Do a quick search on how to clean tires and you’ll almost certainly come across vinegar as an option. The question: Can you safely use this common household product on one of the most important areas of your car?
When it comes to cleaning your tires, you can use vinegar to clean them. However, we always recommend using specific products for cleaning your vehicle. Car-care products are tested through rigorous research and are ensured to protect your car in the long-haul.
Vinegar is moderately acidic, which can lead to damage on most car surfaces. Tires are arguably the most important area of your car, and they should be properly maintained with specifically engineered products.
In this article we’ll go over how vinegar works as a cleaner, recipes commonly used for cleaning, risks and considerations, and the advantages to using it.
How Vinegar Works
The origins behind vinegar go way back and can be traced to 3000 B.C. Traces have even been found in Egyptian urns. The word ‘vinegar’ is derived from the French word vinaigre, which translates to “sour wine”. Vinegar is derived from fermented liquid. Over time, natural bacteria known as acetobacters combine with oxygen, creating acetic acid – AKA vinegar.
There are many types of vinegar; white, apple cider, balsamic, white wine, red wine, malt, and rice just to name a few. Most people use white vinegar for cleaning.
Vinegar has a pH level* of 2.4, which means it is acidic enough to use as an effective cleaning agent, yet safe to use around the house. Vinegar’s acidic level makes it great at breaking down the stains, grease, and debris routinely found on materials.
People almost always dilute vinegar for any use – whether it’s cleaning household surfaces or other areas. Concentrated vinegar’s acidic properties can ruin finishes or some surfaces if left on for extended periods.
While vinegar is a popular cleaning agent for most applications, we don’t recommend that you use it for tire cleaning. Even so, here are some of the common methods people use:
Vinegar + Water
Many people will dilute vinegar with water. Water dilution will reduce the concentration of ions within vinegar – making it less acidic. This is the simplest method that lowers the risk of damage while cleaning with vinegar.
Vinegar + Baking Soda
A vinegar and baking soda solution is often used for breaking down stubborn contaminants. How does the combination of vinegar and baking soda work? It reacts chemically because baking soda is a base while vinegar is an acid. There are two separate reactions that take place – one with an acid-base reaction and the other with decomposition.
The acid-base reaction occurs when hydrogen ions in the vinegar reaction are mixed with the sodium and bicarbonate ions in the baking soda. The decomposition reaction occurs when the carbonic acid formed from the reaction immediately beings to decompose into water and carbon dioxide gas – like the bubbles found in your favorite soft drink.
Vinegar + Cream of Tartar
Cream of tartar is a dry, powder-like byproduct of winemaking that is used for a variety of baking recipes. It can be combined with vinegar to create an effective cleaning product. Cream of tartar has citric acid that is capable of breaking down debris on metal. That, combined with vinegar’s acidic properties, make it an effective combo for removing stain and dirt.
Advantages of Vinegar
Vinegar-based cleaning products offer many benefits. The first is convenience; nearly every household pantry contains vinegar, and if not, vinegar is easily obtainable. Vinegar can be found in any grocery store at an affordable price. Vinegar is also non-toxic, meaning it’s friendly to the environment, pets, and humans. Some commercially produced tire cleaning solutions are not as eco-friendly.
Risks and Considerations
Cars are a huge investment, and you should take proper care to get the most out of it. Keep in mind that vinegar is an uncontrolled and untested substance. Leaving vinegar on your wheels can lead to corrosion – which can cause potential safety and mechanical problems down the road.
While all the cleaning solutions above work, it will take more of your time to mix and create your product; some more than others. This is one of the few drawbacks to using vinegar as you can use car-specific cleaners at your own convenience.
As with any cleaner, vinegar can present multiple problems if not used correctly. Vinegar can eat away at clearcoat and manufacturer-applied protectants if left to dry in direct sunlight, or for a long time period.
While vinegar can be great for household cleaning, we strongly advise against the use of it on your car. Vinegar’s acidic properties can eat away at metal or paint over time.
Should You Use Vinegar on Your Tires?
So, should you use vinegar on your tires? Vinegar is an alternative if you want a basic clean at an affordable price. Also, you might prefer natural cleaning products, and that’s another area where vinegar shines. If you choose to use vinegar as a cleaner conduct a thorough rinse down afterwards to prevent any damage over time.
Despite vinegar’s many benefits, the safest option for cleaning your tires is to go with standard car cleaning products. We recommend using mainstream car cleaning products for the best possible results. Commercial car-cleaning solutions typically contain protective agents that prolong the beauty of your tire’s surface. These solutions are specifically engineered to provide the best protective results possible. You also can bank on the countless hours of testing that went into the research behind the product.
In need of a proven and tested wheel cleaner? We have you covered. Our wheel cleaner has foaming gel that does all the work for you – just spray, brush, and hose off. It’s an acid-free formula that works with all surfaces and its even biodegradable.
If you’re taking extra time to detail your car – spend the few extra dollars to get the right product. It’s worth it in the long run. Routine detailing on tires is crucial to the vehicle’s longevity and safety, regardless of whether you use vinegar or a standard cleaner.
*pH level is a quantitative measure of acidity within aqueous or other solutions. The pH scale ranges from 0 to 14, with 7 being the “neutral” value. pH values less than 7 are acidic, while values greater than 7 are alkaline, or basic.