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What does vinegar react badly with?

Vinegar is a common household ingredient used for cooking, cleaning, and even DIY projects. However, despite its usefulness, vinegar can react badly with some other substances and materials. In this article, we will explore what vinegar reacts negatively with and why these reactions occur.

Alkaline Substances

One of the biggest categories of substances that vinegar reacts poorly with are alkaline, or basic, substances. Vinegar is an acidic substance, with white distilled vinegar having a pH of around 2-3. On the pH scale, acids have lower pH levels while bases have higher pH levels. When acids and bases mix, they neutralize one another. This reaction produces carbon dioxide gas and water. The more acidic or alkaline the substances are, the more violently they will react.

Here are some common alkaline substances that vinegar reacts badly with:

  • Baking soda – Baking soda is very alkaline with a pH of 9. When baking soda and vinegar are combined, the acetic acid in the vinegar reacts with the sodium bicarbonate in the baking soda, creating carbon dioxide bubbles. This reaction is the reason baking soda and vinegar volcanic eruptions are a popular science project.
  • Lye – Lye is a very strong base with a pH of 13-14. Mixing lye and vinegar will create a violent bubbling reaction as the acid neutralizes the base. The reaction produces heat and can splash caustic substances.
  • Ammonia – Ammonia is a base that is commonly found in cleaning products. Combining ammonia and vinegar will result in the production of ammonium acetate and water. However, the reaction also produces vapors that are irritating and potentially dangerous to breathe in.
  • Bleach – Bleach is alkaline with a pH of around 11. When bleach and vinegar are mixed, toxic chlorine gas is produced through an acid-base reaction. Chlorine gas is highly irritating if inhaled.
  • Baking powder – Baking powder contains bicarbonate as well as an acidifying agent like cream of tartar. The baking soda component will react with vinegar, potentially creating overflow bubbles if the reaction is uncontrolled.
  • Detergents – Many detergents used for cleaning are alkaline. Combining detergents with vinegar can neutralize either substance and make both ineffective for cleaning.
  • Drain cleaners – Drain cleaning products contain strong alkaline substances like lye or sodium hydroxide. Mixing them with vinegar can create dangerous splattering and harmful vapors.

The general rule is to avoid mixing vinegar with any alkaline or basic household product. Doing so will create a chemical reaction that ranges from reducing cleaning effectiveness to producing potentially toxic gases. Refer to a product’s warning label to check if it should be avoided when using vinegar as a cleaning agent.

Stone Surfaces

Vinegar should also be used cautiously on stone surfaces like granite, marble, slate, and terrazzo. The acetic acid in vinegar can erode calcite-based stones over time, damaging and pitting the surface. Here is a more detailed look at the effect of vinegar on different stone surfaces:


Marble is especially prone to acid erosion from vinegar due to its calcite composition. The calcium carbonate in marble reacts with acetic acid to form calcium acetate, water, and carbon dioxide. This chemical reaction dissolves marble over time, creating etch marks and pits. Distilled white vinegar is usually too harsh to use safely on marble.


Like marble, limestone is composed of calcite and can be etched and damaged by acids. The reaction between limestone and vinegar forms gypsum. However, limestone is less reactive than marble and can sometimes be cleaned with a mild vinegar solution of 1 part water to 1 part white vinegar.


Travertine is a porous, pitted form of limestone. Its roughness makes it more prone to trapping vinegar and developing etching. Avoid cleaning travertine tiles or countertops with vinegar.


The minerals that make up granite, like quartz and feldspar, are resistant to acid. Still, the grout used with granite tiles can be damaged by vinegar over time. Diluted vinegar may be used on granite, but avoid excessive exposure that can wear away grout and sealer.


Slate is formed from clay and shale and has very low porosity. It is considered relatively safe for cleaning with diluted vinegar. Slate’s low porosity prevents the vinegar from soaking in and reacting with minerals in the stone.


Terrazzo floors and surfaces contain chips of marble or other calcite-based stones held together by cement. The stone chips can be gradually dissolved and etched by vinegar, damaging the surface and appearance of the terrazzo.

