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4 Surprising Ways You Can Clean with Lemons

Someone wearing a rubber glove and cleaning a counter with a sponge next to some sliced lemons.
Jens Rother/Shutterstock.com

The versatile lemon is a common ingredient in cooking and baking, but did you know it comes in handy for cleaning, too? Turning this citrus fruit into a cleaning aid is super easy, and it’s also gentler than many other household cleaners.

Thanks to its mild acidity, lemon can help you complete many household tasks, especially when combined with a few other ingredients. From cleaning hard surfaces to removing stains, lemon is more than just a garnish.

To be fair, it’s not a good substitute when you need something extra heavy-duty. Still, these easy recipes and how-to tips will have you reaching for this great-smelling fruit the next time you want a nontoxic way to complete a household chore.

How to Make a Household Lemon Cleaner

Someone wearing yellow rubber gloves and using a spray bottle and sponge to clean a kitchen counter.

For a cleaning solution that disinfects naturally and smells better than many cleaning products, you can make a DIY household cleaner using lemons and vinegar. The acidity of the two ingredients essentially makes it that much harder for microorganisms (like mold, mildew, or germs) to thrive on surfaces.

The most effective recipes involve steeping lemons for a few weeks in vinegar. If you want to try it, just follow these steps:

  1. Fill a glass container or jar with lemon rinds.
  2. Pour white vinegar into the container (all the way to the top, if possible) until all the rinds are submerged.
  3. Let them steep for at least a week, but two is even better.

When the rinds are done steeping, use a fine-mesh strainer to remove the rinds and bits of pith. A stainless-steel mesh, like this set from Cuisinart, is your best bet. The small- or medium-size strainer will work best for this project.

Cuisinart Set of Three Fine Mesh Stainless-Steel Strainers

Will remove all the rind and pith from your lemon juice cleaner.

Next, use a simple funnel to pour the liquid into a spray bottle. Stainless steel is, again, the best material to use, as it won’t retain the odor of the lemons and vinegar. We like the Lakatay Three-Piece Funnel Set because they’re all food-safe. You also get three sizes so you can easily pour your cleaner into any spray bottle.

Lakatay Three-Piece Stainless-Steel Funnel Set

Easily transfer your lemon cleaner into a spray bottle.

Again, this won’t make a perfect substitute for every cleaning situation, particularly in areas that are very dirty or contaminated. You’ll also want to test it on any new surfaces to make sure there won’t be a chemical reaction. For example, you should never use an acidic (lemon or vinegar) solution on marble countertops.

Tip: If it’s going to take you a while to store up enough lemon rinds, just pop them in the freezer until you’ve collected enough.

Most importantly, you should never mix acid-based cleaning products with anything bleach-based. The combination of the chlorine in bleach and the acetic acid in vinegar and lemon can create toxic chlorine gas, so always avoid using the two together.

Clean Copper

There’s a good chance you have an aunt or a grandmother who swears by cleaning copper pots and other pieces with lemons. Just follow these steps to make your own solution:

  1. Slice a fresh lemon in half and set one half aside.
  2. Sprinkle salt liberally on the cut edge of one of the halves.
  3. Scrub the surface of your cookware and watch the unwanted patina and stains lift away.

It’s the combination of the chemical and physical properties of the lemon and salt that make this hack work so well. The acidity of the lemon reacts with the oxidation on the surface of the copper, and then dissolves the oxide by weakening the bonds between the copper and oxygen (the chemical “ingredients” of tarnish).

Tip: Half of a salted lemon also works on noncopper cookware to loosen and remove stuck-on food.

The salt works supercharges this reaction, while also providing a mild abrasive to help lift it all away. If you’re working with more delicate pieces and are concerned about the salt scratching the surface, you can also squeeze lemon juice into the salt, and then apply it as a paste, rather than directly with the lemon half.

Remove Stains

Someone using half a lemon to remove a wine stain from a blanket.
Robert Kneschke/Shutterstock.com

Depending on the type, lemon juice can also be an excellent stain remover, either alone or as part of a recipe. Pure lemon juice can lift stains out of clothing, rugs, kitchenware, and more. Just squeeze some on a greasy stain and let it dry completely before washing.

Lemon juice can also lift stains and odors from plastic kitchenware, cutting boards, bowls, or storage containers. It’s even helpful for removing coffee stains from your ceramic mugs—just pour some over the stain, let sit for several minutes, and then wipe it away gently.

In other cases, lemon juice can best remove stains when combined with other ingredients. A paste of equal parts lemon juice and salt can work wonders on discolored grout in your kitchen or bathroom.

You can also use an equal-parts paste of lemon juice and cream of tartar to remove rust stains from fabric. Just apply it, let it sit for 30 minutes, and then rinse.

Whiten Fabric

The same properties that make lemon juice a great stain remover also make it ideal for cleaning and whitening fabric instead of using harsh chlorine bleach. It’s especially good for things like table linens or anything that’s a bit older or more delicate.

Just follow these steps to make your own fabric brightener:

  1. Mix a solution of three medium lemons for every gallon of water.
  2. Put the fabric in the solution just long enough for it to get soaked through.
  3. Lay or hang the fabric out in the sun to dry.
  4. Launder in cool water and a gentle detergent.
  5. Lay or hang to dry.

This solution also works on white clothes that need a little brightening. The lemon reacts to the sunlight to create a mild bleaching property, so whites that are looking a bit dingy can get a refresh without the use of harsh chemicals.

Lemon juice is such a versatile cleaning agent, it’s a good idea to always keep some on hand. It’s easy, effective, and all-natural. It’s also just one of the many DIY hacks you might want to try, especially if you’re trying to avoid harsh chemicals. Happy cleaning!

Amanda Prahl Amanda Prahl
Amanda Prahl is a freelance contributor to LifeSavvy. She has an MFA in dramatic writing, a BA in literature, and is a former faculty associate focusing on writing craft and history. Her articles have appeared on HowlRound, Slate, Bustle, BroadwayWorld, and ThoughtCo, among others. Read Full Bio »
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