We Tested It: Cleaning With Baking Soda
By Noah Garfinkel, Networx
However reluctantly, I have timidly stepped into the world of “natural products”. I still like fast food and aerosol cheeses, but as I get older, I am finding myself somewhat more apt to buy “organic” foods and a lot more likely to be unreasonably impressed by products with fewer than five ingredients. There is one particular area, however, in which I still demand harsh and dangerous chemicals: cleaning. I associate cleanliness with the smell of deadly fumes. So, when I see someone promoting castile soap by saying it is so safe you can literally brush your teeeth with it, I don’t see a lot of appeal. I want my cleaning products to be able to kill me along with any other smaller organisms that might be living rent-free in my apartment (maybe my NYC exterminator knows me by name, or maybe he doesn’t). Nonetheless, I decided to explore the possibilities of cleaning things with baking soda. It went… kind of okay.
When you start doing research into the uses for baking soda, you’ll immediately come across a number of long lists. “51 Uses for Baking Soda” for example. And, that sounds very impressive right up until you start reading the lists. Basically the lists just tick off different things you can clean. It’s like reading a long list of uses for body soap that begins, “1. Wash your arms! 2. Wash your shoulders! 3. Wash your torso!” That’s just one use, soap list. Relax.
Baking soda really only has two easy non-baking uses, and those are cleaning and deodorizing. As for deodorizing, baking soda works really well. I am constantly chopping garlic and onions, and even after washing my cutting boards with soap and water, they seem to retain at least a little odor. Baking soda took care of that in just a couple of minutes. I sprinkled some baking soda on the cutting board, rinsed it off shortly after, and it was entirely odor free. I could go on listing other things you could remove odor from with baking soda – I could probably even make it to 51. Your kitchen drain! Your freezer! But, you get it. It takes the smell out of things. Use it on whatever. We don’t’ need to fetishize it. (Fun Fact: you can find no Google link relating directly to a baking soda fetish.)
As for baking soda’s cleaning/scrubbing uses, I had mixed results. First, I tried using baking soda to scrub my bathtub because I was long overdue for a bathtub cleaning. Really, really long overdue. I was as overdue for the bathtub cleaning as I am ashamed that I let it get to this point.
I’m so sorry you had to look at that. I am normally a clean person, but my roommate and I recently got into a weird, unspoken standoff when it came to scrubbing the bathtub. We both just kept waiting for the other person to do it, and neither of us did. Fortunately, this confluence of events provided me with a perfect test for baking soda’s cleaning effectiveness. Are our tiles so gross that only a tile contractor could fix them?
It worked out reasonably well. I don’t know if there’s anything about the chemical makeup of baking soda that made it effective. It seemed to work about as well as any abrasive powder would. Sand I’m pretty sure would have just as efficiently scrubbed away the scum. But, I live in a tilted apartment that causes shower water to pool right in front of the drain and leave a stain. The baking soda did not at all help remove that stain.
I had to resort to Comet to fix that.
For the final test of baking soda’s cleaning powers, I attempted to use it to make toothpaste. This was a particularly scary undertaking considering this disclaimer was written under one of the recipes I looked at: “The basis of homemade toothpaste is baking soda and hydrogen peroxide. Either one in huge does can be dangerous, so DO NOT INGEST!” Cool! Sounds fun!
I mixed six parts baking soda with one part hydrogen peroxide.
I then put some on my toothbrush and went for it.
It was horrifying. It was truly terrible. It tasted like I poured a salty poison over a 9-volt battery and then licked it. Actually, that’s not quite vivid enough. Let’s try again. It tasted like the melting face of a troll. I immediately spit it out and brushed my teeth with real toothpaste.
So, to review, baking soda worked really well as a deodorizer, kind of well as a bathtub cleanser, and really unpleasantly as a tooth cleaner. It’s certainly worth having around, but it’s not something I plan on using regularly in place of “real” cleaning products or toothpaste.