In Defense of Lemon-Scented Cleaning Products in a “Clean Linen” World

published Jun 5, 2023
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Hands with lemon cleaner spray cleaning the window
Credit: Africa Studio/Shutterstock

I’ve always wondered who picks out the scents for cleaning products. While I know that a company’s research and development departments conduct seemingly endless market research and tests to determine which specific fragrances to use to make people buy their products, I still ponder why certain aromas make the cut while others don’t. 

Truth be told, I am obsessed with scents. I always have been. I admit that I love to spend money on oodles of perfumes, candles, lotions, and incense to make myself and my surroundings smell lovely — and I know there are plenty of other people who are just as captivated by aromas as I am. Between all the colognes, body care products, air fresheners, and candles calling to us from store shelves, it’s not surprising that fragrance outfits have remained a multi-billion dollar industry. Naturally, cleaning products fit nicely within this realm. Considering how much time we spend around aromas on a daily basis, why wouldn’t our cleaning products smell pleasant, too? 

In our not-too-distant past, there were certain scents found in the cleaning product aisle more often than others. As classic brands still around today have particular (and often proprietary) smells that are so iconic, you instantly know what it is without even looking at the package or bottle (Ivory bar soap’s subtle, almost powdery fragrance, and Fabuloso’s bright lavender immediately come to mind). 

But within our beloved circle of nostalgia, two very specific bouquets dominated the cleaning product market for decades — one of the biggest being good, old-fashioned pine. 

We can thank a chemist named Harry A. Cole for bringing the heady fragrance of Pine-Sol into our homes. An abundance of pine trees near Cole’s home in Jackson, Mississippi, provided the oil that was both “a natural disinfectant and deodorizer,” and from that point on, if your house smelled like a forest, you knew it was clean. According to the brand’s story, Cole ideated Pine-Sol’s iconic pine scent back in 1929 and today, nearly a century later, it’s still going strong. 

After a few decades, another scent group would eventually compete with pine as the most popular in cleaning: citrus. According to an 1987 LA Times article on the growing popularity of lemon-scented products, over a 21-month period in the mid-1980s, at least 78 household cleaning products were introduced that smelled like lemon, and in one year during that time period, sales in lemon-scented products increased while pine-scented cleaning product sales decreased.

Citruses provide both a freshness and an uplifting smell that is definitely much softer than the strong pine that everyone at the time was used to, and brands rushed to release something citrus-scented. In 2005, Dutch researchers even found that citrus scents can encourage us to keep our kitchens cleaner by subconsciously making us think of hygiene while in the kitchen. Perhaps that’s why legacy brands like Pledge, Joy, Lysol, and Ajax have products with lemon-scented formulas that are still around today. Even Pine-Sol got on the bandwagon and released their own Lemon Fresh smell many moons ago.  

In recent years, more “sophisticated” scents have become commonplace in the cleaning aisle, including the following:

So, is anybody into lemon anymore? Judging by its decades of popularity and the fact that almost every single brand of cleaner out there has something citrusy, absolutely

I love products that smell like a bright and sunny citrus grove — and, quite honestly, a nostalgic clean home — so if you’re like me and you’re not ready to move onto the clean linens of the world, check out some of my picks for products in all their lemony glory.

Mrs. Meyer’s Lemon Verbena Products

Technically, lemon verbena isn’t related to the lemon, but is actually part of the verbena or vervain genus of plants. However, the smell is reminiscent of the freshness and sweetness of citrus. My late grandmother used to bring back bottles of a lemon verbena perfume from Greece, and the smell of Mrs. Meyer’s takes me right back to those days standing in her kitchen. It’s light and sweet with a gorgeous floral undertone; whether you use the spray cleaner or dryer sheets, it will perk you right up. 

Seventh Generation Lemon

As I’ve switched to mostly natural cleaning products, Seventh Generation is one of the brands I use faithfully. I’m a big fan of the Lavender Flower & Mint and Clementine Zest & Lemongrass dish soaps, so I’m continuing the citrus trend with the mellow fragrance of this dishwasher gel. Containing grapefruit peel, lemon peel, and lemongrass oils, I’ve found that stubborn food stuck on plates and pots comes off pretty easily. 

Pledge Lemon

Ah yes, an old favorite. It’s hard to believe that Pledge itself has been around since 1958 (and I’m obsessed with commercials for Lemon Pledge dating back to 1966!). While dusting was never my favorite household chore as a kid, Lemon Pledge was always my go-to whenever I had to do it. 

If my words convinced you enough to give lemony products a space in your cleaning cabinet, check out more of our favorite lemon-scented kitchen cleaning products here. The comforting scent might just transport you to childhood, and it’s difficult to feel anything other than happiness when you inhale the glorious aroma of lemon.