We’re all familiar with using bicarbonate of soda (also known as sodium bicarbonate or baking soda) as a raising agent in baking, but it can also be used in many other applications around the home, and is especially effective as a cleaning agent.
What's so good about bicarb?
Bicarbonate of soda has specific properties which make it ideal for using as a DIY cleaning product. For example, it is:
non-toxic and biodegradable, so it's safe to use around food, children and pets
especially good at absorbing smells, grease, oil and moisture
a very gentle abrasive, so it's great for cleaning surfaces without scratching
mildly alkaline, with a pH of 9, which helps to soften water and release dirt from fabric
odourless, and contains no harsh chemicals, so it is perfect for people who are sensitive to the volatile compounds given off by some commercial cleaning products
Here’s just five of our favourite uses for bicarbonate of soda around the home:
Fix smelly shoes
Fed up of stinky shoes? There’s a really easy and non-toxic solution! Bicarbonate of soda is excellent at absorbing moisture and smells, which makes it ideal for soaking up sweat and unpleasant odours from footwear.
Simply sprinkle 1 or 2 tablespoons of bicarb into each shoe (depending on the size of the shoe and how bad the smell is).
Shake the powder down into the shoe to ensure that all of the insole is generously and evenly covered.
Leave the bicarb to work its magic - at least overnight, and up to 24 hours if the shoes are particularly offensive.
When the bicarb has done its job, tip the bicarb out into the bin. Give the shoes a good tap to remove any residue. If there’s a little powder left inside afterwards, don’t worry as this won’t harm your socks.
Your shoes should now be odour free, but if they were particularly bad you may need to repeat the previous steps.
A simple fabric softener
You can use bicarbonate of soda as a simple fabric softener. It has the same softening properties as commercial fabric softener but without any of the strong scents that can cause allergies, and it also doesn't affect the fire retardant finish applied to certain fabrics such as pyjamas.
If you have a top-loading washing machine, just sprinkle a couple of tablespoons of bicarb into the tub during the rinse cycle.
If you have a front-loading washing machine, there is a risk that the bicarb could clump up and eventually block the pipes if you add too much dry powder to the conditioner drawer. So to play it safe, it's best to dissolve the bicarb in a little water first at a ratio of around 1:3, and then add this liquid to the appropriate section of the dispenser drawer.
You can also use bicarb as a boost to your normal laundry detergent. This is especially useful if you live in a hard water area as the bicarb helps to adjust the pH level so that the detergent works more effectively. Just sprinkle a couple of tablespoons of the dry bicarb directly into the drum before you add the clothes.
Clean silver without Toxic chemicals
Bicarbonate of soda has the very useful property of reacting with aluminium foil to clean tarnished silver jewellery really effectively without the need for harsh or toxic chemicals. All you need to do is:
Scrunch up some aluminium foil and place it in a bowl.
Add a tablespoon of bicarb.
Place your silver jewellery in the bowl.
Top the bowl up with recently boiled water so that the jewellery and foil are covered and the bicarb is dissolved.
Leave for a hour then remove the jewellery from the bowl and wipe clean with a soft cloth.
We have a blog article dedicated to this method of cleaning silver, which contains more details about what types of jewellery are suitable for this cleaning method, and which ones should definitely not be subjected to boiling water and bicarb. For more information, see:
Non-toxic oven cleaner
Commercial oven cleaners contain toxic chemicals such as sodium hydroxide (aka caustic soda) which are dangerous to handle and can cause breathing problems. Users are warned to wear protective gloves and to ventilate the room well.
But you can also clean your oven with non-toxic bicarbonate of soda: no hazardous chemicals, no dangerous fumes. All you need to do is:
Mix up several tablespoons of bicarb (or more, according to how large an area you need to cover) with enough water to form a runny paste.
Spread the paste evenly over the dirty areas of the oven - avoiding the heating elements - making sure that all bits of burnt on debris are covered.
Leave for at least an hour for the bicarb to get to work, the longer the better. If your oven is particularly dirty, leave the bicarb for much longer - up to 12 hours. The bicarb should start to turn brown as it absorbs the dirt.
Take a damp cloth and rub the bicarb paste into the dirty areas. The bicarb is a mild abrasive as well as helping to break down the grease. (Full disclosure: more elbow grease is required than when using commercial oven cleaners, but at least you aren't inhaling dangerous fumes or dealing with nasty chemicals while you do so.)
Keep working the paste into the greasy areas with your cloth and the dirt will start to lift. Don't be tempted to use a scouring pad as this can scratch the oven lining, but you could use a spatula or a wooden scraper to loosen any particularly stubborn patches.
Wipe with a damp cloth to remove the used bicarb and loosened dirt.
Spray the inside of the oven with white vinegar. It will fizz on contact with any remaining bicarb, helping to loosen any last few sticky bits.
To finish off, wipe the inside of the oven thoroughly with a damp cloth.
Freshen up your fridge
To remove unpleasant smells from your fridge, and to prevent them from building up in future, put a couple of tablespoons of bicarbonate of soda in a small bowl and leave it on a shelf in the fridge. The bicarb will absorb the bad smells.
For the best results, use a wide shallow container for the bicarb, such as a saucer or shallow bowl. You want the bicarb powder to have as large a surface area as possible so that it comes into contact with the maximum number of odour-bearing molecules. Change the bicarb in the bowl every couple of months so that it keeps working efficiently.
Bicarb is most effective at neutralising mild or moderate odours, such as old vegetables or ripe cheese. For really strong smells like fish or meat that has gone off, you will need to adopt a more hands-on approach, such as emptying out the fridge and wiping down the insides with a solution of white vinegar.
These are just a few examples - bicarbonate of soda really is the ‘Swiss Army knife’ of home cleaning products, with hundreds of different applications. For more natural cleaning ideas:
See also our blog posts: