Granular vs Powdered Citric Acid

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LucyFae

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For today's life lesson I learned the hard way (like everything else!), allow me to introduce everyone to the differences in powdered vs granulated citric acid.

Once upon a time, as a young-ish, fresh-faced bath bomb enthusiast, gobbling up every bit of knowledge I could, I very rarely came across anyone talking about the different types (styles?cuts?) of citric acid. Some blogs mentioned it when asked, or included a single sentence about what they use, but very few delved into the why, and I never realized what a huge difference there was.

I'm here today to share my citric acidy woes after my usual supplier (walmart, lol!) drastically upped their price while simultaneously reducing the size (8$ for 11oz), when I was paying $5 for 14oz less than a year ago.

Firstly, I love Ball Citric acid, but cannot find it locally anymore. Walmart carries a new brand, and Ball on Amazon is way too much. I figured, it can't be that hard, right? Citric acid is citric acid.

Well... there's a reason people recommend soap/bath suppliers, but even that isn't foolproof. If anyone is wondering, Aztec sells granulated, not powdered, since they don't list that anywhere in the description.

Every Amazon listing I came across for 5-10lbs had the term "powdered" in their description, typically accompanied by a photo of the powdery product I was used to, with beautiful smooth bath bombs in the product photos. What I learned from taking a risk and buying a bag, and reading tons of reviews for other products, is that most are actually not powdered, they're granulated. Now, granulated is okay, but the recipes I've formulated are based on the powder version and what I'm used to, and personally, I think it looks a lot better visually.

I figured why not? Amazon says free returns, what do I have to lose?

Well, I bought a 6 lb. bag. There were no photos of the actual product or bath bombs in the reviews, just some pictures of the bag it came in. There were a few positive reviews from people making bath bombs, so I figured why not?

I got my citric acid, and it's not what I wanted. Unlike the description, it's not powdered. So I hit return, and get "this item is not returnable." A ten minute phone call later, I did get a refund, but it made me much more weary of ordering from Amazon with the mindset of "I can return it if it's not right."

Amazon let me keep it, so I figured hey, free citric acid! I'll grind it in my food processor and it'll look great! Well, kinda... it looks better, for sure, but still not the smooth texture I like. I'm sure it will be fine for using in CP and cleaning and for home use, but I give these away to family for gifts, so I want them to look nice. I'm not out any money (other than my time), but man, what a journey.

I discovered my recipe, formulated for high humidity, does not play well with granulated. It crumbles, probably because I don't use water/have enough liquid in the humid months, and generally just looks rather shabby compared to my usual creations. I'm curious how it'll work in the warmer months when I use a wetter recipe because my house is hot and dry, and will do my best to update once I make the switch.

My ramblings aside, here's the pictures of my "experiments," using shower steamers. I hope I've learned my lesson 🤣
 

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Oh my goodness! Thank you for sharing all of this. I’ve never known that powdered CA even existed.

I have seen fine (versus not-marked-as-to-fineness), and I like the fine better for sure. I’ve also seen some marked as anhydrous, with others not marked as anhydrous or otherwise. I usually end up with the Milliard brand from Amazon, which is marked as fine and anhydrous. Works very well for me, but not sure how it compares to powdered.
 
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Oh my goodness! Thank you for sharing all of this. I’ve never known that powdered CA even existed.

I have seen fine (versus not-marked-as-to-fineness), and I like the fine better for sure. I’ve also seen some marked as anhydrous, with others not marked as anhydrous or otherwise. I usually end up with the Milliard brand from Amazon, which is marked as fine and anhydrous. Works very well for me, but not sure how it compares to powdered.
I'm glad to share my mishaps, especially if it helps others! I never realized there was such a difference either, to be honest. I figured I could just swap one for the other and it wouldn't be a big deal, especially since I was buying at Walmart, and assumed it all had to be similar. Even when I opened the granulated bag I didn't really think much about it until I tried sifting it and the granules were too big to go through 🤣

Bulk Apothecary sells fine and coarse (haven't ordered, so not sure what the fine actually looks like!). I've honestly been meaning to try Millard since it's fairly popular, I just haven't gotten around to ordering. WSP says they sells the CC powdered version. 5lbs for $28. They just have such long lead times, I try to avoid them when possible.

And you're right, that's something I forgot to mention! There's anhydrous - the kind we use for bath bombs and CP, and... I want to say monohydrate. I think it's mostly used in lab settings, or at least, not something we'd want to use in bar soap or bath bombs.

I forgot the photo of the structure difference OOB.

First photo - The left one is granulated after a five minute pulsing whizz in my new food processor (it gets kinda clumpy and scratchy). It reminds me of large grain sea salt in a grinder. Not something I'd wanna use for bombs, but for shower steamers for my SO it's okay.

The right one is the powdered Ball Citric acid right out of the bottle. Texture wise, I'd say it's closer to regular old white granulated sugar. I'm not sure I'd honestly call it a powder either (it's a little denser than say, powdered sugar or mica), although I do wear a mask since it poofs up like baking flour.

The second photo is the granulated right out of the bag. To me, it looks exactly like those beads inside the silica packets.
 

