Is Vinegar an Acceptably Safe Alternative for Chlorine Bleach when Disinfecting

Dear Home Ec 101,

Can one substitute vinegar -lots of it- for the bleach when cleaning and disinfecting?
I can’t be around bleach, it triggers SEVERE migraines.

Pickled in Pickens

home ec logoHeather says:

There are certain times where I am reluctant to give a hard answer. In our litigious climate, I’m sure you can understand my concern. The CDC says the use of vinegar is inconclusive and needs to be studied further and I only found this after using a multitude of search terms to try and weed out the 934462 sites on the web that basically say, “Vinegar is the Greatest Cleaning Agent Ever!!! I don’t have any evidence, so you’ll just have to trust me because I say so”.

Bleach v Vinegar

Do you know how vinegar is made?

Vinegar is the byproduct of ethanol fermentation. Basically, a specific kind of bacteria -genus Acetobacter metabolize (think of it as their equivalent of eating) alcohol and produce acetic acid as their waste. You’re just craving some french fries with malt vinegar, now aren’t you?

Distilled vinegar is the only type of vinegar that should be used for disinfecting. Why? You need to know the acidity of your cleaning agent. Aside from that, you certainly aren’t going to save money by cleaning your toilet with aged balsamic vinegar, even if it does smell nicer.

So here is my advice, given with the understanding that if you have any type of condition that may compromise your immune system, you follow your health care provider’s advice and not mine. Got it?

In most cases, distilled vinegar is acceptable as a disinfectant for hard surfaces in a home.

It is not safe to use as a disinfectant for any medical equipment. If you are looking for information on cleaning home healthcare items, you must follow your physician’s advice.

There’s a whole genus of bacteria Pseudomonas out there that really don’t give a hoot about vinegar. Is Pseudomonas an issue? Well, for some people, it certainly is. If you have anyone in your home with Cystic Fibrosis, it can cause pneumonia, in patients on chemotherapy it can cause skin infections, etc. Ever heard of hot tub rash? Pseudomonas is the likely culprit. So there are cases where vinegar really isn’t the smart choice. In hospitals, Pseudomonas can be particularly devastating, it’s the cause of Necrotising Entercolitis in NICU patients and devastating skin infections in burn patients.

Dilute solutions of chlorine bleach applied properly is the only agent I feel comfortable recommending when disinfection truly matters. If you use chlorine bleach properly, there should not be a significant source of fumes.

Your home is not a hospital.

As humans we actually need some exposure to pathogens (disease causing agents). Encounters with small amounts of some bacteria may actually be good for our body’s ability to recognize and fend off disease. Think of it this way, influenza is especially problematic because of the way it changes. It’s still the flu, but each season new strains of it show up. Because they are just different enough that our immune systems may not have defenses, they cause people to get sick. If the virus did not change, most healthy individuals would pick up a natural immunity to the virus through exposure and it wouldn’t tear through populations each year. It would be more like the chicken pox or other one-time diseases that can be miserable -or worse in cases like polio, but it wouldn’t really have the potential for a pandemic.

Those of us who have healthy immune systems should be exposed to some bacteria. On a related note, there are some really interesting studies that suggest allergies are the result of our lack of exposure to parasites. -I know when I’m sneezing, itchy-eyed, and snot-nosed for days on end, that a low-grade case of hookworms sounds like a fabulous alternative. I am not an advocate of keeping a hyper-sterile home. Despite all this there are times where disinfection matters, in those cases vinegar is a good choice for most of us, but dilute chlorine bleach is the better alternative for those at risk.

Please use your best judgement when making these decisions.

Also? Wash your hands.

Send your questions to


The Home-Ec 101 Guide to Household Chemicals

guide to chemical cleaners

Chemical based cleaners can be a big help with cleaning and disinfecting your house. If used improperly they can cause trouble. Here are tips about common household chemicals. Click on the title to read the entire article.

How to Use Chlorine Bleach Safely

Chlorine bleach aka sodium hypochlorite is a powerful disinfectant and is one of only a few widely available, inexpensive sanitizing agents.

How to Use Rubbing Alcohol Safely

Rubbing alcohol is frequently recommended by frugal and green bloggers for use as household cleaner.

Hydrogen Peroxide and Oxygen Bleach

As a regular consumer you most likely will find oxygen bleach in the following forms: ultra, concentrated, and as an added ingredient to things like laundry detergent, and liquid.

Is Synthetic or Distilled Vinegar the Same as Cider Vinegar for Cleaning?

Please remember that creating your own cleaning solutions is a great way to save money, but there are a few things to keep in mind.

Is Vinegar a Safe Alternative for Chlorine Bleach?

Vinegar is the byproduct of ethanol fermentation. Basically, a specific kind of bacteria -genus Acetobacter metabolize (think of it as their equivalent of eating) alcohol and produce acetic acid as their waste. You’re just craving some french fries with malt vinegar, now aren’t you?

Is Vinegar a Good Dishwasher Rinse Aid

White vinegar seems as though it would be more environmentally friendly and less expensive than the commercial dishwasher rinse aid products. Is this true?

