6 Noteworthy Myths and Facts About Baking Soda (Sodium Bicarbonate)

Arm and Hammer corner the market on this simple little powder, originally popularized to simply leaven breads using chemicals instead of biological enzymes (yeasts). How Arm and Hammer got their simple alkaline salt into all kinds of other markets since the late 80’s is incredible. It is touted as many things, but how many of these things are stretches, and how many of them are actually practical? Some of the proposed uses I’m going over are pretty good and some of them are just ridiculous.

Nontoxic Deodorizing: One of the most common alternative uses for baking soda is using it for a deodorizer in your refrigerator, pantry, or closet.

Weak win

Baking soda has mild odor absorbing qualities. It can be slightly effective at absorbing simple alkaline and oil odors and neutralizing acidic odors over a (very) long period of time. The first problem is that sodium bicarbonate is an extremely mild alkali so it won’t pack much of a punch fighting acid based odors and this same mildness prevents it from quickly absorbing alkaline odors. The second problem is that once the exposed area is saturated, it doesn’t work any more. The third problem is that it has little to no effect on complex odors and those are the most problematic ones. If you have a stinky fridge or cupboard, just take the food out of it and clean the darn thing, baking soda isn’t going to cut it.


De-greasing hair : Many people researching the best way to degrease their hair will run across advice for using baking soda to do the job where commercial hair degreasers fail.


Baking soda works to pretty good extent here. (Grease + baking soda) = (fat + (weak)alkaline salts) = (soap + glycerin + salt) = grainy old-fashioned soap! No surprise here if you are a chemist. The equation makes a soap out of your greasy hair along with glycerin and salt, which both dissolve in water and have no detrimental effects on your hair. Glycerin and salt won’t combine with fats, either, so when you rinse you aren’t left with any residue.


Relieving bug bites and stings: A common home remedy for a bug bite or a sting from an animal is a paste of baking soda either rubbed in or made into a poultice to be held over the affected area.

Weak win with side-note

This remedy relies on baking soda’s pH neutralizing properties. In a paste form, it is effective at helping to neutralize corrosive bug bites or stings, like a jellyfish sting. It will not help with a venomous sting and can actually make it much worse with its abrasive qualities.


Polishing and cleaning: A use for baking soda propagated mainly by our ex-military MacGyver-type neighbor who uses it mixed with a little water on a cloth to clean and polish everything from his kitchen sink to his guns.


Sodium Bicarbonate works great for cleaning and polishing. Don’t be misled, though, its great cleaning power has little to do with its chemical makeup or any inherent reactive properties (warning: source is a pdf file). It is just a good, fine-granular, polishing substance. You can buy fine polishing compound for a lot more money that would probably be a good idea for your car’s paint job, but if you are polishing the grime off your sink faucet, your good silver, or your dingy car headlights, baking soda is definitely the way to go. It is cheaper, safer, environmentally friendly, and just as effective as powdered abrasive cleaners in nearly all the applications it was tested on. Plus there are no worries that it could conceivably cause cancer like those bleach containing cleansers.


Relieving upset stomach: Propagated by The Three Stooges and previous generations. A teaspoon of baking soda stirred into a cup of water is the cure for a grumbling upset stomach.

Win with side-note

By neutralizing some of the acid in your stomach, Sodium Bicarbonate reduces the effectiveness of digesting chili, super hot peppers, food gone bad, dairy products, and a heck of a lot of other foods that could be causing an upset stomach and might lead up to a case of diarrhea. Overproduction of stomach acids and digestion reactions are both extremely likely causes for stomach aches. There are two ways this can hurt instead of help, though. The neutralization of your stomach acids causes gas. If your stomach is upset because of gas, this will either bring your gas to the point where it will be more easily released, or it will make your stomach hurt even more. A rarer case this can hurt instead of helping is if you have a more alkaline stomach than usual (not uncommon in babies, very healthy people, and vegetarians) where bringing the alkaline levels up any more can cause you to feel colicky or constipated. On the cautionary side, avoid regular use – baking soda also significantly reduces the absorption of folic acid, iron, calcium, and some drugs, including aspirin.


Cleaning carpets: Propagated by Greenliving, housekeeping magazines, and probably either your grandmother or mother. Sprinkle plenty of baking soda over stains or stinky areas of your carpet, let sit overnight, and vacuum.


Without a liquid to combine the sodium bicarbonate with the dirt, dead skin, and bacteria in your carpet, baking soda is little more than extra stuff to vacuum up. Combined with a liquid, it is more trouble than it is worth since it is less effective than a carpet detergent and won’t rapidly break down, like most of the enzymatic carpet detergents are designed to do. It will absorb a very small amount of oil or liquid without breaking down into a liquid itself – allowing it to be vacuumed up after absorbing that small amount of oil or liquid – but you will leave as much baking soda in your carpet as you pull out.

Can you think of other uses for Baking Soda I haven’t mentioned here? Maybe you’ve got some corrections or extra info? Let me know in the comments.

Leave a Reply