Citric acid is a weak organic acid that has the molecular formula C6H8O7. It occurs naturally in citrus fruits. In biochemistry, it is an intermediate in the citric acid cycle, which occurs in the metabolism of all aerobic organisms.
More than two million tons of citric acid are manufactured every year. It is used widely as an acidifier, as a flavoring and a chelating agent.
A citrate is a derivative of citric acid; that is, the salts, esters, and the polyatomic anion found in solution. An example of the former, a salt is trisodium citrate; an ester is triethyl citrate.
Cleaning and chelating agent
Citric acid is an excellent chelating agent, binding metals by making them soluble. It is used to remove and discourage the buildup of limescale from boilers and evaporators. It can be used to treat water, which makes it useful in improving the effectiveness of soaps and laundry detergents. By chelating the metals in hard water, it lets these cleaners produce foam and work better without need for water softening. Citric acid is the active ingredient in some bathroom and kitchen cleaning solutions. A solution with a six percent concentration of citric acid will remove hard water stains from glass without scrubbing. Citric acid can be used in shampoo to wash out wax and coloring from the hair. Illustrative of its chelating abilities, citric acid was the first successful eluant used for total ion-exchange separation of the lanthanides, during the Manhattan Project in the 1940s. In the 1950s, it was replaced by the far more efficient EDTA.
In industry, it is used to dissolve rust from steel and passivate stainless steels.