What makes baking soda and vinegar so good at cleaning?

Baking soda and vinegar
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

When it comes to home cleaning hacks, baking soda and white distilled vinegar seem to be the go-to ingredients. You wouldn’t think of these everyday kitchen staples as reliable cleaning tools, but they are actually very effective and versatile in their uses. But what makes them so popular?

First of all, these ingredients can already be found in most kitchens, and if not, they’re a much cheaper alternative than proprietary cleaners. Vinegar and baking soda are also a more sustainable method of cleaning versus traditional cleaners, because they don’t contain harsh chemicals. With this in mind, once you learn how to clean with vinegar without the smell, there’s very little reason not to convert to these natural cleaners.  Also, bear in mind, these are the 7 things you should never clean with baking soda

What happens when you mix baking soda and vinegar? 

When you combine baking soda with white vinegar, you will immediately notice a fizzy, chemical reaction taking place. This occurs because the baking soda, or sodium bicarbonate, acts as a base, while the vinegar is acidic and sits at the other end of the spectrum. When the two meet, they exchange protons and produce sodium acetate, water and carbon dioxide. This is essentially salt water. 

The chemical reaction is what’s actually helpful for cleaning, rather than the combined solution. The fizzing helps dissolve and dislodge stains, so they wipe away easier. Because the reaction is what you need, you can’t mix the solution in advance. So, for instance, you couldn’t mix the two in a spray bottle and then apply it, as the reaction will already have occurred. You can, however, apply a paste of baking soda with water, leave it and then spray white distilled vinegar on later, which is what we recommend in our guide on how to clean an oven and also in our guide on how to clean a stainless steel sink to make it sparkle.

Baking soda mixed with vinegar

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

How effective is baking soda and vinegar? 

In our experience, combining the two is great for removing everyday grease and grime, but they're not as effective on heavy-set stains. That's why we recommend repeating the application if necessary in some of our guides, or trying an alternative method. 

Don't rule out the two though as they're effective alternative cleaners for the majority of tasks and both are great cleaners in their own right as well.

 What is vinegar good for cleaning? 

  • Limescale
    White distilled vinegar is great for removing limescale. This makes it useful for showers, toilets and sinks. It can also be used in large appliances such as dishwashers and washing machines to remove hidden limescale.  
  • Glass cleaner
    Vinegar can also act as a glass cleaner, as the acid will break down any film which forms and leave a shiny, streak-free finish. 
  • Surface cleaner
    As a natural cleaner, white vinegar can also be used on countertops to remove everyday stains, although it shouldn’t be used on natural stone. While it can dissolve dirt, it’s only effective on certain pathogens though, so you will still need a dedicated disinfectant for other viruses and bacteria.   

What is baking soda good for cleaning? 

  • Deodorize
    Baking soda will naturally deodorize anywhere you leave it. This includes drains, the trash can, microwaves and even sneakers. This is its go-to use as a solo cleaner. 
  • Paste
    Baking soda is often mixed with water to create a paste for cleaning. It’s mildly abrasive and acts as a scrub to remove stains. It’s common for a cleaning hack to use this method and then combine it with vinegar for added cleaning power. The paste can be used to clean all manner of appliances as well as areas around the home, such as grouting and carpets.    

Next: Learn how you can also use baking soda and vinegar to clean up your shower curtain and the 11 things you didn't know you could clean with toothpaste. Also check out what happened when I used only baking soda and vinegar to clean my home for a week.

Katie Mortram
Homes Editor

Katie looks after everything homes-related, from kitchen appliances to gardening tools. She also covers smart home products too, so is the best point of contact for any household advice! She has tested and reviewed appliances for over 6 years, so she knows what to look for when finding the best. Her favorite thing to test has to be air purifiers, as the information provided and the difference between performances is extensive.