15 Things You Can Clean with Citric Acid

published Jan 31, 2023
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Collage of spray bottle, dirty sink, and gloves
Credit: Photos: Shutterstock; Design: Apartment Therapy

I was texting a good friend the other day about my newly discovered and now treasured cleaning find (E-cloths) when she mentioned her favorite thing to use as part of her dishwashing routine. She shared that she’s been using citric acid to “remove scale from hard water,” to sterilize items like pots and pans, and instead of rinse aid in the dishwasher. She’s a chef, so anything she has to say about food or best practices in the kitchen is something I pay attention to. 

Intrigued by this new information, I looked into it, and it turns out citric acid is a great option for cleaning things not only in the kitchen but also things all over the house. It makes sense; citric acid is what makes lemons so effective at cleaning cutting boards or erasing hard water stains. 

“Citric acid works extremely well for cleaning because it is a naturally occurring ingredient that breaks down dirt and grime through chemical reactions,” says Curtis Eggemeyer, CEO of Lemi Shine, a citric acid-based cleaning products brand. “Even for situations like hard water and surface stains, citric acid binds to atoms/minerals resulting in those minerals becoming non-reactive to the surface, meaning the stains are drawn to the citric acid and leave the surface they’re stuck on.” 

The cool thing is that you can harness the power of this natural product without having to use actual lemons. Along with being found naturally in citrus juices, citric acid can be derived from fermenting sugar using Aspergillus niger spores. It’s sold in a powder form or is often included as an ingredient in many other cleaning products.

Although care should be taken not to inhale citric acid powder and it can irritate skin and eyes, citric acid is quite safe to use. It’s a food-safe product, making it an obvious choice when it comes to descaling or disinfecting items that come into contact with food. However, it should be noted that citric acid, though it has antibacterial and anti-fungal properties, isn’t a registered disinfectant or fungicide.

Still, citric acid has various uses around the home. It can be mixed into a cleaning solution or used straight as a powder, depending on the application.

Here are 15 things that can be cleaned using citric acid: 

  1. Descale coffee maker. 
  2. Descale tea kettle. 
  3. Descale humidifier. 
  4. Remove toilet bowl stains. 
  5. Add to the dishwasher for removing hard water stains from dishware. 
  6. Spray on the cutting board to kill germs. 
  7. General cleaning (but DO NOT use on natural stone as it can cause etching and pitting). 
  8. Degunk your washing machine. 
  9. Descale bathroom or kitchen fixtures. 
  10. Remove soap scum in showers and tubs. 
  11. Clean windows and mirrors. 
  12. Make stainless steel squeaky clean. 
  13. Clean tile and grout. 
  14. Kill bacteria in water bottles. 
  15. Remove hard water from your clothes iron and steamer. 

Have you used citric acid for cleaning purposes before? Tell us in the comments below.