by Gail Dutton
January 1, 1990
from FindArticles Website



Baking soda, used since B.C., is better than effervescent; sodium bicarbonate - good old NaHCO3 - is moving out of the refrigerator and into an amazing array of commercial products from shampoo to industrial cleansers



As baking soda replaces harsher chemicals in industrial processes and finds broader uses in the home, its future as an indispensable ingredient of modern life seems assured.


North Americans use a billion pounds of it each year, according to Bryan Thomlison, director of public affairs for Church and Dwight, the world's major manufacturer of sodium bicarbonate located in Princeton, N.J.

"Usage is up 3 percent per year. That's twice as fast as the population growth."

Baking soda's continued allure results from a combination of its proven effectiveness and its position as a natural and environmentally safe substance, as well as by increasingly stringent government regulations such as the Clean Water Act.


In the mid-eighties, restorers of the Statue of Liberty used baking soda mixed with water to clean her copper skin. Without baking soda, the process likely would have required sand, lime or solvents.

In the same vein, sodium bicarbonate can safely remove paint, grease, oil and smoke residue, decreasing workers' exposure to harsh chemicals and eliminating much of the hazardous waste associated with other cleaners.

"Sodium bicarbonate is able to clean in areas where other substances pose fire hazards, because baking soda is a natural fire extinguisher," says Kenneth Colbert, a general manager for Arm & Hammer.

Since 1992, baking soda also has been used to clean electronic circuit boards, removing the baked-on flux, a varnish-like material that develops during manufacturing.


According to John Stevenson, senior business manager for liquid cleaners at Church and Dwight, a solution of sodium bicarbonate and proprietary ingredients, when sprayed onto circuit boards, reacts with the flux to form a soluble soap. Traditional cleaners rely upon chlorofluorocarbons, which will be banned by 1996.

At Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, researcher Don York has used baking soda to clean soil contaminated with uranium. Sodium bicarbonate binds with uranium, separating it from the dirt; so far, York has removed as much as 92 percent of the uranium from contaminated soil samples.

Approximately 30 percent of the water supply in the United States is acidic enough to leach heavy metals such as lead, copper, and iron out of pipes and plumbing fixtures. Adding sodium bicarbonate to such mildly acidic water supplies raises the water's pH and alkalinity, which significantly reduces such leaching.


When sodium bicarbonate was added to the water supply in Fitchburg, Mass., lead levels dropped 71 percent and copper levels 79 percent in tap water.

Baking soda is even being used to reduce pollutants from coal-fired power-generating plants and municipal solid-waste incinerators. The product Sorb-N-C combines baking soda and activated carbon to scrub acid gases, dioxins, furans and heavy metals that otherwise would be emitted from the stacks of incinerators and coal-fired power plants.


Sorb-N-C is marketed to secondary metal-smelting plant and pulp and paper plants, among others.

Our current love affair with baking soda may be relatively new, but sodium bicarbonate has a long history. The Eloquent Peasant, an Egyptian literary work dated around 2000 B.C., refers to a peddler selling natron, a natural blend of sodium bicarbonate, chloride and sodium carbonate used in mummification. But baking soda's first widespread use was probably as a leavening agent for bread and other baked goods.


It has been used commercially since 1775, although the now-famous Arm & Hammer brand wasn't introduced until 1867.


By the 1970s, the effectiveness and gentleness of baking soda were firmly established in consumer consciousness.


As the environmental movement grew, so did baking soda's popularity. In a backlash against harsh cleansers, consumers remembered that grandma - or great-grandma - added baking soda to the laundry and used it to scrub counters and deodorize musty rugs and pillows and wash hair.

Now sodium bicarbonate is found in hundreds of consumer products - not only shampoo and toothpaste, but sore-throat remedies, antiperspirants and fabric softeners. In the garage, it neutralizes corrosion buildup on auto battery terminals, removes salt deposits from chrome bumpers and trim, and tar and grease from headlights and the windshield.

Arm & Hammer recommends baking soda as a water conditioner for swimming pools, a deodorizer for kitty litter and a cleaner to remove oil spills from garage floors.


Sprinkled on icy steps or walkways, it aids traction and won't damage the floor if it's tracked inside. It will remove tarnish from silver, and gold, burnt-on food from scorched pans, built-up coffee oil and tea stains in pots and the plastic smell from items packed in polymers.

The American Red Cross recommends that shock or burn victims drink a weak solution of baking soda, salt and water if medical care is delayed by more than one hour, under certain circumstances. (Do not use it if there are convulsions, vomiting, brain or abdominal injuries, or if later surgery or general anesthetic is required.)


An ultrapure grade of sodium bicarbonate provides bicarbonate ions used as a buffer in dialysate fluid for hemodialysis, a therapy that helps keep the approximately 200,000 Americans with kidney failure alive while awaiting kidney transplants.

As a home remedy, about two tablespoons of baking soda per quart of cool water in a bowl, or half a cup in a bath, often relieves itches caused by rashes, poison ivy and chicken pox. A paste made from baking soda and water is effective for treating insect bites and bee stings, although it may dry skin. It also is used as an antacid.

On farms and ranches, cattlemen have added baking soda to feed for ages - as a homemade bovine antacid. Arm & Hammer is developing a sodium bicarbonate product for broiler chickens.