Can You Use Vinegar On Wood? Is it Safe to Use?

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Vinegar is a popular choice for many homeowners as a natural, effective, and eco-friendly way to clean many types of surfaces. However, due to its acidic nature, it may not be compatible with some types of materials. So, can you use vinegar on wood?

In this article, I will guide you on how to use vinegar safely on wood.

Which Vinegar Is Best for Wood?

When deciding the best type to use on wood, you must consider the acidity level of the vinegar. This is because vinegar is an acid that can damage certain types of wood finishes or surfaces if not used properly.

There are also different types of vinegar suitable for wood, depending on your purpose. For instance, for cleaning wood, use vinegar with a mild acidity level, such as distilled white vinegar.

It has a mild acidity level and is the safest and most effective to use on wood. This is due to its clear properties and additives-free formula, which can effectively remove dirt, grime, and tacky stains without damaging the wood surface.

If you’re buying white vinegar for wood, I suggest you choose a product that has “white” or “distilled” on the label.

can you use vinegar on wood

Don’t use other types of vinegar on wood, such as red wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar, since they contain a high level of additives that can damage the wood surface or leave an unappealing residue on your wood finish.

If you’re looking for cheaper vinegar that you can use on wood, you can also dilute white vinegar to help reduce its acidity and make it a milder cleaning solution, which is safe to use on most wood surfaces. This is easier to make using readily available and simple products.

To ensure that your vinegar is suitable for your wood pieces, I highly suggest testing it first on a small and hidden section of the wood before using it on the entire wood surface.

Observe if it will cause any damage or discoloration on the wood. If so, stop using it immediately and test a different brand of vinegar.

Effects Of Vinegar On Wood

Essentially, you can use white vinegar as a natural cleaning agent for wood surfaces. Since it contains acetic acid, it can effectively remove tacky stains, dirt, grime, and other build-ups on the surface of the wood.

Nevertheless, certain wood finishes, such as oil-based or wax finishes, may be adversely affected by the strong properties of white vinegar.

vinegar on wood

If not diluted properly, it can strip away the protective coating of the wood, causing it to dry out and become more susceptible to damage and premature decay. I learned this the hard way when I saw it strip off the protective layer on a beautiful oak table of mine. Not a pretty sight, let me tell you.

But by diluting white vinegar with the correct proportion, you can achieve optimal results when you use it on wood. Below are several advantages of using white vinegar on your wood pieces.

Uses of Vinegar on Wood

Using vinegar is a great way to clean and polish your wooden surfaces. The process for cleaning and polishing with vinegar is generally the same, but the mixture preparation may vary depending on your objective and the type of wood you’re working with.

Mostly vinegar is used in many woodworking projects for two main purposes:

effects of vinegar on wood

To effectively clean and polish your wooden surfaces with vinegar, you must ensure that you’re using the correct mixture for your purpose and type of wood.

For example, if you need to clean a heavily soiled surface, you should use a stronger vinegar solution.

On the other hand, if you want to add a subtle shine to your wooden surfaces, a weaker solution may be more appropriate.

Also, it’s important to consider the type of wood you’re working with, as some types of wood may be more sensitive to vinegar than others. I’ve dealt with woods that are robust and some that are more on the sensitive side.

Before applying vinegar to your wooden surfaces, do some research on the specific type of wood you’re working with to ensure that it’s safe to use vinegar on it. But generally, you can safely use vinegar on the following:

using vinegar on wood

How Do You Clean Wood with Vinegar?

Cleaning wood with vinegar is relatively easy and straightforward. Since vinegar is a natural and effective cleaning agent, it can remove tacky stains, grime, and dirt from wood surfaces. Below are the steps on how you can use vinegar on wood to clean it effectively.

Supplies Needed

Step #1: Create a solution of white vinegar and water

To start, you must pour one cup of warm water into a bucket, then add three tablespoons of your preferred brand of white vinegar.

If you need more quantity for your project, you can adjust the mixture, but ensure to follow the 1:3 proportion of water and vinegar. This means that for every cup of warm water, you must add three tablespoons of vinegar.

Once you have added the adequate quantity that you need, ensure to stir the mixture thoroughly using a fork or a wooden stirrer. It is important to avoid creating air bubbles when mixing the vinegar solution, as they can hinder the mixing process and cause issues.

white vinegar and water

Step #2: Test the vinegar solution on the wood

As I said before, I highly suggest that you test the vinegar solution on a small, hidden area of the wood before you apply it to the entire surface, as different types of wood may react differently to vinegar.

Some types of wood may be more sensitive to acidic solutions like vinegar, which can cause discoloration or damage to the wood. Therefore, you must test it first to ensure that your vinegar solution is safe to use on the wood surface without causing any unwanted effects.

Additionally, testing the solution can help you determine the appropriate dilution and strength of the solution needed to effectively clean your wood pieces.

To test your vinegar mixture on the wood you’re working on, get a clean cloth and soak it in the vinegar solution. Gently rub it on the surface of the wood in a circular direction.

