What Does Vinegar Do To Wood?

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When I was a coffee drinker, I remember using white vinegar to clean the coffee maker every couple of weeks.  It worked well and was the only reason I bought it, as I do not consider it a good vinegar for salad dressings or cake baking.  

But, come to find out, it has another use beyond cleaning the coffee maker.  Seems it is an effective cleaning ingredient for wood.  Who’d have thought that vinegar on wood could have a benefit?

Key Points:

  • Vinegar on wood without diluting it can be harmful to wood.
  • Therefore, cut vinegar with water, olive oil, lemon juice, essential oils, and more to create an effective cleaning product for your wood – wooden furniture, hardwood flooring, wood paneling, and more.
  • In fact, this mixture in some form, perhaps without the olive oil, can be an effective solution for general house cleaning.

Kids spill things, dogs knock things over, and sometimes even we adults will have an accident with a drink or a snack.  Wooden furniture can get dirty and need a good cleaning from time to time.  So can a cutting board or other wooden surface in our kitchens.  White vinegar to the rescue.

But before you reach for that bottle in the cupboard, read on.  Straight out of the bottle can harm wood, and then it doesn’t matter how dirty it is.

Can You Harm Wood With Undiluted Vinegar?

Straight up and out of the bottle, undiluted vinegar of the white variety can harm wood.  What do you dilute it with, though?  The answer may surprise you.

Vinegar is a weak acid, and like all acids, it can damage wood. The degree of damage depends on the concentration of the vinegar, the length of time it is in contact with the wood, and the type of wood.

In general, straight vinegar can cause wood to become:

  • Dull
  • Discolored
  • Brittle
  • Warped
  • Cracked

Vinegar can also dissolve the wood finish, leaving it unprotected and vulnerable to further damage.

For this reason, it is not recommended to use vinegar to clean wood surfaces. If you must use vinegar, it is important to dilute it with water and to use it sparingly.

Here are some tips for cleaning wood that does not include vinegar in any way:

  • Use a mild soap and water solution.
  • Apply the cleaner with a soft cloth or sponge.
  • Rinse the cleaner off thoroughly with water.
  • Dry the surface with a clean cloth.

However, concentration is key, and that can lead to clean wooden furniture, wooden surfaces, and even hardwood floors.

How Can You Use Vinegar to Clean Wood, Then?

Vinegar on Cutting Board

First, you can use vinegar to clean wooden elements in your home.  

Yes, you can clean wood with vinegar, but it is important to dilute the vinegar with water first. A solution of 1 part vinegar to 10 parts water is generally safe to use on most types of wood. You can also add a few drops of essential oil to the solution for a pleasant scent.

To clean wood with vinegar, simply dampen a soft cloth with the solution and wipe down the wood surface. Be sure to wipe in the direction of the wood grain. If you are cleaning a heavily soiled surface, you may need to repeat the process.

After cleaning, be sure to dry the wood surface thoroughly with a clean cloth. This will help to prevent the wood from becoming damaged or discolored.

Here are some things to keep in mind when cleaning wood with vinegar:

  • Do not use undiluted vinegar, as this can damage the wood.
  • Do not leave vinegar on the wood for an extended period of time.
  • Be sure to test the vinegar solution in an inconspicuous area of the wood before using it on a larger area.

Cleaning Wood Paneling In Your Home

There are cleaning solutions you can buy for this task, and hardware stores are filled with a variety to choose from.  However, white vinegar is cheap; you probably already have olive oil in the cupboard, and water comes from the tap in the kitchen.  Mix it in a spray bottle, and use the spray to apply.

To clean the wood paneling in your home, use the following mixture:

  • 1 cup white vinegar
  • 1 cup of olive oil (just a regular olive oil, not an expensive extra-virgin olive oil – it’s not a fancy salad)
  • 4 cups of warm water

Mix this well – it will mix, too, even though we’re taught that oil and water don’t mix.  Use a clean, soft cloth to apply it to the paneling, let it sit for a moment, and then use another clean, soft cloth to dry it off. It does not need to be rinsed off, and unless the paneling is extremely dirty/grimy/greasy, no scrubbing is required.