General Precautions

If you choose to use vinegar on more resilient stone surfaces like granite or slate, take these precautions:

  • Use a very diluted vinegar solution of 1 part vinegar to at least 4-5 parts water.
  • Limit use to smaller areas like countertops instead of entire floors.
  • Rinse surfaces thoroughly with water after cleaning with vinegar.
  • Avoid excessive scrubbing, which can damage the surface.
  • Reseal surfaces regularly to protect from acid damage over time.
  • Spot test vinegar in an inconspicuous area first.

Additionally, only use distilled white vinegar. Other types like cider, red wine, rice, or balsamic vinegar all contain additional acids that increase etching risks.

Metal Surfaces

In addition to stone, vinegar can also corrode or damage many household metals. Here are some examples of what metals react negatively with vinegar:


Copper reacts with acetic acid to form copper acetate and hydrogen gas. This reacts creates light green patina over time. While this may be desirable for some decorative copper items, it can damage functional copper items like pipes.


Bronze contains copper and will also develop verdigris when exposed to vinegar over time.


Brass is an alloy of copper and zinc. The copper component reacts with vinegar, while the zinc component remains unchanged.


The chemical components of vinegar can oxidize chrome over time, damaging the surface.

Stainless Steel

The chromium in stainless steel gives it good corrosion resistance. High-quality stainless steel will not usually react with diluted vinegar. However, lower-grade stainless steel may develop light surface discoloration from long-term exposure.


Aluminum forms an oxidized coating that resists corrosion. However, etched and pitted marks will eventually develop with repeated exposure to vinegar.


Like copper, silver tarnishes and develops an oxidized surface coating when exposed to the acids in vinegar over time.

Iron and Steel

Iron and regular steel are prone to rusting already. Vinegar exposure accelerates the oxidation, causing orange rust to develop rapidly.

To prevent metal corrosion when cleaning with vinegar:

  • Use very diluted vinegar solutions mixed with water.
  • Limit vinegar use on metals – spot clean only when needed.
  • Rinse surfaces immediately after cleaning with vinegar.
  • Buff metal after rinsing to remove any residual vinegar.
  • Test inconspicuous areas first to check for reactions.

Keep vinegar away from decorative copper, bronze, silver, and iron pieces to avoid damage from the acetic acid.

Shells and Coral

Seashells and coral contain calcium carbonate and will readily react with vinegar. When shells or coral come in contact with the acetic acid in vinegar, the structures dissolve. Bubbles or fizzing may occur as carbon dioxide gas is released. Prolonged exposure to vinegar can completely dissolve and destroy shells.

Take care not to soak or scrub seashells or coral decorative items with vinegar. Even brief contact with undiluted vinegar may etch their surfaces. Rinse any accidental splashes on shells or coral immediately with water.


Like shells, eggshells also contain calcium carbonate. Vinegar can dissolve the thin fragile membranes of eggshells, making them rubbery and weak.

Avoid soaking raw eggs in vinegar or letting vinegar come in contact with the shells. The acid permeates the shells and reacts with their structural matrix. This enables the egg contents to more readily leak or escape.

However, boiled eggs can be soaked in a pickling solution containing diluted vinegar to add flavor. The protein structures inside the boiled egg whites and yolks are not affected. Only the outer calcium carbonate shell reacts and becomes rubberized after prolonged pickling.

Glazes and Enamels

The enamels and glazes on some dishes, tiles, pots, and bathtubs contain minerals that can react with vinegar. For example, vinegar can damage or etch:

  • Porcelain glazes
  • Ceramic tiles
  • Enameled cast iron
  • Enameled pots and pans

Avoid excessive use of vinegar when cleaning these surfaces. Even diluted vinegar can damage their glossy finishes with repeated exposure. Use only mild detergent solutions when possible.

