Tag Archives: eco friendly cleaners

Is Citric Acid an Eco Friendly Cleaner?

I’ve been trying something new in my dishwasher lately because my dishes just weren’t looking clean. It was getting frustrating always having glasses and cups look cloudy even when they were clean. I came across an article that mentioned using citric acid along with your regular dishwasher detergent gets great results.

So I tell my husband about it, and he recognizes it right away. Turns out they used citric acid to keep the glasses for the tasting room shiny at the winery he used to work at.

I bought a bag of citric acid through Amazon, and I have to say, I’m impressed. My dishes look better and feel nicer too, that literally squeaky clean feeling. Citric acid doesn’t remove food bits or anything like that if your dishes were a bit too dirty for the dishwasher to handle, but if you’re getting residue, it works great.

Still, my one question remaining was whether or not it’s really eco friendly. I hope we all know that natural doesn’t always equal the most environmentally friendly products.

I did some looking around. The EPA considers citric acid GRAS (PDF) or “generally recognized as safe.” Obviously, that’s a really good sign. It’s not something you’d want to get in your eyes; it’s still acid after all, but it’s pretty safe stuff.

Despite the name, citric acid is not necessarily produced from citrus. Matter of fact, that’s the expensive way to do it, so it really doesn’t happen much. It has been long known that you can get citric acid from a fermentation process with the mold Aspergillus niger. The production may involve corn, so you may want to check on that if you’re trying to avoid corn-based products.

Some say you shouldn’t put your silverware into the dishwasher when you use citric acid. This may depend on the type of silverware you have, so it’s something to be aware of. It may be problematic for silverware with actual silver, but may not be so bad for your typical stainless steel variety. If it’s enameled or anything like that, you may be looking at problems with citric acid and silverware (search for citric to see the parts I found most interesting).

Citric acid can have an impact on wildlife, but for the most part it doesn’t seem to be too bad. It’s used to help control the coqui frog in Hawaii, for example. It may, however, be associated with brown tide blooms.

Overall, I’m pleased with what I’ve found out about citric acid. As with anything else, it has its problems, but they don’t so far appear to be as much of a problem as other cleaners. It cleans a lot, too. It did an amazing job on the soap scum on my bathtub. Stuff that I’ve scrubbed and scrubbed in the past with baking soda and vinegar came off easily after a soak with citric acid.

How Do You Find Eco Friendly Store Bought Cleaners?

Not everyone wants to make their own cleaners for their home, even when it’s as simple as baking soda and vinegar for many jobs. Some prefer to buy cleaner that have been made for them. The hard part is getting past the claims and finding products that are more environmentally friendly and safer for your family.

What do you look for?

There area few clues, and labels proclaiming that the product is “all natural,” “green” and so forth really aren’t it. Too many of these claims are not regulated and are in fact meaningless.

Clearly Marked Ingredients

The ingredients in general should be clearly marked. There are a lot of ingredients to look out for, such as anything derived from petroleum. There are a lot of ways these can be listed, such as mineral oil, propylene glycol, isopropyl alcohol, parabens, and many synthetic fragrances.

If you don’t know what’s in the cleaner, you don’t know what you’re using. A partial list isn’t enough.

Calling a product chemical free is misleading. While most of us would assume they mean dangerous chemicals, the simple truth is that nothing in this world is chemical free. Water is a chemical, for example. So is baking soda. Don’t let a label mislead you with this term.

Good Terms to See on the Label

There are several terms you do want to see on the labels of cleaning products. These include phosphate free, ammonia free, plant based, biodegradable, chlorine free, certified USDA organic, solvent free,  fragrance free, and dye or artificial color free.

Terms to Beware of

Some terms are there specifically to tell you that the product is dangerous to ingest or get on your skin. Even some natural products can have problems, such as essential oils that are better for you when diluted into a carrier oil. Natural does not equal safe, after all.

Poison and danger are the strongest terms. These are the products you most want to avoid, and doubly so want to keep away from your children.

Next come caution and warning. These have hazards, but not as bad as those labeled poison or danger. Still not thing you want to have around your home when you can avoid them.

Finally, if the package tells you to wear gloves or use in a well ventilated space, pay attention. These are hard on your skin or can make breathing difficult. They certainly aren’t healthy for you to have significant contact with.


You can’t avoid packaging, even if you make your own cleaning supplies. But you can do your best to buy cleaning products in packages that can be reused, refilled or recycled. Reusable and refillable are of course the best.

Many genuinely eco friendly companies try hard to have refillable containers. It’s a part of their work to be kinder to the planet. Non-eco friendly companies can do this as well, so it’s not a real indicator.

Refills should be in either larger containers or in a concentrated form so that they use less packaging than the original container. Ideally these containers should also be recyclable, although the lack of available recycling facilities is a reality many of us have to deal with.

Generally Good Brands

While I can’t promise that every product offered by these companies will be good, these companies tend to sell cleaning products that are more eco friendly than others you will see on store shelves.

Simple Green Naturals
Dr. Bronner’s
Seventh Generation