How to Use Citric Acid as a Preservative? Uses and Side Effects

What is Citric Acid?

Citric acid is an organic acid that has the chemical formula C6H8O7.It can be found abundantly in fruits (especially in citrus fruits) like oranges, lemons, limes, and pineapples. Citric acid was first isolated from a lemon using Aspergillus niger by Carl Wilhelm Scheele in 1784. Since then, it has been considered safe for consumption and has GRAS status from FDA.

Uses of Citric Acid

Here’s the uses of citric acid in everyday life and how to use Citric Acid as a preservative:

1. It is a natural preservative

Most common use of citric acid is as a preservative. It is also used to add an acidic taste to foods and soft drinks. Citric acid can be found in various food and soft drink products. It is an effective organic preservative that can be found on food or drink products as “E330”.

Citric acid also gives a pleasant citrus flavor to beverages such as soft drinks. Citric acid, as a food preservatives or additives, is commonly added to:

  • Caramel
  • Beverages (such as sodas, cider, beer, and wine)
  • Certain kind of cheese
  • Various canned and jarred food (preserves, canned fruit, canned vegetables, sauces)
  • Baked goods and cake mixes
  • Frozen fish (Particularly herring, shrimp, and crab)
  • Many processed sweets
  • Pre-cut and packaged fruits and vegetables
  • Baby foods

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2. Cleaning and chelating agent

Citric acid makes an excellent chelating agent. It works by making metals that it binds soluble. Besides that, Citric acid works by softening the water that citric acid is applied to, making it a useful detergents ingredients.

3. Water softener

One of Citric acid’s characteristic is that Citric acid is a weak organic acid. That characteristic makes it a powerful water softener. Citric acid softens the water by binding trace of metals found in a water and making the metal soluble.

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4. Cosmetics

Citric acid is one of the common ingredients that can be found in various cosmetics products (such as soap, shampoo, body wash, and face cleanser) as it balances the pH level of a cosmetics product. It is advisable to use cosmetic products containing a Citric acid with caution as some people may be sensitive to Citric acid. Also read: List of Prohibited and Restricted Cosmetic Ingredients Canada

5. Bath bombs

We can make our own bath bombs by using Citric acid. The Citric acid is completely safe to use in bathtub. The fizzy effects is caused by the reaction of Citric acid with water and other ingredients (such as baking soda, witch hazel and fragrances). 

6. Cure kidney disorders

Citric acid is used to prevent kidney stones in combination with sodium citrate.

7. Household cleaner

Some household cleaning products (such as air freshener and bathroom sprays) use citric acid as one of their ingredients. Besides being a natural choice and works well in cleaning hard stains, Citric acid also has a pleasant citrusy smell which people tends to like that makes it commonly used as household cleaners.

8. Carpet cleaners

Citric acid can also be used as a carpet cleaner. Applying a 10% pharmaceutical-grade Citric acid to a discolored carpet helps in removing the stains. In fact, many carpet cleaning companies use this as a solution for carpet cleaning in homes and business.

Side Effects and Health Issues in Consuming Citric Acid

Although citric acid may be useful in many cases, using Citric acid in a wrong way or consuming it excessively may lead to several side effects, such as:

  • Taking an excessive amount of citric acid in combination with sodium citrate may lead to kidney failure.
  • Consuming Citric acid with an empty stomach may lead to intestinal side effects.
  • Citric acid may also lead to muscle twisting or cramps.
  • Citric acid may lead to weight gain, swelling, fast heart rate, and slow or rapid breathing.
  • Although it is considered as a harmless food additive by food regulating agency all over the world, it may lead to an erosive effect on tooth enamel.
  • People who have GI intolerance may experience irritation from citric acid.

Consuming combinations of Citric acid with Sodium citrate may lead to serious side effects for some people, such as:

  • Muscle twitching
  • Cramps
  • Swelling
  • Weight gain
  • Weakness
  • Mood changes
  • Fast heart rate
  • Restless feeling
  • Black or bloody stools
  • Severe diarrhea
  • Seizure (convulsions)

Although Citric acid is considered harmless, it is not advisable for some people if they happen to have:

  • Allergic to Citric acid
  • Kidney failure
  • Severe heart damage
  • Addison’s disease (it is an adrenal gland disorder)
  • High level of Potassium in blood stream (Hyperkalemia)
  • Severely dehydrated people
  • People who suffer heat cramps

People who have a certain condition may need to adjust their dosage of Citric acid or they may also need to take a special test to determine if they can safely take Citric acid as a medication. 

A person may need to tell their doctor before taking Citric acid and Sodium citrate if they have a certain condition, such as:

  • Kidney disease
  • Congestive heart failure
  • Enlarged heart
  • History of heart attack
  • Low levels of calcium in blood stream (Hypocalcemia)
  • Urinary tract infection
  • Toxemia of pregnancy
  • Urinating problems
  • Swelling in the hand or feet
  • Pulmonary edema (swelling in the lungs)
  • Chronic diarrhea (such as ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease)

How to Use Citric Acid as a Preservative

As we already knew that one use of Citric acid is as a preservative. We can make our own Citric acid preservatives by following some steps below.

  • Boil 2 cups of distilled water, then add 0.05% to 0.1% Citric acid to the boiling distilled water. Stir it until it is dissolved. Set aside to cool it down. When it cooled down, add it to homemade skin products (such as skin products or face cream) as a preservative.
  • Squeeze a citrus fruit (such as lemon or lime) over fresh products to keep it from browning. The Citric acid is useful in preventing cut fruits (particularly apples or bananas) from browning after exposure to air.
  • Use 1 tsp. of Citric acid per a qt. of water (or juice) when canning products to help the final product preserve.
  • Add 1 tsp. of Citric acid per a qt. of rinse and soak water when sprouting seeds until ready to consume.
  • Use 1.5 oz. per 100 lbs. of meat when preserving meat (such as jerky).