Uses for Baking Soda in the Home
Also known as sodium bicarbonate or bicarbonate of soda, baking soda is best known as a leavening agent, since it's involved in the chemical reaction that causes dough to rise. But baking soda is a household staple that has hundreds of uses.
Baking soda is somewhat alkaline—that is, it has a pH above 7 and thus helps neutralize acids, including acidic scent molecules. That's why baking soda comes in handy, as follows:
- An open box of baking soda can help deodorize a refrigerator or room. You can make an air freshener by mixing baking soda and water in a spray bottle.
- It has various uses in cooking, not just baking. Adding a pinch to the soaking water of beans speeds the cooking process and helps reduce compounds that cause gas in the GI tract and flatulence. A pinch added to tomato sauce while cooking, or coffee while brewing, reduces acidity. It's also an effective meat tenderizer, since it breaks down proteins.
- Because it's a mild abrasive and deodorizer, baking soda is a gentle, inexpensive cleanser for sinks, tiles, toilet bowls and ovens. And it's a good ingredient in toothpastes, underarm deodorants and denture soaks. Environmentally safe, baking soda can be used in place of potentially toxic products.
- When added to laundry water—about half a cup—it can improve the effectiveness of detergent. Added to the rinse cycle, it can neutralize odors.
- Added to bath water, it soothes dry skin, sunburn, and itching due to poison ivy or mosquito bites. Or it can be applied as a paste (one part water to three parts baking soda).
- Added to swimming pools, it can balance the pH and help keep water clear.
- Sodium bicarbonate is an effective antacid, but is not recommended because it's so high in sodium: 1,250 milligrams per teaspoon, and 1,100 milligrams in two tablets of Alka-Seltzer. And it may cause acid rebound effect, in which case you end up with worse heartburn. And by the way: Some websites recommend taking sodium bicarbonate to bolster or restore your body's acid/alkaline (pH) balance. This is nonsensical advice.
Baking Soda and Athletic Performance
Some athletes consume sodium bicarbonate hoping to neutralize the lactic acid that builds up in blood and muscles during intense exercise and thus causes fatigue and impairs performance. Researchers have studied this proposed benefit of sodium bicarbonate for decades, for sprints as well as endurance events, with conflicting results.
A 2008 review, for instance, noted performance benefits in both a 1,500-meter race and intermittent-sprint cycling, but not in a 600-meter run. A 2010 study found no benefit in elite rugby players in New Zealand—and in fact the side effects (notably bloating, cramps, diarrhea, and nausea) may have impaired performance. Most recently, a small study of competitive college tennis players in Taiwan found that sodium bicarbonate did improve performance.
If sodium bicarbonate has any beneficial effect on performance, it's minimal. Besides being high in sodium, it can cause gastrointestinal distress. If you have kidney problems, it can be dangerous. In rare cases, swallowing large amounts of sodium bicarbonate on a very full stomach could even result in stomach rupture.
Source: Originally published in The University of California, Berkeley Wellness Letter (June 2011)