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Discover the secret your kitchen cupboard has been hiding: a humble ingredient that can transform the way you clean your home. Unveil the power of citric acid, the eco-warrior’s best-kept secret for a sparkling, sustainable household.

I'll never forget the day I stumbled upon a jar of citric acid at a quaint farmer's market. Little did I know, this unassuming powder was a cleaning powerhouse.

As I've grown more environmentally conscious, finding non-toxic and sustainable cleaning options has become my passion. Citric acid cleaners emerged as a brilliant solution, merging effectiveness with eco-friendliness.

This guide is a toast to those who, like me, believe in keeping their homes spotless while honoring Mother Earth. Join me as we explore the wonders of citric acid, a simple ingredient with extraordinary cleaning capabilities.

What is Citric Acid?

Citric acid is an organic acid that is primarily sourced from citrus fruit. You'll also find it in lower concentrations in other fruit and vegetables, but lemons and oranges are the most common sources of it. 

If the term "acid" concerns you, it's important to note that this is a weak acid and is in no way harmful to human health when used in the right way. 

In fact, citric acid is commonly used in the food industry, so it's even safe to ingest.

Citric acid cleaner

As a chelating agent, it can bind to metals, and that powerful effect allows us to use it as an effective cleaning agent.

You can easily mix up a citric acid cleaning solution by dissolving citric acid powder in warm water. All you need to do is mix a tablespoon with a pint of water, and you're ready to go for this zero waste cleaning solution

If you have an empty spray bottle from all-purpose cleaners, then simply fill it with your DIY citric acid cleaner, and you'll be able to use it to clean and disinfect every part of your home.

How to Prepare a Citric Acid Cleaning Solution

Crafting your citric acid cleaning solution is an exercise in simplicity and adaptability, embodying the essence of DIY cleaning recipes. This all-purpose citric cleaner is not just effective; it’s a testament to sustainable living practices.

Necessary Ingredients

To embark on this eco-friendly cleaning adventure, you'll need:

  • Pure citric acid powder, readily available at health stores or online.
  • Distilled water, to ensure the solution's longevity without the minerals found in tap water.
  • A spray bottle for easy application.
  • Essential oils like lavender or tea tree for added antibacterial properties and a pleasant scent (optional).

For varying cleaning strengths:

  • Light cleaning: Substitute citric acid with white vinegar for less abrasive tasks.
  • Heavy-duty: Add baking soda to the mix for an extra kick against stubborn stains.

Mixing Instructions

1. Begin with one part citric acid to two parts distilled water for a standard solution. This ratio can be adjusted depending on the task at hand.

2. In a non-metallic bowl, gradually add citric acid to the water, stirring with a plastic or wooden spoon to avoid any reaction with metal.

3. Once fully dissolved, funnel the solution into your spray bottle, adding a few drops of essential oil if desired.

4. Label your bottle for safety and future reference.

Remember, a patch test is prudent for new surfaces—spritz a little on an inconspicuous area first. With these steps, you’ll have a versatile, eco-conscious cleaner at the ready for a multitude of household tasks.

How to Use Citric Acid for Cleaning

Here are 10 of the best uses for citric acid.

1. Deep-Cleaning Your Kettle and Coffee Pot

Cleaning Kettle and Coffee Pot with citric acid cleaner

This is possibly one of the most common uses for citric acid in households. Your kettle will probably suffer from the biggest build-up of limescale if you have particularly hard water.

You can create magic, though, when you add this ingredient to hot water.

That's when the acid will attack the limescale and completely dissolve it.

Simply open the top of the kettle and then fill it to the level where you can see hard water stains along the sides. Then add one or two teaspoons of citric acid and bring the kettle or coffee pot to a boil. 

Now rinse it out and see if there's still any staining left. You might need to repeat this a couple of times, but it will leave it sparkling clean.

2. Removing Grime and Build Up From Your Dishwasher

Another problem with hard water is that detergents don't fully dissolve in it. This can lead to soap scum building up that can become a breeding ground for bacteria and smells.

And this is where you get another one of the great uses for citric acid. 

To fix this problem, simply add two teaspoons of citric acid powder and one teaspoon of baking soda to your dishwasher and then run a hot cycle.

The citric acid and baking soda will get into every small part of the washing machine that you can't see or get to. It will dissolve and remove soap scum effectively, leaving the inside of the machine perfectly clean. 

In hard water homes, aim to do this every 30 cycles, and your machine will last a lot longer. 

3. Degunking Your Washing Machine

Cleaning Washing Machine with citric acid cleaner

Your washing machine can suffer the same fate as your dishwasher, but the build-up of limescale and laundry detergents tends to do more damage to a washing machine.

