Like baking soda, vinegar is one of the most popular DIY cleaning products. In fact, you can use it to clean clothes, unclog drains, descale appliances, and deodorize smelly areas. So, can you use a bowl of vinegar to absorb odors around the home?

Here’s the TL;DR:

You can use a bowl of vinegar to neutralize temporary odors. Fill a small, shallow bowl about ½–¾ with white vinegar and place it where you smell the odors. Let it sit for a few hours or overnight to neutralize the odors. Vinegar can remove airborne odors if the source of the odor is no longer present.

In this post, I’ll discuss why vinegar is an effective odor-neutralizer and its limitations. You’ll then learn how to prepare the bowl, where to put it, and other ways you can use vinegar around the home to deodorize. Keep reading!

How Vinegar Works to Eliminate Odors

The deodorizing power of vinegar comes from its acetic acid. Typical household vinegar consists of ~5% acetic acid, with the rest being water. 

Now, since acetic acid is acidic, it’s most effective against alkaline (or basic) odors like ammonia. It’s also a volatile organic compound (VOC). As a VOC, it naturally evaporates at room temperature and can therefore reach airborne odor molecules. 

The vinegar will temporarily mask the odor with its potent scent. However, as the acid molecules bind with odor-causing compounds, and the smell of vinegar dissipates, so does the original odor. 

When you combine something acidic (like vinegar) with something basic (such as some bad smells), neutralization occurs.

But I should also mention that vinegar doesn’t necessarily absorb odors. That would imply that the vinegar attaches itself to the odor molecules as baking soda and activated charcoal do. The odor-neutralizing effects of vinegar come down to altering the pH.

Vinegar Has Limitations

Though vinegar can neutralize some odors, it’s not always 100% effective. That’s especially true if the source of the odor is still present — like food-caked dishes in the sink. Vinegar will merely “mask” foul odors until the smell of the vinegar evaporates completely. 

Here’s when a bowl of vinegar won’t work:

  • Against odors that are acidic in nature
  • With extremely powerful, housewide odors
  • If you haven’t removed the source of the smell
  • When you consider the odor of vinegar worse than the original smell
  • In very large, open areas (the effect of vinegar will be diluted)
  • For deeply penetrated — AKA: not airborne — odors

So, a bowl of vinegar next to the stove or near the litter box may help to remove temporary foul odors, but it may not be a permanent fix. Addressing the smell at its source is the best way to remove any persistent odors. 

How To Use a Bowl of Vinegar to Neutralize Odors

Although it’s not a perfect solution, a bowl of vinegar can help to remove some not-so-great odors lingering in your home.

Here’s how to prepare a bowl of vinegar for odor-busting:

Select the Right Type of Vinegar

With ~5% acetic acid, regular and distilled white vinegar are the best choices. 

They’re also clear-colored and don’t contain any additional fragrances. That means that 1) if it spills, it won’t leave a stain, and 2) it won’t add even more funky smells to the home. Both are widely available, affordable, and sometimes sold in large gallon-sized (3.8 L) bottles

gallon of distilled white vinegar
A gallon-sized bottle of distilled white vinegar with 5% acidity

Apple cider vinegar (ACV) is another option and — like white vinegar — typically contains ~5–6% acetic acid. A byproduct of fermented apple juice, it has a natural apple-like fragrance that leaves a mild apple scent behind. It’s well-known for its reported health benefits.

However, it has a few unique downsides to consider. For one, ACV is the color of apple juice and can stain light-colored home surfaces if spilled. It’s also significantly more expensive than regular and distilled white vinegar.

Choose a Bowl to Put the Vinegar In

Most standard kitchen bowls will do, including glass, ceramic, or food-grade plastic. Avoid using metal or wooden bowls, as vinegar can be corrosive (metal) or cause warping and discoloration (wood).

The size of the bowl should match the room’s size. A small bowl is best for confined spaces like small bathrooms and closets, while larger bowls work best in kitchens and living rooms. 

If possible, choose a shallow bowl with a wide mouth. This exposes the vinegar to more air and allows more of the vinegar to evaporate and neutralize odors.

Fill the Bowl About ¾ With Vinegar

Fill the bowl with 1–2 cups of vinegar, which should be about ½–¾ full. If you find the smell of vinegar too potent, you can dilute it with equal amounts of water (1:1). However, know that the odor-eliminating effects will be less noticeable. 

Avoid filling the brim too close to the rim, especially if you have pets or children or plan to put the bowl in a high-traffic area. 

Place the Bowl Where Odors Are Worst

For optimal results, put the bowl where you notice odors the most. Popular locations include kitchens, bathrooms, or rooms with litter boxes. 

