We tried Michelle Ogundehin’s citric acid cleaning trick and it’s genius

Pick up a box of the stuff next time you shop and banish household limescale in minutes.

You might not associate cleaning hacks with effortlessly elegant interiors guru Michelle Ogundehin. So it was a surprise when we saw – on Instagram – the head judge of BBC One’s Interior Design Masters cleaning a less-than-sparkling loo with citric acid. More associated with luxury than lavatories, it came as a shock to see her wearing rubber gloves and sporting a toilet brush.

What, then, is Michelle Ogundehin’s citric acid toilet cleaning hack, and does it really work? We put it to the test.

white tiled bathroom with white toilet and unbranded bottles of cleaning products next to toilet brush and spongeCredit: Shutterstock/New Africa
Can citric acid leave your loo looking like new?

Ogundehin’s toilet cleaning trick explained

Citric acid, toilet brush and flushing water is all you need

If you haven’t seen the hack, we’ll explain. It involves a simple shake of citric acid around the bowl, a short wait, a light scrub with the toilet brush, a quick flush and it’s like new.

Whether or not the toilet being cleaned on Instagram is actually Ogundehin’s isn’t confirmed, but what is strikingly clear is how quickly the toilet goes from grimy to gleaming with minimal effort.


Why is citric acid so effective?

It has natural cleansing properties that pack a powerful punch

If a grubby toilet can look that good, we wondered what else could benefit from the cleansing powers of citric acid?

While the powers of other kitchen cupboards staples such as bicarbonate of soda and white vinegar are well known, citric acid may have escaped your notice in the cleaning aisles. And, if you’ve always been concerned over the word acid, don’t be. It’s also found in food.

lemons on wooden surface with leaves, slices and whole lemonsCredit: Shutterstock/ Africa Studio
Lemons and citric acid share the same powers

“The secret ingredient in lemons that makes them such powerful cleaning agents is citric acid,” explains Nigel Bearman, CEO of Daily Poppins. “It can be used to clean surfaces around the house, and aside from dissolving stains, citric acid also acts as a bactericide and fungicide, providing a gentle bleaching action.

“Citric acid is regarded as an environmentally friendly cleaning ingredient,” adds Bearman. “In addition to being food-safe, easily biodegradable, vegan-friendly, and renewable, your septic tank won’t be damaged by it either.

According to the experts at natural cleaning company Purdy & Figg, it’s a key tool in their arsenal of cleaning ingredients, as it can naturally whiten, disinfect and descale in many areas of the home.

Although citric acid is found in food, it still comes with a warning.

“Citric acid dust can irritate the nose and throat when breathed in,” reminds Bearman. “As well as being an eye and skin irritant, it can also cause allergic reactions. Working with citric acid may require protective clothing, eye protection and adequate ventilation.”

As with all cleaning products, it’s essential to read the manufacturer’s instructions carefully before using it for the first time. When I ran my cleaning tests, I wore gloves and ensured the bathroom was well ventilated. Despite taking these precautions, my nose still felt a little itchy.

We put citric acid to the test

Would it live up to expectations?

I live in a hard water area, and it only takes a couple of showers before the shower screens are marked with tell-tale mineral deposits. The same goes for taps and the inside of kettles.

I’m a fan of a clean home and I’m easily annoyed when these marks appear, so armed with a newly purchased box of citric acid, warm water and my trusty rubber gloves, I tackled the following items in my home:

  1. kettle
  2. taps/shower
  3. shower screen
  4. mirror

Here’s what I found.

boxes of citric acid and yellow microfibre clothCredit: Exceptional
Can citric acid help my hard water problem?

1. Using citric acid to descale a kettle

It can shift limescale effectively

Despite living here for only five weeks, the kettle is already showing signs of limescale on the inside. The small floating deposits put me off my morning coffee – and if I don’t get coffee, the world is not a good place.

inside of kettle showing limescale deposits floating in waterCredit: Exceptional
Limescale deposits are making for miserable mornings

As per manufacturer instructions, I half-filled the kettle, boiled it, unplugged it and added a third of the 250g (9oz) box to the kettle, then left it for 15 minutes. When I returned, I was slightly sceptical, as there was a large amount of the citric acid crystals still remaining on the bottom.

However, it was an unnecessary concern, as after emptying the kettle and rinsing thoroughly with water a few times (this was needed to fully remove the crystals) the bottom of my kettle was restored to new.

inside of kettle showing clean water and shiny surfaceCredit: Exceptional
A clean kettle makes for a happy writer

Would I do this again? Absolutely. I always dislike using the kettle after removing limescale with chemical based products and tend to boil and empty it at least three to four times before using it again – something that isn’t great for the environment or my electricity bills. Although the instructions don’t say to boil it again after using citric acid, just rinse, I boiled and emptied it once and then felt perfectly comfortable with using it.

2. Using citric acid on taps and showers

Spray on a water and acid solution to shift water marks

Chrome taps and shower fittings are a lovely way of adding shine and light to the bathroom, but they need to stay shiny to look great.

