out for you!

      In some ways I wish I’d mentioned in this post that I do my best to keep my house free of antibacterial products like antibacterial hand soaps. I know everyone has their own system and their own preferences, I worry about antibacterial agents and what that does for bugs learning to resist. Probably not as much as the antibiotics in cattle feed, but that’s another story. It is incredibly difficult to avoid antibacterial soaps because almost every regular commercial hand soap is antibacterial now. I stick to the “natural” section of the grocery store now for hand and dish soaps, but try to clean everything else with vinegar and, for sinks and the bathroom, powdered bleach.

  2. We’ve taken to cleaning with a vinegar water solution because we’re terrified of accidentally poisoning the cat with the caustic, chemically ones out there. I think we’re both more comfortable with having the room reek of vinegar for about an hour, than inhaling over-the-counter cleaners. It just seems safer.

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