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Natural Cleaning

Home and Garden, Natural Cleaning

Everything To Know About Citric Acid For Cleaning

Are you looking to start using citric acid in your green cleaning routine? Here is everything you need to know about using citric acid for natural cleaning. From what you can clean to what not to clean, where to buy citric acid, the safety concerns you need to consider, and more.

Citric acid is a wonder natural cleaning ingredient – used in many natural cleaning applications. However, something I do get are lots of questions around the usage of citric acid, and questions around its safety to both people and planet.

To help you out, today, let me answer all of your queries on citric acid. Let’s crack on with the questions!

Cleaning with Citric Acid – All You Need to Know

Image of amber glass bottles and a lemon with a blue text box that says everything you need to know about citric acid for cleaning

What Is Citric Acid?

Citric acid is a naturally occurring acid that is found in a variety of fruits and vegetables. As you would imagine from its name, citric acid is particularly found in lemons and limes. However, to help meet increasing demand, most citric acid is now synthesised from fungus. As citric acid comes in powder form, you would be hard-pressed to distinguish between citric acid made from fruit or fungus though – both look and perform exactly the same.

You might be worried about the use of acid in it’s name. However, far from being a strong acid, citric acid is a weak acid, with a pH level between 3 and 6, This makes it ideal for a variety of natural cleaning applications.

As well as in natural cleaning, citric acid is also commonly used in the food industry. It’s often used as a food additive to add natural flavoring, and as a preservative to help increase the shelf life of pre-packaged foods. It’s also a common ingredient in both beer brewing and winemaking, to help create specific flavours.

You can also find citric acid in many cosmetic and personal care products. This includes bathing products, where citric acid helps create the fizz associated with bath bombs. It’s also present in standard cleaning products, and in medical products. In short, you can find citric acid almost everywhere.

Is It Environment Friendly?

Citric acid is considered an environmentally friendly cleaning ingredient, because it’s food safe, easily biodegradable, vegan-friendly and a renewable product – easily made from fruit or fungus. It won’t harm your septic tank, if you have one. In short, it’s a great choice over conventional cleaning products.

What Can You Clean With Citric Acid?

Citric acid has incredibly effective descaling properties, so it is amazing for cleaning your toilet, or for descaling your kettle, dishwasher, washing machine, and iron. I would recommend this cheap natural option every time over any pricey and chemically dubious descaling solutions you can buy.

You can also make a powerful cleaning spray that is brilliant at tackling soap scum and water deposits. I use this particular cleaning spray in my bathroom to leave my shower screen and taps looking shiny and spotless.

Citric acid is also has de-greasing, anti-fungal, and anti-bacterial properties, making it ideal for cleaning both your kitchen and bathroom.

However, as citric acid is chiefly used as a cleaning product, rather than as a disinfectant, then in these Covid times, or when you want to clean surfaces where raw meat has been prepared, then when cleaning high touch areas then citric acid is best used in tandem with something antibacterial to guarantee all germs are killed. I like using these plastic-free refill anti-bacterial sachets* for no-fuss zero-waste germ killing.

What Shouldn’t You Clean With Citric Acid?

Whilst citric acid is a bit of a natural cleaning wonder there are some things that should never be cleaned using it. Citric acid can etch stone, granite, marble, quartz surfaces so it should never be used to clean natural stone surfaces.

Citric acid also isn’t a friend of coated wood. If your floors or furniture have been treated with a wax sealant then keep citric acid away from them. This is because citric acid can degrade the wax sealant, leaving a cloudy appearance on your lovely wood.

I also wouldn’t recommend using citric acid in your laundry – for example as an alternative fabric conditioner – as it can have a bleaching effect on coloured or dark clothing. Prolonged use may cause fading. I’d recommend using this fabric conditioner recipe instead.

And finally, don’t use citric acid on the screens of your electronic devices. Always use a specialist cleaner on these types of screens.

Where to Buy Citric Acid

Citric acid can be bought easily in homebrew shops, Asian supermarkets, and some household stores, such as Wilkos. Online it can be picked up cheaply and easily. Ethical Superstore*, for example, sells a 250 gram box of citric acid for just £2.10. You don’t need any particular brand of citric acid for cleaning with.

Can You Mix Citric Acid and Vinegar?

cleaning products made from citric acid

If you have read my post on cleaning with white vinegar, you’ll know that vinegar doesn’t mix well with many other cleaning products and natural cleaning ingredients, such as bicarbonate of soda (baking soda). This is because bicarbonate of soda is base, and vinegar is an acid – acetic acid to be specific. Bases react with acids to neutralise the acid, leaving you with weak salty water that is no good for cleaning.

This may make you question whether you can mix citric acid and vinegar together. The good news it that you can mix the two together. As citric acid, is, as the name suggests, an acid then mixing it with vinegar is simply mixing two acids together. Generally, there is no reaction when you mix an acid and an acid. This means that nothing happens when you mix citric acid with vinegar. However, in most cases there is no need to mix the two ingredients together. Citric acid is more than effective than dealing with limescale on its own, whilst vinegar has its own cleaning merits.