The solution is the same one that you'd use for your dishwasher.

Two teaspoons of citric acid powder and one teaspoon of baking soda in an empty hot cycle every 2 to 4 weeks should do the job.

The citric acid and baking soda won't just be effective at removing soap scum but will also attack mineral deposits. 

A common fate of washing machines is that the heating element fails because of too much limescale, and this tip will resolve that. Or, you can create your very own DIY washing machine cleaner

4. Removing Limescale From Your Faucets and Sinks

Cleaning Washing Machine with citric acid cleaner

Most people just buy a spray bottle of limescale remover and never look at the chemicals in it. Not only are they harmful to the environment and possibly your health, but they often don't work as well as citric acid.

One of my favorite uses for citric acid is to keep all the faucets shiny. 

To use citric acid for cleaning all the sinks and faucets in your home, just put two tablespoons of it in a pint of warm water. Fill a spray bottle with the resulting mixture, and you're good to go. 

Spray it on the faucets and sinks and let it work for 20 seconds before wiping away any limescale build-up.

5. Getting Rid of Hard Water Stains From Your Toilet Bowl

cleaning Toilet Bowl with citric acid cleaner

Your toilet bowl is another area where you'll notice a gradual build-up of water stains. No matter how hard you scrub, they seem to be impossible to remove.

To remove these stains, use the same mix as for your faucets and spray it onto the toilet bowl every time you clean it. If the stained areas in the toilet bowl don't seem to come away easily, then you might need to clean with citric acid in a stronger solution.

One of the uses for citric acid I recommend for heavy staining or mineral build-up is to double or triple the strength of the citric acid solution for those tough areas.

Once it's clean, simply keep using the regular solution every week, and you won't have this problem again.

6. Disinfecting Surface Areas in Your Home

Citric acid is also a potent antimicrobial, so you should favor this green cleaner for other areas in your home like kitchen counters, tables, or other surfaces where you eat or prepare food.

To disinfect those surfaces in your home, simply mix a few spoonful of it with warm water in a spray bottle, add a few drops of essential oils, and your home will smell as clean as it is. 

It's one of those uses for citric acid that can deep clean your home and leave it smelling naturally fresh without any danger from chemicals. 

7. Polishing up Stainless Steel Equipment and Surfaces

Removing Limescale From Faucets and Sinks with citric acid cleaner

This is another one of the great uses for citric acid that most people don't think of. 

If you have some stainless steel surfaces and kitchen appliances, then you'll inevitably splash them with hot water leaving some hard water deposits. 

Those mineral deposits are ugly, and with many chemical limescale removers, you might end up doing damage to the stainless steel surface. 

Instead, spray on some citric acid cleaner and use a microfiber cloth to polish it.

It's a non-toxic polish that will leave things shining.

8. Deep Cleaning Toaster Oven Racks

Here is another one of the great uses for citric acid. When hot water and dish soap won't do the job of fully cleaning your toaster oven racks, then don't resort to using specialty chemical cleaning products. Instead, choose a green cleaning product.

Leave the racks to soak in hot water and citric acid for an hour, and then use some steel wool to scrub them clean.

The acid should gradually attack the carbonized food, making this an effective cleaner for even the most hated cleaning jobs.

If this is something you haven't done in a long time, then you may need to repeat the process a few times.

9. Descaling a Water Heater

Cleaning Water Heater with citric acid cleaner

Hard water deposits don't just build up in your coffee pot and kettle. Over the years, they will build up in a hot water heater, and it will become less effective and possibly even break down. 

And one of the uses for citric acid is to clean out your hot water heater, but it takes a bit more effort. 

First of all, plan this for a day where you won't need the hot water heater for several hours. 

Add ten ounces of citric acid to the cold water inlet and let it sink to the bottom, and dissolve. Then heat the water and let the acid do its magic on the mineral deposits for 4-8 hours before completely draining the tank. 

10. Cleaning Shower Heads

And the final one of my recommended uses for citric acid is to remove limescale and calcium deposits from shower heads.

If you notice that some of the small nozzles on the shower head don't spray water anymore, then remove the shower head and place it in a bowl.

Pour a teaspoon of citric acid into the shower head, and then slowly fill the bowl with hot water.

Leave the shower head to soak for an hour and then rinse it out with cold water, and it should be looking like new again.

How Citric Acid Works

Citric acid is a hero in the realm of natural cleaners, thanks to its scientific superpower: the ability to break down the molecular bonds that hold dirt and grime together.