Wait for the wood surface to dry completely. You can also wipe the surface with a dry clean cloth. Observe the effects of the vinegar solution on the wood and check if there are any issues.

If it causes any discoloration, watermarks, or damage on the wood surface or finish, you must stop using it immediately and create a new mixture using a different brand of vinegar or adjusting the mixture ratio.

testing vinegar on wood

Step #3: Soak a cotton towel in the vinegar mixture

It is important to use extra caution when applying vinegar to wood surfaces, as excessive amounts can cause damage and ruin the finish.

Avoid soaking the wood directly with too much vinegar. Use a clean cloth and dip it into the solution. Squeeze out the excess solution from the cloth, leaving it damp instead of soaking wet. Do not spray it directly on the wood.

Step #4: Apply vinegar solution to wood

Now, once the cotton cloth is moistened with vinegar, gently rub it on the wood surface. Follow the wood grains’ direction to remove the grime and dirt on the wood surface while also giving it a shiny look.

To achieve optimal cleaning results, push the cloth along the wood grain. This technique can effectively remove dirt and debris that may be trapped within the grooves of the wood grain and prevent scratches or damage to the surface.

Additionally, you use a microfiber cloth to further enhance the cleaning process, as it can trap dirt and dust particles within its fibers.

applying vinegar to wood

Step #5: Let the wood thoroughly dry

After cleaning the entire wood surface, gently scrub in with a dry and clean cloth in a circular direction to wipe the drips and excess vinegar off the surface.

If you notice that some areas still have stains or dirt buildup that were not removed during the first application, you can apply more vinegar solution on these spots.

Get a clean cloth and soak in the vinegar solution, then re-apply on the uncleaned areas. Ensure to wipe any excess solution from the wood surface using a dry cloth.

When the entire surface is spotless and clean completely, allow the surface to fully dry for a maximum of two hours to keep your wood pieces shiny and fresh looking.

How To Polish Wood with Vinegar?

White vinegar can be used as a natural and eco-friendly option for polishing wood. Aside from removing dirt, grime, and residue from wood surfaces, it keeps the wood’s shiny and fresh appearance.

However, it’s important to use it cautiously and with proper care to avoid any potential damage to the wood. Below are the steps to polish the wood surface using vinegar.

polishing wood with vinegar

Supplies Needed

Step #1: Mix white vinegar and olive oil

To start, you must mix one portion of white vinegar and one portion of olive oil in a bucket or a jar. You can use a tablespoon or a cup to measure the quantity depending on how much you need for your project, but ensure to follow the equal proportion.

You may add a squeeze of lemon, or you can use lemon oil. This will help the solution easily penetrate the wood pores and protect the wood. Make sure to stir the mixture well until it becomes thick. I typically shake the jar vigorously to make sure it’s well-blended.

Step #2: Test wood with vinegar

Before you apply your vinegar solution to the entire wood surface, it’s important to test it first on a small hidden area of the wood to determine its effect. This will help you adjust the solution as needed to get the best results.

Soak a clean cloth to the mixture and squeeze it to extract excess liquid, then rub it gently on the small area of the wood. Wipe the surface with a dry cloth to remove the moisture, then allow it to dry for a few minutes.

testing vinegar before using

Observe the effects of the vinegar on the polished area. If it caused discoloration or any damage to the wood, stop using it and create a new mixture or adjust the proportion.

Use only high-quality products, especially for polishing furniture and delicate wood pieces.

Step #3: Use a vinegar-soaked cotton cloth

Get a clean, lint-free cloth and soak it in the solution. Squeeze it lightly to drain the excess liquid.Careful not to drench the cloth; you don’t want to leave watermarks or, worse, damage the wood. I usually ensure that the cloth is just damp enough to do its job without saturating the surface.

Step #4: Wipe moistened cloth on wood

Now, gently rub the wet cloth on the wood surface that needs polishing. I’ve found that a crucial part of this step is working with the wood grain, not against it. Trust me, it’ll make a big difference in the final sheen.

Switch to a new cloth if the one you’re using picks up too much dirt; you don’t want to spread that grime around. Once you’ve given the entire piece a good once-over, grab a dry cloth and wipe it on the surface to remove drips and excess liquid.

If you’re polishing finished or painted surfaces, ensure to wipe the excess solution immediately, as it can cause the finish to peel off.

Using cloth onto wood

Step #5: Let the wood dry

Finally, allow the wood surface to fully dry. Leave it for one to two hours before using it to maintain its shine longer. 

As a routine, I tend to give my furniture this kind of treatment twice a year. It keeps everything looking fresh and well-maintained.

Can Vinegar Be Used on Painted Surfaces?

Yes, vinegar can be used on painted wood surfaces to remove stains and polish the paint, giving it a renewed and attractive appearance.

Generally, white vinegar will not damage the wood finish or paint. However, you must ensure to dilute the white vinegar using olive oil or water before applying it to the painted or finished wood.

