Citric Acid - ChemicalSafetyFacts.org

Citric Acid

Citric acid is naturally concentrated in a variety of fruits and vegetables and is particularly concentrated in lemons and limes. As with most organic acids, citric acid is a weak acid, with a pH level between 3 and 6.

Uses & Benefits

Commonly used as a food additive as a natural flavoring and a preservative, citric acid is also used in cosmetics, for medical purposes, as an antioxidant and in cleaning products.

  • Food flavoring and preservative

    Citric acid can be added to processed and packaged foods and drinks such as ice cream, sorbets, sodas, wine and canned and jarred foods, as a preservative, an emulsifying agent and as a sour flavoring. Citric acid is added to many canned and jarred foods to help prevent botulism.

  • Cosmetics and personal care products

    As an ingredient in personal care products, citric acid can help to brighten skin, correct dark spots and minimize fine lines. Products containing citric acid can be formulated for use near the eyes, lips, mouth and nasal passages, as well as for safe application to babies’ skin. Citric acid and its salts may also be used in hairsprays, and deodorant and body sprays. Sodium citrate, a salt of citric acid, is used in lipstick, soap, and in detergent. Citric acid and its salts can be used to preserve cosmetics and personal care products, and to help adjust their pH level.

  • Medical uses

    Citric acid is used to help kill harmful bacteria, as well as infections on the surface of the skin that can be common in people with diabetes, the elderly and people who smoke. Citric acid also can be combined with sodium citrate and potassium citrate to lower acid levels in the urine to help prevent gout attacks.

  • Antioxidant

    Antioxidants, which are derived from citric acid, can help keep food edible over a longer period of time. For example, sprinkling lemon juice, which contains citric acid, over apples or bananas can help prevent them from turning brown. Ascorbic acid, better known as Vitamin C, is also found in citric acid and is often used to help protect and preserve soft drinks and meats.

  • Cleaning products

    Citric acid may be added to commercial cleaning products, as it can help remove hard water build-up on dishes and glassware. It also can be used to remove coffee and tea stains, yellowing/browning discolorations and water and urine stains. Some commercial products that contain citric acid are water-based and can cause corrosion on metals. To minimize and prevent rust, dry the metal after cleaning it.

Safety Information

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) states that citric acid is generally recognized as safe (GRAS) as a direct food additive.

Since 1919, approximately 99 percent of the world’s production of manufactured citric acid is developed from the Aspergillus niger fungus, more commonly known as black mold. Black mold efficiently converts sugars into citric acid and its fermentation also is generally recognized as safe by FDA under its Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act.

Because excessive amounts of citric acid may cause tooth enamel to dissolve overtime, the Academy of General Dentistry states that foods containing citric acid should be consumed in moderation and recommends rinsing the mouth after eating or drinking food and beverages that contain citric acid. Another option is to use a straw when drinking beverages that contain citric acid. It can also be beneficial to drink water and eat less acidic foods, such as nuts, bananas and cheese, when consuming foods that contain citric acid.

Answering Questions

What are some of the fruits and vegetables that contain citric acid?

Citric acid occurs naturally in lemons, limes, pineapples, grapefruits, berries (not blueberries), tomatoes, broccoli, carrots, and some varieties of peppers.

What are some common uses of citric acid?

Citric acid is used in insecticides and disinfectants to help destroy bacteria and viruses. It is used to preserve and marinate meats, and flavor foods and beverages. For example, citric acid is used in wine to reduce low acidity and improve taste.

Is citric acid safe to use?

Yes, citric acid is generally safe to use as a food additive and in a variety of other applications. If the juice from citrus fruit gets into the eyes, flush the eyes with water. To help protect tooth enamel, rinse the mouth after consuming food and drinks that contain citric acid. Many cosmetic and personal care products contain citric acid and its salts as preservatives.