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Do Citric Acid Cleaners Work?

Conventional cleaners? No Thanks.

We are constantly hearing about the dangers of conventional cleaners. It’s not just the dangers of oral ingestion of a detergent pod. It’s what’s in the air we breathe when we’re at home. Studies show indoor air pollution from common organic chemicals is 2 to 5 times higher than outdoor air pollution. Many of those chemicals are found in household cleaners. Even so, the global soap and cleaning compound market, which includes household cleaners and detergents, is expected to reach more than $350 billion in 2020. We clearly want clean homes, but at what price?

It seems no room is immune from danger. Laundry rooms likely contain products with chlorine and chemical enzymes that have been linked to asthma and skin rashes. Bathroom cleaning products can be even worse, with chlorine, hydrochloric acid and sulfuric acid, just to name a few common chemicals found in toilet and shower cleaners. Then there’s your kitchen. Phosphates, lye and ammonia are known eye, skin and throat irritants but are in many best selling cleaners. All-purpose cleaners and glass cleaners can contain unpronounceable chemicals linked to illness, rashes, hormone disruption and even cancer.

People are waking up to the dangers lurking in the cleaners they thought were supposed to make their homes, well…clean. The Environmental Working Group found 53 percent of cleaning products it reviewed contained lung-harming ingredients and carcinogens. It’s why so many people are turning to better-for-you products that contain ingredients like citric acid instead.

Consumers are smarter than ever and are demanding to know what they’re bringing into their homes. Nearly 75 percent of people surveyed said they favor companies who are transparent with all of their ingredients over those who hide them. Now that consumer spending is at stake, manufacturers are getting the message.

“Green” Cleaners to The Rescue?

As consumers are demanding cleaner options, manufacturers are taking notice. They have to. Their bottom line depends on it. The market has been flooded with cleaning products claiming to be “green”, “clean”, “non-toxic”, “plant-based” and the like. Unfortunately, some of these products still contain at least some questionable ingredients, many of which aren’t listed on the labels. The other issues are the fact that there is no standard definition for green-like labeling, nor are manufacturers required to label anything except for warning labels.

There are natural cleaners that are alternatives, however. With websites like and, consumers can search for safer cleaning products and lists of chemicals to avoid. It’s easier than ever to learn what ingredients are in common household cleaners and how they score as far as safety is concerned.

These resources are giving consumers more control over what products they bring into their homes. Even so, it can be challenging to understand what all the labeling really means. In order to provide some clarity, the EPA allows brands who adhere to their strict standards to print their “Safer Choice” label on their products. Products with this label actually live up to their claims of being a non-toxic cleaning choice.

Citric Acid Cleaners

Citric acid is one alternative frequently found in safer choice cleaners. What is citric acid? According to, it is “a naturally-occurring acid which is found in large quantities in fruits – notably citrus fruits such as oranges, lemons and certain berries.” When it comes to household cleaning products, citric acid acts as a water softener, chelating agent, pH adjuster and preservative. Citric acid is safe, plant-derived and biodegradable.

Chelating agents enhance the cleaning power of the cleanser. Citric acid’s ability to chelate metals makes it useful in soaps and laundry detergents. By chelating the metals in hard water, it lets these cleaners produce foam and work more efficiently without the need for water softening. Citric acid, therefore, has been found to be an effective replacement for harmful sudsing agents, such as diethanolamine (DEA) and triethanolamine (TEA) that are linked to cancer.

Does Citric Acid Cleaner Work?

We live in a world where finding out what people think about a product is easier than ever. If you want to know whether a product lives up to its promises, one of the best ways to find out is by checking reviews. If you search for some of the popular traditional, all-purpose cleaners, they get high user ratings. These are tried and true products that are best sellers because they work. Nielsen found that consumers say product efficacy influences their purchase of household cleaning products most. If it doesn’t work, they won’t buy it, even if it’s cheaper. So how do safer, non-toxic cleaning products fare? They get equally high ratings, some even better than their harsher counterparts.

But you don’t have to look further than your store shelves to know if citric acid cleaners and similar products work. A good gauge of product effectiveness is to look at where it’s located on your store cleaning aisle. Best sellers are almost always located in the “Bull’s-Eye Zone”, the second and third shelves from the top. This is where consumers’ eyes go first. Manufacturers pay for this prime placement, so you’ll often find conventional cleaners taking up the most space in this zone, but look at where the alternative, safer cleaning products are located. Because there are so many these days to meet consumer demand for better-for-you products, they often take up their own section. What products in this section are front and center? These are the ones that not only sell the most but are often pricier than similar products on the shelf just below.

Another thing to notice is the longevity of those items remaining in your store. Those that don’t sell are the ones that consumers likely don’t think work or cost more than they’re willing to pay. They won’t last long. There’s too much competition for that sacred real estate.

Of course, there’s always the option to just give products a try. There are plenty of non-toxic, citric acid cleaners that are affordable, with prices comparable to conventional cleaners. Many stores will accept returns if you don’t like a product. With so much toxicity on the line, it’s worth the small investment to experiment with different products.

Keep in mind that you really don’t need harsh disinfectants to clean most surfaces in your home. According to LiveScience and many other sources, disinfecting is only needed in certain circumstances, as over-disinfecting can actually cause more harm than good in humans. Cleaning up raw chicken juices or after someone with the flu may warrant disinfecting, but most household dirt and grime are effectively cleaned without the use of harsh antibacterial ingredients. The FDA warns that products containing triclosan, the main ingredient in many antibacterial cleansers, may disrupt hormones and contribute to bacteria-resistant antibiotics. They say antibacterial chemicals “aren’t necessary to get your house clean.”

Try citric acid-based cleaners in your home and see for yourself how they get the job done. You may be surprised at how these safer cleansers are just as effective as the toxic cleaners you’ve always used. They don’t have to cost more, either. Some of the most powerful, safer cleaners cost the same or less than conventional brands.

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