What Is Baking Soda? Uses, Health Benefits, Side Effects, and More

Medically Reviewed
a bowl of baking soda
Baking soda isn’t just an ingredient in your cookie recipe — it can also help remove stains from your teeth and even ease a sore throat.Michelle Arnold/Getty Images

You probably keep a box of baking soda in the back of your fridge and break it out when you need to make a batch of cookies for your family. You may have taken it when your stomach hurt or cleaned your laundry with it, too. And you may have even combined baking soda and vinegar in a school science project way back in the day. (Spoiler: It “explodes” in fizz.) Baking soda is a staple in practically every household, but how much do you really know about this seemingly simple ingredient?

What Is Baking Soda, and How Did It Become the Household Staple It Is Today?

Baking soda is an alkaline white powder that’s ubiquitous in modern kitchens. Its rise is largely credited to one big brand. In 1846, two brothers-in-law, Dr. Austin Church and John Dwight, teamed up to distribute baking soda. (1)

The product, which was made in Dwight’s kitchen, was called Arm & Hammer Church & Co’s bicarbonate of soda. By 1860, Arm & Hammer wanted to show the population just how versatile the ingredient was. They began to distribute mini-cookbooks, with recipes for bread, cakes, cookies, puddings, and more — some of which were family recipes. (2)

By the 1920s, Arm & Hammer was advertised in women’s magazines in an effort to spread its popularity. (1) According to the company, it was in 1972 that people everywhere started stashing a box of baking soda in their refrigerators to keep things fresh.

When used in baking, baking soda acts as a chemical leavener, producing carbon dioxide in reaction to an acid (like vinegar), which produces bubbles that help the cake or cookie rise to tender, moist, and fluffy perfection. (3)

How Is Baking Soda Made Exactly?

Baking soda is the common name for sodium bicarbonate, an ingredient that got its start 4 million years ago when salt lakes around the world evaporated and formed trona deposits. (1) Trona is the rock that’s processed into soda ash (sodium carbonate), a naturally occurring mineral. Soda ash can then also be processed to make baking soda. The world’s largest deposit of trona?is in Wyoming. The area produced more than 17 million tons of the mineral in 2018, for export around the world. (5)

What’s in Baking Soda?

The only ingredient in baking soda is sodium bicarbonate.

What Baking Soda May Be Able to Do for Your Health

Traditionally, baking soda is a popular antacid for heartburn and indigestion because it can neutralize stomach acid. (6) You can add ? teaspoon (tsp) in ? cup of water to help ease heartburn. (7) A warning, however: Baking soda is high in sodium. Just ? tsp contains 630 milligrams (mg) of sodium. (8) Considering that the U.S. government’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend consuming no more than 2,300 mg of sodium daily, ? tsp of baking soda will supply about one-quarter of that limit. (9)

You should talk to your doctor or pharmacist before taking baking soda for heartburn or indigestion as it can potentially react with some medications, and you shouldn’t take baking soda or sodium bicarbonate for more than two weeks without an okay from your doctor. (6)

In some interesting research results, it’s possible that baking soda consumption may boost your workout. According to a 2021 review by the International Society of Sports Nutrition, taking baking soda before exercising can boost athletic performance in a variety of exercises and sports. For optimal performance, the authors recommended a dose of 300 mg of baking soda per kilogram of body weight, taken between 60 and 180 minutes before exercise or competition.

Baking soda may also be a valuable weapon against autoimmune conditions in the future. Research shows that when consumed, the antacid action of baking soda may help shift pro-inflammatory immune cells in the body to those who fight inflammation, something that may one day help treat disease. (12,13)

What Baking Soda Definitely?Can’t?Do for Your Health

Baking soda is one of those ingredients that people claim is a cure-all for a variety of health conditions and diseases. But the truth is there’s scant research backing up large claims, such as the idea that it’s a treatment for cancer. At least one study, in mice, did find that baking soda could possibly help improve the body’s reaction to cancer therapy. (14,15)?A 2020 review found that a 5 percent sodium bicarbonate solution could have anticancer effects when applied to tumors locally in combination with traditional cancer drugs.

Yet that doesn’t mean a cancer patient can treat his or her condition at home or eschew traditional treatments. This research is still in its beginning stages and larger clinical trials in humans are needed to fully explore baking soda’s effect on cancer.

