The Difference Between Washing Soda and Baking Soda

The Difference Between Washing Soda and Baking Soda
Photo: Natalia Kopylcova, Shutterstock

In addition to the usual pet videos and pop culture memes, cleaning tips and demonstrations have become a constant presence in our social media feeds. Dramatic before-and-after photos of objects, once tarnished beyond recognition, now shiny and new, thanks to a specific technique or product the poster swears by.

While scrolling through these new cleaning methods — many of which have actually been around for a long time — you may have encountered someone using washing soda, and had a few questions. Well, at least one: What’s the difference between washing soda and baking soda? Get ready, because you’re about to find out.

What’s the difference between washing soda and baking soda?

Before getting into their differences, here are a few things washing soda and baking soda have in common:

  • Both can be used for cleaning purposes
  • Both are affordable and considered environmentally friendly
  • Both are compounds involving sodium
  • Neither should ever be inhaled
  • Both can cause eye irritation

And now, the differences between washing soda and baking soda:

Washing soda

  • Chemical name: Sodium carbonate
  • Molecular formula: Na2CO3
  • Comes from: Plant ash (which is why it’s sometimes referred to as “soda ash”
  • Highly alkaline (pH value ~11)
  • Should never be ingested or used in any kind of cooking
  • Highly caustic: Gloves must be worn when handling washing soda
  • Powder with larger granules

Baking soda

  • Chemical name: Sodium bicarbonate
  • Molecular formula: NaHCO3
  • Comes from: Nahcolite (baking soda’s mineral form)
  • Mildly alkaline (pH value ~8)
  • Often used in baking and other food preparation
  • Safe to handle without gloves
  • Powder with smaller granules

How to making washing soda out of baking soda

Washing soda isn’t as widely available in stores as baking soda, and if that’s the case where you live (and you don’t want to or aren’t able to buy it online), you can make your own using baking soda. Here’s how:

  • Spread a thin(ish) layer of baking soda evenly across a cookie sheet
  • Pop in a 200C-degree-oven and bake for about 30 minutes
  • While it’s baking, stir the baking soda every so often (remembering to spread it into a thin layer again before returning to the oven)

The tricky part is having to pay attention to when the change in composition happens. According to the Nature’s Nurture blog, baking soda is “powdery, crystallised, and clumps together,” while washing soda is “more grainy, dull, and it doesn’t clump as easily.” The blog provides a photo to illustrate the difference, with baking soda on the left, and washing soda on the right:

The Difference Between Washing Soda and Baking Soda

Don’t forget that this form of washing soda is also caustic, so once it has made its transformation, be sure to wear gloves when handling it.

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