Baking soda, also known as bicarbonate of soda or sodium bicarbonate, is a very handy non-toxic compound that can be used as a more environmentally friendly replacement for many harsher chemicals.
It has such a wide variety of uses in relation to cleaning, cooking, safety, plumbing, personal care products and industrial uses that this initial article will act as a springboard for an entire series on the various applications of baking soda.
How baking soda is made
At this point I’d like to point out that baking soda isn’t for the most part a naturally occurring product. The base substance, soda ash, from which sodium bicarbonate is extracted is usually refined in one of two ways:
a) The Solvay method. In this method carbon dioxide and ammonia are injected into a concentrated solution of sodium chloride. At this stage, some sodium bicarbonate is formed. It is then heated to form soda ash, from which a more pure sodium bicarbonate is extracted. The Solvay method does produce environmentally damaging byproducts such calcium chloride in a liquid solution that when discharged into inland waterways can increase salinity.
b) Trona ore. The world’s largest deposit of trona ore is in the Green River Basin of Wyoming and is extracted by underground room-and-pillar mining. There are over 62 identified natural sodium carbonate deposits in the world with supposedly enough raw product to satisfy the world’s needs for thousands of year. Once the Trona ore is extracted, it’s refined into a slurry of sodium sesquicarbonate that contains soda ash (sodium carbonate) and baking soda (sodium bicarbonate).
Soda ash can also be be manufactured from salt and limestone; practically inexhaustible resources, but synthetic soda ash costs more to produce and creates environmentally damaging by-products.
Refining soda ash
Once the soda ash has been created, the solution is placed into a centrifuge, separating the liquid from bicarbonate crystals. The crystals are then dissolved to form a bicarbonate solution and filtered to remove any insoluble materials.
The resulting solution is then pumped up to a carbonating tower. Carbon dioxide is pumped into the base of the tower pressurized. The solution reacts with the carbon dioxide to form sodium bicarbonate crystals.
The crystals are collected, placed in another centrifuge, washed and dried to form a high purity baking soda.
Earth friendly baking soda
When choosing a baking soda and having “green” principles in mind; you’re somewhat caught between a rock and a hard place. The Solvay method has been known to ruin inland waterways and Trona ore means mining. Still, not everything can be manufactured from air. When you compare the production and use of baking soda with the effects on the environment of other chemicals used in products that baking soda can replace; baking soda is certainly the “greener” option, however it is sourced.
The only other comparable substance that is more earth friendly that sodium bicarbonate is probably vinegar – a topic I’ll cover in other articles. While vinegar is certainly a very versatile substance; it probably doesn’t have the range of uses of baking soda.
Here’s just a few popular uses for this very handy substance:
Baking soda can be used to extinguish oil and electrical fires simply by scattering the powder over the fire. As baking powder burns, it generates carbon dioxide that starves the fire of oxygen. Sure, carbon dioxide contributes to global warming, but the little bit that it will create compared to the carbon dioxide and other chemicals that will be generated by your entire kitchen burning down.
A small bowl or plate of baking soda in your refrigerator will help to neutralize powerful odors. Baking soda can also be used to wash out and deodorize garbage cans. Sprinkle baking soda in the bottom of your dishwasher to help control undesirable smells
A dessicant is a substance that can be used as a drying agent. An opened box of baking soda in your fridge, cupboards and wardrobes can remove excess moisture from the area.
Applying a thin paste baking soda to stains prior to washing can help remove them.
Sprinkle baking soda on grease or oil patches on cement floors; add a little hot water, scrub then rinse. It can also be used in a similar manner for barbecue grills and stovetops.
Tip: buy baking soda in bulk; you’ll save a stack of cash and given it has so many uses in and around the home; you’ll definitely use it. You can buy it in bulk for non-cooking purposes from pool supply companies under the name of sodium bicarbonate.
Baking soda keeps for a very long time, the key is to keep it in an airtight and waterproof container.
This is just scratching the surface of the various earth friendly applications for baking soda. Check out my latest article containing 30 handy baking soda tips and also read some of the contributions from readers below! Feel free to add your own if you have some tips to share :).