Lemons are a workhorse in the kitchen, bringing their vibrant flavor and pleasant acidity to salad dressings, desserts like lemon bars, lemon chicken, vegetable dishes like this lemony broccoli rabe with white beans, and much more. But did you know that lemons are also great for cleaning? “Lemons are a great natural and eco-friendly way to clean, especially when you use lemons that were already juiced or about to go bad,” says Stephanie Moram, the green cleaning expert behind Good Girl Gone Green. “And lemons smell amazing.”
Fresh, Used, or Even Bottled Lemons Are Great for Cleaning
When cleaning with lemons, you can use fresh lemons or, in many cases, bottled lemon juice. “It depends on what you are cleaning,” says Moram. “Some cleaning requires rubbing the lemon on the surface to help clean, while other times, lemon juice works just great!”
As Moram points out, cleaning is a great use for lemons that are not totally rotten but a little too far gone for cooking. “Better to clean with them instead of wasting them,” she says. You can also use leftover lemons to clean, after juicing them for cooking and baking—just keep in mind that they’ll have less juice so you might need more leftover lemons than if you were starting with un-juiced lemons.
If you are not ready to use your lemons for cleaning right away, you can store whole and cut lemons as well as lemon juice in your freezer until you’re ready to put them to work. “Storing lemon juice in the freezer is an awesome idea, especially if you don’t need it right away,” says Moram. “It cuts down on food waste.” Moram recommends freezing lemon juice in ice cube trays for easy storage (you can transfer the cubes to reusable storage containers or bags once they’re frozen).
Here are just a few places in your kitchen you can clean with lemons—and how to do it.
1. Deodorize and Clean Your Cutting Boards
Lemons are excellent for removing smells from garlic, onions, and shallots off both plastic and wooden cutting boards, and their mild bleaching ability can help remove stains too. Moram says to sprinkle salt on the board before rubbing half a cut lemon over it. Let the lemon and salt mixture sit for a few minutes before rinsing for a stink-free board. This is one of the cases in which a previously juiced lemon works perfectly, so try this tip the next time you make anything that calls for both alliums and lemons, like this lemon-garlic sauce.
2. Clean the Garbage Disposal
Clean and deodorize your stinky garbage disposal by adding baking soda and lemon slices and then turning the disposal on. “Pro tip: use a lemon or two already juiced and destined for the compost,” says Moram. You can also add ice cubes to the mix—they help clean off gunk that’s collected on the blades.
3. Degrease Dishes and Pans
To clean greasy dishes and pans, Moram likes to use a combination of lemon and a semi-coarse salt—she uses Himalayan salt that she buys in bulk. She adds a sprinkle of salt and a squeeze of lemon juice to the pans or dishes, then scrubs with half a lemon and lets the mixture sit for five minutes before wiping with a reusable cloth and rinsing. “The acid from the lemon will help cut through the grease and grime,” she explains. You can also use this lemon-salt treatment before washing with regular dish soap.
4. Clean the Microwave
To clean and remove food odors from your microwave, add lemon juice, water, and lemon rind to a microwave-safe measuring cup or bowl. The ratios don’t need to be precise but about a half cup of water with a tablespoon of lemon juice and a wedge of lemon works well. Zap it on high until the inside of the microwave is steamy, about three minutes. Then, with the microwave door closed the whole time, let the mixture sit for five to ten minutes. Open the microwave and wipe down the inside with a reusable cloth. “The steam from the mixture will help to loosen the caked-on food,” says Moram. “Not to mention your microwave will smell amazing.”
5. Destain Plastic Food Storage Containers
To remove stains and odors from plastic food containers such as Tupperware, rub a lemon cut in half around the inside of the container, or pour fresh or bottled lemon juice into the container and rub it around, making sure to get it on all of the surfaces. Let the lemon juice sit for about 15 minutes before rinsing with water. “For tough stains, add baking soda and lemon juice to the container and let it sit overnight,” Moram advises.
6. Deodorize the Refrigerator
To deodorize your fridge, add baking soda and fresh or bottled lemon juice to a glass container, and leave the mixture in your fridge for about a week, Moram recommends. “The baking soda will help to absorb smells, and the lemon will leave your fridge smelling awesome,” says Moram.
7. Remove Grime From the Stovetop and Sink
For cleaning grimy sinks and stovetops, Moram recommends making a paste by combining 1/2 cup baking soda, 1/4 cup liquid castile soap, and 1 tablespoon of lemon juice in a container. Simply rub the paste on the stovetop or in the sink until the surface is cleaned and deodorized.
Beware of Using Lemons on Certain Surfaces
Before you start scrubbing everything in your kitchen with lemons, you should know there are a few things you shouldn’t use lemons to clean, including marble, hardwood floors, natural stone, and brass. “The acid could damage these surfaces or leave stains and marks,” says Moram.