Acids – Part One

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Acid cleaners may sound scary but that’s just horror movies clouding the subject. We use acids every day and don’t even know it – we even ingest them so they can’t all be bad especially if we’re using them to clean our homes.


Mild acidic cleaners are primarily used to dissolve hard water deposits, remove mild rust stains, and eliminate soap film from around the sink and on shower doors. They are also useful in removing tarnish from brass and copper. These acidic cleaning products include acetic acid, which we know as vinegar and citric acid, known as lemon juice. Cleaners made from these acids are safe for use around children and pets. There are other mild acids that can be found in household cleaning products; like gluconic acid, hydroxyacetic acid and levulinic acid.


Acetic acid is the acid in clear white vinegar and is a natural all-purpose cleaning agent. Best used for general household cleaning on surfaces that can tolerate a strong, acidic product. It removes hard water deposits from glassware, rust stains from sinks and tarnish from brass and copper. Acetic acid can be used as a mild de-liming rinsing agent and as a disinfectant but can’t make that claim on consumer packaging.


Citric acid is a natural substance found in citrus fruits like lemons, limes, oranges, and grapefruits. It’s non-toxic, antibacterial, antiseptic and has much the same use as vinegar. Used to remove hard water buildup on dishes and glassware, it’s also used as an acid spotter to remove coffee and tea stains, yellowing discolorations, water stains, and urine or feces stains. Some commercial products that contain citric acid are water-based and may cause corrosion or rust on metals so make sure you wash and dry metal after cleaning to prevent rust.


Cream of tartar is a very mild acid salt, that can be made into a paste with water. It can be used to clean brass and copper, brighten aluminum, remove rust and freshen coffee makers. Mix a small amount with vinegar to create a non-abrasive cleaner for use on grout, mold and mildew, oven tops and cookware.


A very mild, yet more acidic than vinegar or lemon juice, phosphoric acid is a clear, colorless and odorless liquid. Mostly used for rust removal, it works quite well on most types of bathroom stains and in commercial products, phosphoric acid is found in tub, tile, sink, and toilet bowl cleaners.

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