Skip to Content

CLR Vs Vinegar: Which One Is Better? (Answered)

When it comes to cleaning difficult stains, we all want a cleaner that accomplishes the job in one go. No matter how much your scrub and clean, not using the right cleaner could leave you with the same old water stains.

Two popular cleaners to get rid of hard stains are CLR and vinegar. While both are used to clean tools and utensils about the house, is one better than the other?

CLR vs Vinegar: Which one is better?

CLR is a chemical cleaner while vinegar is a natural cleaner. Both the cleaners are acidic, although CLR is 15 times more concentrated. Using vinegar on most surfaces is safer as it does not stain. However, CLR cleans much better and quickly and can be more effective against hard rust and dirt.

With that mentioned, here are a few common cleaning parts that can or cannot be cleaned with a CLR or Vinegar:

Shower head:

Shower heads in our baths is a breeding ground for bacterial if it is not cleaned properly. The water pressure can also visibly decrease due to accumulated gunk.

Luckily, you can use both CLR and Vinegar to clean a shower head. If you submerge the shower head in a solution of vinegar or water mixed CLR, you can expect the latter to clean your shower head much faster.


When it comes to getting rid of rust, you might want to trust Calcium Lime Rust or CLR. CLR is a solution with very low acidic pH and is considered to be about 15 times more concentrated than vinegar.

Rust would not dissolve if not treated with a strong solution. Since CLR is so concentrated, you may want to dilute it with warm water first.

As you soak a cloth with that solution, hold it against the rusty surface for no more than two minutes. Later go ahead and run clean water to ensure both the cleaner and the rust are off.


You can clean the dishwasher with both CLR and Vinegar. However, with vinegar, it is safe to leave glassware or dishes on the rack.

On that note, it is worth mentioning that many people use CLR to clean dishwashers only occasionally when the stains are too stubborn. For more regular cleaning, vinegar is safe and effective in cleaning dishwashers.

For that, you would need to use a half cup of CLR into the dishwasher while you run a normal cycle for a cleanup. Make sure you run another normal cycle to clean up any CLR remaining.

Coffee maker:

We do not recommend using harsh chemicals on anything where you might put food that could be consumed later.

Likewise, while you can still clean the outsides of a coffee maker with an article of clean clothing damped with CLR and water solution, the insides should be cleaned with vinegar and water solution.


You can use CLR on the toilet, but you might run a risk of staining the toilet if you leave the solution on for more than 2 minutes. You might also want to dilute the CLR if you wish to keep the porcelain finish intact.

 A safer option could be baking soda and vinegar with ich could take more time and effort to clean off the toilet but would not stain the surface if left for too long.

Water heater:

It is also possible to use both CLR and Vinegar to clean your water heater surface.

Using CLR would mean you don’t have to scrub off the surface since the dirt would already dissolve readily. If you wish to use vinegar, you’d need to go with apple cider vinegar in larger amounts.

Washing machine:

Using CLR to clean a washing machine might be risky although it is possible. You need to first make sure there are no other detergents or chemicals which can react with the CLR.

In the contrast, 4 cups of vinegar with the machine on a hot setting could also be an effective cleaning method. 

Can vinegar substitute for clr?

Vinegar can substitute for clr in most cases, except for stone, or marble surfaces. Rust might be too hard for vinegar to clean off at one go when compared with CLR.

While CLR and Vinegar are both excellent cleaners, it is important to note that CLP is a chemical cleaner and vinegar is a natural cleaner.

Since CLR is a strong, chemical based cleaner, you may want to avoid using it in anything where you would need to put in food.  Other that than there are certain surfaces like wood, plastic, or wood that cannot stand CLR and might get damaged.

As for vinegar, the acidic cleaner can be used in combination with baking soda or water to get rid of stains, bacteria, or hard gunk. The primary difference between the two is that vinegar tasks longer work on most surfaces.

What should you not use CLR on?

CLR is highly concentrated, almost 15 times more than vinegar. If not used carefully, CLR could stain almost any surface. Hence you may want to note that you should never use undiluted CLR on any surface.

Even when a surface is CLR safe, you should not keep it for more than 2 minutes. If you are not sure, you can always spot test first to examine whether the surface will be corrupted if cleaned with CLR.

Here is where you should not use CLR on:


Whatever you wish you clean your refrigerator with, never use even diluted solutions of CLR inside or on your freezer. Your refrigerator is always filled with the food you eat.

CLR or particles of it might infiltrate the food no matter how well you clean the refrigerator with freshwater later.

Stone or Marble:

Hard surfaces like marble or stone have calcium coatings which could be permanently stained if CLR is used on them. Such surfaces are even sensitive to something as mildly acidic as vinegar.

Plastic Surface:

Plastic surfaces are usually thin layers and would stain or corrode if clr is used on them. Concentrated acidic CLR solution might even corrode plastic surfaces.

While you can clean your shower heads with CLR, switch to something milder if the shower head is made of plastic.

Painted surface:

Painted surfaces have a thin painted layer that would easily come off if cleaned with CLR.

If the CLR is diluted, it might as well leave a visible stain on the painted surface that would not go away with further cleaning

Can you mix clr and vinegar?

When using any cleaning solutions and agents, it is of utmost importance that solutions should not be mixed. Each cleaning agent consists of different ingredients.

Vinegar is natural but calcium lime rust is not and comprises several other kinds of chemicals and acids. Although they are both acidic and can be strong disinfectants, the composition of both is what makes the combination more harmful.

There is a list of solutions that vinegar should not be mixed with and one of them is CLR. When using CLR, it is always recommended that one wears gloves and the only way to dilute this highly acidic cleaner is by adding water.

What happens when you mix clr and vinegar?

As you know, two cleaning solutions should never be mixed. If you mix CLR and vinegar, you may expect the following:

Chorine gas:

The formation of chlorine as well as other gases when CLR and vinegar are mixed is, in itself, a danger to residents living around you and yourself as well. Chlorine gas can be harmful to human health

Too much acid:

Both CLR and vinegar are strong acids and mixing them can produce a chemically unstable product since both contain different ingredients.

The highly concentrated and acidic solution might corrode the container it has been put into.

Potent mixture:

Last but not the least, you may wish to keep away from a potentially life risking mixture. Not only might the mixture burn your hand, but there are risks of getting your eyes and insides irritated as well

What happens if you leave CLR on too long?

As a rule of thumb, if you are cleaning any surface with CLR, you should not keep it for more than 2 minutes.

Many people have kept CLR solutions on surfaces for more time only to be left with damaged and stained surfaces.

If you leave for CLR on for too long, whether it’s a toilet surface or dishwater rack, the surface could lose shine, become stained, or have scraped off the exterior.

Final Thoughts

CLR and Vinegar are both effective cleaners but the former is stronger and more acidic. You may want to use vinegar on thinner surfaces since CLR stains certain surfaces. Depending on the surface, one must add at least equal parts or more water to dilute the CLR cleaner.