Vinegar, Hydrogen Peroxide as disenfectants

Straight Dope needed! Poking around looking for alternatives to my wife’s beloved bleach cleansers.

Some sites say vinegar is a disinfectant, others that it isn’t. Several places say that H202 is as good as bleach. Can it be so? Spraying a 3% solution all over my kitchen will disinfect it pleasantly and safely? Or it’ll make my porcelain throne fit for a king?

Most of the sites espousing these miracle properties feel either way crunchy or way woo-ey…which automatically make me leery.

I needs me some chemistry/biology peeps. Stat!

See this page, for example:

It says even a scientist invented the method! Which of course makes me more skepticaler.

Vinegar is generally 5% acetic acid (or less), it does kill some germs, just not quite as effectively as bleach or commercial disinfectants. There’s some nasty stff out there that your typical diluted vinegar will not kill, such as S. aureus, S. Typhi and some strains of E.coli. Undiluted vinegar will kill those, however.

My hospital has switched to H2O2 as its primary counter disinfectant. Kills everything (including C.diff and Bacillus spores) if you let it set for a minute or so. Not sure on the concentration, will report back if tomorrow if I remember.

I miss the the bleach a bit as it did a better job of actually cleaning (seems to be a better solvent and stain remover) but do not miss all the spots on my clothes.

having a disinfectant is a good thing. to be such it has to be strong.

cleaning with a detergent first does much good and lessens the amount of disinfectant if further action is needed.

hydrogen peroxide is a good disinfectant. it does deteriorate on its own. so buy it in small quantities and test for foamy action before use (to see if it is still effective).

bleach is a good disinfectant. it stays strong for a long time and can be purchased by the gallon.

overuse of these oxidizers might cause deterioration of some materials over time.

there is a balance of how germ free is enough. having some around is OK and keeps your body in shape.

disinfectant are used in a large way in a hospital where people are sick and might not do well with new or more germs. disinfectant are used in a large way in a restaurant where many strange people mix together while putting things into their bodies. in a home with healthy people the need is less.

Hydrogen peroxide doesn’t work on staph or any bacterium which produces catalase. It’s great vs. other things, however.
I never try to use vinegar to disinfect. Partly it’s because we don’t tend to have white vinegar at a standardized strength around the house. Instead, I’ll use rubbing alcohol, either denatured ethyl or isopropyl, as long as there isn’t a flame to worry about.

Personally, I think vinegar is woo. People see it dissolve all the hard water deposits around the sink and bathroom and think it’s a miracle.


Is there a real science-type reason to disinfect your own home? I have never disinfected anything in my house. I do, you know, clean stuff. I clean just about everything with dish detergent, except the toilet, on which I use Pine-Sol, mainly for the smell.

(I do sterilize tweezers, syringes, and milking equipment, but I think those are in a different category)

Ulfrieda, I would say the number one reason to go all apeshit with disinfection is if you have a large family, and the first comes down with norovirus or something else rapidly infectious. Another case would be for one of the more serious influenzas, especially if someone in the family was unable to be immunized. Of course, usually when one of these takes hold, everyone is too sick to clean.
Years ago, if someone got scarlet fever or diphtheria, all the bedding was burned. In my opinion, we’ve forgotten the value of draconian hygiene and put too much faith in antibiotics.

Soap disinfects just fine. As does Pine-Sol.

Also, I disagree that peroxide does not kill Staph. Catalase does offer a bit of protection, but it is quickly exhausted.

Pretty sure the regular 3% H2O2 doesn’t really have much value as a disinfectant at all. Vinegar (5% acetic acid) is probably mildly better, but more bacteriostatic than bacteriocidal.

Why not just get a good bleach (Clorox), quaternary ammonium compound(just about everything “antibacterial”) or a phenolic compound (Lysol concentrate)? They’re proven to work and registered as disinfectants with the EPA.
a typical quat active ingredient is: " Alkyl (C12-16) dimethylbenzylammonium chloride" or something similar)

Peroxide also prevents mold growth. At the factory where I work, we make seed plugs and they are always sprayed with “HY-OX” (High concentration peroxide) to avoid mold before packaging them.

I think the big issue is how long the cleaner is allowed to sit. Often disinfectants are wiped away before they have a chance to be effective. Isnt 30 seconds about right?

By “diluted vinegar”, are you talking about “supermarket vinegar to which water has been added” or about “supermarket vinegar out of the bottle”? I realize it may seem as a stupid question, but I’ve met too many people who used “vinegar” and “acetic acid” interchangeably.

Sanitize is what you need to do for food surfaces–reduces bacteria to a manageable level
Disinfect is what you need to do for general surfaces which have been in contact with something particularly nasty–destroy the bacteria which is not encysted / spored up or w/e it is that they do
Sterilize is what you need to do for surgical instruments–gets even the spored-up / encysted bacteria

I’m seeing a lot more articles, some more fact-based than others, which expound on the hypothesis that over-emphasis on cleanliness, as well as overuse of antibiotics, and the lack of routine exposure of many children to natural environments, is contributing to the rise of a wide spectrum of disorders and diseases, from asthma to cancer.

There appears to be growing consensus that the modern destruction or at least diminishment of human personal microflora is having deleterious effects. In light of this, it would seem that weaker sanitizers are to be preferred.

I wonder about this all the time, although I must say I’ve been too lazy to mix up my wife’s bleach with water in a spray bottle.

Your distinction sounds right, but people need to disinfect cutting boards. Everyone can have a different requirement, or none, but after I work with chicken I scrub my wooden boards with soap, hot water, then white vinegar from the bottle.

I never heard the words “encysted” and “enspored,” but little cracks in boards sound like where they live. (Plastic vs. wood cutting boards as hiding places for salmonella is a different topic.)

I have one board I only use for raw meat. That one I do spray with diluted bleach. It’s the only thing I disinfect that way.

The rules of the kitchen are that food surfaces only need to be sanitized.
Commercial kitchens use sanitizer–often a bleach and water mix–to sanitize food surfaces.
Commercial dishwashers sanitize dishes.

Yet we disinfect our toilets…
Go figure

I am sure that there’s a more accurate way to describe it.
But apparently various microorganisms have ways of “hibernating” or otherwise surviving environments which lack the necessary elements for the microorganism to thrive. And these states, for some of these critters, is such that they are not as affected by some chemicals as others.

Wiki says:
Bacterial Spore
Colorado State says:

Cleaning and Sanitizing the Kitchen

They say that you can use vinegar and H2O2 to sanitize, but that it takes 10 minutes if at room temperature–but only 1 minute @ 50C (130F).

I hope this isn’t too much of a hijack but…

Long before the ebola mania I started a policy of not touching my face while out for the day(use my sleeve or a paper instead) and when I get home I pour some 70% isopropyl into my palm and rub it vigorously over my hands. This cut WAY back on colds, flues, and stomach problems AKA diarrhea. But then I have seen claims it does not kill viruses, which makes me think the main benefit was just not touching my face.

Would rubbing my hands in a dilute bleach solution be more effective?

Admire your hand discipline.

Soap and water and scrubbing really is still the best.

70% alcohol will leave lots of viruses intact. Bumping it up to 90%will kill all but the most stubborn (like Norovirus).

I spray my hands down with 10% bleach (.5% chlorine) all the time at work. Because the antibacterial soap they have eats giant holes in my skin.