One Small Step: easy DIY All Purpose Citrus Cleanser


For challenge 4 in One Small Step, I wanted to choose something super simple and not-overwhelming that you can set in motion now, even as the holiday season approaches. And I landed on this old favorite: citrus peel infused vinegar.

Because if your family is anything like mine, there is no shortage of citrus peels heading for the compost pail between December and February.

All Purpose Citrus Cleanser is easy to make from discarded peels of oranges, grapefruits, lemons, clementines, limes, tangerines, pomelos–any citrus fruit skins will do! And all you need is a handful of peels, a mason jar, and some white vinegar.

I first shared a recipe for this household cleanser (along with loads of other non-toxic DIY home cleansers) back in 2013. And truly, it’s been in daily or weekly use in our home for so much longer.

Currently, we clean with just this all-purpose citrus vinegar, a jar of baking soda, and the new LüSa Organics Zero-Waste Dish Soap Bar. Those three gems are all we need to keep our house sparkling clean from top to bottom. (Edited to add: when we clean, that is. I don’t want to misrepresent the state of my house here. And, well, if you know me in real life, you know cleaning is not my top hobby or priority. But when we do clean, these babies work like magic!)

DIY citrus peel vinegar is a non-toxic, zero-waste win for so many reasons. Including:

  • reducing your the need to purchase pre-made cleansers (and the packaging that comes with them)
  • reducing your family’s exposure to toxic household chemicals and fragrances
  • giving second life to a waste product from your kitchen

And while this recipe is not truly zero-waste (because it requires a jug of vinegar), it’s quite low-waste and sustainable. And if you make it with homemade apple cider vinegar, then zero-waste it is!

You can adapt the recipe as desired, adding other botanicals to your jar. Try tossing in a handful of lavender flowers, a sprig of fresh or dried sage and thyme, some pine and spruce boughs, juniper berries, or other herbal favorites like cinnamon, clove, or cardamom. (Lavender infused vinegar turns a gorgeous pink color. I love to combine it with grapefruit peels.)

The process couldn’t be more simple.

DIY All Purpose Citrus Cleanser

Ingredients & Supplies

  • 1 quart white vinegar
  • peels from 3 or more pieces of citrus fruit
  • quart-sized mason jar with nonreactive lid


Step 1. Place citrus peels into the clean, dry mason jar.


Step 2: Cover with white vinegar or homemade cider vinegar, filling jar to the shoulders.

If needed, nestle a very small glass jar inside the neck of your jar to hold the peels beneath the surface of the vinegar. Peels that stick up out of the vinegar can mold if not kept submerged beneath the liquid.

Tightly lid and infuse in a cool, dark place for 2 to 6 weeks.

Pro tip: If desired, leave a bit more headspace in your jar, and add additional peels as the come available throughout the month. Mixed fruit-types is fine! This is my usual method, as we normally only have one or two citrus peels at a time, rather than a quart-full at once. Don’t save up your peels to infuse later, as they will quickly mold, rather get them infusing on the day you peel the fruit.


Step 3: After your peels have infused for 2 to 6 weeks, the vinegar will become a warm, citrusy hue, taking on the pigment from the peels, while the peels themselves become sad, pale, and lifeless-looking (like the jar above, at left). Give your jar a sniff, and it should be a lovely mix of bright acidic vinegar plus sweet citrus notes.

Now it’s time to strain! Pour your citrus vinegar through a mesh colander, squeezing to extract as much infused vinegar as you can from the fruit. Discard spent peels, and transfer your vinegar to a clean, dry jar. Lid with a nonreactive lid, label, and store with your cleaning supplies.

Transfer to an upcycled spray bottle if desired, or use my preferred method and decant directly from the jar.


Do you make your own nontoxic household cleansers? What’s your favorite recipe?


You can find the entire One Small Step series here, or click through below for individual posts:

One Small Step: a year of small actions with huge impact

Swap Plastic Bottles of Soap for Bars (plus a DIY liquid recipe)

Buy Less Stuff

Switch to Loose Leaf Tea


8 thoughts on “One Small Step: easy DIY All Purpose Citrus Cleanser

    • Rachel Wolf says:

      I use just a damp microfiber cloth, or (if they’re really grungie) soap and water, then a damp microfiber. No other cleaner needed! For a future post I’m going to experiment with using upcycled natural fibers like cotton chamois and denim. Here’s hoping they’ll work as well as the synthetic cloth I’ve been using.

      • sustainablemum says:

        Newspaper and vinegar are a great combo, it is what my granny and my mother clean/ed their mirrors and windows with. I worked in a small family owned hotel many years ago and that was all we were allowed to use to clean the glass, no special cleaners allowed.

  1. Nicole says:

    Do you know if the citrus can adversely affect certain types of wood finishes? I have been using water and lemon essential oil to clean my “heirloom quality” Amish made wooden dining table, and recently had severe peeling of the finish. I do not know for certain the cause, but I’m now terrified to use anything but water, although I admit that I like to clean with a little natural scent.

  2. Abby says:

    Do you have a post on how to make your own apple cider vinegar? Since you’ve inspired me to make so many other things I’d love to try that too.

  3. sustainablemum says:

    I use white vinegar for lots of cleaning here including mirrors and window etc. I have not thought of using my orange peels infused in the vinegar I bet that smells lovely. We have a borax/bicarb mix – we call it bicarb here in the Uk maybe it is baking soda in the US? – we use this in the washing machine and the dishwasher. We also use vinegar for cleaning the loo and as a fabric softener in the washing machine along with a few drops of lavender oil. All other cleaning is done with bicarb.

    • Rachel Wolf says:

      A nonreactive lid is either plastic or lined with a waxed bag. A reactive lid (say, a traditional canning jar lid) will rust when it comes into contact with the vinegar.

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