Baking Soda: My Favorite Frugal Substance

Arm & Hatchet on Flickr, taken by kafka4prezI love baking soda. It’s one of those things I can scarcely resist buying. Whenever I see a huge quantity of it for sale at the local warehouse store, I’m always tempted to pick up a big box of it, as you can get a twelve pound bag of baking soda for $5.76.

Why? It has nearly infinite uses and is extremely inexpensive to acquire – the two elements of a purchase that make my frugal heart go pitter-patter.

I originally started listing out dozens of specific uses of baking soda, but as I was doing research for this article, I came across a free book online that extolled the many frugal virtues of baking soda. It’s entitled Resourceful and Ingenious Uses of Baking Soda and the entire book is available for free at that link. Check it out!

I thought I’d highlight twelve of my favorite uses for baking soda found in the above book, along with my own notes from using baking soda for that purpose. The book has many, many ideas I’ve never considered – looks like our big bag of baking soda is about to get used pretty heavily once again.

General cleaning

Whenever something needs to be cleaned around the house, I just mix about four tablespoons of baking soda into a container of very hot water and mix it until it’s dissolved. The solution just cleans up almost everything quite nicely, from spots on the hardwood floor or linoleum to spots on the windows. If there seems to be any residue left behind, just wash it off again with a damp rag – just fine.

Caked-on food removal

If you have a casserole dish that has food that’s been caked on that’s almost impossible to remove, put some scalding water in the pan, then add about two tablespoons worth of baking soda and mix it into the water until dissolved. Let it sit for about an hour and the food comes off much easier. If that still doesn’t work, I like to clean out the pan again, then soak it in scalding water with about two bottle caps worth of vinegar for an hour, then dump that out and do the baking soda soak again. It’ll foam up some when you first put the baking soda into the water after the vinegar soak, but this makes all of the caked-on food practically fall off.

Facial cleanser

Even at twenty nine years old, I regularly get oily skin, and I find that making a paste from roughly equal amounts of hot water and baking soda does a great job of taking care of the oil on my face. If you have a severe issue, you may want to talk to a dermatologist, but I’ve found it does a great job on the oily areas on my face.

Bad breath

Halitosis can be a very disgusting thing. One sure way to combat the bad breath effects of halitosis is to brush your teeth with baking soda each day. Just keep a saucer with some baking soda on it near the sink, and when you go to brush, moisten your brush, dip it in the soda, and brush away. The taste is foul at first, but it does a very good job, and you can follow it with a good rinse and a brushing with normal toothpaste if you’d like a fresher taste in your mouth.

Bee stings/poison ivy/mosquito bites/itchy skin

Whenever the skin is stung or irritated, particularly when it’s itchy, just make a paste out of baking soda and water (roughly equal amounts of each) and spread it on the irritated area. This paste helps slow swelling from bee and wasp stings and takes the edge off of itchiness from other conditions. I do this all the time with mosquito bites and it really helps.

Heartburn/acid indigestion/upset stomach

Instead of turning to Pepto Bismol or Maalox when I’m feeling queasy, I just put a teaspoon of baking soda in a glass of warm water and drink it down. It really helps – it neutralizes stomach acid just as well as the other stuff (though the other stuff tastes better).

Garbage disposal odor

Recently, we began to smell a faint odor from our garbage disposal, so we got out the old reliable baking soda and dumped some in there, about 1/4 cup, along with a couple squirts of dishwashing soap, followed by some warm water for a bit, then running the disposal with the warm water running. The odor went away immediately.

Cutting boards

I learned this from my great grandmother, who used to have a big wooden butcher block for a cutting board. After she was done with it, she would scrub it a bit with water, then sprinkle some baking soda all over the surface, then scrub it again. Her board always smelled fresh and clean – and she used it for cutting up everything under the sun.

Sweat stains

If you have a shirt with some sweat stains, just get the area of the stain wet, sprinkle some baking soda on it, and rub it into the stain. This gets rid of the sweat stain every time for me, even on white tee shirts.

Light rust removal

This is a trick an auto body restorer showed me once that the book repeated, and it works surprisingly well. If you have an item with light rust on it, just take a potato, peel the skin off it, dip the potato in baking soda, then rub the potato vigorously on the rust. Keep repeating it. Amazingly, the mix of the potato enzymes and the baking soda takes the rust right off! Afterwards, you may want to treat the item with rust protectant for long-term protection, though.

