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Cleaning An Older Porcelain Sink

Editor's Note: There are health concerns about mixing bleach with other cleaners, like vinegar. Please use caution and avoid breathing in the toxic chlorine gas.

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I am not at all proud to let you see the mess I let my kitchen sink get into. I am kinda happy to let you in on how I cleaned it up.

My sink is old and pitted, just like me. The deeper the pits and the more the smooth surface has been worn away, the more difficult it is to clean. Not only that, these older sinks with their eroded surfaces, stain more easily and hold onto those stains, tenaciously.

Erosion and pitting cannot be cleaned away. If you are bothered by these two, your only recourse is to have the sink re-glazed or to buy a new sink.

The biggest offenders to a sink's surface is not protecting the bowl bottom with a mat, and believe it or not, cleaning the sink with scouring powders specifically designed for cleaning porcelain sinks. These cleaning agents, including the 'soft scrub' type, will in time etch the sink surface, making it porous and open to real staining. By the time you notice the dulling of the surface, the permanent damage has been done. My sink was not new when it came into my possession. Had it been, its surface would not be in the shape it is.

There is a product called Barkeeper's Friend. My understanding is that it is of a totally different composition than regular scouring powders and therefore much gentler to a sink's surface. I cannot speak to its effectiveness or gentleness. I have not used it. I can speak to its cost. It is not moderately priced.

Seeing what a mess my sink was in, I decided it was time for some serious cleaning. While getting out my cleaning supplies, I happened to remember something.

My home is covered with vinyl siding. The north side develops a heavy green layer of scum. This scum is very difficult to remove. I mentioned this to a sister, who suggested I try something she had heard about. A painter had said that the easiest way to remove this scum was with a mixture of equal amounts of household bleach and white vinegar. Doubtful, I tried the suggestion. It worked better than anything I ever tried. I even took pictures, I was so happy with the results. A tip within a tip. One you might want to remember if you have vinyl siding.

I always use bleach when cleaning my sink. First, I scrub the sink with a paste of dish detergent and baking soda. This will never dull a porcelain surface. After rinsing the sink, I pour in bleach and let it sit for a while. The sink is then much whiter and sanitized.

Well, I wondered if a combination of bleach and vinegar would clean and whiten the sink better than bleach, alone. I can tell you emphatically, it does.

I cleaned the sink as usual with dish detergent and soda and then rinsing. Then, I poured in the bleach-vinegar mixture. I could tell immediately it was whitening better and faster than bleach, alone. It even lifted some of the rust stains.

For the deeper rust stains, I used something I discovered long ago, a pencil eraser. Unless the rust stains are really deep, the eraser will remove 100% of them. Don't go out and buy a big block eraser. It won't work. The older and harder the eraser, the better it will remove the rust. It will not harm the porcelain. Expect to use some elbow grease if the stains are deep. A good use for those old pencil stubs you're meaning to throw away.

A quick rinse and another application of bleach-vinegar if you think it necessary and you finished. You will note that I did not remove 100% of the rust stains. I came close. By next Saturday, I will have found more old pencils and finish the job. I still have the other bowl to do, too!

Final tip: Never use anything harder than baking soda on porcelain sinks. That includes those newer, flat nylon scrubbing sheets. They will etch the sink surface.

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Anonymous
December 20, 20161 found this helpful

It's toxic to mix bleach and vinegar. Google it and read about what happens when the 2 are mixed together, fumes are dangerous.

Reply Was this helpful? 1
December 26, 20160 found this helpful

I used this mixture to clean one whole side of my house with absolutely no bad effects. Yes, it has an odor, but no worse than bleach, alone. If you are going to make a claim, you should also post a reputable citation or at least provide a link to one.

Maybe you're thinking about bleach and ammonia?

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December 26, 20160 found this helpful

Yes....it is extremely dangerous to mix any other kind of chemicals with bleach. They cause a poisonous gas that can kill you, even blow up into a fire.

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If you want your old sink to shine like spanking new, try sprinkling on a little bit of " Iron Out ". You will be flabbergasted at how much that product draws the stains out of porcelain . Even after you had just cleaned it ! You can purchase that product at Lowes Hardware

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Anonymous
December 26, 20160 found this helpful

Thank you for the warning, and may I say, the name you have chosen for your profile is very appropriate.

