How Does Vinegar Remove Stains from Pots and Pans?

Our expert breaks down the science.

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There's nothing quite like vinegar: This staple is known for pulling double (and sometimes even triple) duty in the kitchen. After all, there aren't many ingredients that can be used on food, laundry, and dishes, too. But what really makes vinegar such a triple threat? More specifically, why is it so effective on the most stubborn pot and pan stains? We talked to Alex Reed, the co-founder of Trumans, to find out.

boiling steel pot on stove
Zaineb Louchahi / EyeEm / Getty Images

All About the pH

Vinegar is highly acidic, according to Reed, which means that it has a pH of between two and three. The acidic nature of vinegar means it is especially adept at breaking down cooking related stains on pots and pans, which are usually the result of charred or burned food. "Vinegar has a much higher pH level than most household cleaners and can be used in these tougher circumstances," Reed explains.

Using Vinegar to Clean

When cleaning your kitchen, Reed suggests using household options that are already formulated for the job. However, if you are going to use vinegar on those tougher spots, he suggests diluting it first. And always be mindful of the materials of your pots and pans before you attempt to spot-clean them with vinegar. For instance, you wouldn't want to use vinegar on cast iron, which could cause a type of damage known as "pitting" if left on too long. "Consult the manufacturer of the cookware as using something overly abrasive may remove the finish and impact quality," says Reed.

Alternative Applications

You may already know that you can use vinegar to make salad dressing, or toss a cup of it into the wash, but did you also know that you can use vinegar to clean appliances? "You can also use white vinegar to clean the inside of your dishwasher," Reed says. "Place a dishwasher-safe container with one cup of vinegar on the top rack, then start the hot cycle." After the hot cycle ends, he recommends sprinkling baking soda along the bottom of the dishwasher and then running a short wash cycle. Not only will it help remove hard water build up, but it should eliminate any lingering odors, as well.

Storing Vinegar

To make sure your vinegar stays fresh, be sure to keep it in an air-tight container and out of direct sunlight after you open it. Pro tip: There are many different types of vinegar, so be mindful to only use the white iteration for cleaning purposes, as the coloring in some (like red wine vinegar) may discolor the items you are trying to clean.

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