Smelly shoes

When I was a kid, my shoes used to smell awful. My mom’s treatment for the problem worked like a charm, though. She’d just sprinkle some baking soda inside the shoes as soon as I removed them. It reduced the odor inside the house and wasn’t noticeable at all when wearing them.

Cat litter

A few years ago, we owned two cats (both were given away to nice homes – an elderly couple and a family member – when cat allergies were discovered) and this is a trick we often used. Just sprinkle a few tablespoons’ worth of baking soda in with the cat litter and the odor absorption of the litter goes up tremendously, plus the soda absorbs some of the wetness, all without harming your cat a bit. Our cats seemed to like it just fine.

The free book offers tons more tips for baking soda use, including one I’m anxious to try, but seems a bit dangerous.

Considering the cost of baking soda (I can get it for far less than $0.50 a pound) and the diversity of use, I consider baking soda to be one of the best bargains out there.

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  1. jim says:

    Wow, they make counterfeit baking soda now?

  2. I just recently got baking soda for our fridge (you forgot that! or was it too obvious) and our garbage disposal, and I really love how almost all of the box’s packaging surface was dedicated to everything BUT baking.

  3. Katie says:

    Great article–I love baking soda too! I’d like to add a couple of ideas–one is that you can add a couple of drops of peppermint oil (or any other kind really) to the dish of baking soda you brush your teeth with, and shake it up to mix. It doesn’t really mask the flavor while you’re brushing, but it leaves you with minty-fresh breath.

    The second is baking soda as deodorant. I’m not kidding. I’ve tried all kinds of deodorant, including superstrength Drysol, and could still “pit out” a light-colored t-shirt even on a cool day. Since I’ve switched to patting on a little baking soda after a shower, I stay dry and completely odor free–even for multiple days, like on a recent camping trip. This usage is one of my favorites!

  4. Allison says:

    We use it to clean the toilet at our place. Get the water level in the bowl nice and low, sprinkle baking soda around the edges, and slosh in a bit of vinegar. It foams up nicely, and then a quick wipe around with the brush is all it takes to get the gunk off. Much cheaper (and I would think better for the environment) than commercial toilet cleansers.

  5. Jennifer says:

    While the warning about microwaving liquids for long period of times is accurate, it shouldn’t prevent you from trying this tip. The water will get superheated only if there are no surfaces on which it can form bubbles and hence boil. If the bowl you are using is rough or has scratches, this won’t happen. Either that or you can put something (non-metallic) in the bowl along with the water to give the water a surface on which to form bubbles (they’re called nucleation sites if you are interested). A wooden spoon, toothpick, a few grains of rice… just about anything would work as long as it’s not super smooth (think Pyrex). Microwave away!

  6. Eve says:

    I used to brush my teeth with baking soda every day, but my dentist told me it was wearing down my teeth, too abrasive, and I shouldn’t use it more than once a week. The dentist recommended diluted hydrogen peroxide for fresh breath and tooth whitening, but be very careful not to swallow any. Hydrogen peroxide is also a frugal substance.

  7. Jules says:

    I love baking soda, washing soda, vinegar, and dish soap. Between those four, we haven’t bought cleaning agents for almost a year. Plus the cookies I make are heaven :-)

    For some god-forsaken reason, though, baking soda is not sold in supermarkets. I have to go all the way to town to one of two Chinese stores to find it, and then it only comes in small boxes.

    Wooden cutting boards can be easily disinfected before bed with a spritz of vinegar, BTW. I don’t know how efficacious baking soda is at killing germs, but vinegar will get just about everything.

  8. Kim says:

    Perhaps I’m biased because I used to work for a vinegar company, but vinegar is my favorite cleaning substance! Baking soda is second.

    I agree that baking soda is too abraisive for daily teeth cleaning. Once in a while is okay — per my dental hygenist.

    As to the microwave, use at least a cup of water and heat for only two or three minutes and you should be okay. Plain water can become super heated, but the baking soda (or vinegar, in my case) keep that from happening. If it bubbles, it expends that “super heat” energy. Distilled water would be a no no. Nothing to bubble.

