How to Clean With Citric Acid

citric acid used in cleaning

The Spruce / Ulyana Verbytska

What exactly is citric acid? It's an acid compound naturally found in lemon or pineapple juice, but it can also be derived from the fermentation of sugars using Aspergillus niger spores.

Synonyms

Here are a few of the names citric acid may go by:

  • Aciletten
  • Anhydrous citric acid
  • Chemfill
  • Citrate
  • Citric acid, anhydrous
  • Citro
  • Citretten
  • Hydrocerol A
  • Kyselina citronova
  • 2-Hydroxy-1,2,3-propanetricarboxylic acid
  • 1,2,3-propanetricarboxylic acid, 2-hydroxy-
  • 2-Hydroxypropanetricarboxylic acid
  • 2-Hydroxytricarballylic acid
  • 3-Carboxy-3-hydroxypentane-1,5-dioic acid
  • 2-hydroxypropane-1,2,3-tricarboxylic acid: 77-92-9
  • Molecular Formula: C6H8O7

Functions

Citric acid is a chelating agent, bactericide, fungicide, anticoagulant, agricultural chemical, therapeutic agent, sequestrant, and hematologic agent.

Cleaning Uses

Because citric acid kills bacteria, some fungi, and mildew, it's great for general sanitizing, disinfecting, and cleaning. It's also effective at removing soap scum, hard water stains, calcium deposits, lime, and rust. Also, it serves as a preservative in many cleaning solutions. Because lemon juice contains 5 percent to 8 percent citric acid, it's often used in green cleaning.

Citric acid is used in several cleaning products, such as auto cleaning products (e.g., wheel and radiator cleaners), metal cleaners, oven cleaners, dishwasher cleaners, all-purpose cleaners, soap-scum removers, bathroom cleaners, tub and tile cleaners, carpet cleaners, dish soaps, laundry detergents, air fresheners, window cleaners, stain removers, and dishwasher rinse aids.

citric acid used in cleaning
The Spruce / Ulyana Verbytska

Other Uses

In addition to its use in cleaning products, citric acid is used in a variety of other industries, such as personal care, agricultural, food, pharmaceutical, and electroplating industries. In the food industry, it serves as a preservative, flavoring agent, and vegetable rinse.

citric acid used in personal products
The Spruce / Ulyana Verbytska 

Health & Safety

According to the EPA, citric acid is GRAS or "generally recognized as safe." However, citric acid does have some safety and health concerns.

Warning

Breathing in citric acid dust can cause nose and throat irritation. It can also be an eye and skin irritant. Protect skin and eyes and establish appropriate ventilation while working with citric acid.

Environmental Effects

Citric acid is naturally found in food and water and readily biodegrades in the environment, so no significant negative effects are expected from its use.

Article Sources
The Spruce uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Citric Acid. National Library of Medicine.

  2. Citric Acid. Environmental Protection Agency.