No one likes a dirty bathroom, but cleaning bathroom tiles is both tedious and hard work. Many homeowners turn to homemade cleaning agents to help speed up the process and leave their bathroom as shiny as the day it was built. But can vinegar-based cleaning solutions damage your bathroom tiles?
If used correctly, vinegar is a safe and effective tile cleaner for many tile materials including porcelain, ceramic and glass. However, do not use vinegar solutions on natural stone, travertine, wood tiles or unsealed grout, because the materials are too porous and will absorb the acid.
In this guide, we’ll explore how to use vinegar to clean your bathroom without damaging the tiles. We’ll also explore how vinegar can affect your grout and how to properly mix vinegar to prevent damage. (For any other bathroom tile questions, read my ultimate guide.)
So now, if you’re ready to put some shine back in your bathroom tiles, let’s get started!
Does Vinegar Ruin Bathroom Tiles?
Vinegar is a popular and powerful cleaning agent, prized for its organic, non-toxic, and sustainable qualities. Yet, just because it’s popular doesn’t mean it’s suitable for cleaning everything.
Vinegar—particularly distilled white vinegar—is a moderately strong acid, known as acetic acid, that helps break down bacteria and mold. These properties make it seem like the perfect bathroom cleaner. But you can also use apple cider vinegar or rice wine vinegar.
You should be careful using vinegar in the bathroom, though. Depending on the material used to create your bathroom tiles, vinegar could do more harm than good. Inspect your tiles before using vinegar and put this information to good use.
In general, you can use a vinegar/water solution to clean tiles that are made from a nonporous material or are glazed with a nonporous finish. However, don’t use vinegar on stone, onyx, or wood because over time, it can dull the appearance.
Will Vinegar Damage Porcelain Tiles?
Many bathroom tiles are made from porcelain. Porcelain is a type of refined pottery made from fine-grained clay that’s compacted and fired at high densities. This makes porcelain highly durable and less porous than other types of pottery.
Vinegar will not damage porcelain tiles as long as you use the proper solution and rinse your tiles after cleaning them.
Porcelain is dense enough to prevent liquids, such as vinegar, from seeping into its pores, making it a wonderful material for bathrooms.
Will Vinegar Ruin Ceramic Tiles?
Ceramic is made from a grainier type of clay than porcelain and fired at a lower density, making it less refined and less durable than porcelain. As long as your ceramic tiles are glazed and you dilute the vinegar using the solution I describe below, it should be safe.
Will Vinegar Damage Glass Tiles?
Glass tiles are another popular building material commonly used in bathrooms for their low cost and natural waterproofing.
Glass is made by melting tiny particles of sand into solid sheets of material that are typically see-through, hard, and impervious to other substances.
But is glass impervious to acid?
Yes! Vinegar is a wonderful glass cleaner and won’t damage the material at all.
Use the vinegar/water solution I describe below.
What Tiles Will Vinegar Ruin?
Don’t use vinegar on porous tile materials, including wood tile, cork tiles, and don’t use it on stone, onyx and travertine.
These materials will absorb too much of the acid and the finish will be destroyed. Learn more about the properties of granite, quartz and marble.
Will Vinegar Destroy Grout?
Now that we’ve established that you can safely use vinegar on glass and porcelain tiles, you may be wondering whether it will affect the grout. After all, the grout is what’s holding your tiles in place.
Keeping your grout clean is just as important as maintaining clean tiles so it raises the question—is vinegar safe to use on bathroom grout?
Although vinegar is safe for porcelain and glass tiles, it can sometimes damage grout if your grout was improperly installed or improperly sealed.
If your grout was improperly sealed, vinegar will seep into the cracks and slowly erode the waterproof membrane behind your tiles. As it eats away at the membrane, your grout will have nothing to hold onto and eventually fall away from the wall.
However, if you’ve taken the time to properly install your tiles and seal your grout, vinegar is a wonderful cleaning agent capable of eating away at the mildew that builds up over time.
Inspect Your Tile Grout
Check your grout once a year to make sure that it’s still properly sealed before using vinegar as a cleaning agent on your tiles.
If you’ve never inspected your tile grout, you may be in for a nasty surprise. Grout can dry out over time, slowly peeling away from the wall.
If left for too long, your tiles could crack or loosen, allowing water to seep behind the walls, leading to a widespread mold infestation. Catch these problems before they spread by regularly inspecting your grout.
Test your Grout
Start by dripping some water onto the grout and watching what happens. If your grout suddenly becomes darker, it’s time to reseal your tiles. If nothing happens, your grout is fine.
Typically, grout installed in an indoor bathroom will last a full five years but, if exposed to harsh climates, it can crack and loosen within 2 to 3 years.
Built-up humidity can wreak havoc on your bathroom, including the grout, so it’s important to properly ventilate your bathroom as best as possible.
Invest in a smart bathroom fan to track humidity and suck away any built-up moisture before it has time to ruin your tile and grout. Check out our article on smart bathroom fans or consider adding a bathroom skylight to open up the room.