After adding 40g (one and half ounces) of citric acid to 500ml (one pint) of warm water in a spray bottle, I cleaned a sink tap and shower head and rail – all of which were showing water marks.

shower rail being cleaned with solution from spray bottleCredit: Exceptional
Limescale deposits are stopping the shine on my bathroom fittings

A short wait, a wipe-over with my trusty microfibre cloth, and once again, results were immediate. Marks were magically gone, and the chrome was glistening.

Even a stubborn mark on the mouth of the tap that I’ve been trying to get rid of for weeks almost disappeared. Success!

shiny chrome bathroom tapCredit: Exceptional
A long standing mark on the tap mouth was banished

3. Using citric acid on shower screens

It cuts through limescale, but you might need two goes

Although I love the size of the shower screens, I don’t love the fact that, as my eldest son showers at least twice a day, they go from sparkling to smeared in 24 hours. I have to spray and wipe them clean with a bathroom cleaning spray or glass cleaning product a few times a week.

black framed shower screen showing water marksCredit: Exceptional
Sparkling shower screens are marked after just one day

The marks were quite bad when I ran the test, so I sprayed and left the solution on there for around five minutes before going back to wipe it clean. It was noticeably easier to wipe the screen than normal, when I can still feel the limescale underneath the cloth.

The citric acid solution appeared to cut through and dissolve the deposits far more efficiently than the products I normally use. After the first attempt the glass was much cleaner. I gave it a second spray and wipe, just because I wanted to make sure it was all gone. Another great result.

person wearing yellow rubber glove cleaning shower screenCredit: Exceptional
Two lots of spray and wipe sessions and the marks were dissolved

4. Using citric acid on mirrors

Citric acid is a great smear-free cleaner

I was a little wary about this one and not overly convinced. The mirror wasn’t particularly dirty and because I want guaranteed results, I’d normally use a specific glass cleaning product for the job.

chrome porthole style bathroom mirror with fingerprint marksCredit: Exceptional
Will citric acid work as well as a specific glass cleaning product?

But, once again, citric acid more than effectively cleaned it. It wasn’t necessarily any better than any other product I’ve used, and I still needed to wipe it dry at the end to remove any cleaning smears, but being able to use one eco-friendly product to clean the whole bathroom from top to bottom is a huge positive in terms of cost, time and the environment.

clean and mark free porthole mirror in bathroomCredit: Exceptional
Citric acid performed as well as a regular glass cleaning product

What else can be cleaned with citric acid?

You may be surprised at how versatile it is

Dig a bit deeper into the powers of citric acid, and it’s interesting to see just how many areas of the home can benefit from its hidden powers.

Bearman says it can be used for the following jobs

Apply a light spray of citric acid solution to stainless steel, butcher’s block and laminate countertops. Using a sponge or microfibre cloth, wipe the surface to remove smudges and stains and disinfect it.

Run your dishwasher on a hot cycle after adding two teaspoons of citric acid powder and one spoon of sodium bicarbonate (baking soda).

Baking soda and citric acid will get into every part of the machine that you can’t see. Using this solution, soap scum will be effectively dissolved and removed, leaving the machine perfectly clean.

If you live in a hard water area, aim to do this every 30 cycles, and your machine will last a lot longer.

Food can leave stains on ceramic plates, plasticware and melamine dishes. Pour boiling water into a large container or into the sink. Add one tablespoon of citric acid powder to a cup of water (or half a cup to a sink). Place the dishes in the water and soak for three to four hours. Proceed as usual with the washing.

To cut through soap scum, spray the citric acid and water solution on bathroom tiles, fibreglass shower stalls, or shower doors. Once it has worked for at least 10 minutes, clean it as usual.

Wooden cutting boards and utensils can be disinfected with citric acid, which has antibacterial properties. Apply the citric acid solution to the surface after washing and let it work for five to ten minutes. After rinsing the surfaces with hot water, make sure they are well-dried.

Despite being tempted to douse the whole house in this seemingly magical spray, remember that it’s not always suitable for every surface. Bearman recommends avoiding the following:

  • Natural stone surfaces, as it can etch granite, marble and quartz.
  • The acidic nature of citric acid is also not suitable for wood that has been coated. Avoid citric acid if your floors or furniture have been treated with wax sealants, as it can degrade the coating, leaving your wood with a cloudy appearance.
  • Finally, do not use citric acid to clean electronic devices. Screens of this type should always be cleaned with a specialist screen cleaner.
Sarah Harley

Written by Sarah Harley she/her


Since first picking up a paintbrush and experiencing the joy of re-decorating her bedroom in a questionable red, white and grey scheme as a young teenager, Sarah Harley was hooked on the world of interior design. This obsession even led to a real life ‘Grand Designs’ project in 2005 when she donned a pink hard hat and appeared on TV screens, project managing the renovation and extension of a Grade II listed 17th century Folly in South Wales.

Throughout her career, Sarah has gained an array of experience in several different roles, ranging from copywriting, PR, events management and photography to interior design and home staging. With her two passions being the written word and the joys of a beautifully designed home, Sarah’s mission is to open the door on the world of interiors, inviting readers in to help them work their way through the vast choice of products, ideas and trends so that their own homes can reach their full potential.

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