Is vinegar toxic when mixed with anything?

Vinegar is a common household item that is generally considered safe for use in cooking and cleaning. However, there has been some concern over whether combining vinegar with other substances could produce toxic effects. Vinegar is an acidic liquid that is made through the fermentation of ethanol. The main component of vinegar is acetic acid. Pure acetic acid can be corrosive and irritating, but diluted preparations like household vinegar are generally not strong enough to cause serious harm. However, mixing vinegar with certain other chemicals could potentially create toxic fumes or dangerous reactions. This article will examine whether evidence suggests vinegar is toxic when combined with other substances, and provide an overview of safety precautions for using vinegar mixtures.

Is vinegar dangerous on its own?

In its typical diluted form, vinegar is not considered dangerous and has many safe household uses for cleaning, cooking, and food preservation. However, exposure to high concentrations of acetic acid can result in toxic effects. The main risks of concentrated acetic acid exposure include:

  • Skin burns and eye damage from direct contact
  • Respiratory irritation if inhaled
  • Gastrointestinal distress if swallowed

Most household vinegar contains 5-8% acetic acid. Exposure to the vapors or liquid may cause mild irritation, but this level of dilution is not potent enough to cause burns or serious injury. Undiluted vinegar should be handled carefully to avoid accidental exposure to high concentrations, but normal household vinegar use is considered safe.

How could mixing vinegar create toxic effects?

While vinegar alone is generally safe, mixing it with certain other chemicals can potentially produce dangerous reactions:

  • Bleach: Mixing vinegar (an acid) with bleach (a base) results in a chemical reaction that gives off chlorine gas. Chlorine gas exposure can cause respiratory damage.
  • Hydrogen peroxide: Combining vinegar and hydrogen peroxide creates an exothermic reaction that can generate intense heat and explosive vapor/foam.
  • Rubbing alcohol: This mixture creates a powerful evaporating vapor that is irritating if inhaled in large quantities.
  • Acetone: Mixing vinegar and acetone significantly raises the evaporation rate, releasing hazardous vapor concentrations faster.

Vinegar can also react with metals and release dangerous fumes, or interact with poisons and drugs in ways that increase their toxicity.

Is vinegar dangerous when mixed with specific substances?

Let’s examine whether evidence suggests vinegar is toxic when combined with some common household, cleaning, and medical substances.

Baking soda and vinegar

Baking soda and vinegar react together because baking soda is a base and vinegar is an acid. However, this reaction produces carbon dioxide gas and water. The bubbles and fizzing are from carbon dioxide production. The gases released are not toxic or dangerous in any way. As a result, combinations of baking soda and vinegar are safe. They are commonly combined for science experiments or cleaning recipes designed to take advantage of the scrubbing power of the bubbles produced.

Vinegar and bleach – toxic chlorine gas

As mentioned previously, vinegar is acidic and bleach is a base. Mixing acids and bases can initiate chemical reactions. In the case of vinegar and bleach, the reaction generates chlorine gas. Chlorine gas was even used as a chemical weapon in World War I because it causes severe respiratory irritation. If vinegar and bleach are mixed, the chlorine vapors can sting the eyes and irritate the throat and lungs. Severe exposure could lead to pulmonary edema or respiratory failure. Always handle vinegar and bleach separately to avoid accidental mixing and chlorine exposure.

Salt and vinegar

Table salt is sodium chloride, which breaks down into its component ions of sodium (Na+) and chloride (Cl-) when dissolved in water. Vinegar contains acetic acid (CH3COOH). There is no chemical reaction between sodium, chloride, and acetic acid. As a result, combinations of salt and vinegar are not toxic and safe for use in various recipes and food preservation methods.

Vinegar and rubbing alcohol

Rubbing alcohol contains either isopropyl alcohol (IPA) or ethyl alcohol. Vinegar mixed with isopropyl alcohol creates a quick-evaporating solution. If large quantities are mixed in a small enclosed space, the concentrated fumes can potentially cause dizziness, headache, and respiratory irritation for those exposed. Vinegar and ethyl alcohol combines to make ethyl acetate, which can also irritate the eyes, nose and throat if large amounts are inhaled. As such, combinations of vinegar and rubbing alcohol should be used sparingly in well-ventilated areas. The mixtures themselves are not toxic, but can generate irritating vapors.

Vinegar and hydrogen peroxide

Combining vinegar and hydrogen peroxide results in an exothermic reaction – meaning it releases energy in the form of heat. The liquid can bubble and steam violently. This is because the acetic acid in vinegar reacts with the unstable peroxide molecules to decompose them into water and oxygen gas. In large quantities, it can generate dangerous boiling and spraying action. Never mix vinegar and hydrogen peroxide in a closed container, and use only dilute solutions to minimize vigorous reaction risks.