The Safety Concerns to Consider

Whilst citric acid is a common natural cleaning ingredient, it is important to bear in mind that citric acid is still a chemical. One that can cause damage and irritation if handled incorrectly. 

Breathing in citric acid can cause upper respiratory symptoms. These include a sore throat, a cough, and/or shortness of breath. To help prevent any respiratory upset, I find it best to measure out the citric acid powder I require in a well-ventilated room.

Citric acid can also irritate your eyes. If you get citric acid in your eye, it can cause irritation, runny eyes, redness, and swelling. As such, you should take care not to spill the powder, or rub your eyes before washing your hands.

Prolonged contact with the skin can also cause irritation, redness, and swelling. I would wear rubber gloves if you are using a lot of citric acid-based cleaning products, or if you have particularly sensitive skin.

Citric acid should also be kept away from children and pets. Whilst citric acid is found in food items in a small quantity as a preservative, if large amounts of citric acid are ingested then it could cause nausea, vomiting, and diarrhoea.

And, as with any cleaning product, homemade or otherwise, always keep both the citric acid, and any homemade cleaning products, away from curious pets and/or children.

The safety concerns do sound a little scary, but with some general common sense it poses no more risk than using any conventional cleaning products.

Got any more questions? I’m always happy to help answer them – so do ask away!

Home and Garden, Natural Cleaning

Why You Should Never Mix Baking Soda And Vinegar When Cleaning

Mixing baking soda (often known as bicarbonate of soda) with vinegar might produce lots of impressive-looking bubbles that look like they should clean well. However, here’s why you should never mix the two ingredients when cleaning.

As someone with more than a passing interest in green cleaning, I have spent a lot of time in natural cleaning spaces on Instagram and Pinterest. And I have lost count of the number of times I have seen well meaning people recommend making natural cleaning products that combine vinegar and baking soda.

Whilst combing these two ingredients does generate some mighty impressive looking bubbles that look like they should clean really well, in truth they don’t. Combing the two ingredients is not a good idea. It’s a waste of two green cleaning ingredients that work perfectly well independently of each other. And secondly, combining the two does not make for an effective green cleaning solution.

Let me pop my best chemistry teacher hat on, and explain why.

By the way, I’m the UK. I do prefer the term bicarbonate of soda rather than baking soda. However, I know a lot of readers find my posts with the search term ‘baking soda’, so that’s why I’m using this particular term today.

Why You Should Never Mix Baking Soda With Vinegar When Cleaning

Image of a natural cleaning products with a blue text box that says why you should never mix baking soda (bicarbonate of soda) with vinegar when cleaning

Ok, are you ready for your chemistry lesson?

If you think back to early secondary school science lessons, you might have learned about acids, alkalis and bases. In case you missed that lesson then here’s a useful summary.

How is secondary school chemistry relevant to green cleaning? Well, it’s important to know that vinegar is an acid and baking soda is a base. A base is any substance that reacts with an acid to form a salt and water only. This means that when combined, acid and bases neutralise each other to create a roughly pH neutral salty water solution.

This means that when you mix vinegar and baking soda, this reacts to form water and carbon dioxide and salts. So, in other words, you get a weak salty sparkling water solution. Have a look at the full chemical reaction to see what happens when the two ingredients are combined:

You wouldn’t deliberately clean your kitchen with weak salty water and expect great results. There are definitely more effective ways to clean than with mixing vinegar and baking soda.

Why Do People Mistakenly Mix The Two?

I’m certain that when people see vinegar and baking soda fizzing when they react, then they assume that mixing the two ingredients creates oxygen bubbles that lift the dirt away.

Alternatively, as vinegar makes for a great natural cleaner, as does baking soda, then people think combining the two multiplies their cleaning superpowers.

I think most people that adovate mixing the two ingredients would be disappointed to hear that they are cleaning with nothing more than salty water.

What Should I Clean With Instead?

I am absolutely not discounting these two ingredients. Vinegar on it’s own, or mixed with appropriate ingredients, makes for a fantastic natural cleaner. And baking soda can be used in many different homemade cleaning products. In fact, there are myriad ways of effectively cleaning your home using natural ingredients that don’t involve making salty water.

As a starter for ten, here are a few of my favourite tried and tested natural cleaning products to make that really work:

You can find more natural cleaning products to DIY this way.

And to find out more about using vinegar for cleaning, including more on what you can and can’t mix vinegar with, then do check out my ultimate guide on everything you need to know about using white vinegar for cleaning. Vinegar is quite the anti-social ingredient, and doesn’t like to be mixed with many things. As such, I’d really advise checking out this guide out before making any vinegar based cleaning products. In some cases, it can even be downright hazardous to your health to combine vinegar with certain products so do make sure you are well informed.