Monday, July 13, 2009

Baking soda: The duct tape of household chemicals

I've been using that description for baking soda for longer than I should admit. Perhaps I'm being irrationally biased; clearly, I can live without baking soda, and often do. Gone at the days when I have a roll of duct tape always on hand, and equally gone are the days that I always had a box of baking soda on hand.

But it is useful stuff. In chemistry class, my chemistry teacher taught us that if there was a spill of something, it probably wouldn't hurt to throw baking soda on it. Water to dilute, baking soda to neutralize - because baking soda is a natural buffer. Mix with an acid, and the bicarbonate ion fizzes, neutralizing mole for mole; mix with a base, and the bicarbonate will react to produce carbonate, which will tend to bind to positive ions and precipitate out of solution.

So it's a nice "safe" chemical. Nontoxic and neutralizes a wide range of acids and bases. Its pH buffering effect is appreciated by pool operators the world over - and it also helps keep swimming pools crystal clear. See a container of "pool clarifier" on the shelf? Check the label. Odds are it's sodium bicarbonate - baking soda - even if it's priced much higher.

But there's more! What with reacting to lots of things and dissolving well, it's actually the sort of chemical that you can use to scrub things clean, from bathroom floors to your teeth. Of course, there are better things to use for each of those, more specialized chemicals; when we're talking about keeping everything neat and clean, baking soda's deoderizing effect is where it really shines. Trash cans, refrigerators, teenagers - everything smells less when you apply baking soda to it.

Speaking of applying baking soda to people, you can use it topically in a paste to alleviate itchy irritated spots. This is one use you may actually see on the side of a box sometime; working at camp, I would use it to help sooth away mosquito bites. And since I've gotten to the topic of biting and eating, there's something more pleasant than mosquitos eating people: People eating baked goods. Let us not forget why it's called baking soda; it's useful for that, too, making things that much more edible.

Such a useful chemical; such a simple chemical, too, and like duct tape, you can just keep going on about all the uses.

No comments:

Post a Comment