Substance 1 Substance 2 Potential Reaction Products Toxicity Rating
Vinegar Baking soda Carbon dioxide, water Non-toxic
Vinegar Bleach Chlorine gas Highly toxic
Vinegar Salt None Non-toxic
Vinegar Rubbing alcohol Ethyl acetate, isopropyl acetate vapors Mildly irritating
Vinegar Hydrogen peroxide Water, oxygen gas Non-toxic, but exothermic reaction risk

Vinegar and ammonia – toxic vapors

Ammonia is a base, so it reacts with acidic vinegar. Mixing vinegar and ammonia releases irritating vapor containing chloramines and ammonium chloride into the air. Chloramines cause respiratory irritation and trigger asthma symptoms. Never mix vinegar and ammonia, even for cleaning purposes. The chemical reaction releases hazardous gases. If accidentally mixed, evacuate the area and allow to ventilate before returning. Open windows and use fans to circulate fresh air.

Vinegar and acetone

Acetone is a solvent used in products like nail polish remover and paint thinner. Mixing acetone and vinegar creates an unstable solution as the acetic acid interacts with the acetone molecules. This mixture evaporates faster, releasing concentrated acetone vapors that can irritate the nose, throat, and eyes. Effects may include coughing, headaches, dizziness and shortness of breath. Use vinegar and acetone separately, rather than in mixtures, to avoid breathing in the vapors produced.

Vinegar and menthol crystals

Menthol crystals contain menthol, an alcohol that can melt at room temperature. Adding menthol crystals to vinegar can generate an intense menthol vapor that may cause respiratory irritation if inhaled in large amounts. Never mix menthol crystals with warm or hot vinegar, as the vapors will be stronger. Even at room temperature, avoid breathing in the fumes. While not necessarily toxic, the vapor can overwhelm the senses.

Vinegar and essential oils

Various essential oils like eucalyptus, peppermint, lemon, and tea tree oil can be added to vinegar mixtures. The main risk is that combining the volatile essential oils with vinegar’s acetic acid may increase inhalation exposure. Oil droplets may escape more readily from the vinegar solution in comparison to pure oils. Never heat or vaporize mixtures of vinegar and essential oils, as inhalation could cause lung inflammation. However, diluted combinations at room temperature likely pose minimal risks with moderate use.

Can vinegar create toxic fumes when mixed with metals?

Metals exposed to vinegar’s acetic acid may corrode, releasing hazardous fumes and substances. However, vinegar’s acidity is relatively low. As such, risks mainly arise from extended exposure or confined spaces increasing vapor concentration.

Aluminum and Vinegar

Aluminum reacts slowly with acetic acid to release hydrogen gas. Exposure risk occurs if aluminum and vinegar react in an enclosed container. Then, hydrogen gas concentrations could rise to an explosive concentration. Avoid sealing aluminum and vinegar mixtures. While extended exposure may pit or corrode aluminum, the reaction is not vigoruous enough to present an acute toxicity risk through creation of toxic fumes.

Vinegar and Zinc

Vinegar can react with zinc to produce flammable and explosive hydrogen gas, as well as corrosive zinc acetate. Avoid using vinegar solutions long-term in confined spaces or closed containers with zinc metals. The risks are lower for zinc exposure to vinegar vapors rather than liquid solutions. Inhalation of small amounts of zinc acetate or hydrogen gas from brief vinegar contact is not medically dangerous.

Lead and Vinegar

Lead reacts the most vigorously with vinegar, being corroded by acetic acid to form lead acetate and hydrogen gas. Lead acetate is toxic and poses a contamination risk if lead piping or solder reacts with vinegar. Even small amounts of lead acetate in food or water can cause lead poisoning. Hydrogen gas accumulation could also explode. Never store vinegar long-term in lead crystal containers or use to extract lead-soldered metal joints. Lead-glazed pottery also poses risks.

Tin, Copper, and Stainless Steel

Tin, copper and stainless steel have high resistance to vinegar’s acidity. Vinegar solutions and vapors pose little corrosion or reaction risk to these metals. Storage containers, pipes, utensils and surfaces made from these materials will not release toxic fumes when exposed to vinegar. Copper may slowly oxidize, but not in a manner that generates significant fumes or health hazards.

