Clean Hardware with vinegar

Practice Safety! How to use Vinegar for cleaning hardware.

Sarah Stahl
Sarah Stahl
Passion for transforming tired, old furniture into bold works of art. Sharing my learning with you.

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Painting Furniture 101 Series ( Part 3)

All of us in the Furniture Refinishing Community have heard of hardware soup and the use of vinegar to clean hardware.  I personally have shared on social media my use of this cleaning method and made regular use of the technique in the past.  Until one day  I took the liquid beyond simply heating it up and boiled it. I immediately noticed that my eyes burned slightly, and the fumes burned in the back of my throat when I was near the liquid. I started researching immediately the effects of boiling vinegar and quickly found out that it can be dangerous.

Well colour me surprised and rather embarrassed that I had not previously researched boiling vinegar before. I had simply seen something on social media and assumed it was safe. Precautions should be taken when cooking vinegar to ensure you are using this favourite cleaning method, safely.

Table of Contents

Vinegar is acetic acid

While the acetic acid levels in vinegar are low, usually around 5 to 8 percent of the volume, but when you boil vinegar the water will boil off initially.  The real issue begins when the acetic acid starts to boil and is released as fumes.  This can burn at your eyes, nose and throat and in larger quantities it can be very dangerous to your lungs.   


Boiling vinegar

How to safely use vinegar for cleaning

 If you wish to continue to use vinegar for cleaning your hardware, there are a few easy steps which you can take to ensure you practice safety.

  1. Always use a mix of vinegar and water together. Approximately 50% water to 50% vinegar.
  2. Open windows in your kitchen and turn on that exhaust. Good ventilation is important to minimize the fumes.
  3. Keep little ones away from the kitchen. We all know that kids are more sensitive to toxins that adults (remember last month’s topic of lead?).
  4. Consider wearing a mask for extra protection, one which is specialized for vapours.
  5. Heat the liquid close to boiling but don’t actually reach the boiling point.
running water
open window
kitchen exhaust

Other options for cleaning hardware

clean hardware with brasso

I personally no longer use vinegar for cleaning hardware, as I consider the potential risks and the fact my children are usually around, as not worth it.  Therefore, I have turned to other methods; specifically products designed for shining up old metals.

Using gloves and steel wool, I find that Brasso(available in the grocery stores in the Netherlands) works wonders. It’s a product that is very easy to find and using it is also rather easy.  I simply ensure I wear my mask as I dislike the smell and I always wear gloves.

Another product which I would like to try is Barkeepers Friend.  Having heard good things regarding it; it is on my product bucket list. However it is not as easy to come by in the Netherlands (it’s not in my local grocery store).  Have you compared Brasso and Barkeepers Friend?  Let me know if you have used either Brasso or Barkeepers Friend, and your opinion in the comments below.

Painting Furniture 101 Series Articles

If you are new to furniture refinishing or simply starting to learn about safety within the industry, you will also want to about read Lead Safety

Check out the secret weapon in all pro-refinishers cabinet; shellac; a key ingredient in furniture refinishing.

Understand the difference between drying and curing time in painting furniture and up your refinishing skills.

Lead testing swabs after testing

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