At its core, citric acid is an organic acid with a low pH, which means it's acidic enough to dismantle the stubborn alkaline substances typically found in stains and residues. When applied, it penetrates and dissolves the minerals, fats, and other substances, rendering them water-soluble.

This reaction is the cornerstone of citric acid's cleaning prowess, making it a non-toxic and eco-friendly alternative to conventional cleaning agents.

Moreover, its antibacterial properties are derived from its ability to create an inhospitable environment for bacteria, disrupting their growth. This dual action—degreasing and disinfecting—establishes citric acid as a multifaceted cleaning agent.

Should You Use Citric Acid?

Citric acid is a champion of eco-friendly cleaning, ideal for those seeking green household products without sacrificing efficiency. It shines in scenarios where non-toxic home cleaning is a priority, like removing hard water stains, cleaning out coffee machines, or freshening up your dishwasher. Its natural origin and biodegradable nature make it a staple for sustainable living enthusiasts.

However, it's not always the go-to cleaner. Citric acid may not be as effective on protein-based stains like blood or egg, where enzymatic cleaners could work better. Also, its acidic nature means it's not suitable for delicate natural stone surfaces like marble or granite, as it can etch and dull the finish. In these cases, a pH-neutral cleaner would be more appropriate.

Evaluating the cleaning task at hand is key to determining whether citric acid is your ally or if another product would be more beneficial in maintaining your home’s sparkle.

Is Citric Acid Safe for Cleaning?

Citric acid is a star in the eco-friendly cleaning lineup, boasting a safety profile that's hard to match.

Its natural, biodegradable composition ensures that it won't introduce harmful chemicals into your home or the environment. Unlike many commercial cleaners that can emit volatile organic compounds (VOCs), citric acid is non-toxic, making it a safe choice for households, especially those with children and pets.

However, like any cleaning agent, it should be used with care, ensuring proper ventilation and wearing gloves if you have sensitive skin.

Citric acid's eco-conscious and user-friendly attributes make it a reliable and responsible choice for a clean, green home.

Does Citric Acid Damage Surfaces?

Citric acid is a versatile cleaner, but it’s crucial to know your surfaces to prevent any unintended damage. It’s safe for most surfaces, including glass, stainless steel, ceramic, and plastics, making it an excellent option for general household cleaning. These materials benefit from its de-scaling properties, especially in kitchens and bathrooms where water spots and soap scum are common foes.

However, I would advise you to use caution with certain materials. Natural stones like marble, granite, and limestone are sensitive to acidic solutions. Citric acid can etch their polished surfaces, leaving them dull and damaged. Similarly, wooden surfaces can be stripped of their natural oils and finishes when exposed to acidic cleaners.

When it comes to metals, citric acid is fantastic for removing rust from steel and brightening copper. But, it can be too harsh for aluminum, causing corrosion and pitting. Always conduct a spot test on an inconspicuous area to ensure compatibility.

How Often to Clean with Citric Acid

Citric acid is ideal for weekly eco-friendly cleaning routines, ensuring your home stays pristine without the environmental impact of harsh chemicals.

For high-traffic areas like kitchens and bathrooms, a weekly refresh can prevent limescale and grime buildup.

Monthly applications are sufficient for appliances such as coffee makers or dishwashers, where citric acid can tackle mineral deposits and maintain appliance health.

Less frequently used items, like faucets and showerheads, benefit from a quarterly citric acid clean to shine and disinfect.

By integrating citric acid into your regular cleaning schedule, you embrace sustainable living while keeping your space consistently fresh and clean.

The Dos and Don'ts When Using Citric Acid as a Cleaner

When embracing citric acid as a cleaner within your eco-conscious home care routine, it’s crucial to follow some do's and don'ts to ensure safety and effectiveness:


  • Do always wear gloves when handling citric acid powder to protect your skin, especially if you have cuts or sensitive skin.
  • Do conduct a spot test on any new surface before full application to prevent potential damage.
  • Do mix citric acid with warm water to improve its solubility and cleaning power.
  • Do store any pre-mixed citric acid solution in a labeled spray bottle away from children and pets.
  • Do rinse surfaces thoroughly with water after cleaning with citric acid to remove any residue.
  • Do consider adding essential oils to your solution for their natural antibacterial properties and fragrance.
  • Do use a diluted solution for regular cleaning, reserving stronger concentrations for heavy-duty tasks.


  • Don't use citric acid on natural stone surfaces such as marble or granite to avoid etching.
  • Don't mix citric acid with bleach, as it can release harmful gases.
  • Don't apply citric acid on colored grout without testing, as it can cause discoloration.
  • Don't overlook the need for proper ventilation when cleaning with citric acid, even though it’s non-toxic.
  • Don't dispose of large quantities of citric acid solution down the drain without diluting it, as it can affect the pH balance of local waterways.