  9. Mike Sty says:

    Baking soda is one of those weird products that has a ton of uses. Rubbing alcohol is similar. Interesting post.

  10. Procrastamom says:

    I have used baking soda and water to clean my microwave for years and it has always worked great. The dirt wipes right off.

    Thanks for the book link.

  11. sm4k says:

    About the microwave, I saw a note at a company property once about microwaving water. Apparently an employee had a few years back made the mistake and superheated a cup of water, and when he took it out it caused the eruption and he got some serious burns from it.

    According to the note, the eruption is caused by the movement of the water breaking the surface tension, and the water finally having an outlet for all that super heated energy (which is why it doesn’t erupt as soon as you open the door). It also said that a sure fire way to prevent it from happening is to microwave the cup with a wooden spoon or straw in the cup, something to break the surface tension and help the water heat more evenly that would also survive the microwaving.

  12. Katie says:

    The water/baking soda in the microwave also works equally well with plain old water, which is even cheaper than baking soda + water ;-)

  13. Paul says:

    These are my favorite kinds of posts, Trent. I love frugal ideas like this. :)

  14. Katie says:

    Jules @ 2:38 –
    How on earth do Europeans make baked goods, if not with baking soda?!

  15. John C. says:

    Don’t forget the shampoo substitute!

    I came across this post on No Impact Man a while back, and I’ve been washing my hair with baking soda ever since.

    My dandruff (once ambulance-worthy) usually disappears completely when I’ve been washing my hair with baking soda for a while. If I’m traveling and forget the soda and switch to shampoo for a couple of days, the dandruff comes back. The only other combination that ever worked was Aveda Shampure Shampoo and Conditioner at $10 each per 8 oz. bottle.

    Bonus tip: Even though the brand-name stuff is super cheap, you can still save a buck per box or more by buying the store brand.

  16. Lurker Carl says:

    Baking soda has a limited shelf life, buying large quantities isn’t recommended when using it for home cooking. High humidity makes it unsuitable for cooking after several months but the baking soda retains the abrasive qualities forever.

  17. Jules says:

    @ Katie:

    Who needs to bake if there’re so many bakeries around? :-)

    We actually make almost all of our food from scratch: cookies, bread, and frozen meals of the week. We can’t make more than a week’s worth of food because our refrigerator is miniscule by American standards. But storage is never a problem for cookies :-)

  18. L says:

    I’m not sure where in Europe there is no baking soda in the supermarkets, I’ve never had any problem finding it there. It’s sold under bicarbonate of soda, usually in reasonably large tubs in the baking section.
    Believe me, it’s well used in Europe, especially for baking!

  19. Amen to that! You can make a great “soft soap” with it by mixing a little castile soap with baking soda.

    It’s also useful as an underarm deodorant and foot powder.

  20. Peter says:

    This might be bad information, but I was taught to treat bee stings (which are acidic) with baking soda, and wasp stings (which are alkaline) with vinegar. I was told that treating a wasp sting with baking soda would make it worse!

  21. Dave says:

    There’s no reason microwaving a solution of baking soda and water would be any more dangerous than microwaving a bowl of soup or a cup of coffee (well, the soup is less likely to superheat). But baking soda isn’t any MORE likely to superheat than plain ol’ water, and I bet you never thought that was dangerous, Trent…

  22. Vera says:

    We clean our microwave by heating a bowl of vinegar for 3-4 minutes in the microwave. Works like a charm.

    I’m a huge fan of baking soda, too, so this was a fun post.

  23. Great link and great tips! My favorite is to use baking soda instead of scouring powder — for the toilet cleaning as mentioned above, and also to scrub out the bathtub. No dangerous bleach, no fumes, no attracting animals like the TWO pets we’ve had who for some reason want to eat bleach-containing products … but leave the baking soda alone.

    As for the microwave, my husband does the same thing but with lemon juice in the water – stains and messes come right off.

  24. Roxanne says:

    Baking soda makes great deodorant. Dust in on after a shower like powder and you will not smell one little bit the entire day.

    Only downside is that it might possibly make the skin on your underarms dry. For me though, it was great.

    It works by changing the pH of your underarms so bacteria cannot grow, and absorbs any odor that does occur. An no nasty chemicals in it either!