Cleaning Your Wooden Cutting Board With A Vinegar Solution

Black Walnut Cutting Board

No need to use olive oil with this solution.  Cut your white vinegar with water, and you are all set.  Some sources suggest 1 cup of vinegar to 10 cups of water as the solution to use, while others suggest 1 cup to 10 cups, along with a squeeze of lemon juice.  

Lemon juice is another acid source, but it’s a mild acid and won’t cause any more harm than vinegar will.  It has the added benefit of providing a pleasant aroma when the job is done.  Spray the mixture on the cutting board, give it a soft wipe with a dry cotton cloth, and you’re all set.

Cleaning Furniture With Vinegar Solution

Again, that same concentration of vinegar and water, somewhere between one cup of vinegar and 10 cups of water, will give you a good vinegar mixture for cleaning furniture.

We suggest adding a cup of olive oil, too, since the oil will also serve to polish the furniture and keep the wood from being harmed.  A tablespoon of lemon juice will also add a pleasing fragrance to the furniture when you’re done.

Use your spray bottle to apply the solution to the furniture.  Then use a soft, clean cloth to wipe and polish the wood.

Will A Vinegar Cleaning Solution Remove Water Stains on Wood?

Yes, and in fact, this is a good way to remove them. 

Vinegar and water can remove water and other liquid stains. Vinegar is a mild acid that can help to break down the minerals that cause water stains. Water is a solvent that can help to dissolve the vinegar and the minerals.

To remove water stains with vinegar and water, simply mix equal parts of vinegar and water in a spray bottle. Spray the solution onto the water stains and let it sit for a few minutes. Then, wipe away the solution with a soft cloth.

You may need to repeat this process a few times to remove all of the water stains.

How About Cleaning Hardwood Floors With Vinegar?

Again, the answer is yes. 

A vinegar solution can be used to clean your floors. However, once again, it is important to dilute the vinegar with water first. A solution of 1 part vinegar to 10 parts water is generally safe to use on most types of hardwood floors. You can also add a few drops of lemon juice or essential oil you like to the solution for a pleasant scent.

To clean hardwood floors with this vinegar mixture, simply dampen a soft cloth with the solution and wipe down the floor in the direction of the wood grain. Be sure to wring out the damp cloth frequently so that it is not dripping wet. If you are cleaning a heavily soiled area, you may need to repeat the process.

After cleaning, be sure to dry the floor thoroughly with a clean cloth. This will help to prevent the wood from becoming damaged or discolored.

If your flooring is a laminate, this can be a really good choice for cleaning it, as it won’t strip off the wax finish like other ammonia-based cleaning product will.  

It’s not the only method for cleaning hardwood floors, though. Here are some additional tips for cleaning hardwood floors:

  • Vacuum or sweep the floors regularly to remove dust and dirt.
  • Use a soft cloth to dust the floors.
  • Avoid using harsh chemicals or abrasive cleaners on hardwood floors.
  • Polish the floors regularly with a furniture polish that is specifically designed for hardwood floors.

Another Vinegar Cleaning Tip

 It’s not made of wood, but your sheet pan can be cleaned with a little white vinegar, too.  Pour the vinegar into the sheet pan, sprinkle baking soda over the vinegar, and don’t skimp.  The mix of the two will fizzle and foam up, but just let it sit for a while.  

Then, use an abrasive sponge or 3M pad to scrub the pan.  Grease and grime will wash away, as will any brown or black bits that formed when you were cooking something in it.  Again, it’s not wood, but it does work, and we thought we’d mention it while discussing using vinegar as a cleaning solution.

Video Suggestions For Cleaning With Vinegar

Here’s a video that answers further questions or echoes our suggestions on using vinegar as a cleaning solution on all things wood.  Fixing deep scratches can also be on the list of things for which a vinegar solution can help, with a little assistance from mineral spirits.

It’s not just for cleaning coffee makers, and it’s not just for salad dressings.  Vinegar can be a good option for cleaning – cheap, probably already handy in your home, and easy to work with under the right conditions.

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