5 Best Citric Acid Cleaning Products

If you want to use a natural cleaner to degunk and disinfect your household items but you don't want to sacrifice your lemons to the cause (because lemonade is amazing), then you should get these products instead. All of them have citric acid — meaning you can have your lemon and eat it too.

1. Citra Solv Natural Cleaner & Degreaser Concentrate

This is one of the most concentrated natural green cleaners available in the market today. It allows for countless uses in pure or diluted form to clean practically every part of your house.

People also love the fresh smell of citrus fruits that it leaves behind. 

The main advantage is that you don't have to dissolve the citric acid powder and try to figure out the ideal concentration. I've used it for cleaning everything from my floors to the BBQ grill, and the small bottle seems to last for a very long time. 

2. Milliard 100% Citric Acid

If you prefer mixing up your own concentrate, Milliard provides you with perfectly fine granules to make it easier to dissolve.

It comes in a large 10-pound bag, so you'll have enough citric acid to keep you going for many months, even if you have a large home to keep clean. 

I also put a scoop of this in my washing machine every two weeks; despite having very hard water, the heating element stays limescale-free. 

It's also a food-grade product, so you could use it as a flavoring for homemade ice cream or candy. 

3. Pure Organic Ingredients Citric Acid

This Pure product is possibly one of the finer grain citric acids available. The benefit of this is that it's easier to apply directly to tough limescale and gently lift the stains. You can even make a paste by mixing it with baking soda and just a few drops of water. 

Also, as it's organically sourced, it would provide added peace of mind if you plan to use it in food. 

It's ideal for making homemade ice cream, cakes, and candy. Because it's such a fine powder, you won't have to worry about it properly mixing with the food.

4. Lemi Shine Complete Dishwasher Bundle

I love these Lemi Shine products as they come in four different containers at different concentrations.

Simply pick one of the products depending on whether you need to deep clean one of your appliances or just want to add some extra sparkle to your glasses in the dishwasher. 

They come in convenient pods and will work wonders to cut through dirt and grime that builds up over time. 

I simply set a reminder on my phone to put one of these in an appliance every two weeks, and they always stay fresh and clean-smelling.

5. Halefresh Citric Acid

There are no unnecessary added anti-caking agents that might otherwise make it less effective. Simply mix it with warm water and essential oils, and enjoy the fresh smell it leaves behind.

I also find the pouch very convenient as it takes up less space on my cleaning product shelf in the pantry. And unlike other pouches, the seal closes perfectly every time to keep the granules dry and ready to use. 

You can even use it for preserving or preparing food so let your imagination go with this citric acid.


Can I mix citric acid and vinegar?

Yes, you can mix citric acid and vinegar, but it might be unnecessary. They both contain acids, but citric acid is more effective at dealing with limescale. Some folks also don’t like the smell of vinegar, preferring the fresh citrus scents.

Is citric acid antibacterial?

Yes, citric acid is antibacterial and effectively deals with the most common household germs. It does this in a completely natural way where the acid attacks the outer membrane of bacteria and completely breaks them up.

Does citric acid bleach clothes?

Yes, citric acid can bleach clothes in high concentration. It’s not as potent as standard bleach, but you may want to be careful while cleaning. If you mix up a high concentration to deal with tough stains, then try to avoid contact with your clothes.

Is citric acid stronger than vinegar?

No, citric acid isn’t stronger than vinegar. The acetic acid in vinegar is a lot more aggressive and corrosive when it comes in contact with certain surfaces. But, there are many types of mineral deposits that citric acid can better deal with.

Can you mix baking soda and citric acid?

Yes, you can mix baking soda and citric acid, which is an effective combination for dealing with detergent deposits in appliances. The general recommendation is to aim for a 2:1 mix.

Can you mix borax and citric acid?

Yes, you can mix borax and citric acid. Some folks believe this is one of the best combinations for cleaning toilets.

Final Thoughts

Citric acid is not just a cleaning agent; it's a commitment to eco-friendly living. Its versatility, safety, and effectiveness make it an excellent choice for those looking to reduce their environmental footprint without compromising on cleanliness.

Whether you're tackling routine household tasks or addressing tougher grime, citric acid offers a natural, powerful solution. So why not give it a try?

Embrace this biodegradable powerhouse in your cleaning arsenal and enjoy a home that sparkles with sustainability. Let's clean consciously, for our health and the planet's.

Chris is one of GreenCitizen’s writers who has been a long-time advocate of individual responsibility when it comes to the environment. He shares GreenCitizen's passion for making the world a better place every day of the year.

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