We all have projects around the house that we are trying to get accomplished. Sometimes this means simple cleaning projects. This could mean cleaning old aluminum pots and pans or working on a separate project. When I began kicking into gear and working on these tasks around the house, I got curious as to what the best home remedy or cleaning agent may be. Vinegar naturally came to mind because it works wonders with so many other projects. Before cleaning any of my aluminum, I was hesitant and wanted to double-check. My biggest concern was simple. Does vinegar harm aluminum?
So, does vinegar harm aluminum? Here’s what I learned. Yes, vinegar can harm aluminum. Vinegar is acidic in nature. If you allow the vinegar to sit on your aluminum without rinsing for extended periods of time, it can cause further damage and corrosion to aluminum.
A Few Caveats with Using Vinegar with Aluminum
When doing my homework about using vinegar on aluminum, I noticed a common theme. It seemed to hold true with current projects I’ve used vinegar for recently as well. Although it’s known that vinegar is acidic in nature and can harm aluminum, it’s still frequently used for cleaning various forms of aluminum.
The important factors seem to boil down more to the length of time you allow the vinegar to sit on the aluminum and the active steps you use to rinse and clean the vinegar. This is important before and after the cleaning process. An easier way to explain. Although it could harm your aluminum it’s still a very popular cleaning agent for aluminum but be sure to exercise care when doing so.
Let’s look at some of the other specifics that need to be covered when using vinegar working with aluminum or other metals. These will give you a better idea of ideal applications where vinegar can work as a cleaning agent when being used on or other metal around the household or shop.
Does Vinegar Remove Oxidation From Aluminum?
When cleaning some kitchen pots and pans not long ago, I began noticing the cloudy gray areas. Naturally, I wanted to remove this “film look” from the pots and pans. I was curious if vinegar will remove oxidations from aluminum? Here is what I found out. Yes, vinegar will remove oxidation from aluminum, but certain steps should be followed to ensure it’s done properly. Here’s a look at the process.
3 Steps to Using Vinegar to Remove Oxidation- A Common and Correct Method of Use
Step #1- Be sure to clean the aluminum thoroughly beforehand. You can use soap and water and a simple washcloth or a scrub brush to ensure all dust and debris have been removed.
Step #2- Clean a second time with hot water and a scrub brush to be sure all chemicals and cleaning agents have been removed from the surface.
Step #3- Now you can add the vinegar. Use only two tablespoons of vinegar for every quart of water. Allow the vinegar and water to come to a boil. Once boiling, allow to boil for 15 minutes. It may take several attempts and re-boils to remove all oxidation. Once complete, drain the pots and pans or clean the surface once more. DO NOT use abrasive brushes or pads during this phase as it may cause damage to the aluminum.
Is Vinegar Corrosive to Metal?
Yes, vinegar can be corrosive to metal. At high temperatures, vinegar can be especially concentrated and acidic. Although vinegar can be used to clean some metals, it’s important to always exercise caution when doing so. Vinegar should also be avoided if cleaning surfaces and objects with the following materials.
- Stainless Steel
Does White Vinegar React with Aluminum?
Yes, when using vinegar with aluminum it’s always important to clean completely and not allow long sitting periods after cleaning. The aluminum acetate is reactive with vinegar and when used at high temperatures or when scrubbing overly hard with abrasive pads, the vinegar can begin to react and eat away/dissolve the aluminum. This may be hard to notice early on with the naked eye but the damage can begin to reveal itself in the future if you overdo the scrubbing or soaking times.
Does Vinegar Dissolve Aluminum?
Vinegar does contain acetic acid so in theory yes, vinegar can dissolve aluminum if used in large amounts or for over extended periods of time. In many cases, if you do this, your aluminum ends up with a tarnished finished, possible corrosion and other problems with surface flaking. Vinegar will also eat and dissolve aluminum foil.
How Do You Clean Corrosion Off Aluminum?