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Can Baking Soda Help You Lose Weight?

There are no research trials to suggest that baking soda can help boost metabolism or prompt your body to burn more fat. It may help you get more out of your workout. But there are so many factors that go into the relationship between exercise and weight loss, this is not something you can count on making a big enough difference. What’s more, given how high in sodium baking soda is, it’s possible drinking too much may leave you bloated.

What Are Some Surprising Uses for Baking Soda?

Baking soda is considered a versatile product for good?reason. Here are just some of its many uses.

As a Produce Wash Forget the pricey, fancy produce washes on the market. A simple baking soda and water soak for 12 to 15 minutes is enough to remove 80 and 96 percent of certain pesticides from apples — better than tap water alone or bleach. Baking soda helps degrade certain pesticides so they can be washed away. (16)

As a Natural Cleaner A mixture of baking soda and water can be used as an effective, nonabrasive cleaner. One use: to wipe away old food residues from the inside of a refrigerator.?You can also sprinkle baking soda down the drain with hot water to freshen up your pipes, clean your tubs, sinks, and shower curtain, and buff out scuff marks from floors. (18) Oh, and don’t forget, it’s a top-notch deodorizer. Sprinkle baking soda on a carpet, let it sit, and vacuum it — and the offending stink — up.

To Safely Clean Pots and Pans When cooked food stays stuck to the pan, the American Cleaning Institute recommends adding baking soda to the pan, filling it with hot water, and soaking it for 15 to 30 minutes. The baking soda will help lift the crusty food pieces. (19)

To Wash Clothes Adding ? cup of baking soda to the rinse cycle will freshen up clothes — without all the chemicals in other products. (18)

To Help Ease Heartburn For the occasional heartburn episode, add ? teaspoon to ? cup of water and drink. The alkaline baking soda will neutralize excess acid. (7)

Care for Bug Bites You know that annoying itchiness from bug bites? Rather than reach for a hydrocortisone cream, you can find relief by applying a paste of baking soda (mix baking soda with a little water until you get the right consistency) to the bite several times a day, suggests the Mayo Clinic. (20)

To Care for Your Teeth During Pregnancy Morning sickness happens. Along with the discomfort of queasiness, the stomach acid that goes along with vomiting can wear away at your tooth enamel. If you’re saddled with occasional or regular vomiting, rinse your mouth with 1 tsp of baking soda mixed with water. (21) You can also do this when sickness (like food poisoning) is causing vomiting.

Treat Nail Infections If you have a mild nail infection, you may consider a baking soda and water soak, as baking soda has antifungal properties. (22)

Ease Discomfort During Cancer Treatment Swishing your mouth with a combination of baking soda, salt, and water can help ease throat discomfort caused by radiation or chemotherapy. This mixture may also help prevent mouth sores from getting infected. Just be sure to gargle the solution — don’t swallow it.?The American Cancer Society says to check with your cancer care team before using any mouth rinses as they can sometimes be harmful or make mouth sores worse. (23)

Side Effects and Health Risks of Baking Soda

There are a few problems to keep in mind should you overconsume baking soda. Applying it to your teeth long-term can erode tooth enamel, as with combining baking soda with an acid as a DIY tooth whitener. (24,25) Thanks to its high sodium content, it’s also possible to consume too much baking soda. An overload of sodium can cause vomiting and diarrhea, as well as more serious problems like seizures and kidney failure. When using it as an antacid, it can actually make GI problems worse if it produces too much gas. Alarmingly, in rare instances, taking it after eating a large meal can cause a stomach rupture. The National Capital Poison Center recommends sticking to safer products like Tums. Finally, because of its sodium content, you’ll also want to check with your doctor before taking it if you have high blood pressure. (26)

Answers to the Top Frequently Asked Questions About Baking Soda

Q: Are baking soda and bicarbonate of soda the same thing?

A: Yes. When Arm & Hammer baking soda was first produced, “bicarbonate of soda” was printed on the box. (1)

Q: Can baking soda be consumed?

A: Absolutely. It’s a popular ingredient in recipes, particularly baked goods. It can also be consumed as an antacid.

Q: What is baking soda in the UK?

