Can Lemons Really Make Your Whites Whiter?

Can Lemons Really Make Your Whites Whiter?
Photo: By Arturs Budkevics, Shutterstock

There are endless hacks about how to keep your white clothes clean without hard chemicals. Some suggestions include baking soda, vinegar, and even aspirin — which, fine, we’re hardly opposed to getting creative. One option, though, involves boiling your whites with lemons, and while citric acid really is a good way to clean a lot of things, it’s just not a worthwhile hack for your clothing.

Do lemons whiten your clothes?

Here’s how it’s meant to work: The citric acid in lemons breaks down stains and dirt, making your whites whiter. Many household sites suggest using lemons as a natural bleaching agent for people who are opposed to strong chemicals. And bleach definitely is harsh.

Melanie Forti, Director of Health & Safety Programs with the Association of Farmworker Opportunity Programs, explains bleach can cause “skin rash, extreme headaches, migraines, muscle weakness, abdominal discomfort, esophageal perforation, nausea, and vomiting.” Extended inhalation or exposure on your skin clearly sucks, and then there’s that pesky risk of “death” if accidentally ingested. Fine.

Plus, bleach can ruin some of your favourite graphic tees, and that’s unforgivable.

Boiling lemons doesn’t whiten better than detergent though

I tested out this “lemon whitening” thing, and you can too, if you want: You’ll need one lemon, a large pot, water, and laundry detergent. First, fill a large pot with water, then take your lemon, cut it in half and add it to the pot. Bring the water and lemon to a boil. Once the water is boiling, turn off the heat and let it sit until the boil has calmed. Next, add your clothing and let it sit for an hour.

I chose to test this on a dingy dishrag. After leaving it in the pot for an hour, I hand-washed the rag in a sink full of water and detergent. And did it turn out clean? Absolutely, but no more than when I threw a similar dishrag in a regular machine wash with just laundry detergent.

In the end, lemons might not hurt, but it’s not a godsend for your laundry room either. You know what is, though? Detergent. Stick with that, and you can keep your lemons for your kitchen.

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