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December 28, 20160 found this helpful

Let's get real, here. There are certain chemicals that should never be mixed with household bleach, ammonia for one. To say "it is extremely dangerous to mix any other kind of chemicals with bleach" is an incorrect 'blanket statement'. What about the billions of times bleach has been added to wash water containing laundry detergent, a mixture of other chemicals? While I had no problems when mixing bleach and vinegar, my advice would be, 'Familiarize yourself with the the effects of mixing any two chemicals before doing so'. And do know that the safest of chemical mixtures can be deadly when used incorrectly.

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Common sense says it's dangerous to fill your gas tank if you strike a match while doing so. Common sense says it's dangerous to breath concentrated vapors arising from certain chemical mixtures; mixtures that otherwise would cause no harm.

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December 20, 20160 found this helpful

I read a long time ago about abrasive cleaners. The best thing to clean sinks is dishwashing liquid. I used that and my sinks look as good as the day they were installed.

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December 20, 20160 found this helpful

You see, you started out on the right foot. But for those who use scouring powders, it's never too late to stop. I need the added soda because my sink is so pitted, along with hard water. At least the soda won't further ruin the surface.

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Thanks, Judy

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December 21, 20160 found this helpful

Great tip..
Explained so well - I have been telling my family this for years and sometimes they listen but now I have a very good "instruction" sheet to give them.
This tip will stay in my file for future reference.
Thanks for taking the time to help us find better ways to do these boring but necessary tasks.

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December 25, 20160 found this helpful

Barkeepers Friend is really great for cleaning rust and hard water stains, which is wonderful but it does have an abrasive in it. If you use it on acrylic (I think that's what sinks and showers are made of) it causes swirly marks. Just so you know!

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December 26, 20160 found this helpful

I did Google bleach and vinegar mixture. I found conflicting reports ranging from harmless to 'I almost died'. Most of the negative reports came from people who used large amounts of the mix in small enclosures, such as a shower stall.

The mix does have an unpleasant scent. I walk away from the sink while it is working. I will say the scent is no worse than bleach, alone; and nowhere as bad as mixing bleach with dish soap/detergent.

My honest opinion: For the average person, mixing a tablespoon of household bleach with a tablespoon of vinegar and letting the mixture sit on the sink surface for five minutes, with adequate ventilation and while you have walked away, should pose no problems.

If you are in the last stages of terminal emphysema and mix a quart of bleach with a quart of vinegar, then stand in an unventilated bathroom and wash down the tile with it, then yes, the mixture could be your ticket outa here.

Since I posted the article, I feel it my responsibility to advise anyone who might be considering using this mixture to do so with caution, and of course, proper ventilation.

On an added note, If the fumes released by this mixture are so hazardous, I find it strange that I have never read any OSHA warnings about it. And too, there are no warnings on either the bleach label or the vinegar label about mixing the two. Is our government failing us, or are the fumes only noxious to a select few who did not use it responsibly?

Another added note: I think most of the negative reports were plants, simply to pad the website's article. One lady wrote "I can't tell if my throat /chest hurts or not I think maybe yes or my worried imagination?" This is ridiculous!

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December 30, 20161 found this helpful

So, it is an established fact that mixing household bleach with vinegar gives off a chlorine gas. This gas can be an irritant. If you don't breath the vapors and don't come into physical contact with the mixture, my opinion is that you would suffer no harm. To me, this would be similar to not breathing gasoline vapors when you fill your tank. Anything used irresponsibly can cause negative results.

Not wanting to mislead anyone, I have continued to research this subject. I found a lengthy and very informative article published by The Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality, titled 'Guide to Household Hazardous Waste'.

Included along with the precautions were many recipes for homemade cleaners which were cheaper, sometimes safer, and often more effective than commercial products. This list is so long, I think most anyone could find information they could use. Here is a link:

http://tinyurl.com/gvdmfgm

Included in this list was a recipe for a rubber and vinyl floor cleaner. The first two ingredients in this recipe were (are you ready?) chlorine bleach and vinegar. They were to be mixed in a gallon of water along with 1/4 cup washing soda or sodium carbonate.

Would Old Miss steer us wrong. I think not. I am not degreed in chemistry and will do even more research. For now, I will assume the addition of the soda prevents the release of chlorine gas.

So, the next time I clean my sink with bleach and vinegar, I will add washing soda. And I will use the mixture responsibly. Heck, it may be even better.

One nice thing about ThriftyFun, it keeps you on your toes. If what you post ain't up to snuff, the Eds will let the readers know. Should the Eds miss something, other readers will set you straight.

Critiquing... yeah, it' a family thang.

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