Citric acid makes it easy to lather with hard water

Discussion in 'Shave Soaps' started by Chuck F, Jan 23, 2014.

  1. Chuck F

    Chuck F Cheesy! Big Curd style

    Recently, a user on another forum mentioned that he read that citric acid is sometimes used as a water softening agent, and wondered if it could be used to help those with hard water make lather more easily. I remembered that we have a bottle of citric acid in the pantry (use it for canning tomatoes in the summer), and of course I have moderately hard Lake Michigan water (~8 grains/gallon) coming out of my taps. So I did a little experiment.

    First, I made a lather with plain hot tap water. I loaded a damp Ecotools Kabuki brush for 15 seconds (timed) on a puck of Ginger's Garden Lime Yuzu glycerin shaving soap and built lather in a bowl, adding drips of water until I got to "soft peaks." 15 seconds is about half the time I'd normally load, and as I expected, I ended up with pretty meager lather.

    Then I rinsed and dried the brush and bowl measured out a liter of hot tap water, added a gram of citric acid to it, and stirred. I used that water to make a new lather, again loading 15 seconds on the same soap, and it was like using distilled water. Immediately a much denser proto-lather, and it was able to absorb a lot more water before the peaks began to soften at all. The lather had a much larger sweet spot, in general seemed denser and more stable, and there was just a lot more of it.

    Here are photos of both lathers:

    So why do this when distilled water is pretty cheap? You can get 8 oz. of citric acid for $3, which should be enough to treat 50+ gallons of water. And it's a lot more convenient. No need to microwave distilled water or use a hot pot; just fill the sink basin with hot tap water, drop in a pinch of citric acid, and then proceed as you normally would. And it's totally safe; you probably eat tons of it every day, as it's used as a preservative and for sour flavor in lots of foods.

    If you have hard water, give it a try. Those with really hard well water may need to use a little more, but the exact amount shouldn't be too critical. Measure it out once to see how much a gram of it is (spoiler: a very, very small amount. Less than a quarter teaspoon, I'd say) and you can probably eyeball it from there. I'm planning to use it for all my shaves for a couple weeks and see how it goes.

    The other interesting question is, could soap-makers add citric acid to their soaps to make them perform better in hard water? I asked one soap-maker and he actually had already heard of citric acid's water softening properties and done some research on it. Unfortunately, it interferes with the soap-making process.
    PatrickA51, offroad64, Ryan B and 3 others like this.
  2. KLF

    KLF Doctorin

    Thanks for the tip, I'll try it in the weekend. I have very hard water and I can't find distilled water in my area but I have citric acid somewhere in the kitchen. I'll report back.
    Chuck F likes this.
  3. fram773

    fram773 Well-Known Member

    No wonder Arko lathers so easily.
    GDCarrington, KLF and tuxxdk like this.
  4. feeltheburn

    feeltheburn Well-Known Member

    Interesting. I have very hard water so I'll try this out. Can you find citric acid in a grocery store? Never looked for it before.
  5. Chuck F

    Chuck F Cheesy! Big Curd style

    Some grocery stores will have it. Walmart. Not too hard to find. Look for canning supplies.

    Vitamin c is ascorbic acid, but you're right, a lemon or lime should work.
    RaZorBurn123 likes this.
  6. swarden43

    swarden43 "It's your shave. Enjoy it your way."©

    Then explain Williams :p :D
    PatrickA51, fram773 and burnout961 like this.
  7. richgem

    richgem suffering from chronic clicker hand cramps

    Woops. Right you are. I better hand back that old chemistry degree. :(
  8. GDCarrington

    GDCarrington Burma Shave

    Steve, current Williams needs no explanation, and vintage Williams also needs no explanation, both for entirely different reasons! ;)
    jeraldgordon and swarden43 like this.
  9. Ryan B

    Ryan B Knight of the Soapocracy

    I'm going to try this. It could help me out a lot.
  10. Chuck F

    Chuck F Cheesy! Big Curd style

    Let me know how it goes for you! I was totally ballparking the amount to use, you may be able to get away with even less.
  11. FacialCarnage

    FacialCarnage Well-Known Member

    Does the citric acid burn your skin after a close shave?
  12. Chuck F

    Chuck F Cheesy! Big Curd style

    I added it to the sink for my shave today, and didn't notice any burning or irritation. Great shave, actually. On the other hand, I don't have particularly sensitive skin.

    I'm going to keep at it at least a week and try several different soaps and with different amounts of it added in. Today I used more water and less citric acid, and the effect was not as pronounced as when I did the test lathers in my original post
  13. maltedmilk

    maltedmilk Well-Known Member

    Article Team
    We all know Swarden's position on Williams! To paraphrase Michael Scott:

    If Hitler, Atilla the Hun and a puck of Williams were all in a room and Swarden had a gun with only two bullets... he'd use them both on the Williams! :happy097::happy097::happy097:
    PatrickA51 and swarden43 like this.
  14. feeltheburn

    feeltheburn Well-Known Member

    I'm with Steve on that :)
  15. Chuck F

    Chuck F Cheesy! Big Curd style

    An update: since the initial experiment, I've been using varying amounts of citric acid for my shaves and also several test lathers. I've found that though it does work, it's not such an unqualified success as I thought.

    The main thing I've run into is that the specific concentration of citric acid is pretty important. 1 gram of citric acid per liter of water, the amount I initially tried, turns out to be the perfect amount, at least for my water. It likely varies depending on how hard your water is. Half a gram and the improvement over plain tap water is marginal. 2 grams/liter and you can't make lather at all.

    My guess (as someone who knows almost nothing about chemistry) is that at a certain point, the ph change caused by citric acid interferes with being able to make lather. This would mean that for those with *really* hard water, before they could add enough to soften it, they'd ruin it by changing the ph. But this is basically a wild, uneducated guess.

    Also, I've found that with soaps that already performs pretty well in hard water, the improvement with citric acid added is not very dramatic.


    - Citric acid can soften moderately hard water.
    - If you have Lake Michigan water, or you know your water is around 8 grains/gallon, 1 gram of citric acid in a liter of water should work well.
    - Otherwise you'll have play around a bit to figure out the right amount.
    - If you add too much citric acid, no lather for you.
  16. zec668

    zec668 Well-Known Member

    Very interesting! Thanks for the information!
  17. Barrylu

    Barrylu Well-Known Member

  18. PatrickA51

    PatrickA51 Well-Known Member

    That's a little extreme isn't it. No on second thought your right. :happy096::sexe::hooray::ahem::shaver
    maltedmilk likes this.
  19. maltedmilk

    maltedmilk Well-Known Member

    Article Team
  20. Chuck F

    Chuck F Cheesy! Big Curd style

    But you have to buy ten pounds of it!

Share This Page