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5 Uses for Citric Acid

Updated: May 24

What's so good about citric acid?

Citric acid occurs naturally in citrus fruits such as lemons and limes and also in smaller quantities in fruits such as strawberries and tomatoes. Not only does citric acid have many uses in food preparation and preservation, but it is also useful for a range cleaning applications around the home.

Rather than juicing huge quantities of lemons to extract enough citric acid for large scale use, it is now most commonly manufactured from a mould (Aspergillus niger) and is usually bought as a concentrated powder.

With a pH of between 3 and 6, citric acid is odourless and less acidic than vinegar, which makes it good for using as a DIY cleaning product. For example, it is:

  • non-toxic and biodegradable, so it's safe to use around food, children and pets (but note that the concentrated powder is an eye and skin irritant so handle it with care)

  • good at breaking down and dispersing grease

  • anti-bacterial and a fungicide

  • a mild bleach

  • effective at removing limescale and water marks

Here’s just five of our favourite uses for citric acid around the home:

Close up view of a pile of lemons, some whole and some sliced

Natural Toilet cleaner

You can use citric acid on a regular basis as a natural toilet cleaner. To remove stains, reduce limescale and freshen your toilet with citric acid:

  1. Pour a jug of hot water into the toilet, wetting the sides of the bowl as you do so.

  2. Sprinkle a couple of tablespoons of citric acid powder around and into your toilet bowl.

  3. Leave it to get to work for at least 15 mins (but ideally up to an hour).

  4. Scrub well and rinse for a sparkling loo!

If your toilet has a build up of limescale, sprinkle over the citric acid powder as described above, then leave overnight before scrubbing and rinsing. If the build up is particularly bad you may need to repeat the process.

descale your kettle (or coffee machine)

Citric acid is great for dissolving the limescale build up in kettles - and without the distinctive smell associated with using vinegar for the same task! It is milder than vinegar though, so you do need to give it enough time to take effect.

To descale a kettle with citric acid:

  1. Add 1 to 3 tablespoons of citric acid powder (depending on how bad the limescale situation is) to the kettle.

  2. Top up with sufficient water to cover the limescaled areas, and then boil.

  3. Leave to stand for at least 30 minutes (or longer if the limescale is particularly bad), then pour away the water.

  4. Give the kettle a thorough rinse, and it is ready to use.

You can use citric acid in a similar fashion to descale your coffee machine. Ideally you should follow the instructions provided with your coffee machine for removing limescale, but as a general guide:

  1. Create a descaling solution by dissolving about 2 tablespoons of citric acid powder per litre of hot water, according to the capacity of your machine.

  2. Pour this mixture into your machine, then run a brewing cycle.

  3. When it's finished, pour away the citric acid water mix.

  4. Run another brewing cycle with fresh water to clear out all of the citric acid solution.

  5. Wipe down and buff dry any glass and metal surfaces for a final shine.

Clean copper without toxic chemicals

Some people like the dull or greenish patina that copper pans develop over time, but if you prefer your copper pans bright and shiny, citric acid is a great non-toxic way to remove it.

To clean your copper pans using citric acid:

  1. First, wash your copper pan in warm soapy water to remove any grease or dust.

  2. Mix up a paste consisting of citric acid powder, a drop of washing up liquid (to make the paste more sticky) and a little water. Mix the ingredients together well to form a soft spreadable paste.

  3. Spread the paste in a thin, even layer over the base of your pan. (You may find this easier to do in the kitchen sink as you will need to wash the paste off afterwards.) The citric acid will start getting to work immediately, but if you leave the paste in place for five minutes or so, the results will be even better.

  4. After around five minutes, wipe off the paste with a soft, damp cloth. (The paste may have become crusty if you made it quite thick, but that’s OK.) You should now have a copper pan with a clean and shiny bottom, for minimal effort. If any tarnish remains, rub it with a little of the paste on a soft cloth.

  5. Next, work on the sides of the pan, by rubbing the remaining paste into the copper with a soft cloth. There's no need to scrub hard, the acid in the paste does most of the work. If there's a badly discoloured area, try applying a layer of paste again and leaving it to get to work for another five minutes. Do not be tempted to use harsh or metal scourers on stubborn areas as copper is a soft metal and will scratch easily.

  6. When all the tarnish has disappeared, give the pan a good rinse to remove any last traces of the citric acid paste, then buff to a golden, shiny finish.

To watch a video of this cleaning method in action, see our blog post on Cleaning copper the non-toxic way.

Three old copper pans in an old fashioned kitchen

Make your windows sparkle

The mild acid in citric acid is excellent at removing residue from water droplets, cutting through grease and removing grime, which means that it works really well as a natural window cleaning solution.

To clean your windows with citric acid:

  1. Mix up a cleaning solution of 1 to 2 tablespoons of citric acid powder to 500ml of warm water, and pour into a clean spray bottle.

  2. Shake well to ensure the citric acid powder is fully dissolved.

  3. Spray a generous amount of the cleaning solution onto the window, starting at the top.

  4. With a squeegee (if you have one) or soft cloth, wipe the solution off the window, again starting at the top and working down.

  5. Use a chamois leather, lint free tea towel or scrunched up newspaper to dry any remaining moisture from the window and polish to a shine.

Caution: If the cleaning spray lands on any unpainted woodwork or natural stone surrounding the window, make sure that you wipe it off promptly. If left on a pororous surface for an extended period, there is a risk that the acid in the spray - although weak - may damage the surface.

Clean your microwave

You've probably seen various tips on social media about cleaning your microwave by heating a couple of half lemons in a bowl of water, but you can get exactly the same results without wasting fruit by substituting citric acid powder for the lemons.

To clean your microwave with citric acid:

  1. Dissolve a couple of tablespoons of citric acid powder into a (microwave-safe) bowl of water.

  2. Place the bowl in the microwave and heat until it boils and produces lots of steam.

  3. Leave the bowl in the microwave with the door shut for 5 minutes or so, allowing the steam to soak into and loosen any grease and food debris on the inside of the oven.

  4. Remove the bowl and wipe the inside of the oven clean with a soft cloth.

More information

The above are just a few examples of how to use citric acid around the home. Citric acid has many more possible applications, for example you can use it:

  • to clean limescale from shower heads

  • as a general surface cleaning spray (but avoid natural stone)

  • to remove rust spots from metal items

  • to remove stains from plastic.

For ideas and instructions for more homemade cleaning solutions:

See also our blog posts:

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