  25. Kevin Cotter says:

    Economical Carpet Deodorizer!

    Trent, how about a followup article about vinegar?

  26. silver says:

    What’s with the product image? You couldn’t photograph your own baking soda? Or at least find a photo that wasn’t edited?

  27. Along says:

    This was a great post. I’ll try using baking powder for cleaning purposes more often. Thanks Trent.

  28. Andy says:

    About cleaning the crusty stuff on pots, pans and casserole dishes: Try soaking it and dropping in a dryer sheet or two. Let it sit over night and the stuff comes right off.

    Great post, Trent.

  29. Macinac says:

    If you have hypertension (high blood pressure) you should avoid ingesting excess sodium.

  30. Miranda says:

    This is great! I had no idea baking soda was so useful. Thanks for sharing. Also interesting: the dryer sheet tip (#20).

  31. That is amazing, that you have so many uses for it and I have never bought any apart from using in baking cakes!!

  32. Shevy says:

    You’ve got kids. Do they ever get carsick? In my experience you end up having to wash their clothes, and clean the car seat and the upholstery. Baking soda will take care of the smell. You can make a paste of it and rub it on their clothes (and the car seat liner) and/or shake a bunch into the washer as it fills. Again, make a paste and slather it on the upholstery. Let it dry and rub or vacuum off.

    I’ve used this trick ever since my big kids were little and it’s still useful because 1 granddaughter in particular gets car sick so frequently that a dose of Gravol is now a routine pre-trip step. (Although it was her baby sister who got sick in *my* car.)

    As for the microwave trick, plain water works fine. I was going to comment further on the process, but I don’t want anyone to blame me if they have a bad outcome, so I won’t.

  33. Larry says:

    I didn’t know there were so many great uses for baking soda. There was a movie, “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” where the dad in the movie used windex for everything. He should of used baking soda.

  34. Amanda B. says:

    Just a note, wooden cutting boards and butcher block are naturally self cleaning. It is recommended that you have a “meat” side and a “veggie” side, but other than that no special disinfectant is needed. You should also keep them well oiled and not use soap on them.

  35. tightwadfan says:

    I love baking soda tips! I rely on vingar and baking soda for most of my cleaning needs. baking soda is the best for removing tea and coffee stains. I was horrified one day to find my coworker pouring chlorine bleach into our coffee carafe to get rid of the stains when we had a container of nice safe baking soda nearby.

    Go ahead and try that microwave thing. The water that exploded had been microwaved for something like 7 minutes. You only need 2 or 3 minutes to boil water so you should never be microwaving water that long. Look it up in one of the urban legend websites for more information.

  36. Alyson says:

    Woohoo, baking soda. Love it. I had two comments. One, I’ve done the microwave thing and it works like a charm. However, my microwave is ridiculously vented, so simply microwaving the stuff and removing it doesn’t work. Now, if you microwave the water and baking soda and then let it sit in there for another couple of minutes the inside gets all steamy and everything has a chance to break free. You can also do this with water and vinegar. I’ve used a separate Pyrex measuring cup for each, nuked ‘em, let ‘em sit and wiped off. And, you should seal your cutting boards with mineral oil. If you use the baking soda, it will take off most or all of that oil seal, so re-seal when you’re done. Also, if you use it on cast iron, that needs to be re-seasoned as well.

  37. one of nine says:

    A couple comments:

    The rumor about water exploding in the microwave is an urban legend. You can snopes it if you want. I also saw a MythBusters episode where they tested this “danger.” Only distilled water (water that is purified by boiling it to steam, leaving any impurities and mineral deposits behind) will explode in the microwave, generally if it is heated more than 3-4 minutes. Smartwater is a bottled water that is distilled, so if you are heating Smartwater for this experiment, definitely be careful. Otherwise, tap, purified and filtered water still contain enough contaminents to disrupt water tension and avoid any explosions.

    Kudos to the reader who halted the practice of bleaching a coffee carafe to remove stains! Common household bleach is one of the most toxic poisons to come in contact with the skin as well as to inhale its fumes. I was horrified to find my mother was also bleaching her coffee and tea cups when all you have to do is use either white vinegar or baking soda and the stains come right out.