Fabrics and Dyes

Vinegar is an effective fabric brightener and deodorizer. But its acetic acid can have negative effects on certain fabrics and dyes with prolonged exposure:

  • Rayon – Vinegar can damage rayon fabric, causing it to become limp and lose its shape.
  • Cotton – The cellulose fibers in cotton can be weakened by vinegar over time, making fabric feel brittle.
  • Silk – Silk contains protein fibers that are dissolved by acids. Vinegar can damage silk over time, creating holes or shredding fabric.
  • Wool – High concentrations of vinegar may shrink or felt wool fibers.
  • Dyed fabrics – Vinegar can leach out or fade fabric dyes, creating discoloration.

If using vinegar as a fabric brightener, use a very diluted solution and limit exposure time. Do not soak more delicate fabrics in full-strength vinegar. Spot test colored fabrics and upholstery before treating with vinegar to check for adverse effects.


The acetic acid in vinegar reacts with the proteins and fats in leather. This can dry out and stiffen leather over time with repeated exposure. Undiluted vinegar may damage leather surfaces, causing tearing or peeling.

Never use vinegar solutions on smooth leathers or finished leather goods. For unfinished suede or nubuck leather, a highly diluted vinegar and water solution may be used as a gentle cleaner if rinsed immediately. But vinegar can still degrade leather fibers, so water or leather cleaners are safer options.


The acetic acid in vinegar can break down rubber materials, creating dryness and brittleness. Avoid using vinegar when cleaning:

  • Rubber seals on doors, windows, etc.
  • Rubber gaskets on appliances and equipment
  • Rubber parts inside toilet tanks
  • Rubber tires or trim

Vinegar solutions may be used very briefly to clean hard, durable rubber like shoe soles. But rinse immediately with water to avoid degrading the rubber over time with repeat cleaning.

Polyurethane and Polyester

Plastic materials like polyurethane and polyester resin can be damaged by vinegar over time. The effects may include:

  • Softening and melting
  • Becoming sticky
  • Turning white or opaque
  • Flaking or peeling

Avoid prolonged contact between vinegar and any plastic surface. Spot test inconspicuous areas before using diluted vinegar solutions. Rinse surfaces immediately after cleaning.

Particle Board

Particle board is manufactured from wooden particles mixed with resins and binders. The resins are susceptible to damage from vinegar, which causes particle board to swell, warp, and lose structural strength. Only use very mild detergent solutions, rather than vinegar cleaners, on cheaper particle board furniture and fixtures.


Just as vinegar can kill weeds, it can also leach nutrients from soil and damage household plants if used excessively. The acetic acid affects delicate plant roots and cell structures. Water plants thoroughly after any vinegar use near them.

Some signs of vinegar damage on plants include:

  • Leaf scorching or browning
  • Root rot
  • Stunted growth
  • Wilt
  • Failure to bloom

Do not use vinegar weed killer near valued plants. And take care when washing countertops, sinks, and floors where vinegar solution might contact roots or leaves.


Ingesting vinegar can be harmful to household pets like cats and dogs. The acetic acid irritates digestive tracts, especially in excessive amounts. Some negative effects of pets ingesting vinegar include:

  • Oral and esophageal burns
  • Gastrointestinal upset like vomiting or diarrhea
  • Dehydration

Keep vinegar products out of reach of pets. Avoid using vinegar cleaners on pet items like food bowls, toys, and bedding. Prevent pets from accessing areas like floors recently cleaned with vinegar until surfaces are rinsed well and dry.


Vinegar is a versatile household product, but it can damage many common items and materials. Anything containing calcium carbonate like seashells, eggshells, and stone will readily react with vinegar. Most metals develop corrosion over time when exposed to vinegar’s acids.

Vinegar solutions should also be used cautiously on more delicate surfaces like leather, rubber, and plastics which can degrade. Limit vinegar use on fabrics, dyes, wood, and plants as well to prevent fading, shrinking, or other damage.

Diluting vinegar substantially, limiting contact time, spot testing small areas first, and rinsing surfaces after cleaning are good precautions. Be aware of vinegar’s potential to react with surfaces in the home to avoid unwanted damage.