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Interesting Facts About Sodium Bicarbonate

By Karen S. Garvin

Sodium bicarbonate is best known by its common name, baking soda. Also called bicarbonate of soda or soda ash, sodium bicarbonate is an alkali that is used in many applications that require an adjustment of pH by reducing the amount of acid present. It is used in cooking, cleaning, and in such personal care products as toothpaste. Baking soda is generally safe, but it contains sodium and should not be ingested in large amounts.

The Chemical

Sodium bicarbonate’s formula is CHNaO3. It is composed of one carbon atom, one hydrogen atom, one sodium atom and three oxygen atoms. The carbon atom is at the center of the molecule and is double-bonded to one of the oxygen atoms and single-bonded to the other two oxygen atoms. These oxygen atoms are, in turn, bonded to the hydrogen and sodium atoms situated on opposite sides of the molecule. Sodium bicarbonate is an alkaline and it has a molecular weight of 84.01. Nahcolite, a colorless or white mineral consisting of pure sodium bicarbonate, is mined in areas where lakes have dried up.

Medical Uses

Sodium bicarbonate is often taken by mouth as an antacid to treat the symptoms of heartburn and upset stomach. It is available as tablets or, more commonly, as a powder. The powder is usually sold as baking soda, or bicarbonate of soda. Sodium bicarbonate injection is used medicinally to replenish the body’s electrolytes, as when severe dehydration has occurred. It is also used to restore pH balance when the body’s systems have become too acidic, as in metabolic acidosis, which can happen in response to kidney disease, diabetes and other conditions. Sodium bicarbonate injections are used to treat drug overdoses and poisoning.

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Cooking

Sodium bicarbonate is used in cooking as a leavening agent. Because baking soda is an alkaline, it reacts with acidic ingredients in foods, such as citrus, yogurt, lemon juice, and honey, producing bubbles of carbon dioxide as a byproduct. These bubbles cause the dough to rise, which makes cakes and other baked products less dense and more appetizing. Baking soda reacts immediately with the wet acidic ingredients and is usually added to batters just before they are baked. Devil’s food cake owes its name to baking soda, which turns cocoa powder reddish when it’s baked.

Cleaning

Sodium bicarbonate is a nonpolluting cleanser that can be used safely to clean many things around the home. Baking soda is commonly used dry as a mild abrasive cleanser to remove dirt and stains from countertops, porcelain, enamel, chrome, and steel. It can be used to remove coffee and tea stains from cups and will not leave a residue. Baking soda is also used as a laundry adjunct because it helps boost the strength of detergents and works to deodorize clothing.

Other Applications

Baking soda is added to swimming pools to moderate the effects of chlorine. Sodium bicarbonate is found in such personal care items as toothpaste, where its mild abrasiveness helps remove surface stains from teeth. Because sodium bicarbonate is an alkaline, it can also neutralize the acids in your mouth that are caused by bacteria. Reducing this acidity can help prevent dental caries. Baking soda can be used to help extinguish small electrical or grease fires. Throwing handfuls of sodium bicarbonate onto the flames will help to smother them and put the fire out.

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