    Baking soda and vinegar are also useful for unclogging slow drains. Pour a cup of baking soda down the drain and let it settle a minute, then quickly add about a cup of vinegar and stuff a rag down the drain to avoid an eruption. The pressure of the mixture dissolves gunk and pushes the clog down the drain. I have long hair so our shower gets slowed down fairly often, and I do this little trick once a month to avoid calling the plumber!

    Great post and I really appreciate that you point out the environmental options; they help eliminate tons of toxic cleaning chemicals from the home, office and planet!

  38. Lisa says:

    About the bad breath: If you to brush your teeth with the baking soda and you want to have fresh breath, you might try putting the baking soda in a sealed container so that it doesn’t absorb the other odors in your bathroom. You really don’t want butt breath.

  39. Kurt says:

    Stuff we use baking soda for:

    - To supplement the dish soap in the dishwasher (we put it into the little additional soap area).

    - To clean cast iron and uncoated stoneware, since you’re not supposed to use soap on those.

  40. CDG says:

    Warning, TMI ahead:
    I didn’t see this in the e-book or anywhere above, and I take every opportunity to spread this information around…
    Baking soda will ease and even prevent urinary tract infections. Since I found this little tip in a book by Dr. Larrian Gillespie, it has completely changed my quality of life. Anyone who has ever suffered with the tendency to recurring infections will understand – I religiously did all the things you are “supposed” to do (which I learned are all wrong), cranberry juice, etc. and it was only getting worse. I had to take antibiotics along on my honeymoon and you can imagine how it ruins your sex life to know that the next day stands a high chance of being miserable.
    Luckily, I found the book soon after and I cannot say enough about it. I swish less than a teaspoon of baking soda in water now, preventively or anytime I feel a symptom coming on and I have NEVER had a UTI in the 3 years since. The soda de-acidifies the urine which stops any burn that’s already there and at that pH level bacteria cannot multiply and turn into a full-blown infection. There are more details in the book for anyone who has a serious, recurring problem, but this will take care of it for most. And talk about frugal…I think of the money spent on doctor visits and prescriptions, missing work to go there, and the sheer misery I’m now saving – all with wonderful, cheap baking soda. I can’t think of another product I love more – seriously!

  41. Amanda says:

    Another thing you can do with baking soda is dump about 1/2 cup down a drain and follow it with 1/2 cup of vinegar. Let it sit for about 3 hours and it cleans out your pipes. You never have to buy draino again! I do it right before bed so it can sit all night and it works great!

  42. H-Bomb says:

    Non-chemical tip learned from working in food service: For the microwave I usually just take a rag and get it completely wet and throw it in and start it up for a few seconds. The moisture will loosen everything up and a a quick wipe with the hot rag will get it off easily. Be careful though the rag will be extremely hot and steam will billow out when you open the microwave door.

  43. HebsFarm says:

    H-bomb it only recently occurred to me that microwaving a wet rag for a few seconds was quicker than running water in my kitchen sink, waiting for it to get hot, although I have wondered which practice is more economical? And which would be more environmentally friendly? I know this is minutiae, but sometimes Trent gets fascinated with these little details and reports back to us.

  44. jim flynn says:

    The book is not really free to download, it is free to look at. He says the donation (donation to me means given freely not required) is for paying for downloads. Nope, not at that price, he is out for a profit which is admittedly not much but a profit none the less. So be honest, say what you are after, and this is possibly worth the cost.

  45. smash says:

    baking soda + hyrog peroxide – I tried everything to clean a badly stained steel thermos, i was about throw it out and then tried this…i have never seen anything work so well it was spotless – the gook that came out was kind of gross :)

  46. K12Linux says:

    silver: The photo is of a knock-off brand from China. It’s from flikr and since it’s under CC license, Trent could use it.

  47. julie says:

    for scouring powder i mix 4 parts baking soda to one part powdered laundry detergent. it really soups it up. it works great in the kitchen and bathroom. even de-grimed by kitchen cabinets. and best of all it makes a great deck wash if you mix it in water.

