Baking soda: presentation and uses

Here is an energy source that we hear more and more about: baking soda. This product, which at first glance looks like nothing more than a white powder, can actually be used in a variety of ways. Your neighbor recommended it to you to make your cakes rise, your cousin to clean the oven, and your father for your stomach acid. All this with one product? Well yes, they didn't take you for a donkey. Baking soda can indeed be used to make your household products, your cosmetics and even to take care of yourself. How does it work, but above all how to use it? Here's a quick overview of this miracle product that is totally natural and, above all, ecological!

What is baking soda?

Baking soda comes in the form of avery fine, odorless, water-soluble white powder. Its appearance is reminiscent of salt, unlike its taste. If you too have made the mistake of "salting" your dish with bicarbonate, you know what I mean!

To get it, there are two schools, but you'll see, you won't have much of a choice if you're into green. On the one hand, bicarbonate exists in its natural state. It comes from the extraction of nahcolite, which is simply its mineral species. However, this form of bicarbonate is quite rare, but especially non-existent in Europe! It is rather found in the United States. It is possible to import it, but the carbon footprint that this would imply is not worth it. Instead, industrialists have found an alternative form of synthesizing baking soda, also totally natural, it's the Solvay process. To make a long story short, the Solvay process is a chemical process that, from salt (sodium chloride), chalk (calcium carbonate) and ammonia, will produce sodium carbonate. What about sodium bicarbonate? Granted, it's not the same thing, and we'll see that later. The Solvay process actually takes place in several steps. The sodium bicarbonate is simply the product of the reaction of one of the steps, itself used later to create sodium carbonate!

The properties of bicarbonate

Baking soda has many uses, just look at the number of recipes that are available. If they are so numerous, it is because bicarbonate has some very versatile properties:

  • It is able to rebalance the pH. More precisely, it will play the role of "buffer" substance, i.e. it will rebalance and maintain the pH around 8.
  • It will react with calcium and magnesium ions in water, two components that by evaporation will form white marks on surfaces, this famous limestone. Bicarbonate therefore fights against limescale!
  • When mixed with an acid, baking soda will form a gas, CO2 or more commonly called carbon dioxide. It is an omnipresent gas which it would take too long to present, but you should know that it is notably produced by yeasts, the ones that allow bread to rise! Baking soda is therefore a leavening agent.

After this short presentation, we can quickly guess the many advantages of baking soda: it is above all versatile, but above all ecological and very economical!

Which baking soda to choose?

When you're a novice and decide to start using baking soda, you're often faced with a dilemma: there are several. Food, technical or pharmaceutical, it's time to unravel the mystery and especially to save you time when shopping.
Pharmaceutical bicarbonate

Let's keep the suspense going until the end and start with the least known of the 3: pharmaceutical baking soda. If you've never seen it while shopping, that's totally fine, that's because it's only available in pharmacies. It's kind of the cream of the crop of bicarbonates! Intended for medical use, it's the purest because it's undergone a lot more analysis and controls than the others. You will certainly have guessed it, it is therefore the most expensive: between 5 and 10€ per kilo. It can nevertheless be used for everything!

Technical bicarbonate

So there we go from the cock to the donkey in front of the pharmaceutical bicarbonate. Technical bicarbonate is the one that has undergone the least analysis, and whose use is reserved for strictly household or... technical use! It should therefore not be used for cosmetic use as it is too abrasive for the skin, nor for food use as it is unfit for consumption. Its price is a little lower than the pharmaceutical one, it is necessary to count between 4 and 6€ the kilo.

Baking soda

This is usually the one in your cart at checkout. In fact, food grade baking soda is the most common, the one most commonly found in stores. It falls exactly between the other two bicarbonates. It is not of the highest purity so its price is very affordable, but it has still undergone some controls allowing it for food and cosmetic use. Generally, it can be found at the same price as the technical one, between 4 and 6€ per kilo. For all your recipes of hygiene products and those which imply a food contact, it is this one that you must use! And of course, it can be used as a cleaning product. In short, in terms of price and versatility, we can say that food bicarbonate takes the cake.

The many uses of baking soda

Now that you know which bicarbonate to choose, you can use it without worry. You know us, we're not like that, we're not going to let you loose in the wild without some tools. Since the uses of baking soda are numerous, not to say endless, here are a few simple ideas to use occasionally!

Caution, the uses below cannot replace a medical treatment. In case of persistent symptoms, do not hesitate to consult a doctor.

In household products

Bad odors
: bad odors are often caused by acidic or basic substances. Thanks to its buffering power, bicarbonate helps to rebalance everything and fight against bad odors :

  • of the refrigerator: place a small dish,
  • from the trash can, shoes: pour a small amount in the bottom,
  • of the sofa, the mattress: sprinkle on all the surface, let act between 30min and one night, then vacuum. This also helps to fight against allergens.
  • pipes: pour a little bicarbonate in the sink, shower or toilet, let it work and then run the water,
  • and even the dog! Sprinkle it on your pet, massage it well into the hair and then brush it off. A very pleasant moment for both of you!

Drainage: to unclog and clean shower, sink or toilet drains, pour in baking soda and then white vinegar. When the effervescence is finished, run the water.

