9 Things You Should Never Clean with Lemons (and What to Do Instead)

published Mar 13, 2024
We independently select these products—if you buy from one of our links, we may earn a commission. All prices were accurate at the time of publishing.
Post Image
Credit: Joe Lingeman

Remember the movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding, when the patriarch of the family swore that Windex can do it all, clean it all, and cure it all? If you’ve seen the movie, you’re nodding along and laughing, and well, that’s what I’ve always believed about lemon juice — specifically in the kitchen. I’ve always been amazed at how it gets the kitchen sparkly clean, smelling great, and disinfected. If I see a product that uses lemon — from dishwasher detergent to multi-surface cleaners — I don’t think twice about adding it to my arsenal of cleaning supplies. When I’m cooking something that calls for lemon, I’m happy to have extra for cleaning my microwave or freshening up my sink

Recently, however, I started researching new tips and hacks to keep my kitchen clean with my beloved lemons. I was surprised to come across this startling and important fact: The acidity of lemons will actually do more harm than good on certain types of countertops, floors, cookware, and appliances. Yikes! While lemons are great for cleaning copper, freshening up your garbage disposal, or taking stains off butcher blocks, I asked cleaning pros about what you should never clean with lemons, and here are the nine things the experts shared:

1. Natural Stone Countertops 

While they make beautiful touches to any kitchen, granite and marble are extremely porous and susceptible to damage from the acid found in lemon juice. “We had a client who left a lemon rind on their granite countertop for a few minutes, and it etched into the finish of the counter,” says Delah Gomasi of cleaning service MaidForYou. “Such a small oversight caused thousands of dollars of irreparable damage.”

2. Hardwood Floors

Never use lemon as a substitute for soap when mopping hardwood floors, as the acid of lemon juice will strip the finish. “I’ve seen countless floors that have been damaged as a result of viral trends on social media showing people using lemon as a part of their floor cleaning process,” warns Gomasi.

3.  Cast Iron Pans

Cast iron pans can take years of work to get the seasoning just right with the hopes of passing it down through generations (or just getting a perfect sear). The secret is cleaning it (or barely cleaning it) with basic boiling hot water and a touch of dish soap. If you think lemon can get the job done, think again! “It will remove the seasoning from the pan you’ve worked so hard on, causing it to rust,” says Ronnie Kendrick from CompanyClean. “But more importantly, you won’t have the nonstick properties anymore.”

4. Dishes

When you’re in a pinch, washing dishes with lemons and a dash of salt will get the job done. However, it’s important to note that lemon juice doesn’t work the same as dish soap. “Dish soap is formulated to lift grease, grime, and food bits off dishes,” says Katie Barton, head of cleaning at Homedit.com. “Lemon juice can effectively degrease an item, but it doesn’t have the same dirt-lifting power. Stick to cleaning dishes with dish soap and save the lemon hack for when there are no other options.”

5. Aluminum and Cookware  

Like natural stone, the acid in lemon will damage aluminum and copper cookware. “We advise our clients to proceed with caution when cooking with lemon on aluminum or copper cookware,” says Gomasi. “This causes the metal to leak into the food and can cause discoloration of your cookware.”

6. Rubber Seals on Appliances

The rubber seals on appliances like a refrigerator gasket or blender keep everything airtight to prevent leaks and spoilage, ensuring they work optimally. But if you expose those rubber seals to lemon juice, they can start to break down and lose their elasticity over time. “This can lead to all sorts of problems, like leaks or poor sealing of the appliance,” says Elizabeth Shields, Operations Manager of Super Cleaning Service Louisville.  “If you want to keep your kitchen appliances in good working order, avoid using acidic substances like lemon juice on the rubber seals. You can clean them up using mild soapy water and a soft cloth, and even apply a silicone-based lubricant to keep them elastic and functional.”

7. Plastic and Wooden Cutting Boards

Plastic cutting boards are generally inexpensive and easy to clean — but they are porous, which means they will absorb liquids like lemon juice, which can affect the taste of your food. And while wooden cutting boards are more expensive and durable, they’re porous, too. “If you cut a lemon on a wooden cutting board, the lemon juice can warp the wood fibers and make it harder to clean,” Shields explains. “Plus, bacteria can grow on the board if it stays damp for too long.” 

Shields recommends that if you use a wooden cutting board, oil it regularly to prevent warping and bacteria growth. “And if you’re cutting something acidic like a lemon, try to use a separate cutting board to avoid messing with the taste of your other foods,” she says.

8. Chrome Fixtures

Chrome faucets, handles, and knobs are a popular choice because they not only make kitchens look sleek, but they’re also quite durable. And yes, while chrome is resistant to rust and tarnishing, it can still get damaged by certain substances, like (you guessed it!) lemon juice. “The citric acid in lemon juice can react with the chrome surface and cause spotting and corrosion over time,” says Shields. “Try using mild, nonabrasive cleaners specifically designed for chrome surfaces. For example, you could use a mix of warm water and mild dish soap, a vinegar solution, a commercial chrome cleaner, a baking soda paste, or a microfiber cloth to buff and polish the fixtures after cleaning.”

9. Digital Screens

Screens have become kitchen staples in recent years, whether you have a smart refrigerator or a device you can talk to. So while cleaning your kitchen, never use lemon juice on electronics due to its high acid content — it affects the protective layer and ruins the screen. “This may seem obvious, but many people use water and lemon juice as a natural cleaner to wipe down surfaces,” says Chris Willatt, owner of Alpine Maids. “Lemon juice can get in the cracks and seams of devices, leading to unfixable damage.”