How Long Do Lemons Last and How to Tell if They’re Bad?

Here’s everything you need to know about the shelf life of lemons. Learn how long lemons last depending on how you store them and what are the spoilage signs to look out for.

Love lemons? Refreshing, zesty, and nutrient-rich, lemons add a delightful zing to everyday dishes, desserts, and drinks.

But what if you’ve purchased more lemons than you can handle? Do lemons go bad? How long do they last?

If these questions sound familiar, this article is for you. In it, we go through shelf life, storage, and going bad of lemons.

If that’s something you’d like to learn more about, read on.

Lemon halved
Lemon halves

How Long Do Lemons Last?

 CounterPantryFridge
Whole lemon1 week1 – 2 weeks3 – 4 weeks
Cut lemon  3 – 4 days
Shelf life of lemons

A whole lemon should last about a week on the counter, and a few days longer in the pantry. If you refrigerate it, it will keep for about 3 to 4 weeks. Lemon that’s cut up will only last 3 to 4 days in the fridge in an airtight container or freezer bag.

If you go the extra mile and seal your whole lemons tightly in a bag, you can assume they will keep for 5 weeks or even a bit longer. More on that in the storage section.

That said, any type of fruit goes bad when it’s stored long enough. Lemons are no exception. But, because the lemon rind is quite thick, it will take a while before this citrus fruit goes bad. The same is true for limes and oranges.

Related: How long do limes last?
Related: How long are oranges good for?

When it comes to cut lemons, they retain quality for about 3 to 4 days in the fridge. They usually don’t go bad that quickly, but they will inevitably soften and dry out. And sooner or later, they’ll probably grow mold.

Extending the Shelf Life

If you need to store your lemons for a longer period than those mentioned above, you can freeze lemons. Just remember that frozen lemons soften and don’t have nearly as many uses as fresh lemons.

Alternatively, you can make lemon curd. Lemon curd lasts about a week, and it freezes really well, so it’s a great option for all you bakers out there.

Now that you know what to expect when it comes to the shelf life of lemons, let’s discuss spoilage signs.

Lemon prepped for juicing
Lemon prepped for juicing

How to Tell if a Lemon Is Bad?

Discard your lemon if:

  • There’s visible mold. Lemons usually go moldy after you cut them up, but if the rind is heavily bruised, it might grow mold too. If that’s the case for your lemon, it’s time for it to go.
  • It’s very soft, shriveled, or slimy. Of course, you don’t discard a lemon at the first sign of softness, but only at the point that it’s too soft (or shriveled) for your liking. If you’re okay with one that’s kind of soft but okay otherwise, use it. But if you’re not, it’s fine to let it go. If the fruit is slimy, it’s definitely no good.
  • It’s heavily bruised or discolored. A lemon rind typically has all sorts of imperfections, and that’s okay. But if it looks like it has taken a beating, or it simply looks bad enough that you wouldn’t feel comfortable using it, toss it.
  • It smells funny. This one is rare, but if your lemon doesn’t have a zesty aroma and smells kind of off (in any way), play it safe and throw it out.

At their freshest, lemons have a bright yellow rind (with some discolorations and imperfections here and there), sour taste, zesty aroma, and are quite firm to the touch. Over time, they will lose some of the smell, become squishy, and if they sit in storage long enough, slimy.

(Look for the same signs of spoilage when you’re checking if your grapefruit is bad.)

Now, if it’s a whole lemon and you’re not quite if you should discard it right away or not, cut it in half and see how things are going inside. Use it if the flesh looks okay, or toss it otherwise.

When it comes to leftover lemon slices, wedges, halves, and the like, it’s usually obvious. If it’s moldy like the one below (that I forgot about), there’s no debate on whether it’s spoiled or not.

Lemon half after too long in the fridge
Lemon half after too long in the fridge

How to Store Lemons

Main article: How to store lemons?

Like all fruits and veggies, to store lemons for the longest, you start by choosing the best ones possible.

In the case of lemons, that means choosing yellow fruits that are firm to the touch, and avoiding somewhat squishy ones with browned or blemished rind. Of all three, the blemished rind is the least of a problem (unless you need lemon zest), so if there aren’t any perfect ones, choose ones with the not-so-perfect rind.

Now let’s talk about how we store these citrus fruits.

Many people just leave them at room temperature on the countertop in the kitchen. And that’s definitely a valid option if you plan on using them up within a week or so. If you choose a cool and dry area, away from sources of heat, like the pantry or a cabinet in the kitchen, that’s a bit better, but still definitely not perfect.

How to store lemons - freezer bag
Two lemons in a freezer bag

The fridge is the best place to store lemons if you want to store them for the long term. The easiest way is to simply put the bag with the fruits in the crisper drawer.

Tip

If you want some extra storage time, you can transfer the lemons to an airtight container or freezer bag and store them sealed. The bag or container seals in some of the moisture and lemons take longer to dehydrate, thus extending their shelf life.

When it comes to cut lemons, the fridge is where you should store them. The chilly air will dry out the cut fruits, so to prevent that you need to wrap them tightly. Use plastic wrap and not aluminum foil for that.

Alternatively, you can put the fruit into a freezer bag and squeeze out the air before sealing. That method works best for lemon wedges and halves. So if you need one half to squeeze some fresh lemon juice for a dish, place the second half in a freezer bag and refrigerate it.

Alternatively, you can juice both halves, but you should remember that fresh lemon juice only lasts a few days. Because of that, you might need to consider freezing the leftover lemon juice.

Lemon with a silicone stretch lid
Lemon with a silicone stretch lid