Entertainment, Health and Lifestyle

How to Use Citric Acid to Clean, Descale and Restore Just About Anything

Over the past month or so, I’ve been on a tear to discover all I can about citric acid. What I’ve learned, tested and tried is nothing short of amazing. So get ready as I lay out the case for adding citric acid to the list of cheap products we can use to keep our homes sparkling clean.


Citric acid, also known as “sour salt,” is a colorless, weak, organic acid. I know, it sounds like a poisonous substance, but it’s a low-level acid that’s both safe and strong enough to break down soap scum and dirt. This acid occurs naturally in citrus fruits such as lemons, limes and pineapple. Mixed with water, citric acid powder makes a homemade miracle solution for most of your tough stains. It is an excellent all-purpose cleaner powerful enough to kill mold, remove soap scum and even tackle rust. It’s not dangerous or toxic, although, as with lemon juice, you don’t want to get it in your eyes.

When added to commercial cleaning products, citric acid can help remove hard water buildup on glass. Use it to remove coffee and tea stains, yellowing/browning discolorations, hard water marks, urine stains and much more.


The most basic source is to squeeze the juice from a lemon, as it contains 5% to 8% citric acid. But that is neither economical nor convenient. A much easier and more reliable version of citric acid for the uses that follow is its refined powder form. You will find citric acid in most supermarkets and at Target and Walmart with the canning supplies. Citric acid is also readily available online.


— Make all-purpose cleaner

To make an easy peasy, tough-as-nails, homemade cleaning solution, boil 2 cups of water and then mix in 2 tablespoons of the powder. Let this citric acid all-purpose cleaner cool, and then apply it to a clean cloth and wipe down any dirty surfaces. If there’s any left, pour it down the toilet to disinfect.

— De-gunk the dishwasher

With regular use, hard water deposits build up in dishwashers, their hoses and connectors. Citric acid can get in all of those small crevices to break down and remove that buildup. I have suggested lemon Kool-Aid in the past for its high concentration of citric acid — and that works — but citric can be used directly.

Fill the empty dishwasher’s detergent cup with powdered citric acid and run as usual, set to the hottest and longest cycle. Run a second time with regular detergent (and dishes) to clear out any mineral deposits that may have lingered.

— Electric or stovetop kettle

Mineral deposits build up quickly and can be difficult to remove from a tea kettle — whether it’s a stovetop or electric model. Boiling water and a little citric acid can take care of that, no scrubbing required.

Fill the kettle halfway and turn it on to boil. Once it’s boiling, remove from the stove (or switch the electric model off) and drop 1-2 tablespoons of citric acid into the water. Let it sit for 15 to 20 minutes. Rinse, and the pesky minerals will be gone.

— Toilet bowl ring

We know a number of ways to get rid of that stubborn toilet bowl ring and dissolving it with citric acid is one of the easiest. Pour 1 tablespoon of the powder into the toilet bowl, swish it around with a toilet brush, and then let it sit for 15 to 20 minutes. Flush. The bowl will sparkle like new.

— Deep-clean a coffee maker

To give your coffee machine a deep clean, pour 1 cup of citric acid into the carafe and fill it the rest of the way with water. Stir to dissolve. Pour this in its entirety into the reservoir and set the machine to brew. Once it’s done brewing, throw out the water in the carafe and run a second pot of clear water to sweep away any citric acid that may be lingering. Any mineral buildup inside the machine will be gone, and the glass carafe will be sparkling clean, too.

— Clean surface areas

By adding a couple of tablespoons of citric acid into a spray bottle filled with water — or your pre-made citric acid all-purpose cleaner (above) — you’ll have a mixture you can use to clean your shower, kitchen countertops and more. Just avoid using citric acid on natural stone such as granite and marble, as the acid can cause damage.

To discover nine more ways to use citric acid around the house and garage, meet me at EverydayCheapskate.com/citricacid.

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Mary Hunt

Mary invites you to visit her at EverydayCheapskate.com, where this column is archived complete with links and resources for all recommended products and services. Mary invites questions and comments at https://www.everydaycheapskate.com/contact/, "Ask Mary." Tips can be submitted at tips.everydaycheapskate.com/ . This column will answer questions of general interest, but letters cannot be answered individually. Mary Hunt is the founder of EverydayCheapskate.com, a frugal living blog, and the author of the book "Debt-Proof Living."

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