Citrus & Cleaning – The Science Behind It

Lemons and lemon peel has been used as a natural cleaner for centuries. The limonene in lemon peel is used for its grease-cutting cleaning power in many commercially prepared cleaning products, and you can take advantage of those properties in DIY cleaning recipes too.

But, cleaning is one thing. Disinfecting is another.

Disinfecting means that you are removing not just dirt and grime, but bacteria as well. Here’s a look at some of the science of cleaning with citrus.

The studies
In a 2015 study at the German Cancer Research Center (Deutsches Krebsforschungszentrum, DKFZ) in 2015, researchers found that lemon juice had disinfecting properties against the norovirus. The norovirus is responsible for most of the devastating gastroenteritis outbreaks that occasionally take over institutions such as hospitals, rest homes, and even cruise ships – anywhere there are large groups of people living as a close community.

Norovirus is typically transferred from person to person by contamination of the hands or by extension food. The study observed that the norovirus particles changed their shape after binding with citrate. The area where citrates from lemon juice bind to the virus are those very locations where it would, in turn, bind itself to a host cell.

It doesn’t kill the virus, in other words, but may prevent it from actually infecting neighboring cells.
“Maybe a few drops of lemon juice on contaminated food or surfaces may prevent the transmission of these viruses,” the lead researcher speculated.

A study at the University of Buenos Aires, School of Pharmacy and Biochemistry, in 1994 looked at whether or not lemon juice could be used to help suppress the development of the V. cholerae virus that causes cholera. “The results show that lemon juice can actively prevent survival of V. cholerae but that such activity is reduced in markedly alkaline water. “

It shows the intricate relationship between various aspects of the process, including water quality.

The combination of white vinegar and lemon juice and/or peel is common to many DIY green cleaning recipes, and it seems that heating these liquids may boost their disinfecting power. One study showed that, if white vinegar was heated to 55◦ C, and applied to an affected area for 1 minute, it reduced Listeria monocytogenes and E. coli. The same was true of citric acid from lemon juice if was applied for about 10 minutes at a time. Citric acid reduced Salmonella typhimurium at 55◦ C after 1 minute.

A 2019 study also looked at the ability of lemon juice to inhibit the growth of bacteria that cause diarrhea, a big concern particularly in the developing world. The study specifically used Enterotoxin Escherichia coli (ETEC) for the study, and found that a dose of 900 mg/ml was the best in a laboratory experiment.

Another study confirmed a long held practice among the Xhosa people of South Africa of using lemon to treat and help prevent skin infections. The study used extracts of lemon, and found promising antibacterial activity against Enterococcus faecalis, Bacillus subtilis, Salmonella typhimurium, and Shigella sonnei,

Green cleaning
Trying to minimize or even eliminate many of the chemicals we are exposed to in our modern urban environments may be the best thing we ever do for our health. There are many issues with cleaning products and their ingredients.

Children, who breathe more air than adults (by about 4 to 6 times), and who take those breaths closer to the ground where pollutants tend to concentrate, are especially vulnerable when it comes to chemical exposure from cleaning products.

• There are many specific common cleaning ingredients with known issues when it comes to human health, including ammonia and bleach, or sodium hypochlorite, which can trigger asthma attacks, as well as irritate the skin and respiratory tract.
• The commercial chemical industry has developed more than 85,000 new compounds in the last six decades or so.
• Health testing is done on single chemicals, one at a time, when in practice, cleaning products contain multiple chemicals in a mixture.
• The combined effects of chemicals in a mixture has not been well studied.

While the evidence comes in, lemons, oranges, and other citrus fruits can be used as daily household cleaners, effectively reducing your overall exposure to harmful household chemicals.

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