Citric acid: Citric Acid Overview and Uses

Citric acid, also known as sour salt, is a weak organic acid that occurs naturally in a variety of vegetables and fruits, especially citrus fruits, with lemons and limes containing the highest concentrations. It is processed into a crystalline power for ease of use — and many uses it has. Citric acid is used as a food additive, a natural cleaning agent and as a natural preservative in cosmetics and pharmaceuticals. The powder is also used to adjust the color of natural dyes by altering the pH of the dye bath.

as a food additive
As a food additive, citric acid lends a citrusy-sour flavor to beverages and works well as a substitute for lemon juice or vinegar when a sour flavor or acidic environment is desired. Citric acid also serves as an emulsifying agent and as a preservative in canned or jarred foods. Dubbed as E number E330, it is most commonly found in soft drinks, wine, beer, ice cream, baked goods (including cake mixes), some cheeses and various candies.

as a cosmetics component
Because citric acid is a type of alpha hydroxy acid, more commonly referred to as AHA in the cosmetic and spa industries, it is often used in chemical peels. It is also added as a natural preservative and acidic agent to a variety of cosmetics and personal care products, including skin lotions, facial cleansers, shampoo, liquid soaps, body washes, lipstick, nail polish, eyeliner, aftershave, diaper cream, toothpaste and mouthwash. Combined with baking soda, witch hazel and essential oils for scent, citric acid is also used to bake fizzing bath bombs.

as a household cleaner
Citric acid is an effective ingredient in natural household cleaners. It is a chelating agent, meaning that it binds to metals. This makes it useful in softening hard water and, when added to cleaning powders and spray formulas, in removing rust and limescale from bathroom and kitchen fixtures. It may also be combined with washing soda and/or baking soda to make a natural automatic dishwasher detergent.