If life gives you lemons… do a bit of everything

Every self-respecting cook has some deep-rooted habits – from your signature apron to the way you handle cooking times. If you’re in the kitchen a lot, this might sound familiar: you slice open a lemon, use part of it and the rest… lingers in the fridge the following weeks until it dries up!

Let’s change the story and give all the lemons, and all the lemon halves, a happy ending. Besides its classic use in seasonings or lemonades, they are surprisingly versatile in the kitchen.

18 ways to use lemon in the kitchen

For cleaning:

  1. Make a homemade disinfectant: Mix water with lemon peels and vinegar, let it ferment for three weeks, and it can disinfect kitchen surfaces. See this and other recipes for homemade cleaning products.
  2. Clean the microwave: Does the inside of your microwave look like a Picasso painting? A lemon can make it immaculate and odour-free. Cut it into slices (or use the abandoned half), put it in a container with water and microwave it for about fifteen minutes at full power. Do not open for another five minutes to allow the vapours to sink in. Then, wipe the inside with a damp cloth.
  3. Make your sink shine: Sprinkle some baking soda in the sink and rub it with half a lemon. Rinse with water, wipe it off, and your sink is ready.
  4. Clean your cutting board: Is your cutting board discoloured, stained, or with a strong smell? Rub it with a lemon half and coarse salt. Then wash it normally and let it dry.
  5. Remove rust stains: Start by mixing one part lemon with two parts salt to make a paste. Then, apply it to rusty cutlery. Using the peel, rub it until the stain disappears.
  6. Clean plastic boxes: Do you want to eliminate the stains from plastic boxes, such as leftover tomato sauce? Pour boiling water in the sink, add the juice of two or three lemons, as well as the squeezed halves, and “marinate” the plastic boxes for a few hours. Then, wash them with running water.
  7. Salvage burnt pans: Simply cover the bottom of the pan with water and the juice of a lemon and let it simmer for ten to twenty minutes. Most of the burnt area should come loose, and you will be able to clean up the burnt residue more easily.
  8. Make mosquitoes and ants repellents: if there are too many mosquitoes in the kitchen, boil lemon juice, water and a cinnamon stick: around 4-5 lemons for every litre of water. Pour it into bowls and spread it over the areas to be protected (e.g. in the barbecue area). To keep ants away, spray lemon water (two parts water to one part lemon) in the places where they usually appear.
Illustration of a whole lemon and a lemon sliced in half.

For deodorising:

  1. Disguise fridge odours: Soak a sponge or a piece of cotton in lemon juice and place it on a plate inside the fridge. Intense smells, such as that of your favourite cheese, will be absorbed.
  2. Remove bad smells from the dishwasher: Place half a lemon inside the dishwasher so that it releases its odour as it accumulates dishes. You don’t need to remove it during washing, as it will also help with cleaning.

For cooking:

  1. Preserve foods: Fruits such as apples, bananas or avocados oxidise quickly when exposed to air, which gives them a brownish hue. To avoid this, drizzle some of the juice of a lemon over them (the same is true if you want to dry fruit to make banana chips, for example). You can also extend the shelf life of homemade smoothies and fresh fruit juice by adding a little lemon juice to them.
  2. Cook the perfect rice: Does your rice get “sticky” no matter what you do? Try adding a few drops of lemon to the rice water, and watch as the ascorbic acid in the lemon improves its texture.
  3. Keep your brown sugar from clumping: The molasses in brown sugars evaporates over time, causing the sugar to harden. To keep it clump-free for longer, add a lemon peel (without the pulp) in a jar with the sugar.
  4. Cut back on salt: Lemon is a great substitute for salt and adds flavour to your cooking. It pairs very well with fish and poultry dishes, and even with salads and vegetables.
Illustration of several lemons, whole and sliced.

To avoid waste:

  1. Turn lemon peels into sweet treats: an idea for a thoughtful homemade Christmas gift or for a little sweet treat:
    • Peel a lemon – preferably with a potato peeler, to achieve thin peels without the bitter white part – and cook the peels in boiling water for five minutes;
    • Discard the water and bring it back to the heat with new water and sugar;
    • When the syrup starts to bubble, remove the pot from the heat and let cool;
    • Remove the peels with a slotted spoon or skimmer and into a plate, and coat the peels in sugar;
    • Allow the peels to cool and harden on a wire rack, then store them in an airtight jar.
  2. Make lemon syrup: did you think the syrup in the previous recipe would just go to waste? Not a chance – we fight food waste as much as possible ‘round here. Follow the three first steps of the previous recipe and make syrup to use in cakes, pancakes, granola, or drinks.
  3. Try homemade pectin: Lemon seeds contain pectin, an element that helps thicken and preserve certain foods, like jam. Boil about 15 seeds in two glasses of water over low heat for half an hour. Remove the seeds when the liquid thickens and use it to cook the fruit for the jam. This amount is enough for an average jar of jam.
  4. Cook a lemon pulp cake: prepare a delicious cake with the pulp and juice of a lemon, but without the peels and without the seeds – you already know what to do with both:


    • Juice and pulp of 1 lemon
    • 200 ml coconut milk
    • 120 ml olive oil
    • 200 g sugar
    • 3 medium eggs
    • 250 g all-purpose flour
    • 1 tbsp baking powder
    • Lemon syrup


    • In a blender, purée the first five ingredients together;
    • Sift the flour and baking powder into a bowl, and incorporate the mixture;
    • Pour the dough into a greased pan and bake in the oven, preheated to 180 °C, for about 40 minutes;
    • Once unmoulded, drizzle with the lemon syrup from the previous recipe.

If even with these suggestions you leave part of the lemons in the fridge, do it the right way: to prevent it from drying out and running out of juice, store it in a box or in a glass of water inside the fridge (but, ideally, you should leave it covered).

Now all that’s left to do is take advantage of the lemons… entirely!