Here are the odors you can target with vinegar in various rooms of the house:

RoomTarget Odors
KitchenFried, garlic, fish, or burned cooking smells
Trash bins
Bathrooms Toilet odors
Musty or damp smells (poor ventilation)
Mildew or mold odors
BasementDamp, musty odors
Mold and mildew odors
Odors from long-term stored objects
BedroomsBody odors from bedding
Pet odors 
Stale or stuffy air (enclosed rooms)
A table overviewing various rooms and odors to target with a bowl of vinegar

When deciding where to put it, choose a location high enough that it won’t be knocked over but also close enough to the target odor source. Ensure the bowl is out of reach of children and pets. 

Let It Sit for Several Hours + Encourage Airflow

The longer the vinegar sits, the more time it has to neutralize the airborne odors. Give it a few hours to sit — or even overnight for more severe odors.

The smell of vinegar may be extremely potent during this time. Open up nearby windows or doors for ventilation to help the vinegar smell (and the odor you’re hoping to eliminate) disperse!

Replace the Vinegar As Needed

After a few hours, re-evaluate the odor. If it’s no longer noticeable, consider your job complete and avoid reintroducing the odor.

bowl of vinegar on kitchen counter
A bowl of vinegar on the kitchen counter next to the stove

If the smell is less intense but still there, replace the vinegar in the bowl and try again. More intense odors may take additional time to remove entirely. You can also experiment with a larger bowl with a wider mouth or set out a second bowl of vinegar to maximize the effects.

If nothing happens and the odor is as strong as ever, vinegar alone may not do the trick. The odor you’re attempting to eliminate may be acidic, or the source of the odor is still producing or releasing the odor. 

A bowl of vinegar next to a pool of cat urine on the floor, for example, won’t make it not smell like ammonia. But soaking up the spill, treating it with an enzymatic cleaner designed for cats, and then setting out a bowl of vinegar may help.

You can also use some of the strategies in the next section. 

Other Ways To Use Vinegar To Remove Odors

A bowl filled with vinegar can help eliminate some alkaline airborne odors. But it’s not the only way to remove household smells with vinegar. 

Here are other strategies to try:

1. Vinegar Spray for Fabric Odors

You can eliminate odors from fabrics (including laundry and upholstery) with just a few spritzes of vinegar mixed with water. 

Unlike many fabric refreshers, vinegar is non-toxic and eco-friendly — typically safe around pets and children. It also evaporates completely and doesn’t leave any sticky or oily residues. 

Adding to its cleaning power are its antibacterial properties, which we owe to the 5% acetic acid. Vinegar may kill some of the odor-causing bacteria left behind by sweat and moisture. 

Materials Needed: White vinegar, water, a clean spray bottle

  1. Combine 1 part white vinegar to 2 parts water (1:2) in an empty spray bottle. 
  2. Close the bottle and shake well to blend. 
  3. Before using the spray, test it on a small, inconspicuous area of the fabric to check for colorfastness. Vinegar can damage more delicate, colored fabrics. Do not go any further if it causes discoloration!
  4. Hold the bottle about 6 inches away from the fabric. Spritz lightly, and avoid soaking the fabric with the solution.
  5. Let the fabric dry completely until it no longer smells of vinegar. 
  6. Repeat as needed

2. Vinegar Simmer for Cooking Smells

Vinegar and water simmering in saucepan
Vinegar and water simmering in a saucepan

Simmering vinegar in a saucepan releases its acetic acid into the air. While airborne, it also interacts with odor-causing molecules and effectively neutralizes them. 

The vapors let the vinegar — and its effects — spread widely throughout the kitchen and into surrounding spaces. This is an all-natural, relatively quick method to eliminate cooking smells, like those from fish, garlic, onions, or burnt food. 

Materials Needed: White vinegar, water, a small saucepan or pot

  1. Open a window or two to encourage better airflow. This disperses the vinegar vapors throughout the kitchen and enhances the odor-eliminating effects.
  2. Fill the saucepan less than halfway with vinegar and add about a quarter-saucepan’s worth of water. Do not overfill the pan to avoid it spilling over when it boils.
  3. Place the saucepan on the stove and set the heat to “Low.”
  4. Bring the mixture to a gentle simmer. Boiling it too intensely can cause it to evaporate too quickly or damage the pot.
  5. Let it simmer for about 15–30 minutes. Do not let it evaporate completely!
  6. Turn off the heat and let the pot cool down.
  7. Pour the vinegar solution down the sink once cool. 