What to Consider Before Cleaning Bathroom Tiles with Vinegar
It may seem like a straightforward process but a lot goes into cleaning bathroom tiles. Take a moment to consider the following points before you clean your bathroom again:
What Are You Using to Clean Your Tiles?
It may sound like a silly question but the type of brush you use can make a big difference in the longevity of your bathroom tiles.
Metal brushes are too abrasive and can leave nasty scratches in glass, ceramic, and porcelain. If you’ve been using a metal brush, your tiles are likely damaged and may need to be replaced.
Furthermore, metal brushes can wear away grout, leaving your bathroom more susceptible to water damage and mold. Rather than using a metal brush or steel wool, stick to a soft-bristled nylon brush or a basic toothbrush.
These materials are hard enough to clean mold and mildew from tile without scratching the material.
How Often Are You Cleaning Your Tiles?
If your bathroom is more prone to humidity, you should clean your tiles as often as possible. Tiles quickly become grimy with slime if left to sit in pools of water. Use a long-handled squeegee to push away water or mop the floor after every use.
The sooner you develop a regular cleaning habit, the shinier and healthier your tiles will look. You can even stay on top of it by giving your tiles a quick spritz of vinegar every weekend and quickly rubbing them down with a cloth.
Don’t Forget to Clean the Grout!
Just because your tiles look clean and shiny doesn’t mean your grout will too. Sometimes you need a little more elbow grease to buff away grime from the grout.
If it’s been a while since you last tackled the grout, we recommend using a tough grout cleaner, such as Grout-EEZ Super Heavy Duty.
These products are specially formulated to clean grout without damaging your tiles. Simply spray the solution on your grout, let it sit for around 10 to 15 minutes, and then scrub away the chemicals to perfectly clean your floors and walls.
How to Clean Bathroom Tiles with Vinegar
Now that you know what to consider, let’s explore how you can use vinegar to clean your bathroom tiles.
Remember, you should clean your bathroom using vinegar at least once a week to prevent mold and mildew from slowly building up in your shower and sink. (But if you already have a bathroom mold problem, see my battle plan to destroy it.)
Use a nylon brush or a toothbrush to scrub the tiles without damaging them.
Mix Up a Vinegar Water Solution
Pure distilled white vinegar is likely too harsh to use directly on porcelain without diluting it in water, so try using this formula to create the perfect homemade tile and grout cleaner:
- Buy Vinegar – Distilled white vinegar is the most effective but you can also use apple cider vinegar or rice wine vinegar as effective cleaning agents.
- Make the Solution – Mix the vinegar with water at a ratio of 1 part vinegar with 1 part water. We recommend starting with 1 cup of vinegar to 1 cup of water. This should create enough of the solution to clean all of your bathroom.
- Mix it Up – Pour the solution into a spray bottle and shake it vigorously to blend the mixture evenly.
- Apply the Solution – Spray the vinegar and water solution onto your bathroom tiles and scrub the tiles using a nylon brush.
- Rinse the Tiles – Rinse the tiles using fresh water and wipe them dry using a clean cloth.
- Wait – Allow your tiles to air dry before showering or using the sink.
If there are any sections of tile that are badly stained or covered in mold, spray unadulterated white distilled vinegar directly onto the area.
Let it sit for at least 30 minutes before wiping away the vinegar.
Vinegar is an effective mold treatment because it’s able to soak into the underlying spores, preventing the mold from growing back.
If your grout is extensively stained, use an industrial-strength grout cleaner such as Grout-EEZ Super Heavy Duty.
What to Do About the Vinegar Smell?
If you hate the smell of vinegar, don’t let its harsh smell stop you from using it as an organic, non-toxic cleaner. You can easily cover the smell of vinegar by adding a bit of lemon juice to your solution.
Simply cut 1 lemon in half and squeeze the juice into your spray bottle. Lemon juice is naturally acidic, so it may raise the pH of your cleaning solution. If you’re worried about the added acid, you can dilute the solution by adding a little more water.
Alternatively, you can add a few drops of essential oils into the solution to counteract the harsh vinegar smell. You may have to play around with different oils to find one that blends evenly with the vinegar but we recommend using lavender or lemongrass.
These are both pleasant yet strong enough to overcome the harsh aroma of vinegar. Plus both of these essential oils have stress-reducing properties. So you can relax while cleaning the bathroom. Who knew?!
Finally, if you have an electric fan, you can quickly get rid of the smell of vinegar by ventilating your bathroom. Vinegar is fairly volatile so it shouldn’t take too long for the fumes to dissipate. Simply be patient and move to another room while the vinegar dries.
Vinegar is Safe for Most Bathroom Tiles
Vinegar is a safe and non-toxic cleaning agent, perfect for cleaning most bathroom tiles. The only time you shouldn’t use it is if your bathroom tiles are made from a porous material or if your grout needs resealing.
Check your grout at least once a year to guarantee your bathroom is safe from water damage and be sure to dilute the vinegar with water to soften its effects.
If you dislike the smell of vinegar, you can also add lemon juice or essential oils to make it more pleasant.