Baking Soda And House Cleaning: A Match Made In Heaven

updated: 24/01/2024

Baking Soda Is Your Basic Natural House Cleaner

For centuries on end, housewives all around the world have used baking soda for a myriad of cleaning activities around the house. We bet your Mom or grandma has applied it on more than a couple of occasions, too! In the past, it was generally employed for disinfection and personal hygiene, the way we use soaps nowadays. Although today there are many house cleaning products available on the market, many continue to use baking soda due to the natural ingredients it contains. It is not only friendly to skin, but also to babies and pets and the environment as a whole.

But What Exactly Is Baking Soda?

Baking soda is the common name for sodium bicarbonate, although it can also be called bicarbonate of soda. Chemically speaking, its formula is NaHCO3 and it appears as a white powder that is mildly alkaline. It is important to distinguish sodium bicarbonate from sodium carbonate: the latter is known as washing soda, which also has a range of uses ranging from being the foaming agent in toothpaste to cleaning up bones for display in museums or trophy cabinets. Washing soda is another commonly used natural cleaning product, as it is excellent for softening water, removing grease and oil from cloth, and for descaling appliances such as coffee machines. Baking soda is chemically related to washing soda, as it is a by-product of producing washing soda – which in itself is either a by-product of common table salt or is produced from soda ash obtained by burning certain types of seaweed.

Everyday Uses Of Baking Soda Besides Domestic Cleaning

The alkaline properties of baking soda make it an important addition to not just the cleaning cupboard but the first aid kit. Bee-stings venom is acidic, so baking soda neutralizes the acid and relieves the effects of the sting. The alkalinity also means that if you add it to water,  it becomes a sure-fire method of settling an acid stomach. It may not taste brilliant, but it works.

If you cannot afford to visit a beauty therapist frequently, you can use baking soda as a face cleansing product, which removes dirt and cleanses your pores in depth. It is extremely efficient for oily skin as it dries the skin a bit and makes it look fresher. You can also use it as an exfoliant instead of a pricey body scrub. Apart from that, baking soda could be used for tooth whitening purposes or just as a toothpaste.

Baking soda is also used in cooking. While most people these days use self-raising flour or baking powder, it is possible to make your baking powder from baking soda, or just use baking soda with the right ingredients. When baking soda reacts with an acid, it releases lots of bubbles of carbon dioxide, which makes dough or batter rise and puff up. To make your baking powder, mix one-third of a teaspoon of baking soda with half a teaspoon of citric acid or tartaric acid per cup of flour. Or else, just make your scones or cake with something acidic in the batter, such as yoghurt or even a teaspoon of vinegar. Don’t use too much baking soda – no more than one-third of a teaspoon per cup – or else the resulting baking tastes a little metallic.

Baking soda also makes a fun and safe introduction to chemistry for children – even preschoolers. Children can safely react baking soda with acids such as vinegar or lemon juice without any risk (you don’t need special clothing or safety goggles to do this). Another fun science project with baking soda for children is to use the purple liquid left after boiling red cabbage as “litmus liquid” – baking soda turns the liquid bluish, while acids make it go pink/magenta. Hours (well, a quarter of an hour for small children!) of fun.

Baking Soda As An All-purpose House Cleaner

Baking soda is very good as a general home cleaner of nearly everything. As it is mildly abrasive and adds to the surfactant power of water (the ability to penetrate porous surfaces and remove the accumulated dirt), it can get things clean and sparkling without scratching and scouring. It is readily soluble in water, which means it is easy to rinse away after it has served its purpose. And if a little baking soda does dry on, the fun way to remove it is to spray a little vinegar onto it – it foams and fizzes as the baking soda reacts with the acid. Baking soda is suitable for cleaning white ware such as refrigerators, ovens and microwaves, bench tops, basins and baths, toilets, and even your teeth. It is not so suitable for cleaning glass, however.

Why is it so effective and preferred for green cleaning? Because it is only a mild alkali, it does not damage the skin – it is less alkaline than soap and much less alkaline than chemically-based products such as chlorine bleach. It makes it excellent for use as a cleaning product, as the skin can stand prolonged contact with the baking soda.

