Many advertisements claim that combining the cleansing powers of vinegar and baking soda creates a powerful, all-purpose cleanser. But is that true? Ask Science is on the case.
Andrea, a faithful Ask Science listener, recently wrote in with this question:
“I have used vinegar and baking soda separately for cleaning parts of my home, and they work great. But lately I've seen "Amazing All-Purpose Cleanser"-type recipes on the internet that call for vinegar and baking soda to be combined, which supposedly can clean everything from your kitchen sink to your Grandma's dentures. My question is: Don't vinegar and baking soda just neutralize each other? That's what I learned in school when we did the good old volcano experiment. Was my teacher wrong? Am I missing out on the best cleanser of all time?”
That’s a great question Andrea.
A Rose by Any Other Name…
Before we answer Andrea’s question, let’s reveal the secret identities of these cleansing substances. Baking soda has a lot of unofficial sciencey names that you might have heard before, like sodium bicarbonate or bicarbonate of soda. However its true identity (according to scientists that have been put in charge of naming chemicals) is “sodium hydrogen carbonate.”
There are lots of different kinds of vinegar depending on what ingredients are used to start the fermentation process that produces it. For example, apple cider vinegar starts out with apple cider while rice vinegar uses rice. No matter what you use to make vinegar, the end product can be distilled to make what is commonly called “white vinegar.”
Distilled or white vinegar is a mix of acetic acid and water. The amount of acetic acid in vinegar is important to know because it’s the acetic acid that gives vinegar its powers. Acetic acid strength is measured in “grains.” 10-grain vinegar means vinegar made of 1% acetic acid and 99% water. The most common household vinegars are 50-grain, meaning 5% acetic acid and 95% water.