This is very similar to the method mentioned above for removing oxidation from aluminum. A key difference with removing corrosion will be the addition of lemon juice to help aid through the process. If you have corrosion taking place you can introduce lemon juice into your boiling water. You still need to allow 15 minutes of boil time before removing the water.
To remove the corrosion, it may take several attempts with a scrub brush and re-boiling water with the same tactics until the aluminum is looking back to its original state. After a complete dry time and rinse off, you can also attempt to use a polisher (commercially purchased) and rub on with a small cloth in a circular motion to help restore the bright finish.
Another way to clean corrosion is to use an aluminum cleaner. I personally have used a few products and one of the ones that I recommend if you need to clean aluminum is the Star Brite Ultimate Aluminum Cleaner & Restorer. It will do a great job of cleaning the stains and making the aluminum look as good as new.
What Other Acid Will Clean Aluminum?
Many individuals prefer to use alternative methods instead of vinegar to clean aluminum. A common solution consists of using Muriatic Acid (hydrochloric acid) to clean any aluminum finishes that have been tarnished or corroded. You can use this as a safe alternative and isn’t known to cause further damage to the aluminum finish. Let’s take a quick look at the steps involved with using this method.
Step #1- Start by just adding the acid to the surface of the aluminum you are attempting to clean. The size of your project will dictate the amount of acid you need to get the job done. Allow the aluminum to sit and soak for roughly 2 hours.
Step #2- Remove the aluminum from the acid. You can use a washcloth or a brush to scrub the aluminum cleaner during this phase. Avoid circular motions with abrasive brushes. Circular motions can cause swirls and an uneven look to the finished project.
Step #3- If steps 1 and 2 did not get the job done is when you can bring baking soda into the mix. Repeat steps and 1 and 2 but this time add baking soda to the acid mix. Allow the solution to sit one more time. After the soaking period, re-scrub the finish clean but once again, avoid the circular motion to avoid further damage to the finished product.
Step #4- Rinse completely and allow the aluminum to dry. You can allow to air dry or manually dry the aluminum with a small towel or cloth.
Special Note- You should still always remove your acid mix from the aluminum as quickly as possible following cleaning to ensure further corrosion doesn’t take place.
Diluting the Acid Mix Further
If you find yourself concerned with the strength of your solution, you can always further dilute your acid mix by adding water. Use your best judgment based on the depth of cleaning involved and how strong a solution you believe it will take to get the job done. If you need a light cleaning or light oxidation/corrosion is present, you can dilute the mix substantially compared to a heavily corroded piece of aluminum.
What If I’m Cleaning Something Smaller or Something Besides Pots and Pans?
If you aren’t cleaning aluminum pots and pans but cleaning other aluminum objects you can use the exact same process. This time create the mix in a suitable container to place your object in to allow an adequate soaking period. If you are cleaning something much smaller, you can add your acid mix to a towel or cloth and skip the first 2 steps mentioned previously.
When you use this method, be sure you still avoid circular cleaning motions. Also, be sure to rinse quickly after use to avoid further issues from the acetic nature of your solution. You only want to use a circular motion when using a commercially purchased finisher to help restore the bright, beautiful original finish.
What If I get Vinegar or Acid Solutions on My Skin or Body?
If your skin comes in contact with vinegar or any other acid-based cleaning solutions rinse it off as quickly as possible with cold water. If other parts of your body encounter the solution a shower would be necessary. You want to ensure that you remove all the solution from your skin.
Putting It All Together- Vinegar and Aluminum- The Not So Perfect Match
So, overall, does vinegar harm aluminum? It certainly can if not used properly. The biggest take away from this post is to always ensure you rinse your aluminum projects completely. In addition, don’t allow your objects to sit in vinegar solutions for extended periods of time. Vinegar can either be a great solution or cause further corrosion if used improperly.
Do any of you have any additional tips and tricks for using vinegar to clean aluminum? What methods have you noticed to work the best? Be sure to leave a comment below.