Fresh and bright, lemon is the smell of cleanliness. Just a whiff evokes images of laundry just pulled off the clothesline, sparkling-clean glasses, and shiny buffed floors.
While everything from dish soap to toilet cleaner comes in a citrus scent, you don’t always need store-bought products to get it—the fruit itself is a powerful cleaning agent in its own right.
Pick up a lemon on your next grocery trip (it shouldn’t cost you more than a few cents!) and put it to work in cleaning your kitchen, bathroom, and even laundry. Here are 11 different uses to try around the house.
1: Clean the oven
Baking a fresh batch of chocolate chip cookies on a dirty cookie sheet would be unthinkable. But when was the last time you cleaned the oven? The layer of apple pie filling, turkey grease, and mozzarella cheese crusted onto its bottom is no match for this DIY oven cleaner with lemon peels. It lifts off baked-on food effortlessly—which means less scrubbing for you.
2: Get dishes sparkling
Next time you slice or juice a lemon, don’t toss the used wedge. Save it until you’re ready to run the dishwasher, and skewer that slice on a rack or toss it in the cutlery section. Not only will your dishes come out with an extra fresh scent, but they’ll also sparkle like never before. Weird, but it works!
3: Disinfect a wooden cutting board
No question about it—wooden cutting boards are far sturdier than plastic. Without regular disinfecting, though, the wood can hide bacteria long after you’re done cooking. Keep everything perfectly sanitary by rinsing off the cutting board with a solution of equal parts vinegar and water, then scrubbing with half a lemon and coarse salt.
4: Wipe out the microwave
This is the easiest way to clean the microwave, hands down. Combine the juice from a lemon with ½ cup water in a small bowl, then add the peel and nuke it until the water boils, about three minutes. Keep the microwave door shut for five more minutes—the steam trapped in the appliance will loosen any food remnants. The pop it open, carefully wipe out the interior, and you’re done.
5: Deodorize storage containers and other smelly kitchen tools
No matter how good those brownies tasted last night, if you tote them to work in a plastic container that still smells like chicken stir-fry, they’re going to be awful. Keep yesterday’s flavors from seeping into today’s food by deodorizing your storage containers with lemon juice. Just leave Tupperware, spatulas, to-go cups, or anything with a lingering scent to soak in a solution of lemon juice and water for an hour, then rinse.
6: Remove rust spots from silverware
So you accidentally left your chef’s knife soaking in the sink, and now it’s covered in tiny rust spots. Don’t freak—you can get those pesky stains off with a little lemon juice. Squeeze some into a tall glass or cup, then soak the blade in it for a few minutes. The acid will help loosen the rust, and with a little elbow grease, you should be able to wipe it off completely. This works on spoons and forks, too!
7: Clean the blender
Figuring out how to sanitize the blender by hand can seem downright impossible, as it’s tough to reach all the nooks and crannies. To make it easy, put the machine to use to clean itself; fill it halfway with warm water, add a chopped lemon and a few drops of dish soap, and run it.
8: Loosen cooked-on food from pots and pans
Half a lemon and coarse salt can clean pretty much anything—including grease and food that has burnt to a crisp on the side of the frying pan. Scrub, scrub, scrub, and you’ll see that debris lift right off.
9: Shine chrome faucets
Wiping down shiny silver hardware with plain water leaves those irritating spots. Opt for lemon instead—either the juice on a paper towel or a half does the trick.
10: Scrub dingy grout
Grout—that paste holding your bathroom counters and kitchen backsplash together—gets dingy fast. Since it’s naturally porous, it absorbs dirt, mold, food, and just about everything else. Turn it bright white again by scrubbing with a toothbrush dipped in lemon juice. Just test this trick on a small area first—the acid can cause discoloration on some types of tile.
11: Brighten whites
As chic as white T-shirts, jeans, and button-downs look, there’s one big downside: they inevitably turn a dingy shade of pale gray. Keep all your whites looking bright by throwing ¼ cup of fresh lemon juice plus 1½ cups hydrogen peroxide in the wash—the citric acid works like bleach, without the acrid smell.
Now, when life gives you lemons, you can do more than just make lemonade.
Photo credit: Paul Delmont