Metal Reaction with Vinegar Potential Toxic Effects
Aluminum Slow release of hydrogen gas Fire/explosion risk if confined space
Zinc Rapid release of hydrogen gas and zinc acetate Fire/explosion risk from hydrogen gas accumulation
Lead Formation of lead acetate and hydrogen gas Lead acetate poisoning risk
Tin, Copper, Stainless Steel Minimal reactivity Negligible toxicity risks

Can vinegar interact with medications to cause toxicity?

While vinegar is not widely known to interact with medications, its acidic nature could potentially impact absorption or efficacy for some drugs.

Vinegar and Lithium

There are reported cases of vinegar interfering with absorption of lithium, a mood stabilizer. Lithium blood levels dropped in patients after taking vinegar tablets. Consult doctors before using vinegar supplements if taking lithium.

Antacids and Vinegar

Antacids are basic and vinegar is acidic. As such, taking antacid tablets directly after vinegar consumption may neutralize some of the acetic acid before it is absorbed or has any effect in the body.

Vinegar and Diuretics

Medications like hydrochlorothiazide act as diuretics to increase urination output. Vinegar also has mild diuretic effects. Using vinegar while taking diuretics could potentially amplify water/salt loss, requiring monitoring to avoid dehydration or electrolyte imbalances.

Insulin and Vinegar

Vinegar taken right before carbohydrate intake may slow digestion and glucose absorption. This could interfere with rapid-acting insulin regimens where insulin dosing needs to match carbohydrate absorption. Vinegar should be avoided before meals for those with critical insulin dependent diabetes management.

Vinegar and Lisinopril

Lisinopril lowers blood pressure. Vinegar supplements may also decrease blood pressure through effects on the renin-angiotensin system. Combined effects could potentially lower blood pressure excessively. Use caution with vinegar alongside ACE-inhibitor blood pressure medications.

Digoxin and Vinegar

A single case study reported that a patient taking the heart medication digoxin experienced increased side effects after consuming a vinegar product. Digoxin blood levels rose, potentially due to interference with digoxin clearance. More evidence is needed, but vinegar may impact the efficacy and excretion of digoxin.

Medication Effect of Combining with Vinegar Toxicity Risks
Lithium Decreased lithium absorption Lithium underdosing
Antacids Neutralization of vinegar’s acidity Reduced efficacy of vinegar as supplement
Diuretics Amplified diuretic effects Electrolyte disturbances, dehydration
Insulin Delayed carbohydrate absorption Blood glucose spikes if insulin mistimed
Lisinopril Additive blood pressure lowering Potential for hypotension
Digoxin Increased digoxin levels and side effects Digoxin toxicity

Other oral medications

Vinegar may delay gastric emptying and the absorption of other oral drugs. However, the concentration in food and vinegar is likely too low to substantially impact most medications. Consult physicians for guidance on specific prescriptions, but vinegar likely poses little risk when mixed with most common oral medicines.

Is vinegar dangerous when combined with other household chemicals?

Most cleaning agents and chemicals react minimally, if at all, with vinegar. However, vinegar should not be mixed with the following:

  • Oxidizing detergents – Mixing vinegar with oxidizing agents like pool chlorine may release chlorine gas.
  • Peroxides – Vinegar can decompose peroxides to release oxygen gas, heat, and steam.
  • Quaternary Ammonium Compounds – Vinegar deactivates and neutralizes these antimicrobial cleaners.
  • Sodium Hypochlorite Bleaches – Mixing vinegar and bleach releases toxic chlorine gas.

With most other household cleaners, the main risk is that vinegar’s acidity could inactivate or neutralize alkaline soaps, detergents, or cleaning solutions. But toxic chemical production is unlikely. For example, mixing vinegar with soapy water will negate the sudsing and cleaning effects of the detergent as the acid curdles and reacts with the soap. Yet no dangerous gases or byproducts form through these interactions in cleaning solutions.


In summary, vinegar itself is not considered toxic. However, certain chemical combinations should be avoided to prevent the formation of noxious fumes, vigorous reactions, or byproducts that may be toxic with significant exposure. Do not mix vinegar with strong oxidizers like concentrated hydrogen peroxide or bleach. Avoid exposing metal like zinc or lead to vinegar for prolonged periods. Use caution when combining vinegar with other volatile substances like acetone or inhaled agents like menthol crystals. Check for medication interactions before using supplemental or concentrated vinegar. With these precautions in mind, normal household vinegar use presents minimal chemical toxicity risks. While vinegar’s acidity can produce some caustic or irritating effects if misused, these effects are rarely life threatening and vinegar can be safely employed for a variety of household purposes.

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