How to Clean With Citric Acid Safely and Efficiently

citric acid used in cleaning

The Spruce / Ulyana Verbytska

Project Overview
  • Working Time: 5 - 20 mins
  • Total Time: 5 mins - 2 hrs
  • Skill Level: Beginner
  • Estimated Cost: $15 to 30

While lemons smell great and are often recommended for cleaning various surfaces around the house, the "magic" cleaning ingredient in lemons is citric acid. The citric acid helps break apart stains so they can be flushed away, provides a gentle bleaching action, and acts as a bactericide and fungicide.

If you don't always have lemons or lemon juice on hand, you can use food-grade powdered citric acid that can be purchased online or in the grocery store in the food preservation or seasonings aisle. In addition to its use as a cleaner, citric acid is used for pickling and canning foods, a rinse for fresh fruits and vegetables, adding flavor to dishes, and crafting projects like soap and bath bombs.

Learn how to clean surfaces around your house with citric acid.

Definition

Citric acid is 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. The chemical structure is C6H8O7. It may be sold or listed in product ingredients under the following names:

  • Aciletten
  • Anhydrous citric acid
  • Citrate
  • Citro
  • Citretten

How Often to Clean With Citric Acid

Citric acid solutions can be used as often as needed on any of the surfaces included in this article. Found naturally in food and readily biodegradable in water, there are no significant negative effects expected from its use. However, always test the cleaning solution on surfaces in a hidden area if you are unsure about the stability of the surface.

Before You Begin

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) lists citric acid as "generally recognized as safe." However, citric acid does have some safety and health concerns. Since it is sold as a powder, 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.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Measuring cups and spoons
  • Spray bottle
  • Gloves and protective eyewear
  • Sponge
  • Microfiber cloths

Materials

  • Citric acid powder
  • Water

Instructions

citric acid used in cleaning
The Spruce / Ulyana Verbytska

How to Prepare a Cleaning Solution

Fresh lemon juice contains five percent to eight percent citric acid, so a solution of citric acid powder and water of a similar strength is recommended for most general cleaning.

  1. Mix a Cleaning Solution

    Add one tablespoon of citric acid powder per one cup of hot water to a spray bottle. Shake well to mix.

  2. Label the Solution

    Always add a label to the bottle. Store in a cool, dry location away from children.

    Tip

    Always give the spray bottle a good shake before using the solution to make sure the citric acid powder has not settled in the bottom of the bottle.

How to Use a Citric Acid Solution for Cleaning

  1. Clean Kitchen Surfaces

    Lightly spray stainless steel, butcher block, and laminate counters with the citric acid solution. Wipe down with a sponge or microfiber cloth to remove smudges and stains, and leave the surface sanitized.

    Warning

    Do not use a citric acid solution or any type of acid-based cleaner on unsealed natural stone. It can etch or pit the surface.

  2. Clean and Deodorize a Microwave

    Place two cups water and two tablespoons of citric acid powder in a microwaveable container. Place the container in the microwave and heat until the solution is boiling and the microwave is filled with steam. Allow the steam to sit for about five minutes and then remove the container and wipe away the mess with a sponge or soft cloth.

  3. Clean Windows and Mirrors

    Use the citric acid and water solution as a glass and window cleaner . Lightly spray the solution on the window starting at the top. Use a microfiber cloth to wipe away the dirt and smudges.

  4. Sanitize Wooden Cutting Boards and Kitchen Utensils

    Citric acid has antibacterial qualities that will help kill bacteria that linger in little nicks wooden cutting boards and utensils. After washing, coat the surface with the citric acid solution and allow it to work for five to 10 minutes. Rinse the surfaces with hot water and dry well.

  5. Descale Coffee Pots and Tea Kettles

    Mineral deposits from water can clog coffee makers and tea kettles making your beverages taste funky. Clean away the minerals monthly by filling the water reservoir with a one tablespoon of citric acid to one cup of water solution. Run a complete heating cycle, empty the reservoir, and then run another with plain water.

  6. Remove Stains From Plastic Containers and Dishes

    Some foods can leave stains on plasticware, melamine dishes, and even ceramic plates. To remove the stains, fill a large container or the sink with boiling water. Add one tablespoon of citric acid powder per cup of water ( about 1/2 cup of powder per sink of water). Add the dishes and soak for three to four hours. Wash as usual.

  7. Remove Toilet Bowl Stains

    Add one to two tablespoons of citric acid powder to the toilet bowl. Let the solution work for at least 15 minutes, longer is better. Scrub as usual and flush.

  8. Remove Soap Scum

    Spray the citric acid and water solution on bathroom tile, fiberglass shower stalls, or shower doors to cut through soap scum. Let it work for at least 10 minutes and clean as usual.

Originally written by
Karen Peltier
Karen Peltier is an expert on green living and natural cleaning methods who has contributed over 200 articles to The Spruce. She has several certifications in holistic health, Ayurveda, and herbal studies. On her blog, WellGal.com, Peltier covers natural cleaning methods for the home and tips on living an eco-conscious lifestyle.
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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.

  3. Citric Acid. National Library of Medicine.

  4. Tomotake, Hiroyuki et al. Antibacterial activity of citrus fruit juices against Vibrio species. Journal of nutritional science and vitaminology vol. 52,2 (2006): 157-60. doi:10.3177/jnsv.52.157