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How to Make a Citric Acid Cleaning Spray (Plastic-Free!)

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Like natural cleaning but don’t like the smell of vinegar? Worry not – let me show you how to make this plastic-free citric acid cleaning spray.

I love a good plastic-free cleaning hack. I make most of my own homemade cleaning products, a lot of which are made without plastic.

Then there are the cleaning products that are made with vinegar. Now, I love white vinegar and buy my vinegar in bulk, but of course, it comes in a five-litre plastic carton.

plastic-free cleaning hack

I use white vinegar a lot in my cleaning and laundry. So for me, it’s a good environmental practice to purchase bulk white vinegar, rather than individual plastic bottles of chemically dubious shop-bought cleaning products.

However, I have had people ask me if there is a plastic-free way to buy white vinegar in large volumes. The simple answer so far is there is no way to buy white vinegar in bulk sizes in anything but plastic. Vinegar corrodes metal. And a five-litre glass bottle would be difficult to transport and prone to breakage.

Even if you buy vinegar from a packaging-free shop, that vinegar probably arrived at the shop in a five-litre plastic carton because there’s no other easy way to transport 5 litres of vinegar in anything but plastic. Plastic it is, sadly.

However, I recently discovered a clever plastic-free cleaning hack from Dri-Pak that acts as a brilliant white vinegar substitute. It also had the added benefit that it doesn’t smell like vinegar if you or a family member is a little nose-sensitive to white vinegar.

What is it? A humble £2.50 cardboard box of Citric Acid.

plastic-free cleaning

With this little plastic-free box of wonder that is citric acid, you can create vinegar-free cleaning sprays for your home, or use it in place of vinegar in most natural cleaning recipes that call for vinegar. The only place I wouldn’t use citric acid as a vinegar replacement is in your laundry – for example, in homemade fabric conditioner. This is because citric acid can have a mild bleaching effect on coloured clothing.

What is Citric Acid?

Citric acid is an acid compound found naturally in citrus fruits, particularly lemon and limes, but can also be formulated by fermenting sugars. Visually, it looks a lot like sugar.

Its name sounds a little scary, but it’s actually a key component in home-brewing beer, and in bath bombs. Because it’s naturally found in food; used in food and drink production, and also easily biodegrades, then it’s 100% safe to use around the home in green cleaning. There are, of course, a few caveats for safe making and usage (see below).

You can find out more about citric acid in my full guide to citric acid for cleaning.

How to Make Citric Acid Cleaning Spray

cleaning with citric acid cleaning spray

Ingredients & Equipment Required

  • 500 ml hot water (boil first, and then allow to cool for 10 minutes)
  • A measuring jug and spoon
  • 2 tablespoons citric acid – I buy my boxes of Dri-Pak citric acid online from Big Green Smile – they conveniently arrive in plastic-free packaging. The citric acid box is even wrapped in a compostable bag, in case of spillage in transit, that I then use for kitchen scraps. Alternatively, for a local supplier, try homebrew shops, Asian supermarkets, chemists, or hardware shops.
  • 500 ml spray bottle – recycle an old glass or plastic bottle – glass vinegar bottles are ideal –  and spray nozzle. Alternatively, you can purchase a glass spray bottle here.
  • Optional: a few drops of your favourite essential oil


For this homemade citric acid cleaning spray, start by pouring the hot water into your measuring jug.

Stirring well, dissolve the citric acid in the hot water.

Add 20 drops of essential oil if required. I went for 10 drops of lemon essential oil and 10 drops of rosemary essential oil for a Mediterranean-scented cleaning spray. But do feel free to use what you have to hand. Lavender essential oil and tea tree essential oil are both great anti-bacterial options, for example.

Decant the mixture into your spray bottle and off you go! How’s that for a clever plastic-free cleaning hack?!

What Can You Clean With Citric Acid?

Citric acid is a great all-round cleaner. It kills bacteria, mould, and mildew, and is brilliant for general disinfecting and cleaning. Where it comes into its own is that it’s really effective at removing soap scum, hard water stains, calcium deposits, lime, and rust.

I just cleaned my glass shower screen with the cleaning spray and a cloth. See for yourself how effective this citric acid cleaning spray can be. I know I love a good before and after:

before and after cleaning with citric acid

Left – shower screen before cleaning; right – shower screen after cleaning with citric acid spray.

You can clean all surfaces with citric acid with the exception of stone, marble, and granite. You’ll want to make a stone-safe cleaning spray for this job. Need a recipe? You can find one on page 34 of my book, Fresh Clean Home.

Safety First When Using Citric Acid for Cleaning

Whilst Citric Acid is a natural ingredient, it is still a chemical. As such the powder can still cause damage and irritation if handled incorrectly. I prefer to use it in a well-ventilated area. Particularly as breathing in citric acid can cause respiratory symptoms, such as a cough, shortness of breath, and a sore throat.

Citric acid can also irritate your skin and eyes. It’s therefore important to take care when handling the powder not to spill it or rub your eyes before washing your hands.

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

If citric acid isn’t for you, then do try this easy homemade cleaning spray recipe.

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  1. Hi Wendy, thank you for sharing the great recipe. We love natural cleaning and home diy tips:) We are launching our own refillable cleaners that are delivered as a subscription. Not only are these non-toxic, they are delivered in plastic-free packaging:) Would love for you to check these out! :)

  2. Hi! I’ve just bought your book and then also made this… what would you say the shelf life of this spray is?

  3. Hi Wendy

    I usually buy a huge container of Bio home sanitiser and refill my spray bottles but I’ve ordered the citric acid and looking forward to trying it.
    I’m just new to your website and I’m enjoying it. I made your lemon posset a couple of weeks ago, really nice!
    Thanks for caring and sharing.

  4. Thanks for sharing this recipe! The before and after speaks for itself. Brilliant that you included a note on safety as people often assume natural = safe.

    1. Thanks, Francesca! Bit embarrassed about the state my shower screen got into but good old citric acid sorted it out! And oh yes, completely agree, natural doesn’t always mean without risk.

  5. Thank you for this Wendy. Living in a hard water area means it’s harder to keep bathroom and kitchen sparkling but will definitely try out this recipe.

      1. Just reporting back that my stainless steel sink is now sparkling, as is the shower enclosure and the rest of the bathroom. Thanks again for this recipe Wendy, it’s worked a treat.

  6. I use citric acid for our toilet. Instead of using bleach dirt and stains until they turn into white/ invisible dirt and stains , I use citric acid to actually clean the dirt away. Works brilliantly.

  7. can I please add to the warnings, please do not use if anyone in your household or visiting is allergic to citrus fruit, tomatoes, pineapple or kiwi fruit as it could make them very ill or it could be life threatening. It would be interesting to see if acetic acid is available in powder form.

    1. I hadn’t considered that Chris. Because it’s used in most (if not all) pre-packaged foods as a preservative (it’s the most common food preservative) I hadn’t thought it to be an allergen. I read this article that says it’s incredibly rare to have a citric acid allergy as citric acid does not provoke an immune response – with citrus fruit allergy it tends to be either the juice or the peel that causes the immune response, and hence the allergy, but definitely, exercise caution if you have a severe citrus fruit allergy and don’t use any citrus-based essential oils.

      1. Hi I have had a citrus allergy for the last 20 years, it was found by the prick test after a year of servere illness. It is possible to be allergic to anything. I know of 4 other people with citrus allergy including my GP and a friend of my grandaughter. Luckly I can cook from scratch but eating out is difficult as you say it is in everything. Please food companies and eateries can you publish an ingredients list.