HOME > Chowhound > Washington DC & Baltimore >


Citric Acid Powder

  • m

Does anyone know where to buy citric acid (sometimes known in cooking circles as sour salt) in sort of reasonable bulk? I'd like to get some to de-scale my espresso maker's plumbing and I'd rather not pay $5 for a couple of tablespoons of it in a fancy coffee store. Is this something that health food stores carry? Or does Whole Foods still have this sort of thing in the bulk department (if they even still have a bulk department)? Will a pharmacist still sell such dangerous chemicals? Hardware store under some other functional name?

I'll admit I haven't looked very hard yet. This just seems specialized enough so that someone would just know where or in what kind of store to buy it. I'm in Falls Gulch, so I don't want to go to Baltimore or Rockville for it, and I don't want to order from one of those on-line places that charges more for the shipping & handling than what the stuff costs.

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. You have two choices. Look for it in the Kosher food section of any larger grocery store (you're in luck as it is Passover and the selection is bigger) as Sour Salt. This is citric acid.

    Alternatively, I picked up about 6 oz of it some years ago at the Medditeranean Bakery on Pickett St. in Alexandria. The Med Bakery is a wonderful place and well worth a visit.

    1. It's not a dangerous chemical. Citric acid is found in fruits like lemons and limes.
      Try in the canning goods section of a regular grocery store. There's a product called Fruit Fresh that does contain dextrose and ascorbic acid (vitamin C), but it's primarily citric acid, It's used to keep cut fruits and veggies from turning brown in salads and desserts.

      I use plain old white vinegar (acetic acid) in my coffee maker and then run several pots of plain water through it with no harm. And I've used Crystal Lite in my dishwasher too. Works like a charm. Mineral deposits in water gunk all these appliances up over time.

      1. i second the white vinegar suggestion. i've used that to descale kitchen appliances and it works great, just let pump or pour in the vinegar and let it work for a few hours. what you're looking for is a mild acid, so citric acid isn't in particular necessary...

        1. Polly, thanks for the tip about the kosher section and the Medeterranean Bakery.

          Making Sense - I was only kidding about a "dangerous" chemical. There are too many laws about what we can't buy these days either because we might poison ourselves or make a bomb out of it. As far as using vinegar as a cleaner, that's OK for a straight-through drip coffee pot or teakettle. An espresso maker, at least a non-pro one like mine, has a pump with seals and some plastic plumbing in it. Advice is that vinegar might damage something, but that citric acid is safe.

          3 Replies
          1. re: MikeR

            I've heard the vinegar/citric acid advice before and I'm not sure what the rationale is. Both are mild acids that are safe enough to drink and, if anything, plain white vinegar might have a lower acid concentration than citric acid.

            Those espresso machines are pretty expensive. You might be best off following the manufacturer's instructions. Order a decent quantity of citric acid over the internet. Even with the shipping, you'll save sales tax and gasoline, not to mention the time running all over town trying to find something as a substitute. Time is money.
            If you have a good piece of equipment, it's worth taking proper care of it.

            1. re: MakingSense

              I read that an "expert" (admittedly it was from an on-line forum so the qualifications of the "expert" are always in question) claimed that vinegar could "melt" some of the plastic components. I find that a little hard to believe. However there may be an issue with the purity of the vinegar used for cleaning. They a;waus say to use white vinegar whe de-scaling pots, but what else is in the bottle besides acetic acid and water? Could be something is added that make it taste different from another brand. A sweetener might leave behind a residue that gums up the works. An extreme case is balsamic vinegar that becomes almost like tar when the water evaporates from it.

              Citric acid crystals bought as a laboratory chemical should be pure. What comes from a grocer store is probably worth a read of the label (which I'll certainly do) to make sure there's nothing else in the box or jar.

              1. re: MakingSense

                I used the vinegar to descale metal... not plastic. I just looked up acetic acid and citric acid on wikipedia, and was reminded that they have different properties. citric acid has three protons to donate while acetic acid has one; they will have different buffering capacities and different pHs in solution for a given weight... i'd follow your manufacturer's suggestion :-)

            2. I've seen it in the candy making section of cake supply stores.

                1. re: tthumpern

                  I'll have to ask for it there. There's one very close to me. I struck out in a couple of grocery stores and Kennedy's Natural Foods (the closest they could come was Vitamin C tablets). But I like the idea of having an excuse to visit Mediterranean Bakery.

                  1. re: MikeR

                    I am now looking for citric acid powder locally. Which Safeway did you get yours? I need it now and don't want to wait for an online order. Thank you.

                    1. re: redlulu

                      About the only Safeways I shop at are Bailey's Crossroads (Crossroads Center Way) and Willston so it must have been one of those two. Look in the kosher or ethnic food sections. The brand name is Rokeach and it's labeled "Sour Salt."

                      I see my supply is starting to get clumpy. If you're around these parts and can't find it, I'll give you a few pot-cleanings worth before it becomes a solid lump.

                      1. re: MikeR

                        I made a few calls to Safeway in DC and no one had a clue. I will try these two. I need a lot. I am making bath fizzies to go with my homemade soap. They will be Christmas gifts.Thanks for the info and the offer.

                  2. re: tthumpern

                    Well, my local GNC didn't have it, or maybe the yoyo working there didn't know whether he had it or not. He was trying to sell me Vitamin C - enhanced drinks.

                    However, today I did find a jar of it at Safeway, in the kosher department (Rokeach brand) just like Polly said. It's not a very big jar, but it only cost $1.69, and judging by how much of it I used cleaning the espresso machine, it's a several year supply. Guess I'll have to find another excuse to visit the Mediterranean Bakery - like maybe to get something to eat. What a concept!

                    1. re: MikeR

                      Hi MikeR: You can purchase Citric Acid (Sour Salt) online from the Great American Spice Company (www.americanspice.com) toll free 888-502-8058. They had a sale on it about two weeks ago (maybe still on sale) under $5.00 per pound. I, too, use it for cleaning coffee pots and it is also great for making sweet and sour cabbage rolls. This is a high quality food grade citric acid. Check them out. Ron B

                      1. re: rbatleman

                        Thanks, but I found a jar containing as much as I'll need for the next fewl years at a local Safeway, for under two bucks. I haven't checked out the American Spice Company, but my general experience with ordering things on line from cell phone batteries to inexpensive computer accessories and cables is that the price of the item is very attractive but the shipping is not based on actual shipping cost, but priced to make up the profit on the item. While it might be an OK deal for purchasing several items, a single item purchase usually ends up no cheaper than buying locally (though often there is no convenient local source - that's how they get ya) and you have to wait for it.

                        I recently bought a battery for a phone that cost $10 but I had to pay $15 for it with the $5 shipping charge (still cheaper than a local source, though) even though it weighed two ounces and could be sent by first class mail for less than a dollar including the cost of a padded envelope. That sort of nonsense tends to keep me supporting local merchants whenever reasonable.

                        1. re: MikeR

                          Yeah, I agree, that seems to be the strategy on eBay, but I figured if you couldn't find it locally, American Spice might be the next best choice. Glad you were able to purchase it locally at a bargain price.