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  • Writer's pictureAlan Frischer, MD, MPH

Baking Soda

There is a small item in most of our pantries which comes in handy for a number of uses, whether related to health, cleaning, or cooking. I also keep one in my refrigerator and another beneath my kitchen sink. I’m referring to baking soda.

Baking soda has just one ingredient: sodium bicarbonate. This chemical has been in use since at least 3500 BCE. The ancient Egyptians used a form of it for cleaning, as well as for mummification.

Baking powder, which includes sodium bicarbonate, was first patented for food in 1856, and proved to be revolutionary. Baking soda is pure sodium bicarbonate, which is alkaline, whereas baking powder also includes a weak acid salt. Baking soda and baking powder are leaveners: When sodium bicarbonate is combined with an acid, it produces carbon dioxide (CO2). (Note that CO2 is the gas we exhale when we breathe.) When carbon dioxide is released into batter or dough, things rise and become fluffy.

Besides baking, what else can baking soda be used for?

  • Periodically brushing with baking soda whitens the teeth and improves the breath. Baking soda is acidic and slightly grainy and abrasive, so it can neutralize and scrub away the plaque. (However, note that baking soda doesn’t kill bacteria, and that using it too frequently can weaken the enamel.)

  • When mixed with other ingredients (like shea butter), it is marketed as a natural deodorant. The alkaline baking soda neutralizes our mildly acidic sweat.

  • Baking soda is a natural exfoliator. When mixed with water into a paste, it will help to remove oils and dead skin cells.

  • When used in moderation, a paste of water and baking soda can soothe skin suffering from poison ivy, insect bites, acne or canker sores.

  • Baking soda can help remove oil stains from fabric. Immediately pat off the excess oil, then apply a paste of baking soda mixed with water. Let it dry, then brush off the paste.

  • Baking soda mixed with lemon or vinegar cleans dirt and grime from hard surfaces like sinks, showers, and tile.

  • To clean fruits and vegetables, gently scrub them with dry baking soda and rinse with cold water.

  • To help prevent mold, sprinkle baking soda on clothes or shoes stored in damp places.

  • Baking soda is the key ingredient in many fire extinguishers. Unlike water, it is effective on electrical or grease fires. When sodium bicarbonate is heated, it releases water and carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide is heavier than air, and smothers the oxygen flow to the flames.

  • Most over-the-counter antacids contain sodium bicarbonate. Sodium bicarbonate neutralizes stomach acid, and this helps to relieve ulcer or acid pain, indigestion, and heartburn. The recommended dosage for gastrointestinal issues is ½ teaspoon of baking soda dissolved in ½ glass of water.

  • Baking soda can help to encourage splinters to work their way out on their own. Combine one tablespoon of baking soda with a glass of water, and soak the splinter twice a day.

  • Summer is coming: I urge you to protect your skin from the sun. However, when you’re not successful, try soaking in a lukewarm bath with ½ cup of baking soda in it.

And, baking soda is cheap! I encourage you to give it a try.

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