A: Baking soda is commonly referred to as bicarbonate of soda in the United Kingdom.

Q: Is it bad to brush your teeth with baking soda?

A: Many toothpastes contain baking soda as an ingredient to help neutralize enamel-eroding acid and buff away stains on teeth. (27) But what about using it alone? While you can use a mixture of equal parts baking soda and water to remove surface stains from teeth, doing so too often can actually be too abrasive and wear away enamel. Plus, using this alone to clean teeth means you miss out on cavity-fighting fluoride that’s contained in commercial products. (22) You should also not brush with a mixture of acid (like apple cider vinegar) and baking soda or scrub teeth with baking soda and hydrogen peroxide, as these DIY products can also damage enamel. (24)

Q: What is the purpose of baking soda in recipes?

A: Baking soda acts as a chemical leavener. It reacts with an acid to produce carbon dioxide — or loads of bubbles — a process that allows cakes, cookies, and other baked goods to rise.

Q: Are baking powder and baking soda the same thing?

A: No, so don’t use baking powder as a substitute for baking soda when you’re baking! Baking powders contain sodium bicarbonate and two acids to help the dough rise at multiple times throughout the baking process. (3) (Remember, baking soda needs to be combined with an acid, while baking powder does not, as it has these built in.) For instance, one brand of baking powder contains sodium acid pyrophosphate, cornstarch, sodium bicarbonate, and monocalcium phosphate. (28)

Editorial Sources and Fact-Checking

  1. A Trusted Solution for More Than 170 Years: Pure and Simple. Arm & Hammer.
  2. Index. Arm & Hammer Soda Book of Valuable Recipes. 1900.
  3. The Difference Between Baking Soda and Baking Powder. NC State University News. May 21, 2014.
  4. Deleted, November 2, 2022.
  5. Trona. Wyoming Mining Association.
  6. Sodium Bicarbonate. MedlinePlus. April 15, 2017.
  7. How to Use Baking Soda to Ease Indigestion. The People’s Pharmacy. July 17, 2017.
  8. Leavening Agents, Baking Soda. U.S. Department of Agriculture. April 1, 2019.
  9. Sodium. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. ??December 21, 2021.
  10. Deleted, November 2, 2022.
  11. Deleted, November 2, 2022.
  12. Ray SC, Baban B, Tucker MA. Oral NaHCO3 Activates a Splenic Anti-Inflammatory Pathway: Evidence That Cholinergic Signals Are Transmitted via Mesothelial Cells. The Journal of Immunology. May 15, 2018.
  13. Drinking Baking Soda Could Be an Inexpensive, Safe Way to Combat Autoimmune Disease. ScienceDaily. April 25, 2018.
  14. How Might Baking Soda Boost Cancer Therapy? ScienceDaily. June 1, 2018.
  15. Walton ZE, Patel CH, Brooks RC, et al. Acid Suspends the Circadian Clock in Hypoxia Through Inhibition of mTOR. Cell. June 28, 2018.
  16. Yang T, Doherty J, Zhao B et al. Effectiveness of Commercial and Homemade Washing Agents in Removing Pesticide Residues on and in Apples. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. November 8, 2017.
  17. Deleted, November 2, 2022.
  18. Baking Soda Cleaning Hacks for Your Whole Home. Arm & Hammer.
  19. Pots and Pans. American Cleaning Institute.
  20. Insect Bites and Stings: First Aid. Mayo Clinic. March 18, 2022.
  21. Healthy Dental Habits to Practice During Pregnancy. American Dental Association MouthHealthy.
  22. Letscher-Bru V, Obszynski CM, Samsoen M, et al. Antifungal Activity of Sodium Bicarbonate Against Fungal Agents Causing Superficial Infections. Mycopathologia. February 2013.
  23. Mouth Sores and Pain. American Cancer Society. September 24, 2021.
  24. Does Baking Soda Whiten Teeth? Colgate. November 24, 2022.
  25. Natural Teeth Whitening. American Dental Association MouthHealthy.
  26. My Child Got Into the Baking Soda. National Capital Poison Center.
  27. Arm & Hammer Advance White Extreme Whitening Toothpaste. Arm & Hammer.
  28. Baking Powder. Thrive Market.

Additional Sources

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