3. Vinegar Dishwasher + Garbage Disposal Cleaner

The acidic nature of vinegar doesn’t only remove smells. It can also break down common kitchen residues, like grease, soap scum, and food particles. 

The dishwasher and garbage disposal are two areas that hold onto odors particularly well. On its own, vinegar can help clean and deodorize hard-to-reach components in both.

By adding baking soda into the mix, like when cleaning your disposal, you can tackle odors in another way: adsorption. Baking soda’s fine particles have tiny pores behind them where odor-causing molecules can stick to, eliminating them. It’s also a mild abrasive that can loosen residue on the grinding elements. 

Vinegar and baking soda bring even more cleaning power, but not in the way many assume. The fizzing that occurs when they’re mixed can, in fact, loosen stubborn debris. But once that fizzing stops, so do the additional cleaning benefits. 


Materials Needed: White vinegar

  1. Empty the dishwasher, and clean out any food particles.
  2. Fill a dishwasher-safe bowl, mug, or cup about 2/3-full with white vinegar.
  3. Place the bowl or cup on the top rack of the dishwasher.
  4. Run a full cycle at the hottest temperature setting. Again, the cup of vinegar should be the only thing in the dishwasher!

Garbage Disposal

baking soda and vinegar in a garbage disposal
Baking soda and vinegar fizzing in garbage disposal

Materials Needed: White vinegar, baking soda

  1. Pour half a cup of baking soda directly into the disposal drain. Baking soda is mildly abrasive and a natural odor absorber, meaning it can remove stuck-on particles in the drain and eliminate odors. 
  2. Pour a cup of white vinegar down the drain. The vinegar will react with the baking soda and cause a fizzing reaction that can loosen dirt and grime. 
  3. Let it sit for 5–10 minutes as it fizzes.
  4. Flush the disposal with warm water to wash away any loosened debris.

4. Vinegar Laundry Deodorizer

turning washing machine on
A person turning their washing machine on

Adding vinegar to the wash isn’t “new.” In fact, you can use it to brighten clothes, soften fabrics, and make towels and linens fluffier.

When added to your laundry routine, vinegar breaks down common odor-causing molecules in clothing. This includes those from sweat, mildew, and smoke. Vinegar can also lift detergent and fabric softener residues stuck in clothing that tend to trap odors. 

Don’t mix vinegar with bleach or use this method on clothing with elastics. Bleach and vinegar make toxic chlorine gas, and vinegar can break down elastic materials.

Materials Needed: White vinegar, regular laundry detergent

  1. Pour a cup of white vinegar into the machine’s detergent dispenser. If your machine doesn’t have one, pour it into the drum where your clothes go.
  2. Add your regular laundry detergent as normal. 
  3. Add your clothes to the drum.
  4. Run the machine through a wash cycle.
  5. Add ½–1 cup of white vinegar to the drum during the rinse cycle.
  6. Dry your clothes as normal. 

5. Vinegar Refrigerator Cleanser

As an odor neutralizer with some antibacterial traits, vinegar is also a natural choice when cleaning the fridge. It can eliminate many common fridge odors, like those from spoiled food, fish, and mildew. Non-toxic and food-safe, it’s also a rather safe option!

Materials Needed: White vinegar, water, an empty spray bottle, cloths or rags

  1. Mix white vinegar and water (1:1) in a spray bottle.
  2. Remove everything from the refrigerator. 
  3. Spray the solution inside the fridge. Wipe down all surfaces, including shelves, walls, and bins.
  4. Use a damp cloth with plain water to rinse. 
  5. Dry all surfaces inside the fridge with a clean towel.

6. Vinegar Drain Cleaner

baking soda and vinegar fizzing in tub drain
Baking soda and vinegar fizzing in shower drain

Vinegar’s acetic acid effectively dissolves grime, mineral deposits, and grease. All of these can cause drain blockages and persistent odors. The resulting “fizz” when combining it with baking soda also lifts set-in residue without scratching pipes. 

Materials Needed: White distilled vinegar, baking soda, hot water

  1. Empty everything out of the sink or tub.
  2. Pour half a cup of baking soda directly into the drain. Baking soda is a gentle abrasive and deodorizer that can clean drains and remove odors. 
  3. Pour a cup of vinegar down the drain. The mixture will fizz and bubble; this is normal. This reaction helps break down grime and neutralize odors.
  4. Let it sit for about an hour or more. Do not run the sink or pour anything else down the drain during this time. 
  5. Flush the drain with hot tap water to clear out any loosened debris.

Final Thoughts

Vinegar is a great odor-neutralizer in many senses. However, unless you’re dealing with a temporary airborne odor, the effects of vinegar will be temporary.