Use Caution with Homemade Cleaning Solutions and NEVER Mix Bleach and Vinegar

While double checking my research I was stunned by how many frugal websites recommend a homemade cleaning agent with both bleach and vinegar in the recipe.

How to Use Bar Keepers Friend

Here’s a list of seven places to try out Bar Keepers Friend. One would think the fine folks behind Bar Keeper’s Friend would be banging down our door to sponsor us.

How to Dispose of Cooking Grease

In which Heather answers the question: “I am perplexed.  I have never had a good answer to the question: how should I dispose of cooking grease (that is, grease from hamburger, bacon, etc.)?”

What is Sodium Percarbonate

Sodium percarbonate is replacing sodium perborate in many laundry products due to its more environmentally friendly characteristics.

Where to Find Borax and Washing Soda

Borax can be difficult to find because it’s not as marketing heavy as your other cleaning products. Washing soda can be even harder to find.

Have a question about a household chemical? Submit your questions to

The Day Before Thanksgiving 2014


Heather says:

Thanksgiving is tomorrow.

Are you ready?

Have you been playing along with this year’s Countdown to Turkey Day 2014. What did you think? Was it thorough enough? What needs to be improved?

As per usual, I’ll be adding a few more recipes to the site for Christmas and next year.  This year has been so amazingly different from last. I ran into someone the other day who commented, wow, you look ten years younger. I feel it.

I have so many things to be grateful for and you are one of them. The Home-Ec 101 community has helped me grow a lot over the past 8 years. I’ve built this site, written and published a book, changed my life, gone through hell and come out the other side a happier, stronger more confident person. You guys have been a part of it all, thank you.

On to today’s to-dos

For many families today is for baking and food prep.

Here are few last minute tips to help everything go smoothly.

Check the turkey now. Has it completely thawed?
Use the water bath method to finish defrosting the turkey. Once thawed the turkey can go back into the fridge until tomorrow morning.

Yes? Make sure it’s not sitting in a pool of water. That’s just a cross-contamination scenario waiting to happen. Wipe it up with a dilute bleach solution.

Tomorrow, go ahead and pull your turkey out of the refrigerator a few hours before roasting. Remember when we talked about not skipping temperature stages with meat when cooking?

Please check your pantry and refrigerator one more time.

Are your knives sharp?

No? Read this tutorial How to Sharpen a Knife, it’ll help you get through tomorrow safely. Did you really just ask why? Sharp knives are safer than dull knives.

If you have several recipes calling for diced onions, bell pepper, and/or celery, go ahead and chop it all today. Cover tightly before refrigerating.

Do not pre-cut your potatoes and toss them in the fridge, it’s a bad idea. If you must know they turn a horrid shade of dark grey.

If you want a head start on mashed potatoes, you can make them today and then bake in a covered, oven-safe dish to reheat (with lots of butter, please). Alternately, tomorrow morning, peel and dice the potatoes, then hold them in a bowl of cold water. Rinse the potatoes before cooking in salted water. The same goes for sweet potatoes and apples, exposure to air makes them oxidize. Oxidation doesn’t hurt anything, it’s just quite unattractive.

If you are pre-cooking your side dishes, don’t forget to check your Thanksgiving Day Timetable to ensure everything will be hot and ready to serve at the same time.

If you’re using your own bread for dressing, go ahead and tear / cut that up today, too.
Still looking for a traditional sage dressing? Try this apple, cranberry sage dressing. It’s wonderful. If you need a vegetarian dressing recipe, just follow that one and replace the chicken / turkey stock with vegetables stock, easy peasy.

Cornbread for the dressing? Make that today, too. Remember cornbread dressing is gluten free dressing, provided you use plain cornmeal and NOT cornmeal mix for your cornbread. Do you need a sweet cornbread recipe or a plain cornbread recipe for your dressing?

If you don’t have young children or pets and you have a formal dining room vs the every day table, you can even go as far as setting the table. Put the plates and glasses on the table upside down or cover them with a large -clean!- sheet so they don’t catch any dust. Tomorrow, just before the guests arrive, flip or uncover everything. Do not pre-set the table if you have young children or pets. Somehow or another they’ll just make more work for you or create an embarrassing fur or sticky fingerprint situation.

If you’re playing host to friends and family, please check the guest bathroom. Make sure there’s enough TP, soap, and something with which to dry their hands. Please make sure that the guest towel doesn’t look like its only purpose is decorative. I can’t be the only person who worries about messing up someone’s starchy, frilly towel arranged over sea shells. Make sure the towel for hand drying is in an obvious, convenient spot. It’s better than having guests forced to wipe their hands on their pants.

If you have room, go ahead and chill any beverages that will be served.

If you choose to truss your turkey for roasting, it can be trussed today. Need a tutorial? See How to Truss a Turkey. Just don’t forget to take the turkey out of the refrigerator about an hour before cooking.

Do you have any last minute tips?

Please remember even if nothing comes out right, your mom, sister, and drunk uncle Roy are driving you nuts, or if it’s just not turning out as planned, Thanksgiving is a celebration in the spirit of gratitude. The fact that we have friends and family willing to even begrudgingly come together is a sign we are truly blessed. If you know someone, perhaps a serviceman or woman far from home, set an extra place and welcome them and invite them to your table. It doesn’t matter how simple the meal, the intention is what matters.

