It’s easy to confuse baking soda and baking powder because they look very similar and are used for a similar purpose. The biggest difference is that baking soda has just one ingredient: sodium bicarbonate. In order to make baked goods rise, baking soda has to be combined with an acid like buttermilk or lemon juice. Baking powder was created with a base of baking soda and the addition of an acid to make a complete leavening agent. It also usually has a buffer like cornstarch. For health and household purposes, you’ll want to stick with pure baking soda to get the job done.
The technical name of baking soda is sodium bicarbonate, but it’s also known as bicarbonate of soda, sodium hydrogen carbonate, and sodium acid carbonate. Sodium bicarbonate is an odorless white powder with an alkaline pH of 3.
Baking soda is made from soda ash, a substance refined from the naturally occurring minerals nahcolite and trona. It can also be made through a chemical process. Trona used for the production of baking soda comes mainly from a huge deposit in the Green River Basin of Wyoming. It’s estimated that there’s enough trona there to supply the whole world with baking soda for thousands of years, so there’s no danger of depletion.
The baking soda we’re familiar with doesn’t enter the picture until the 18th century, but various forms of it have been used for at least a few thousand years. Perhaps the biggest example of this is the ancient Egyptian use of natron, a substance made of sodium carbonate, sodium bicarbonate, and other elements. They used it for teeth cleaning, painting hieroglyphics, treating wounds, and mummification (due to its antimicrobial nature). (1)
Better Oral Health - In a Variety of Ways!
It’s not uncommon to find baking soda as an ingredient in toothpaste and other oral hygiene products because of its dental benefits.
Baking soda has an abrasive nature that helps to clean the surface of your teeth and has demonstrated antibacterial activity against specific pathogens that cause oral problems.
It also reduces plaque and can prevent biofilm (a cause of plaque) from forming.(2,3) Another study found that a mouthwash with baking soda increased salivary pH, which can help inhibit bacterial growth.(4) Use a baking soda toothpaste regularly to clean your teeth and fight plaque and bacteria. Or make your own mouthwash by dissolving ½ teaspoon of baking soda in a small glass of warm water and swishing for 30 seconds.
Teeth naturally accumulate stains and start to yellow as you age. A second reason to use baking soda for your teeth is to remove those stains and brighten your enamel. Multiple studies have demonstrated the effectiveness of baking soda for safely and naturally whitening teeth and getting rid of stains.
A few have also found sodium bicarbonate to be more effective than commercial whitening toothpastes.(5-7) Dip your toothbrush in baking soda before adding your regular toothpaste and brushing as normal.
Soothes Mouth Ulcers and Sores
Canker sores are not contagious but they can take a while to go away and are easily irritated. If you have a sore that won’t go away and keeps hurting, it’s most likely due to acids and enzymes present in your mouth, applying baking soda to a canker sore neutralizes the acid and allows it to heal more quickly.(8)
Simply apply a small dab of baking soda directly to the ulcer, preferably at night when food and drink won’t wash it away. It will sting at first before getting better. You can also make a baking soda mouthwash and swish it a few times a day.
Improves Athletic and Exercise Performance
Baking soda can delay fatigue and help you exercise or train at your peak for longer. The reason for this is thought to be because of its alkaline pH that helps to neutralize lactic acid that builds up during exercise, especially high intensity training.(9-11)
The buffering effect of baking soda may also help your muscles recover better after exercise. Studies on baking soda and exercise recommend taking 300 mg per kilogram of body weight and diluting it in a liter of water; drink the solution 1-3 hours before exercising to get the greatest effect.
Helps Occasional Heartburn
The alkaline nature of baking soda is useful in many instances, including easing heartburn. Heartburn, also called acid reflux, happens when stomach acid rises back up the esophagus, causing a burning sensation. Antacids are a common over-the-counter treatment for occasional heartburn that comes from eating acidic or spicy foods. Baking soda works in a similar way but doesn’t interfere with drug absorption like antacids can.(12)
Dissolve one teaspoon of baking soda fully in a glass of cold water. Drink slowly. Use this remedy for acute heartburn occurrences only. This remedy is not meant for chronic heartburn.
Whether you need to deodorize your house or yourself, baking soda can do the trick. It’s a real deodorizer, meaning it eliminates odors rather than masking them like many air fresheners do.(13)
There are lots of options for using baking soda as a deodorizer. You can make a DIY deodorant with it or sprinkle some in your shoes to neutralize foot odor. Open a box of baking soda and place it in your fridge or closet to freshen the space. Sprinkle a layer at the bottom of your garbage can to help with trash odors.
Fruit and Vegetable Wash
Pesticide residue is a serious concern on commercially grown produce and much of it is found on the skin of fruits and vegetables. Peeling them is an effective way to get rid of surface residue but also takes away fiber and nutrients.
If you’re concerned about pesticides on your food, washing them in a baking soda and water solution can help dramatically. One study found that baking soda was more effective than both water alone and Clorox bleach at getting rid of pesticides on apples.(14) It was able to remove almost all the residue after 12-15 minutes of soaking and is much better for you than washing your produce in bleach!
Dissolve about a teaspoon of baking soda in a sink full of water. Soak your fruits and veggies in it before rinsing them (scrub for extra cleaning). This is effective for cleaning the surface but will not get rid of any pesticides that have penetrated below the skin.
Soothe Troubled Skin
Baking soda is an old remedy for itchy skin and sunburn. Just adding it to a warm (not hot) bath can calm troubled skin, especially when combined with another skin soother like oatmeal.
Sodium bicarbonate also has anti-fungal properties and has shown action against specific fungi that can cause nail and skin infections. Using it in a foot bath or a full bath can be helpful if you’re dealing with fungal issues.(15)
For a full bath, add 1-2 cups of baking soda to warm or cool water. For a foot bath, mix about a tablespoon of baking soda with water in a small bucket or basin.
Paste for Bug Bites and Stings
If you love spending time outdoors, bug bites and stings are usually inevitable. Making a paste with baking soda is another old remedy for relieving the itch or sting naturally.
Simply mix enough water with one teaspoon of baking soda to form a thick paste. Apply the paste to your bite or sting, covering with a bandage if necessary and reapply as needed.
The cleansing nature of baking soda makes an exceptionally good (and all-natural) hair wash. It makes a clarifying wash or rinse that will help remove dirt and buildup from other hair products. As a bonus, you can use a baking soda paste to clean your brushes and combs to keep any residue that gets on them from going back onto your hair.
You can make your own hair wash by dissolving a teaspoon of baking soda in 1-2 cups of water. Pour it over your head and massage into your scalp and hair before rinsing well. You could also consider adding ¼-½ teaspoon baking soda to your shampoo when washing your hair. Don’t use baking soda every time you shower, since it can irritate your scalp if used constantly.
Multi-Purpose Household Cleaner and Scrubber
Baking soda really shines when it comes to cleaning. It has a naturally abrasive nature that scrubs and cuts through grease without damaging any surface and you can use it with equal success in the kitchen, bathroom, and even on your laundry.
Make a paste with baking soda and rub it onto any surface that needs cleaning. Let it sit 15-20 minutes then wipe it off with a damp rag. To clean tough messes off your pots and pans, let them soak in a baking soda solution for 15-20 minutes and then scrub them clean. In the laundry, add ½ cup baking soda in with your normal detergent to clean and whiten clothes.
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NOTE: This post was originally published on our blog in 2022