A Love Letter to Baking Soda

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by Mary McDonald

Best Investments in Sustainability

My first encounters with baking soda happened, of course, in my mother’s kitchen. Whenever my mother was getting ready to bake, it was my job to help her gather all of the ingredients. Cinnamon, cloves, sugar, vanilla, baking powder,baking soda. I had no idea what baking soda did, or why it was different from baking powder. I was kind of fascinated with both. The baking powder was almost silvery-white, fluffy, with that nifty top that helped you level your measuring spoon.

Baking soda by contrast, was its gritty, rough and tough cousin. The box had a picture of a huge, muscled arm about to swing a hammer, a strange visual for something that was necessary for baking banana bread. You would think a baking ingredient would have a picture of a cake, or an apron, or a spoon. But, no, there it was, a defiantly masculine visage nestled among all things floury and sweet and spicy.

It looks like the folks at Arm and Hammer knew a few things about their product that I didn’t back then. Far more than a leavening agent for baking, baking soda or natron, its pure mineral form, has been used for thousands of years. Back in ancient Egypt it was used as a cleaner and as part of the mummification process.

The baking soda we are familiar with today came into use in the 1840’s. In modern times, baking soda was used to clean 100 years of grime off the Statue of Liberty. Baking soda has also been used to aid environmental clean-up efforts. People have used to it to decontaminate soil, neutralize the effects of acid rain in lakes, and decrease air pollution in factory smokestacks. How’s that for muscle?

One the home front, baking soda is a non-toxic, inexpensive alternative to a host of cleaning and personal care products. Leslie Reichert, says in her book, The Joy of Green Cleaning, that baking soda was one of only four products her great-grandmother used to clean. It plays a starring role in many of her non-toxic cleaning recipes. Dirty oven? No need for toxic, aerosol cleaners- baking soda and vinegar do the trick. Carpet needs refreshing? A little sprinkle of baking soda before vacuuming neutralizes odors.

Lest you mistake me for something I am NOT, let me assure you, I hate cleaning and domestic chores in general. Nobody will ever mistake me for a domestic goddess. Cooking, cleaning, gardening-I am half-assed at best. The idea of green living lights my fire, though, so I am pretty revved about baking soda as something that helps us live greener, cheaper and more simply.

Again, Pioneer Woman I am not. I can make homemade cleaning recipes, but only if they are super simple. More than three ingredients and you’ve lost me. If I can make these kind of changes, anyone can do it! I have replaced shelves full of toxic cleaners with a few, large boxes of baking soda.

My go-to baking soda cleaner recipe is:

  1. Baking soda
  2. A few drops of essential oil (anything you love)

Remember I said no more than three ingredients? A lot of people recommend tea tree oil, because it helps with mildew and mold. I use orange essential oil because the scent seems to be have energizing, uplifting effect.

Here are some ways I use this mixture on a regular basis (Ooh, wait! Is that a latent Hestia, goddess of the hearth, emerging? Nah. More like Artemis. I just want to save the wild forests!)


Stainless steel sinks

Stainless steel sinks seem to cling to smells and scrubbing with baking soda gets them clean, clean, clean! I spray hydrogen peroxide afterwards and let it sit for a few minutes to kill germs. Voila! Even a half-assed cleaning slacker can do this.


For some reason, the sink in one of our bathrooms periodically gives off a God-awful stink when we run the water. It’s disgusting. I have to take the stopper out and scrub the drain with a bottle brush. You don’t want a visual on this, trust me! It doesn’t stay clean long. I hate this chore, but I resigned myself to getting it done when it’s needed. Recently, I tried the baking soda-orange oil mixture. I poured it down the drains and let it sit for several hours. I can’t believe it, but it’s been weeks and that gross smell hasn’t come back.


Weirdly, I get kind of a kick out of the fact that I can take a shower and then clean afterwards it with my baking soda mix and not worry that bleach or some other neurotoxins are seeping into my skin. Or, that I could scrub the tub with baking soda, run a bath in my newly cleaned tub, and even add a little baking soda to the water, which can be good for a lot of skin and gynecological issues. (Note that there are several reasons NOT to put baking soda in the tub, like being pregnant or having diabetes, so definitely check with your doctor.)   I am gearing up to teach my kids how to clean the bathroom this way. Never in a million years would I have them clean with conventional cleaners and 1) breathe in the fumes or 2) expose their skin to the chemicals. With baking soda, I wouldn’t worry. They’ll probably think it’s fun-win-win!


Depending on the type of washing machine you have, you can use baking soda to add a boost to your laundry cleaner. In my old washing machine, I put it right in the washing tub. With a newer model, I add it to the bleach compartment. Baking soda is especially good for getting towels smelling fresh. (You know, because nobody picks up their wet, crumpled towels from the floor.)

Personal Care Uses

Brushing your teeth

If you look at the ingredients, you’ll find that baking soda is in a lot of commercial toothpastes because it’s effective at removing plaque and germs. You can save a lot of money by making up your own paste, or going the slacker route and tapping a fingerful of baking soda on your toothbrush and thinning it with a little water.

Skin care

As mentioned above, you can use baking soda in the bath to help with certain conditions. It makes your skin really feel clean and silky.   It can be used as a face cleaner or even a blackhead remover. This stuff is unreal!

Washing your hair

In a pinch, you can even mix baking soda with a little water and wash your hair with it. There are those who say washing your hair with baking soda regularly isn’t a good idea (and others who swear by it), that it can strip it too much of the natural oils. I’m not willing to take risks with my hair and do it long term, but the few times I have done it, my hair has felt spectacularly clean. Like I said, in a pinch.

How About You?

The list of possible uses for baking soda goes on and on. Cleaning car batteries, freshening up stinky shoes, insect repellent, ……. you name it. What will you use it for?

Mary McDonald is a writer and educator living in Central Massachusetts. You can find her at linkedin/marymcdonald or Good Green News.


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Published by Laura Parker Roerden

Laura Parker Roerden shares a love of what nature can teach us. Writer, public speaker and supportor of youth to boldly know and save the wilds. She is the founding director of Ocean Matters and a fourth generation farmer and thinks today’s young people are reason to be hopeful about the many environmental problems facing us. She lives on a family farm in Massachusetts with her husband, three boys, and an assortment of fruit trees and farm animals.

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