Comparison between vinegar and bleach

Vinegar Vs. Bleach: Which is a Better Choice for Cleaning?

Vinegar is not a better disinfectant than bleach as the latter is more potent against pathogens. However, inhaling the vapors of bleach can irritate the lungs and even cause headaches, nausea, and dizziness.
Did You Know?
One should avoid using vinegar on marble and granite flooring as it can damage the finish.
Household bleach (chlorine bleach) and white vinegar are two commonly recommended products for household cleaning. They are essentially disinfectants that can keep your home safe from microbial contamination. These products also help to remove the odor and freshen up the surroundings. However, quite a few consumers are confused about which one to choose for a healthier home. This Buzzle write-up discusses the pros and cons of using these two products and tries to determine which one of the two is more capable of tackling home bacteria and viruses.

Active Ingredients

Household chlorine bleach is a pesticide and contains the active ingredient sodium hypochlorite, which is around 5.25% by weight. Sodium hypochlorite displays antimicrobial activity against a wide range of pathogens.

Vinegar is a product of fermentation of ethanol by acetic acid bacteria. Acetic acid is the main component of vinegar, which is around 5% by volume. This 5% acidity of vinegar is effective to stop the growth of harmful microbes.

Killing Power

Bleach is extremely powerful at killing different types of germs. It is a potent disinfectant that ensures removal of disease-causing microorganisms. It is estimated that bleach is effective against 99.9% of bacteria, viruses, and mold. Bleach kills mold growing on non-porous material such as glass and tiles, but is not effective in killing mold that form below non-porous material like wood and drywall.

Although vinegar has good disinfectant properties, it is estimated that vinegar can kill 90% of bacteria and around 80% of viruses and mold. Vinegar in combination with baking soda is particularly effective at killing mold on wood surfaces.

Efficacy Against Pathogenic Strains

Bleach is effective against dangerous pathogens that cause tuberculosis, MRSA, hepatitis, and HIV. The usual resistant flu strains are also susceptible to this household bleach. Hence, dialysis units in various hospitals that are at high risk of blood-borne infections, particularly hepatitis, are often disinfected with bleach.

It is usually not used for cleaning any medical equipment as it is least effective against these dangerous pathogenic strains. However, it is potent against E. coli strains of bacteria.

Health Concerns

Although effective, bleach produces fumes that can be toxic to humans. Nausea, headache, dizziness, and vomiting are some of the dangers of inhaling chlorine bleach fumes. The fumes are likely to irritate the eyes and the respiratory tract and cause breathing problems. Breathing those harmful vapors can also worsen chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases such as asthma. Frequent use of bleach may increase the risk of chronic respiratory problems such as bronchitis. The bleach fumes can also negatively affect the nervous system.

Also, when the skin is directly exposed to bleach (diluted or undiluted form), it can cause dryness, itching, and may even trigger a burning sensation. In case the accidental exposure to bleach is not washed immediately and left as it is, for a prolonged duration, it can cause skin discoloration and even permanent tissue damage.

Although vinegar has a slightly strong odor that may cause throat irritation and coughing, the odor goes away quickly. The odor is unlikely to cause any lung damage. In general, cleaning with vinegar is safe, non-toxic and does not cause any long term damage to the health.

Environmental Concerns

The process of making bleach generates a by-product known as dioxin, which is hazardous to the health and has been linked to cancer. Moreover, mercury that is also released during the production process, can also negatively affect the health.

No such hazardous chemicals are released into the environment during the production of vinegar. Using vinegar essentially promotes environmentally-friendly cleaning.

Minimizing Bleach Fumes
As aforementioned, fumes generated when bleach is used for cleaning purposes, cause breathing problems. This may indicate that you are using too much bleach or it has not been diluted properly. Many times, household bleach requires heavy dilution before usage. So to minimize exposure to fumes, make sure it is being used in the right amounts and diluted as instructed.

Whenever using vinegar or bleach for household cleaning, make sure the room is well-ventilated. Before you start cleaning, open the windows and switch on the fan. This will help drive away the characteristic odor associated with these products. Also, do not use them excessively or in their highly concentrated form. The disinfectants need to be adequately diluted with water before use. Wearing gloves is also important to avoid direct skin contact with the cleaning agent.

On the whole, there is no doubt that bleach can provide continuous protection against harmful microbes. But it is a strong chemical, and one has to take extra precaution to keep its associated risks at bay. So in case you are not comfortable using bleach, opting for alternatives like vinegar can also work well to keep your home clean.