  48. Michael G.R. says:

    So much to learn to become a baking soda Jedi…

  49. Jamie says:

    I love posts like this. Baking soda, vinegar, salt, etc. My favorite use is scrubbing down my tub. Not very original idea, but man does my tub shine after that. :)

  50. Rebecca says:

    My fave recent use for baking soda is cleaning out my FryDaddy deep fryer. It’s been covered in gross congealed oil drips since the first week I used it, and I’d tried everything to get them off. I finally tried baking soda and water and results were almost immediate. I was so excited to see the shining metal that I ran it up to my roommate to show it off!

  51. Mary says:

    I bookmarked this site, there is so much information, I would like to have the hard bound copy.

  52. Sandy says:

    Thanks to whoever wrote about using Baking Soda as a deodorant. This morning, I gave it a try, and usually by midafternoon, I’m needing an extra dose of deo….not today! And I wore a synthetic blouse that usually has me sweating (and smelling!). So thanks for the latest life-changing bit of info!

  53. Sue Kaufman says:

    I have used baking soda successfully to neutralize pet smells, including urine, in my carpet. 1 small box did my living room. I sprinkle it all over, and then vacuum.

    Love your article, thanks!

  54. Brianna says:

    Wow. Never in a million years would I have expected one little thing to have such a life-changing power. I’m off to get one of those BIG boxes of baking soda . . . and I’m going to give it a try as deoderant as mentioned above. Too cool! Thanks for opening my eyes to the power of something so natural and environmentally friendly.

    I have been using it with vinegar for drain cleaner for years – that IS a great use!

  55. Leah Eggers says:

    i just used baking soda to clean up my embarassingly dirty linoleum floors. a regular mop with pine-sol wasn’t working. thank you!

  56. Janet says:

    I have recently heard of the wonderful ideas of baking soda, and to boot Arm and Hammer doesn’t use any Aluminum in it either, so you are safe of that. This is a multi purpose if I ever did see so…my husband gets HORRIBLE chafting in the summer and some winter months, he soaks with Epsom salt water and put baking soda applied to the area and leaves it until starts to burn a little washes it off and GONE, the next day he feels great!
    The U.T.I, that is the truest, but this only works for E-Coli bacteria, it can actually make it worse if it is another type of bacteria…..however 90% percent of UTI’s are because of E-coli and it does work wonders for yeast infections as well…………about half a teaspoon, very important to dissolve it GOOD, then drink all or at least half the cup and with-in minutes no kidding you will feel better. Also great for heart-burn, provided you aren’t taking any other medication already for GERDS……..it truly is a miricle product, and it is also helps bake and clean and wash clothes….and great for anyone who has to take iron liquid supplements, my daughter did and she brushed her teeth three to four times a-week with B.S and beautiful white coloured teeth back! Neat posting….

  57. Julie says:

    Do they sell Arm & Hatchet in the States? I live in Beijing and that’s what I buy here, but I thought it was just a knock-off Chinese branded item. The world gets smaller everyday!

  58. Ben says:

    I agree Baking Soda is fantastic. BUT be careful, in very concentrated form i.e. paste with only a small amount of water it is very alkali and some people may have quite a strong reaction to it on their face, or scalp (as I found when using it to remove hair wax, it worked wonderfully, but I then had a couple days of my scalp shedding skin).

  59. catarina says:

    Great article and most importantly, the comments and additional info. Will try cleaning my stained toilet and try on the drain.

  60. tentaculistic says:

    I recently found out about baking soda, when I had deeply baked-on food stains on casserole dishes that I couldn’t get off, even with scratching with a knife point… Google told me to put baking powder and lemon juice, it foamed up, I left it in place and then later used a scrubby sponge. Voila – perfect casserole dishes! It worked for clear Pyrex, and porous ceramic. woohoo!

  61. ilda says:

    I love baking soda. Have you read this amazing article? It’s not a sales pitch…just very informative. http://www.bamboo-delight.com/download/Cure_Cancer_with_Baking_Soda.htm

  62. LMR says:

    I have been a huge fan of baking soda (and vinegar) for years so I didn’t see much new here, but I am glad to see that so many people are learning about this. I have sensititve skin and teeth and I find baking soda too harsh to use as a hygiene product every day, but I do use it sometimes to supplement my sensitive-style toothpaste.

    At first I thought the Arm and Hatchet in the picture was a Photoshopped joke and it reminded me of the Wacky Package stickers I loved when I was a kid. Anyone else that old? :D

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