Let us give you a few examples of the best ways to employ baking soda for house cleaning purposes:

  1. Absorbing bad smells. Sprinkle some at the bottom of the rubbish bin, put a bowl of it inside the fridge, shake some inside smelly sports shoes or scatter some over a stale-smelling carpet, and leave it to sit before vacuuming. This by itself freshens things up, but if you want to add a pleasant smell instead of a neutral odour, mix the baking soda with a little essential oil. It is much healthier than the powerful (and carcinogenic) artificial fragrances on the market.
  2. Extending the life of cut flowers. Put a pinch of baking soda in the water in a vase of fresh flowers. Alternatively, you could try an aspirin or a mixture of sugar and white vinegar in the water.
  3. Removing gunk off hairbrushes and combs. No matter how clean your hair is, some residue will build upon hair brushes. Dissolve about a teaspoon of baking soda in a pint of warm water, then soak your hairbrush or comb in it for an hour (you will need to pull out as much excess hair and fluff stuck in the bristles first). Rinse off with fresh warm water. This method is safe to use on natural bristle brushes – the best kind.
  4. Cleaning silver. Mix baking soda to a paste with a little water and spread it over the item to be cleaned. Then wrap the item, paste and all, in aluminium foil. Dip the wrapped item into warm water and leave it for ten minutes. Then unwrap the item and rinse the baking soda past off the silver. Dry the item well. Hint for silver hairbrushes: clean the metal and the bristles at once by dissolving the baking soda in the warm water and loosely wrapping just the back and handle with the foil, allowing the water to get in.
  5. Deodorising and removing stains from mattresses. Put a paste of baking soda and water on the stain (blood, urine or semen). Leave the paste to dry, then brush it off. This will get the worst of the stain off and will neutralise any smells.
  6. Cleaning the oven. Instead of using those horrible harsh sprays that should be avoided during pregnancy, and require the user to wear a mask and gloves, mix up a paste of baking soda and water and spread it liberally around the inside of the oven. Leave it to sit for a while. You can speed things up a little by putting the oven on low heat and putting a little bowl (oven-proof, of course) of water inside to steam gently. Then get scrubbing inside the oven. This method does require a lot of elbow grease, granted, but is much less toxic. Put the radio on to occupy your mind while you are doing the job.
  7. Unclogging drains. Pour a cup of baking soda down the blocked drain. Follow this with a cup of hot vinegar. Fizz. The resulting reaction will explode the blockage out of the way.

There are a few things, however, that baking soda is not effective for, despite some resilient urban (and housekeeping) legends.

  • Baking soda can’t be used as a substitute for detergent for washing your clothes. For washing clothes, you need soap in some form, whether you use powdered detergent, liquid detergent, grated soap flakes or melted down soap scraps. However, adding baking soda to your washing load can help to get rid of strong smells and can also help to brighten whites. For cloth nappies, however, don’t use baking soda, as this will increase the rash-causing alkalinity. Add vinegar to a load of nappies instead to neutralise the alkalinity in the residual urine.
  • You cannot use it as flea powder for cats and dogs. However, pet owners should make use of the smell-removing properties of baking soda. If your pet has had an accident after being shut in the house by mistake, baking soda will remove any lingering smells – even the ones you can’t smell – from the crime scene so the offending animal doesn’t get the idea that because that place smells like pee, it’s acceptable to pee there. Baking soda can be used to deodorise kitty litter trays and to absorb smells in the refrigerator, which is where most of us keep cat food and dog food. For a natural flea repellent, get hold of some pennyroyal (either the plant or the oil) and rub it liberally over your pet’s fur.
  • Baking soda is not necessary for removing fresh blood stains. This isn’t to say that baking soda won’t help you sponge up blood stains from the carpet or a shirt, but that it’s not necessary. Plain cold water will do the trick alone without any extras – just make sure that it’s cold, though!

About the author 

Nick Vassilev

Nick blogs about cleaning. He is a cleaning expert with more than 25 years of experience. He is also an NCCA-certified carpet cleaner. Founder and CEO of Anyclean.