The Simple Reason Why Vinegar Will Damage Car Paint

Vinegar is an all-around remedy for many problems and a key ingredient in many do-it-yourself cleaning methods.

It is, therefore, natural that many people ask if vinegar can also be used to clean a car.

Quick Answer

Avoid using vinegar to clean car paint, as the acid in the vinegar will dull the paint and leave scratches. Using it during a hand wash will lead to swirl marks and scratches. However, vinegar is suitable for cleaning the interior of a car.

Even though vinegar is generally safe to use on all surfaces inside your car, there are certain things you need to consider. You also have to be extra careful if you plan on cleaning your automotive paint with vinegar.

Will Vinegar Damage Car Paint?

Of course, you do not only want your car to be shiny from the inside, but also on the outside.

Can vinegar also be used to clean your car from the outside? Can you maybe even use the same DIY solution that you used for the inside of your car?

Quick Answer

Using vinegar on car paint is not recommended. The acidic nature of the vinegar can attack the clear coat and make the car’s paint look dull over time. Moreover, vinegar does not provide the same lubrication as a car shampoo or quick detailer, which will lead to scratches if used for hand washing a car.

All of this is to say that you should avoid getting vinegar or anything acidic on your car’s paint.

It does not matter what kind of vinegar you use. It could be apple cider vinegar, balsamico, or other vinegar. They all are acidic and not suitable for auto detailing.

Vinegar does the most damage to your car’s paint if left on the car and allowed to be heated by the sun.

If such a case, the water within the vinegar evaporates, leaving behind only the acidic component, which will etch away the paint all the more quickly when exposed to the warming sunlight.

This not only applies to car paint, but also to delicate surfaces like your rims. If you want to learn how to clean your rims like a pro, check out my article about it here.

Sure, if you rinse off your car thoroughly after a hand wash, you will wash off most of the vinegar solution, so this problem might not seem much of an issue at first.

Just don’t leave the vinegar solution on the car and you are good to go, right?

Wrong! Using a DIY vinegar solution as an alternative for car shampoo or a quick detailer not only harms the car’s paint when left to dry, but also when any kind of manual force is applied to it.

The big problem here is lubrication.

Washing a car requires some sort of shampoo or detailer with an extremely high level of lubrication in order to wash away any kind of dirt or grime without scratching the clear coat.

Using a non-lubricating solution to wash your car will make the dirt on it act like sandpaper once you touch the car with your wash mitt.

This might lead to grainy paint that needs to be fixed. How this is done you ask? Check out my article here to learn more about it.

You might get the dirt off after some time, but you will have sanded down some parts of the clear coat, leaving behind dull spots and marks on your car.

The same logic applies if you try to use vinegar as a quick detailer to rapidly remove bird droppings or other forms of minor dirt from your car.

The vinegar does not provide enough lubrication to fully coat the dirt particles, which is necessary before being able to safely apply manual force.

Using vinegar to clean car paint is not a good idea. In theory it can be used to remove water spots, but there are better ways. To learn about them, check out my article here.

What Surfaces To Clean With Vinegar

These surfaces of your vehicle can be cleaned with vinegar:

  • Windows and Windshield
  • Vinyl
  • Plastic
  • Wood
  • Leather (be careful here!)

Windows And Windshield

Cleaning car windows with a DIY vinegar solution is a perfect way to save some money on expensive glass cleaners.

The acid in the vinegar attacks any kind of dirt on the glass without damaging the glass itself.

Spray some DIY vinegar solution on the glass, give it some time to loosen up the dirt, then wipe it off with a microfiber towel.

Repeat as needed and you will have a dazzlingly clean windshield and windows afterwards.

If the dirt strongly adheres to the glas, apply some vinegar and let it soakd in for a few minutes.

The acid in the vinegar will start to dissolve the dirt and grime, loosening it and making it easier to wipe off.

Vinegar is also very effective against limestone on your windshield, which you can recognize as telltail white stripes on your windshield.

You can also use a DIY vinegar solution to prevent your windshield from freezing in winter.

As I’ve said, vinegar really is an all-purpose remedy.

But vinegar is not the only way to remove dirt and annoying water spots from car glass. There are more ways to remove it all. Learn more about it in this article.

Vinyl, Plastic and Wood

Vinegar poses no problem to any vinyl in your car interior.

Use your DIY solution, spray it on a microfiber cloth, and wipe down the area that needs to be cleaned.

While wiping down with vinegar does no damage, make sure to not spray the solution directly on the surface and letting it dry, as this could indeed harm your vinyl interiors.

Just make sure to not spray the solution directly on the surface and let it dry.

The acid inside the vinegar might harm your vinyl applications, if you let the DIY solution dry.

Just use the slightly damp microfiber towel and wipe the area off in order to not damage your car.

The same goes for any plastic and wood applications inside your car.

The only difference for these materials is, that it is not too problematic if the solutions dries on these surfaces.

Vinegar will not harm any plastic within your car and will instead give them a lot of depth and a fresh look.

Wood is almost always covered by some sort of plastic coating, so cleaning wood applications inside your car with vinegar is also safe.

The only downside to using vinegar inside your car is the fairly strong residual smell it can leave behind.

But if you don’t mind it, using a vinegar-based DIY solution to clean the interior of your car is a cheap alternative to any expensive, brand-name interior cleaner.

Leather (But Be Careful)

As already mentioned above, vinegar can also be used to clean leather seats or other leather components within your car, effectively removing stains or loose dirt on the leather.

When using a vinegar solution on your leather seats, you have to be very careful, as the solution will strip off oils from the leather.

This can leave the material dry and may even lead to discoloration.

It is possible to clean leather with a vinegar solution. Nevertheless, interior details and leather conditioners are safer to use and the result is much better.

I highly recommend using a leather cleaner instead of a DIY vinegar solution.

Nevertheless, if you want to use vinegar to clean your leather seats, make sure to condition them afterwards with a special leather treatment product.

This way the leather will stay healthy and last much longer.

The most common problem with leather seats are water spots. So it is important to know why water stains leather in the first place. To learn about this, check out my article here.

How To Use Vinegar As An Interior Cleaner – DIY Solution

There are multiple ways you can make your own interior cleaning solution with vinegar at home.

The easiest recipe for an all-purpose cleaner involves the following ingredients:

  • White vinegar
  • Distilled water

Mix these parts in a 1:1 ratio in a spray bottle and your all-purpose cleaner will be ready to use.

If your car is a bit on the dirty side, you might want to try the following recipe:

  • Distilled water
  • White vinegar
  • Baby oil
  • Dish soap

Take one cup of warm, distilled water and add two tablespoons of baby oil, one tablespoon of white vinegar, and one tablespoon of dish soap.  

Put all of this in a spray bottle and you have a very effective, all-purpose cleaner for your car’s interior.

As a general rule, it is important to always spray the solution on the microfiber cloth you are using instead of spraying it on the surface area directly.

The reason for this is that, if you spray directly on the surface, some droplets of the solution will inevitably land on surfaces that you were not intending to clean.

As such, you might miss some spots where the solution landed, leading to the solution remaining within your car and drying, just as I mentioned previously we want to avoid.

Again, this can cause material discoloration and other blemishes on your car’s interior.

So, a much safer technique is to spray the solution directly into the microfiber towel that you are using to clean the interior.

Key Takeaways

  • Use a vinegar-based solution to clean the interior of your car
  • Be careful with your leather seats (better avoid vinegar on them)
  • Never spray anything directly on the surface, spray onto the microfiber cloth instead
  • DO NOT use vinegar to clean your car’s paint
Jan-Lucas Ganssauge
Jan-Lucas Ganssauge