I hear people bemoaning the high cost of “going green.” And while organic food does cost more than its chemical-laden counterpart, I’m here to tell you that it’s easier to spend more for healthy food when you save money in other ways. We can skip many of the green cleaners, deodorizers, and personal care products, most of which are fairly expensive. To that end, baking soda is our friend. (Ha! I rhymed.)
What’s so great about baking soda?
1) It’s cheap. On Safeway.com, a 1 lb box is $1.40. But I save money and packaging by buying it from the bulk bin at my local natural foods store, filling up my own reusable cloth bag. That way, it’s only 89¢/lb!
2) It’s simple. One of the ways I try to protect my health and that of the planet is to buy products that contain the lowest number of different ingredients possible. Baking soda is just about as simple as you can get.
3) It’s non-toxic. Need I say more?
4) The packaging is plastic-free. With my method, there’s no plastic at all. Otherwise, it comes in a biodegradable/recyclable cardboard box.
5) It’s versatile. Baking soda has over a hundred uses and can substitute for many other more expensive products. Here are just a few of the ways we use it in our home, as well as a few suggestions from other bloggers and friends.
Deodorant: Baking soda is hands down the best deodorant I have ever used. After a full day, I have no odor. Waking up the next morning, still no odor. I have never found a commercial deodorant that could go that kind of distance, natural or otherwise. I’m king of evangelical about it, listing it as the first item in this article because if you take away nothing else, baking soda deodorant is the one thing to remember!
So how do I use it? I keep it in a little metal tea tin in my underwear drawer and apply it with a powder puff after taking a shower.
(You should have seen me explaining my little tea tin full of white powder to the TSA agent at the airport security gate last weekend.) I use it straight without adding any other ingredients. However, Melinda from One Green Generation finds that straight baking soda is too strong for her, so she combines it with cornstarch which also acts as an antiperspirant. Read her post, How To Make Your Own Deodorant (A Very Simple Recipe). She’s as evangelical about it as I am.
A note about baking soda and aluminum: I’ve heard rumors here and there that baking soda actually contains aluminum, one of the things we’re trying to avoid by switching away from commercial antiperspirants. As it turns out, pure baking soda does not contain aluminum. Baking powder, on the other hand (which is a combination of baking soda with other ingredients) sometimes does. Check out iVillage’s explanation of the difference.
Washing Hair: This is one that gets me a few strange looks when I reveal it. Yes, I wash my hair with baking soda. To be specific, one tablespoon of baking soda per one cup of water. I keep it mixed up in a sports bottle in the shower. And actually, I mainly scrub my scalp rather than my hair with the baking soda solution. Then, once or twice a week I add an apple cider vinegar rinse (1 T acv to 1 C water. I also add a few drops of rosemary essential oil).
Baking soda/apple cider vinegar is one of the No ‘Poo methods of hair cleansing you might have heard of, and it works really well for me. For everything you ever wanted to know about the BS/ACV haircare regimen, check out Babyslime’s definitive guide as well as the whole No ‘Poo forum.
Mouth Rinse: Baking soda and water make a great breath-freshening mouth rinse. Baking soda helps neutralize acid conditions in the mouth that promote bacterial growth. It’s those bad bacteria that cause cavities, gum disease, and bad breath. Go baking soda!
Soaking Retainers/Mouth Guards: It’s ironic that as an anti-plastics activist, I go to bed every night with a mouthful of plastic. My Invisalign retainers keep my teeth from returning to their scary Jack-o-Lantern pre-orthodontic condition. I could buy a commercial denture cleaner like Efferdent, but baking soda is cheaper and works just as well.
Toothpaste: I tried using baking soda to brush my teeth. I mixed it with stevia for sweetness and a little wintergreen essential oil for taste. It was kind of yummy. But eventually, I felt like my teeth and gums were becoming sensitive. The baking soda was too abrasive. So I gave up and went back to buying toothpaste. Others have been more successful.
Face and Body Cleanser: Susie Collins of The Canary Report, a blog about Multiple Chemical Sensitivity, told me that many people who can’t tolerate soap wash instead with baking soda, mixing it in a 50%/50% ratio with water. She also let me know that people with MCS often have difficulty finding pure baking soda that hasn’t been cross contaminated by products with strong scents. Since baking soda absorbs odors, it could potentially pick up the odor of anything it was shipped or stored near.
Does it really work? That depends on what you mean by “work.” It’s a great abrasive that won’t scratch surfaces. What’s more, a 2005 study found baking soda somewhat effective at killing viruses and concluded that
An advantage of sodium bicarbonate over the available chemical disinfectants for food contact surfaces is its safety, ready availability and low cost. The use of sodium bicarbonate… can be an effective and inexpensive method of disinfecting food contact surfaces.
However, the University of Minnesota study “Hard Surface Cleaning Performance of Six Alternative Household Cleaners Under Laboratory Conditions,” comparing natural alternative cleaners to registered chemical disinfectants, indicates that while baking soda was found to be one of the best at removing kitchen and bathroom soil), it’s is not as effective as vinegar at killing germs, which is why in our home, we scrub with baking soda and then wipe down with a vinegar/water solution when necessary.