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Thank you for the pictures - that really helps!

While pics on a computer screen are difficult to use for making accurate comparisons, to my eye, the fine grind from Milliard looks like the second one that you noted as being "powdered." It is quite similar in size and texture to white sugar, and it goes through a small sieve quite easily. HTH!IMG_2583.jpg
 
So I've been messing around with my fizzy recipes a lot, after a long, sad search of not finding Ball Citric acid in bulk, or at least under $1 per oz. Until it's available again, I need to reformulate or give up.

I'm stubborn, so here we are.

I used my Amazon credit to order Spicy World Fine Granular citric acid. I wanted Millard, but the two pound bag was out of stock and I'm impatient, and didn’t want another 5lb bag i can only use for soap and can't return.

This was much better than my last Amazon purchase of citric acid . Surprisingly shiny looking, almost as shiny as my menthol crystals, and white sugar-like texture. It made decent shower steamers, and made it through my seive fine. I'm not wholly pleased, but I think i can get there with some tweaks, and for .25 cents an ounce, shipped to my door in a day or two, this may be the clear winner.

Then I went to WSP, who carries crafters choice "ultra fine powdered citric acid" specifically for diy b&b makers, that no one else has!! Or some such gimmicky sales pitch.

I have one thing to say after my WSP order. Probably, never again. Aside from taking two weeks and missing an item, the citric acid granules appear slightly larger than the Spicy World brand from Amazon, and nowhere near the actual powdery texture of Ball brand, while also being more expensive at .35 cents/ounce.

It performs similarly to the Spicy World brand, but is much clumpier, and I had several big pieces that wouldn't sieve. I'd say CC citric acid is somewhere between white sugar and cane sugar, not what I would ever describe as an ultra fine powder. So glad my impulsive self ordered 10lbs, thinking one of the top companies must have the absolute best 🙄

After testing them both with my current steamer recipe, I definitely need more liquid, and something other than just EO and 91% alcohol, either water or witch hazel for steamers. All the citric acids I've tried, aside from Ball brand, get a gritty-like texture, rather than that light, fluffy sand texture, and I mix most of my sieved dry+wet, and add citric at the end. They crumble a lot more, even after drying. I tried upping the alcohol and EO, and while that helped to some extent, they still weren't the texture I like. Since they were wetter, they had to sit in the mold a bit longer as well, which is something I'd like to avoid, since I tend to make large batches at once.

I also probably should've realized that a denser, larger citric acid would effect my final output. 500g of dry ingredients (baking soda, citric acid, and kaolin clay), with approx 50g of EO, dissolved menthol, and 91% alcohol was the perfect amount to fill my mold - a 6 cupcake tin. I spent months tweaking and perfecting until I had the perfect consistency, texture, appearance, etc. They weighed around 3 oz when packaged, and lasted anywhere from 5 to 10 minutes in my extreme hard water.

Using the same recipe with Spicy World or CC, I get 5, or 5 and some leftovers, weighing 3.5oz or so, even though they visually appear the same size as my old formulation.

I'm thinking bath bombs are going to be a much more difficult beast. I never had an issue with getting mine to float, but going forward, I think that's something I'll have to tweak as well.

Once my new testers are dry enough to handle, I'll post some more photos!
 
I’ve used the Spicy World brand, and it was ok, but definitely not as finely ground as Milliard. I agree with both of you that it packs more tightly, and thus the bombs hold together more easily.

I do add my CA last, after mixing all other wet and dry ingredients. That was a game changer for me. Changed me from someone who hated making bath bombs to someone who enjoys it.
 
I bought citric from someone on etsy. Can't remember the name atm. Never again. I'm going back to Milliard. The bombs made with the different brand of citric seem to fall apart easier. Milliard is better.
It's unfortunate sellers and manufacturers can't simply be honest about their products sometimes. In this situation, a clearly defined particle/micron size, or even just an accurate listing, would've saved me (and maybe you, from the sounds of it), time and a decent amount of money. The smallest detail can be so important, and I'm honestly surprised I don't see this issue discussed more extensively in fizzy circles, although I admit, this forum is where I hang out most.

Millard is the last one on my list to try, so it's great hearing another recommendation!
I’ve used the Spicy World brand, and it was ok, but definitely not as finely ground as Milliard. I agree with both of you that it packs more tightly, and thus the bombs hold together more easily.

I do add my CA last, after mixing all other wet and dry ingredients. That was a game changer for me. Changed me from someone who hated making bath bombs to someone who enjoys it.
Omg, thank you! That's exactly the kind of info I'm looking for. I think when I'm done, I'll make a simple Google sheets file with the brands I've tried, and my opinion on size, photos, and how they work for a clear, concise comparison. If anyone is looking for a new brand, maybe it can help to have sort of a guide.

Millard is the last one on my list, and after hearing a few recommendations, I'm hopeful!

I always loved making fizzy stuff, because my former recipe never failed. Seriously, I could even make them when it was moderately humid. What I'm getting from all of this, is that the smaller the particle size, the more "forgiving" it is. I 100% agree, adding the citric acid at the end is a game changer! Thanks for all your help and feedback 😁
 

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