One of the things that tickles me to no end are the “healthy living” and “life hack” websites telling you that if you mix vinegar and baking soda, you get some magical mixture capable of cleaning even the worse gremlins out of your house. Kind of makes sense, right? Vinegar is a great cleaning agent. Baking soda is a great cleaning agent. Mix them together, delight at the bubbly action, and suddenly you have a SUPER cleaning solution! Totally makes sense! Right? RIGHT?!?
Nope. When you mix vinegar and baking soda, you create three things: carbon dioxide (CO2) bubbles, water, and a chemical called “sodium acetate”. I’ll give you the bubbles have a mechanical cleaning action, but no more than a much cheaper bottle of club soda. Water is a moderate cleaning agent, but that is near free from the tap. So, what’s left? The magical and mystical sodium acetate.
So what about this “sodium acetate”? It’s the salt-and-vinegar flavoring they put on your favorite chips. No joke. When you “clean” with vinegar and baking soda, you are flavoring your home the savory salt-and-vinegar flavor. Again, no joke. I find it funny as hell, but no joke. About the only thing it does is make your home tastier for Godzilla or our Overlord Cthulhu.
Why doesn’t sodium acetate do hardly anything? The reason vinegar works is that it is acidic – it has a pH less than 7 and reacts with near anything with a higher pH. This allows it to react with substances with a high pH (like hard water spots) and that low pH kills many types of bacteria that cause pet and body odors. Likewise, baking soda has a high pH (greater than 7). This makes it react with many things with a lower pH. The result of this is that it is excellent at removing acidic body, pet, and trash smells, removing certain types of grease, and whitening your teeth/clothes. Unfortunately, when you mix the two together, they neutralize each others’ high/low pH and remove the cleaning power of both.
If you DO want to clean your home/clothes/dishes/oven/floor/dog/sculpture of Martha Stewart without detergents, try *just* vinegar, *just* baking soda, club soda, rubbing alcohol, hydrogen peroxide, ect. I’d highly recommend not mixing anything together as 1) A couple of these do make a dangerous acid when combined (called peracetic acid), and 2) You may just end up ruining whatever cleaning or disinfecting power a particular substance has by diluting or reacting it with a second substance.