We have two families in this life, the one we are given and the one we create; embrace them both this holiday season.

Happy Thanksgiving to all of you from

The Great Pantry Check and REcheck

Heather says:
Thanksgiving is nearly here, all of the work you’ve done over the past few weeks will help ensure your event runs smoothly. Today it’s time for the Thanksgiving Pantry double check. Did you see that. I said DOUBLE check. You not only need to do this today, but again before Thanksgiving. Why? Teenagers. Household gnomes. The Movers. The Spouse. The Roommates. The kid going through a growth spurt. The surprise guests. Whatever or whoever it was, someone may grab the last of something you need for Thanksgiving Dinner.

Do you need to catch up on the entire Countdown to Turkey Day Series? Don’t worry, we’ll be here when you get back.

What’s on today’s agenda?

It’s time to pull out your Thanksgiving menu and grocery list again. Today you will use your grocery list to do a pantry double check. Did someone swipe your mini-marshmallows or use all of the evaporated milk when the milk ran out?

It’s worth looking again.

Is your frozen turkey thawing safely in the bottom-most section of your refrigerator? It should be. If your turkey is still in the freezer you may want to check out this post on thawing a turkey safely using a water-bath.

Make your list of perishable goods and buy them tomorrow or Wednesday.

If you’ve been keeping up with housework, spend a little extra time today making sure the place is presentable.

Do yourself a huge favor and make sure you aren’t down to the last roll of toilet paper. I’m serious, running out of TP with a houseful of guests would be awkward. For you, for them, sure it’s funny ten years down the road, but why be the butt of that joke?

har har

Are you serving wine on Thanksgiving?

There is a handy, free smartphone app created by  The Wine Sisterhood to help calculate how much wine you’ll need for your Thanksgiving dinner. It’s called Drink-U-Lator and is available for both iPhone and Android (yay!).  The app calculates a responsible amount of alcohol to have available for your guests.

That’s pretty much it for today, provided you have all of serving dishes clean and ready to go. The rest is optional.

Are you doing a Thanksgiving centerpiece?

Do you need a centerpiece?

Not really.

However, here are directions to make a simple Thanksgiving centerpiece like the one pictured.

Are you ready for Thanksgiving?

Pre-Thanksgiving Sunday Confessional

Heather says:

It’s a chilly rainy, November morning -and yes, this song is stuck in my head- I’m trying to get up the wherewithal to head to church across town. When it’s not my turn with the kids, I sometimes have a very hard time forcing myself to head to Mass even though I know I’ll feel better having gone. It’s more of an inertia problem than an I don’t want to.

It’s been a long time since I’ve done one of these, right after my first vacation was the last, I think.

Life isn’t the perfection of magazines, TV, and Instagram. All of those platforms are framed and lit to show the best (or worst if that’s what you’re into) of a situation. No one is perfect. We all have our faults and insecurities. The Sunday Confessional is a chance to admit some of those faults rather than trying to live up to the impossible ideals of the media we subject ourselves to.

Here are the ridiculous things I do that I just want to put out there (and maybe learn some of you do the same?):

I add any old book title to my 7 year old’s stupid reading log. That child reads more than I do. There are books in every corner of my house, the car, and in her bookbag. It’s rare not to catch her reading and there is no way on God’s green earth I’m going to make her recount to me the title and author of every thing she has read that day. I don’t have time for that crap, it’s annoying. She’s met the quota.

Last weekend as part of my job at FeedBlitz, I created a screencast demonstrating how to create what’s called a re-engagement campaign. This a process publishers can use to make sure the people in the newsletter are actually reading and interacting. Ho hum… except I was using my own account to create the demo and the list associated with this website to populate the campaign, just to show how it really works. I finished my project and went back to my weekend and I completely forgot to turn off the dummy automated email I had scheduled as part of the project. And it gets worse, I also forgot to turn off the automated scheduled mailings of the posts here on this site. /facepalm  So not only did everyone receive a fake We Missed You, they also received two copies of the post. Good job, Heather.

I am getting rid of a piece of furniture via Craig’s List. Because I am ridiculously ashamed of the state of the fixer-upper, I’ve made my boyfriend handle the interactions. When a couple came over to look at it last night, I went and hid in the bedroom until they left. The house is clean, I just haven’t gotten to any of the rooms you see when you walk in the front door. The squatter did a number on the walls and door frames and I can’t deal with people thinking I did that my home. Even people who I’ll probably never see again.

Speaking of Craig’s List, I got all excited when Craig Newmark and I talked on Twitter not too long ago (I’m a big geek)

And the final one, the big and true one. . . I need to fix my priorities. The last few years I buried myself in work, it  was easier than facing the mess of everything. Now that my life is in order and I have the ability, head and heart-space to do so, I need to work on showing my friends how much they matter to me, by making them a priority, too. How do you show your friends they matter to you after you’ve neglected them for too long?

What do you have to get off your chest?