Limescale: baking soda can remove traces of limescale, on a work surface, in the kettle, coffee pot etc. Pour a small amount on the sponge or directly on the surface to be cleaned.

Burnt marks: cooking accidents happen to everyone! But the most annoying thing is when it comes time to wash the dishes. Save time and energy, don't bother scraping off the burnt remains. Simply soak baking soda and hot water in the pan. For the oven, form a paste with the baking soda and water, let it sit and clean.

In the kitchen

For vegetables
: On vegetables, baking soda has a double action. Before cooking, it allows a deep cleaning to remove all impurities. During the cooking process, it helps to preserve the color of the vegetables!

Leavening agent: bicarbonate reacts not only with acid, but also with heat. Above 70°C, there is therefore a production of gas, CO2. To make super soft and airy cakes, add a small amount of bicarbonate to the batter.

For health

: add a teaspoon to a glass of water to drink, use occasionally. It's not good, but it's radical. However, this mixture is not to be used everywhere: when reacting with an acid solution, baking soda releases CO2, which can cause more or less strong belching. You don't want everyone to hear you burp!

Itching (insect bite, chickenpox pimple): prepare a paste by adding a little water to the bicarbonate, and apply to the pimple to relieve pain and itching.

In cosmetics

: Baking soda helps protect tooth enamel and polishes it very slightly, making it whiter. About every 2 weeks, pour a little baking soda on the toothbrush and brush as usual.

Mouthwash: to fight bad breath and relieve minor mouth problems, add ½ teaspoon in a glass of water, in combination or not with essential oils (of Clove, Peppermint or Lemon).

Scrub: Mix a little water or vegetable oil with a small amount of bicarbonate until it forms a homogeneous paste, then massage the previously cleansed face to remove dead cells.

Deodorant: apply a small amount of bicarbonate under the armpits to absorb moisture and fight perspiration.

In the bath: if your bath water is too hard, add the equivalent of half a glass of baking soda to soften it and come out with soft skin!

Bicarbonate, percarbonate and soda crystals: what are the differences?

It's all about chemistry. I can already see you shuddering at the mere sight of that word, which brings back many bad memories of school, but rest assured, everything will be fine. Bicarbonate, percarbonate and soda crystals are not the same thing, simply because they have different chemical formulas! To make it easier to distinguish them, here are their identity cards.

Bicarbonate of soda

Chemical formula: NaHCO3

Appearance: white powder

Origin/method of production: extracted from nahcolite in its natural state, or synthesized by Solvay process from calcium carbonate and sodium chloride

Main properties: softener, deodorizer, light abrasive, anti-scale

Synonyms: bicarbonate, sodium bicarbonate, sodium hydrogen carbonate

Soda crystals

Chemical formula: Na2CO3

Appearance: white crystals

Origin/method of production : From natron or trona deposits in their natural state, or synthesized by Solvay process from calcium carbonate and sodium chloride

Main properties: detergent

Synonyms: sodium carbonate, soda ash, soda ash Solvay

Its pH is more basic than baking soda. It is therefore more stripping and especially more irritating, it requires the wearing of protective clothing (gloves) for its use.

Sodium Percarbonate

Chemical formula: 2Na2CO3-3 H2O2

Appearance: white crystallized powder

Origin/method of production: Combination of soda ash (which makes up soda crystals) and hydrogen peroxide.

Main properties: bleaching, disinfecting, deodorizing, cleaning, degreasing. In short, an outstanding descaler! It is mostly used for laundry, dishwashing and cleaning dirty surfaces and floors.

Synonyms: solid hydrogen peroxide, sodium carbonate peroxyhydrate, sodium carbonate peroxhydrate

It is the most corrosive of the 3, so it requires a maximum of precautions for use: wearing gloves and mask!

The point about baking soda and white vinegar

Between baking soda and white vinegar, it is a great love story. If in almost all recipes for homemade household products we find these two products, a doubt persists: is there any point in mixing them beforehand? To elucidate this question, nothing like a little chemistry, starting with the love at first sight between the two, I mean of course the chemical reaction:

NaHCO3 + CH3COOH -> CO2 + H2O + CH3COONa

This reaction is an acid-base reaction which, as the name suggests, reacts a base (bicarbonate) with an acid (white vinegar). This will give a gaseous release (of CO2), water, and a salt, sodium acetate (CH3COONa). If this reaction takes place under perfect conditions, in the best of all worlds, when everything is balanced, we will obtain a neutral result, without much interest. Let's be honest, when you make your little mixture, you're hardly going to reach equilibrium. In reality, it's all about the dosage. A little bit of bicarbonate in white vinegar will lower the acidic pH of it, and thus allow you to use it on sensitive surfaces that wouldn't have tolerated the acidity of pure vinegar. If, on the other hand, we add a lot of bicarbonate, we will obtain sodium acetate which has a slight anti-bacterial property, and a surplus of bicarbonate. We keep the properties of this one in the mixture! In short, we repeat ourselves everything is a question of dosage.
Finally, if what interests us most in this reaction, it is not the products we get but the reaction itself (you know when it makes psshhhh with lots of foam and that we feel like a mad scientist!), in this case, out of question to mix the two in advance, in a product that we will use later. This reaction that will, among other things, remove grease, scale or encrusted limescale: so much to enjoy!