Baking soda, or bicarbonate of soda, which you might find referred to as “bicarb,” is a kitchen staple used as a raising agent in baking. Bicarbonate of soda is an alkali that reacts with moist acidic ingredients such as yogurt, lemon juice and honey to create carbon dioxide bubbles. These expand in the heat of the oven and cause cakes and other baked goods to rise. Baking powder differs from baking soda in that the acidic ingredient, cream of tartar, is already mixed with the bicarbonate of soda, so that the moisture only has to be added to trigger the reaction.
Baking soda isn't just for baking. It makes an effective, inexpensive and environmentally friendly cleaner. Here are some ways to use it.
Reducing odors. An open tub or box of baking soda in the refrigerator or freezer will absorb food odors for around three months. It’s also an effective way of neutralizing foot odor, both by sprinkling bicarb inside shoes or using it as a foot soak, with half a teaspoon of bicarb for each pint of water. Sprinkle on carpets and leave for 10 minutes to half an hour before vacuuming to help remove pet odors.
Clearing clogged drains. When the tub of soda in your refrigerator is ready to be replaced, pour it down the sink and follow with a cup of hot distilled white vinegar to help prevent greasy buildups. Loose baking soda and white vinegar can be used to clear clogged drains, as well as to keep dishwashers and washing machines free of lime scale. Simply add the vinegar to the drum and the soda to the detergent dispenser drawer and run an empty hot wash cycle. A half-cup of each should suffice.
As a scrubbing paste. Add a teaspoon of baking soda to the same amount of dishwashing detergent to create an effective scrubbing paste to eliminate stubborn stains from kitchen worktops, coffee-stained cups and mugs, bathroom tiles and discolored plastic food boxes. Where a scouring action is required, and the surface will stand up to it, add a teaspoon of salt. An alternative paste of equal parts bicarb and white vinegar left to fizz on baked-on food will lift off the grime. Be aware, however, that stone surfaces, and particularly marble, may be damaged by vinegar, since it is an acid, so the mixture of soda and dishwashing detergent only should be used on them.
In cleaning solutions. Kettles, pots and pans can all be rejuvenated by boiling water with a teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda in them. This also works on teapots and flasks filled with hot boiled water and allowed to cool with a teaspoon of bicarb in them. To mop hard-surface floors, add 1 cup of bicarbonate of soda to a gallon bucket of hot water.
Ohio author Emily Thacker, whose many books on natural remedies include The Magic of Baking Soda, says that although baking soda is kind to the environment, and "you will want to keep it in your kitchen, medicine cabinet, and with your cleaning and laundry supplies," it has its limits. Her book details many home remedies using baking soda, and she cites several medical studies into its healing properties, but these are offered as a collection of folklore and anecdotes only. If you're tempted to try hers, or any other home remedies using baking soda, it's always best to consult a medical practitioner first, as modern alternatives may be more effective.