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Wait, What IS Baking Soda?

Wait, What IS Baking Soda?

As a dedicated DIYer and a self-proclaimed aficionado of any and every homemade cleaning product out there, I have to say: I use a LOT of baking soda. To anyone who makes their own eco-friendly cleansers and cosmetics, you know that baking soda is your best friend. Itís safe, neutral, edible, and incredibly effective in everything from nontoxic DIY Draino to all-natural homemade deodorant. (Check out these 51 fantastic uses for baking soda.)

But after years of using this stuff on a daily basis, it sort of struck me — I donít actually know what it is! So I went searching.

Turns out, itís really not as simple as it seems. NaHCO3, aka sodium bicarbonate, aka baking soda, is a chemical salt that occurs in its natural form as the mineral nahcolite. NaHCO3 is an amphoteric compound, which means it may react as an acid as well as a base, although in aqueous solution it is slightly alkaline. Also, other fancy chemistry words.

Moving beyond the scientific jargon, I think what really matters to all us eco-conscious DIYers, is the impact that baking soda has. Where does this stuff come from, anyway? And why the heck is it so good at doing the things we want it to do?

Baking soda production

There are deposits of pure nahcolite which occur naturally in the Green River Formation, which spans a few states in the Central US. The Green River Basin alone houses a 200-billion ton nahcolite deposit — enough to supply the entire world with baking soda for many hundreds of years.

These natural deposits at the Green River Basin are commercially mined by many companies. Some mine it directly from the ground and sell it as is, in its natural state. Other companies extract and then refine it, by heating it and treating it with chemicals (not necessarily bad ones, but chemicals nonetheless). Either way, mining results in a relatively low-impact, relatively environmentally-friendly product.

Baking soda can also be created through a series of chemical reactions known as the Solvay process. This method uses carbon dioxide, ammonia, and sodium chloride as the raw materials. Unfortunately, these are pollutants. The Solvay process has its issues, especially with disposal of toxic chemicals. Because of this, more and more producers are moving away from the Solvay process, towards mining and refining.

Baking soda works

And wow! It really does.

Baking soda is actually a crystal, and as a fine powder it creates an effective, yet gentle, abrasive. This is why itís so great on countertops, tile, and toilets, as well as on teeth.

In water, baking soda is mildly alkaline and can be used to neutralize acid. Thatís why it works so well dissolved in water as a natural antacid remedy, or as a way to remove rust from old metal, or to remove tarnish from silverware. Its alkalinity is also why it acts as a deodorizer — by counteracting slightly acidic scent molecules.

But baking soda’s amphoteric qualities come in useful too. Thatís how it enhances homemade laundry detergent and clears up pools and fish tanks, by balancing the pH level.

The bottom line: Yes, baking soda is natural and environmentally-friendly. Best of all, it actually does all the things we use it to do — even science says so! So before you call that Dallas cleaning service, try a little baking soda!

Photo credit: Kate Ter Haar/

Sayward Rebhal writes for

More awesome uses …
51 Uses for Baking Soda
23 Uses for White Vinegar
24 Uses for Salt

Read more: Eco-friendly tips, Green, Home, Non-Toxic Cleaning, , ,

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11:09AM PDT on May 6, 2014

I used to buy baking soda in the big-box stores because I thought baking soda was baking soda was... Recently I got Bob's Red Mill mined baking soda, since it said it had no additives, and what a difference! I use it to alkalize my body, brush my teeth and the flavor and effectiveness are so much better!

1:47AM PDT on Apr 9, 2014

Thank you :)

7:25AM PDT on Oct 15, 2013

Well! I started out reading this article thinking great...Some environmentally sound advice. But as it went on I started to get a little concerned because I never new where it came from probably because it has always been in the pantry from when I was and ankle biter and long before that. Then she says it is mined on the Green River never been there but have seen it on National Geographic and what splendid country. Now how close to this river is the mining? I'm thinking this wouldn't be the only place this stuff is mined. Oh! Well just goes to show everything we humans do is detrimental to our planet in one way or another. So what is the answer is my question? Thanks for the article and food for thought!
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9:45PM PDT on Oct 7, 2013


1:33AM PDT on Sep 11, 2013

Thank you :)

8:17PM PDT on Sep 9, 2013

CHRISTINE B and USA folks too. Do they even teach Home Economics in school any more. Remember "cooking", "walking", sitting. "setting a table" etc? I'm guessing that "at least" 50% of the l18+ yo women out there do not even know how to cook. Mac and cheese an hot dogs is not cooking; nor are pop tarts or toast. Don and I CAN! :-))

7:59PM PDT on Sep 9, 2013

Thank You for sharing :-) I wish they were teaching these basics in, geology, geography and home-economics all in one. Well done!!!

10:42AM PDT on Sep 9, 2013

Thank you for sharing!

1:28PM PDT on Sep 8, 2013

Great to read details. Thanks for not being afraid to use the chemical compound formula or actually accurate technical details.

1:36AM PDT on Sep 8, 2013

To date, I've only used "baking soda" as a laundry cleaning aid and to clean my teeth. "Thank you" for a very interesting and useful article. Don and I CAN! :-))

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
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