You can clean painted or finished wood surfaces with white vinegar at least twice a year to keep them shiny and fresh looking.

Below are the steps you can follow to use white vinegar on finished or painted wood:

  1. Combine 2 cups of olive oil, warm water, and white vinegar in equal proportions in a bucket or a jar.
  2. Once you have securely sealed the jar, shake it well to blend the ingredients thoroughly and create your vinegar solution
  3. Before you apply your vinegar solution to the entire surface, you must try it first on a hidden, painted area to observe the outcomes
  4. Soak a clean cloth or lint-free rag in the vinegar solution, then squeeze and extract the excess solution
  5. Gently rub the dampened cloth on the finished or painted surface in a circular direction.
  6. Wipe the surface with a clean, lint-free cloth to remove any excess solution.
  7. Allow the surface to dry completely for one to two hours
Can vinegar used on painted surface

Vinegar As a Stain and Mold Remover for Wood

Essentially, you can use vinegar on wood to remove tacky stains or mold buildup on the surface. Its acidic properties can dissolve certain types of stains, while its anti-fungal properties can prevent mold growth.

However, the effectiveness of white vinegar varies depending on the quality of the solution and the type of surface it’s on.

So, it’s important to follow the correct procedure below to remove molds and stains on wood surfaces.

  1. Combine one cup of vinegar with four cups of warm water in a bucket or a jar
  2. Once you’ve thoroughly mixed the solution, transfer it to a spray bottle
  3. You can add a squeeze of lemon to the mixture for the best results
  4. Seal the lid and mix it well
  5. Spray the vinegar solution on a clean, lint-free cloth
  6. Squeeze the cloth to extract excess vinegar
  7. Gently rub the affected surface with the dampened cloth to remove the molds and stains
  8. Use a dry cloth to wipe the excess liquid and remove the strong odor
  9. Leave the surface for one to two hours to fully dry before using it.

Can Vinegar Harm Untreated Wood?

Vinegar cannot harm untreated wood if you properly dilute it with water or olive oil. However, using undiluted vinegar can damage your untreated wood as vinegar is acidic, which can cause the wood to swell, warp, or discolor over time.

can vinegar damage wood

So, I recommend using only white vinegar mixed with the correct proportion of water or olive oil when cleaning or polishing your untreated wood to avoid damaging it.

Can Vinegar Be Used on Wooden Floors?

Yes, vinegar [1] can be used on wooden floors, but you must take extra precautions when applying vinegar due to its acidic nature, which can damage the finish of your wooden floors if not diluted properly. 

Also, you must follow the correct application procedure of vinegar on your wooden floors as below:

  1. Combine one portion of vinegar and four portions of warm water in a container.
  2. Once the solution is blended thoroughly, transfer it to a spray bottle.
  3. You may add a small quantity of lemon extract to the mixture
  4. Seal the bottle and mix it well
  5. Spray a small amount of the solution onto a lint-free cloth
  6. Ensure that the cloth is moist enough and squeeze it to extract excess liquid
  7. Gently scrub it on your wooden floors to remove dirt and give a polished appearance
  8. Wipe the wooden floors with a dry and clean cloth to remove drips and excess moist
  9. Leave the wooden floors for one to two hours to fully dry

Does Vinegar Discolor Wood?

Diluted vinegar does not discolor wood, but it’s not recommended to use undiluted vinegar, especially if you will apply it directly to the wood.

vinegar discolor wood

Since vinegar is an acidic substance, it can react with the natural tannins present in wood and cause discoloration or staining. So, you must ensure to dilute the vinegar properly and follow the correct application procedure to avoid discoloration and other damage to the wood.

Does Vinegar Make Wood Appear Old?

Yes, vinegar makes the wood appear old since it darkens its color and creates an aged look effect due to its acidic nature. So, if you do not prefer the weathered or antique appearance of your furniture and other wood pieces, I do not recommend using vinegar on them.

However, many woodworkers find the natural old look of the wood appealing, so they use vinegar for wood polishing and cleaning.

Can White Vinegar Prevent Wood Decay?

can vinegar prevent wood decay

Yes, white vinegar can prevent wood decay as it has antimicrobial properties that can stop fungus and mold growth on wood. So, you can restore wood and protect it from rot and decay by applying white vinegar.


Overall, vinegar is an affordable option for cleaning and polishing wood, especially when compared to commercial wood cleaning products. You can use vinegar on wood to effectively remove dirt, grime, grease, and stains from wood surfaces.

It only contains mild acid, making it safe to use on wood without causing damage or discoloration. Truly, it’s a great alternative to expensive cleaning products on the market, which may contain harmful chemicals that can damage your wood furniture.

robert headshot

Robert Johnson is a passionate furniture maker & carpenter, sought after for his knowledge on the craft.
You’ve probably seen his down-to-earth wisdom in USA Today, Bobvila, Family Handyman, and The Spruce, where he has shared commentary and guidance on various woodworking topics.

Robert is the brain behind Sawinery, where he aims to share tips, tricks, and a passion for all things carpentry.

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