Don’t mix baking soda and vinegar!A while back, I read an excellent post by Melanie Rimmer on the blog Bean-Sprouts. She’s no longer writing the blog, but this post remains and I refer others to it often. She says:
Other recipes often recommend that you mix vinegar with bicarb to make a sooper-dooper cleaning agent. Actually that would make a lot of impressive looking bubbles but result in something with approximately the cleaning power of salt water. A basic understanding of chemistry (or baking) would help clear some of this up.
Melanie goes on to explain that baking soda neutralizes vinegar. She calls baking soda alkaline. The Arm & Hammer Company says it’s neither alkaline nor acid. Either way, it counteracts any cleaning power that the vinegar might have, creates a mass of bubbles when CO2 is released (which can be good for creating a volcano or unclogging a drain but not so much for cleaning), and leaves you with a salty mess.
So how do we use it? This is the container we use for sprinkling just the right amount of baking soda for the job. It’s stainless steel and very sturdy. I think I got it at one of those kitchen supply stores.
Kitchen Surfaces: Baking soda works really well for cleaning dried-on messes from counter-tops and other surfaces. For the really tough jobs, wet the area, sprinkle the baking soda, and let it sit for several minutes.
Refrigerator: I cleaned my entire refrigerator and freezer using nothing but baking soda, water, and a sponge. And it didn’t take all day. Honest.
Dishes: I use baking soda to scour baked-on food from dishes. Combined with a copper scrubber for tougher jobs, it really works.
Coffee/Tea Stained Cups: I received a press release not long ago from a company selling a natural dishwasher gel that was guaranteed to remove “embarrassing coffee and tea stains” from dishes and mugs:
Frustrating indeed, the only recourse is to just soak or scrub those stubborn stays away. Soaking for hours in chlorine bleach will do the trick, but at an environmental health risk. Scrubbing with baking soda – well, who has the time?
Um… I do. I have the time to scrub a little with baking soda. You know why? Because it actually doesn’t take long. It really works. I’m not left with a plastic bottle to pollute the planet. (Recycling plastic is actually downcycling. But that’s a rant for a future post.) And it’s cheaper! Besides, because of the rubber bottom, my stainless steel travel mug is not dishwasher safe. I would have to scrub it by hand anyway.
Tea Kettle: Wako Takayama from Everyday Sustainable uses baking soda to clean the grease off the outside of her water kettle. In her article on washing dishes the green way, she explains that she throws baking soda onto the kettle dry and then wipes it off with a damp sponge. Apparently, the grease comes right off. I’m going to try this as soon as I get home!
Burned Pots and Pans: My friend Elizabeth tells me that after burning a pot (which I never EVER do) you can boil water and baking soda for ten minutes and the black stuff comes right out.
Clogged Drains: Jenn from Tiny Choices explains how to unclog a drain using baking soda followed by boiling water followed by vinegar. (The bubbling reaction helps to loosen up whatever is down there.) In our house, we just call our friend Oshi who seems to have a tool for everything and knows how to use it. It’s good to have your own personal super hero on speed dial.
Bathroom Surfaces and Toilet: Yep, I use it in there too. So does Lisa from Retro Housewife Goes Green, who thinks that conventional toilet bowl cleaners are so toxic, you should wear safety goggles when using them.
I’ve already mentioned using baking soda as deodorant. And you probably are aware of how it sucks up odors in the refrigerator. Here are a few more ideas of ways to deodorize with baking soda.
Carpet: Allie from The Greenists explains how to use baking soda to freshen your carpet.
Cat Litter: We sprinkle baking soda in the litter boxes to keep them smelling fresh between litter changes.
Deodorizing Ball: Melissa from The Greenists devised this DIY diaper pail deodorizer ball that could actually be hung anywhere odors arise. Her recipe includes old panty hose, baking soda, scrap ribbon, sharp scissors, and a spoon.
Other Weird and Wonderful Ways to Use Baking Soda
Dog Urine: Lisa from Condo Blues uses baking soda to repair brown dog urine spots on her lawn. Really. The baking soda neutralizes the concentrated amounts of ammonia and nitrogen in the dog urine that burn the grass.
Birkenstock Foot Beds: My friend Phaedra cleans the foot beds of her Birkenstocks with baking soda. I’m imagining scrubbing with an old toothbrush. I wonder if it would work as well on my fake Birks.
Vog Acids: Raven Joy from Hawai’i says that she uses baking soda in her “water catch” to alkalize the water “after the vog acids it all up.” Yeah, I didn’t know either. According to Susie Collins, who also lives in Hawai’i, “Vog” is the emissions from the volcano, full of toxic sulphur dioxide, that can blanket the island and the state.
Um… there’s also baking with baking soda. Just don’t confuse it with baking powder in a recipe. Or make your own baking powder combining baking soda, cream of tartar, and cornstarch.
Other Baking Soda Resources:
Arm & Hammer: The Magic of Baking Soda
The Baking Soda Book: More uses for baking soda than you’ve probably ever imagined.
So, what are your favorite uses for baking soda?
A version of this post appears on the BlogHer.com web site today.
This is my entry in the Make It From Scratch Carnival, which appears Nov 10 on the Gotta Little Space blog, as well as the Green Moms Carnival, whose topic this month is “Saving Money through Green Means” and will appear on Condo Blues on Nov 16.