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An Ode to Limonene

sliced oranges

The hydrocarbon you never knew you’ve been using a long, long time.

Commercial Citrus Cleaning Supplies

According to Science Focus, a 2005 Dutch study illustrated the connection in our minds of cleanliness and citrus. Not because we all know and understand some of the chemical compounds found in citrus peel (ahem, d-limonene), but because a lot of us were around and grew up with the growing trend of citrus-scented cleaners developing growing in popularity in the 1980s. TL;DR: we think “clean” when we smell citrus because it’s what we’ve been conditioned to think over the past 40 years. But it’s not all commercial baloney. There is real science behind the use of citrus in cleaning, just like there is for vinegar and baking soda, too!

cleaning and sanitizing counter

What is Limonene?

Limonene is a major organic component of citrus peels; in oranges it is, quite literally, the molecules that give off the scent you know as orange. In its concentrated form it is commonly used as a renewables-based solvent in cleaning products. That means it’s excellent at cutting through grease and grime. D-limonene, which comes from citrus peels, also can be found in trees such as cottonwoods, maples, and pines – remember Pine-Sol? It’s such a good solvent, you’ve probably seen CitriStrip at your local hardware store. And yes, it’s related to turpentine, through the terpene chemical compound family. If you can’t tell already, it’s a natural, renewable cleaning agent that cuts through grease and smells great.

orange fruit

Why You Should Love it

When I started down the path of reducing my plastic waste, I knew I really wanted to cut down on the amount of plastic soap and cleaning containers. It seemed like an obvious place to start. Chemistry is an amazing science and I knew if I could learn what already exists in nature and find the right combination of chemicals (because everything is a chemical – remember!). After doing a little research I discovered orange oil. It’s typically sold as a super concentrated cleaning supply. When researching how to incorporate it into a soap base, I learned (the hard way) that it should not exceed 5% of the entire soap mixture. Soap after soap would seize up before I could even get it into the mold! I’ve still got to work fast, but I’m really excited by my limited ingredient cleaning bars. I market them as dish bars, but they can be used for so many things because of that fabulous d-limonene. Dishes? Check. Scrub the floor? Check. Clean the grout? Check! And the tub? Hell yeah.

Take a Closer Look

I was cleaning my shower tub recently and I have used Scrubbing Bubbles or some variation for years. We have a white tub in the upstairs bath and as I was cleaning, even with my trusty scrubber, I could not get whatever greasy soap scum had accumulated on the bottom. In a light bulb moment, I went to the kitchen, grabbed my dish scrubber and cleaning bar and began to suds up. Sure enough, the citrus cleaning bar worked its magic and the scum was gone shortly after I started. Just look at the before and after below! Because the tub is white, it can be hard to see the scum in a photo, so I used the exact same filter and contrast level in the before and after so you could see.

I hope you have a new appreciation for citrus and the power of renewable cleaning supplies – I sure did after using it myself. I’ll share some other tips and tricks soon, including how I use my dish bar paste to clean my light-colored bathroom grout.

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