There are two cleaners that can be used to solve a variety of cleaning problems: isopropyl alcohol and white vinegar. However, both of these cleaners have one tragic flaw: they stink. Some people add essential oils to mask the scent and to boost their cleaning power, but essential oils are expensive and they are so strong they can be hazardous to work with if you don’t know what you’re doing. So we decided to try something new: fruity versions made with real fruit.
The Power of Citrus
Citrus is a common additive to cleaners not only for it’s pleasant scent, but also for it’s cleaning power for cutting through grease and killing bacteria. Citrus fruits also have a rind, which makes them the perfect candidates for fruit cleaners. The main chemical that makes citrus such a powerful cleaner is limonene, which is located primarily in the rind.
Limonene works particularly well as a solvent, cutting through grease, wax, dirt and grime. However, it works so well that it can also remove the natural oils from the skin, so you should consider wearing gloves when using these cleaners. Limonene is antifungal, antibacterial, and antiviral, making it an excellent choice for cleaning areas that are particularly dirty like bathrooms or countertops. There are other helpful chemicals found in citrus rinds as well, such as citral, which is antimicrobial, meaning that it kills a variety of microorganisms (bacteria, viruses, etc.). For a better understanding, the majority (about 90%) of lemon oil is limonene and the next largest component is citral (about 5%), so these two chemicals play the largest roles in the the cleaning effectiveness of citrus fruits.
Besides all the wonderful cleaning properties sought after from the chemicals in the rinds, it is also important to use the rinds and not the fruit meat because the meat will start to biodegrade almost immediately whereas the rinds can last indefinitely. We chose to use lemons, limes and grapefruit, but any citrus fruit rind can work: orange, tangerine, pomelo, etc.
Making the Cleaners
To make these cleaners, each fruit was peeled and the rinds were placed in a 1 pint mason jar. To peel the fruits, we attempted three methods: using a kitchen peeler, using a paring knife, and peeling by hand. All three methods worked the same – there was no difference in the final pieces of rind rendered. We felt each method was equally as easy physically as well, so you can just pick the one you like the best (or try out all three methods yourself)!
Once full of rinds, either 99% isopropyl alcohol or distilled white vinegar was poured into the jar until full. The lid was attached, then the jar was stored for two weeks in a dark, cool location (in a storage cabinet in a hallway). You don’t have to completely fill the jars with the rinds like we did, but if you don’t, only pour in enough alcohol or vinegar to reach the top of the rinds. Depending on what type of fruit cleaner you decide to make, you may have a lot of fruit meat you can use afterward, so plan ahead for that. If using a pint jar, it will take at least four lemons, eight limes or one grapefruit to fill it up, but you can scale the size up or down for however much cleaner you want or fruit you’d like to eat.
What to Expect
After two weeks of steeping, the cleaners also take on the color of their respective fruits. Of course the color is fun to look at, but it’s always important to use caution with dyed products – even naturally dyed ones like this – as they may transfer the color to other surfaces, including hard surfaces like floors or countertops. If you want to keep one or both of these cleaners in your home for general use, we recommend first testing them on a small hidden area of every surface you intend to use them on, as well as surfaces surrounding that area where they might drip or migrate. An easy way to prevent a cleaner from getting onto an unwanted surface is to always spray it onto the cleaning cloth rather than onto the surface itself.
One of the best aspects of these recipes is that the base cleaners – alcohol and vinegar – both smell very strong by themselves, and not particularly pleasant. Once steeped with the citrus rinds, their smells are significantly improved. The cleaners do not smell as strong and they even take on the odors of the fruit instead. However, as a precaution we do still recommend only using them in a well ventilated area.
We poured out some of the cleaner from the jar into the small spray bottles seen above to use for our DIY Glass Cleaners Put to the Test. We were delighted to find out that the fruit-alcohols were the top performers out of all the 18 DIY recipes tested! We repeated the glass tests after 6 weeks of storage and achieved the same great results.
Isopropyl alcohol is a mild disinfectant and the alcohol that we used, 99% isopropyl alcohol, is not the kind you buy at the supermarket. It can only be ordered online that we know of. The strongest supermarket kind is 91% isopropyl alcohol. However, the percent difference is so small that it will likely be insignificant in terms of results, so if you want to use the supermarket kind, that should work just as well. Do not use rubbing alcohol though; rubbing alcohol contains a variety of other chemicals, including dyes.
Since these fruit-alcohols also contain limonene, it is important to test them first on any surface you intend to use them on to look for any adverse reaction. They could strip off paint or sealants, or cause other damage. Choose a small, hidden area for testing.
- Cleaning glass surfaces, such as windows, mirrors and tabletops.
- Cleaning stone countertops.
- Keep handy for spraying on sticky messes or other general dirt spots on tile, linoleum, or stone floors.
- Cleaning stainless steel and plastic appliances.
- Disinfecting frequently touched surfaces like light switches and door knobs.
- Cleaning toilets and porcelain sinks.
- Polishing faucets and other metal housewares, but be sure to test first; alcohol can remove the lacquer on copper or brass.
- Use extra caution on countertops and floors as it could remove the sealant on them.
- Never use an alcohol-based cleaner on wood.
- Wear gloves during use. Alcohol can be harsh and drying on skin.
- Avoid use on leather as it can have a drying effect.
- Keep away from open flames.
- Ventilate the area during use.
- Never mix this product or any alcohol-based product with chlorine bleach.
- Use caution around delicate fabrics like acrylic, wool and silk.
The white vinegar that we used was the regular kind from the supermarket – Great Value distilled 5%. We purchased a whole gallon because we use it often, but you can get a smaller amount just for this purpose. White vinegar is a mild disinfectant and anti-fungal, which makes it perfect for a variety of cleaning purposes. It is well known for its abilities as a grease-cutter and deodorizer too.
When using vinegar for cleaning, we usually recommend mixing it with an equal amount of water as it is very strong, but when strength is what you need, plain vinegar can pack a punch. There is a version called “cleaning vinegar” which is a 10% solution and therefore even stronger; it can be used as well. Since these fruit versions also contain the limonene, it is extra important that you test them first as they may strip of paint or sealants, or cause other adverse reactions.
- Cleaning wood surfaces, including floors.
- Cleaning non-stone kitchen countertops. (May be able to use on granite as well, but test first.)
- Can be used to wipe down walls, especially ones that have cooking grease on them.
- Cleaning grout.
- Polishing copper items.
- Wiping down leather furniture. (Consider using a leather conditioner afterward.)
- Cleaning porcelain items, such as sinks, toilets and bathtubs.
- Can be sprayed on surfaces for deodorizing.
- Always use in a well-ventilated area.
- Consider wearing cleaning gloves when working with this or any cleaner.
- Never use acidic cleaners like this on marble surfaces because they will dissolve the calcite from the stone and create a dull spot (known as ‘etching’).
- Never use acidic cleaners like this on aluminum or cast iron as it will cause corrosion (tarnish).
- Never mix an acidic cleaner like this one with chlorine bleach as the combination creates toxic fumes.
- Use caution around delicate fabrics like acrylic, wool and silk.
- Store these cleaners in a cool (room temperature) location.
- A variety of citrus fruits can be used to make a unique scent blend, such as tangerine-lime or lemon-grapefruit.
- Using different colors of spray bottles or creating labels can help to distinguish between the two cleaners. Using different scents for each type of cleaner (alcohol or vinegar) can also help to differentiate them.
- Handbook for Critical Cleaning; Cleaning Agents and Systems by Barbara & Edward Kanegsberg
- The Miracle of Lemons by Dr. Penny Stanway
- Various tests that we complete in-house