Vinegar: The Good, Bad and Downright Ugly Truth as a Cleaning Agent

Vinegar: The Good, Bad and Downright Ugly Truth as a Cleaning Agent


Urban legend suggests vinegar is a good cleaning agent.  In truth, it has the incidious ability to attack your floors in three distinctly different manners.  In each case, the damage is done overtime.  Kind of like eating sweets.   One isn’t going to hurt you but eating the bag overtime can impact the eater’s weight.

  1. Etching – Vinegar’s ability to dissolve CaCO3 will dull your marble, travertine, concrete and terrazzo surfaces.  It may “clean” the surface but it is also dissolving pits into the finish and effectively dulling it.  Overtime, what appears as wear on your floor may in fact be a broad acid attack resulting in an etched surface.  Wear is characterized by long shallow scratches created when a piece of sand or other debris is trapped under one’s foot and is scraped across the surface. An etch is characterized by pinholes in the surface where the acid has dissolved away the CaCO3 in the stone or grout. The difference can be seen with a magnifying glass.  This will affect marble, travertine, concrete and concrete terrazzo surfaces.
  2. pH Shift – Vinegar’s ability to shift the pH of a surface due to its acid nature creates a condition which reverses the reaction used to seal your grout and stone surfaces- allowing the seal to be floated away while in its unreacted state.  At pH 7 your seal is like glass but at ph 1 it has been reverted back to its liquid raw materials form and can seal nothing.
  3. Leeching – Vinegar’s ability to leech out grout dyes will lighten and eventually decolor grout over time.

WHAT’S IN VINEGAR?   Vinegar consists of acetic acid, a natural and inexpensive acid.  Its low cost is why it has become so popular as a cleaning product ingredient. In fact, we have been using it since Roman times, however this was not one of their great gifts to mankind.  They just happened to be the first to be tricked by this trickster “cleaner.”

As an acid, vinegar will react with CaCO3.  This is what hard water consists of.  Unfortunately, what many people do not realize is that their marble and travertine solutions are also made of CaCO3.  Whether using vinegar specifically to remove hard water deposits, or cleaning your entire floor, the acid reacts with your marble and creates a small pit disrupting the mirror like smooth surface that was capable of reflecting light for a glossy sharp appearance.  Overtime you can literally vinegar-wash the finish off your floor, or more accurately acid pit your floor.  The solution requires the floor to be ground and polished by a professional marble restoration craftsman.  The good news it can be restored to its original shine and luster.

Once restored, you will want to use a non-acidic cleaner such as MARBLELIFE’S MARBLE & TRAVERTINE CLEANER.  As you will find, this cleaner also does a remarkable job cleaning up oily, greasy situations.  Your kitchen will thank you.

Marble and some metals will show the damage immediately if pure vinegar is used. Lemon juice and most fruit juices contain sufficient acid that one can visibly etch a surface in a few minutes of contact. The resulting white spot, ring or lemon wedge may look like a smudge or dirt, but is actually missing stone. This type of damage requires the stone to be honed and polished in order to repair it.

So how do you get rid of hard water stains?  Try a razor blade… that may be all you need, otherwise call MARBLELIFE.  A professional stone restoration craftsman can remove surface build-up and restore your surface to a clean, glossy appearance.

Polished concrete is credited to being one of the least-expensive-to-maintain floor.  It can be colored and polished in a variety of finishes.  In fact, you will see this type of floor in big box stores around the country who also appreciate the fact that once densified it prevents salts from seeping up through the concrete which would then dry on the surface and become the largest source of dust in the building.  The shift to a densified, polished concrete occurred largely due to the time savings associated with not having to deal with dust, and the better perceived turnaround associated with products that “have not been on the shelf so long they are not covered with dust.”  So what is the biggest problem and repair?  A customer dropping a pickle jar in the grocery store.  The vinegar spill will literally etch its splatter pattern into the floor leaving a white ghost impression.  Fixing it requires the floor to be reground and polished by a professional.  If this can occur with a single spill of a product using a lot of vinegar, consider what is happening when you are cleaning consistently with a diluted solution of vinegar.  Exactly the same thing, just over a longer time and a larger area.  Better to clean your floor with a MARBLELIFE cleaner.  If you do this, your floor can maintain its appearance for years to come.

Ceramic tile surfaces are impervious to acid. BUT, for the accompanying grout, it is NOT. In fact, this may be THE major reason why your grout has discolored and unable to return to a like-new appearance.  Don’t worry, once you understand what is happening, there are solutions that cannot just restore a fresh clean appearance, but will allow you to greatly simplify your cleaning going forward.  Think COLORSEAL and TILELOK.  Your grout has been protected with a penetrating sealer designed to fill in the pores in what is otherwise a concrete-like matrix- unsealed, and it would absorb liquids just like rain on a concrete sidewalk.  Acids and vinegars have the nasty affect of changing the pH condition of the grout in such a manner that it unzips the penetrating sealer’s chemistry returning it to its raw materials state.  The act of washing literally floats these materials out of your grout.  Over time your grout becomes unsealed and is now free to absorb dirt. Particularly dirt from your mop water as you clean the floor.  Once inside the grout, it gives a stained appearance and is extremely difficult to remove, particularly if it is an oil to grease based dirt, which of course will not mix well with the water in your mop bucket (unless you are using a MARBLELIFE Cleaner – but that is a subject for another article).

If you have a tile floor you sure do.  In addition to breaking down the seal as noted above, vinegar has the ability to leech out the grout’s color and any dyes.  The fact that a floor looks lighter and whiter after its use is a major reason people have gravitated to it. However, the real reason this occurs is not cleaning but rather more closely associated with bleaching.  The grout is being robbed of its color.  Overtime your grout will trend towards a light cement grey color.  The good news is that the color CAN be restored to your grout using a process and technique called COLORSEALING.  This requires a colorized seal to be re-applied to the grout, where it will be absorbed.  The treatment is reapplied until a uniform color is obtained. Once completed, a color-sealed grout line will have greater uniformity in color than the original grout.  Hard to believe, but factually true!  This has to do with the grout’s loss of water over time during the short period the installer is installing it (another article).

Grout suffers a second issue in that many dyes used to color the grout can be leeched out of the grout using an acid, like vinegar. As such, the lightening that is perceived to be the acid cleaning is actually the removal of the dye and the grout’s color. Overtime continuous use can turn a colored grout back to its cementitous gray root color.


The good news is that MARBLELIFE has developed service solutions that can repair the damage caused by an acid attack. Call 888-218-4616 for an estimate and guidance. Enter your zip code and you will be connected to the local MARBLELIFE service office in your area who can provide you with a FREE ASSESSMENT of your surface, info and education on what caused the problem, how to restore it, and then how to properly maintain it.

Maintaining the investment made in your floor and counter finishes requires little education and cleaning products designed to safely clean and maintain your surfaces. This has been MARBLELIFE’s passion for more than 25 years. We are the only company that manufactures care products and provides restoration services. Our commitment has enabled us to consistently provide quality results. Our clients have rewarded us with their business and sufficient referrals to enable us to become the largest service provider in North America, with more than 45 locations.

Visit us at to find a local hardware store in your area, or to place an order online.

CONTACT US – For more information about your particular situation. Do not hesitate to contact us at 888-218-4616

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