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Washing Soda vs. Baking Soda: Is There a Difference?

Baking soda, washing soda: What's the difference?
Photo: Pixabay/ CC0/ karolina grabowska

If you like to make your own cleaning products, you’ll find that many DIY recipes call for either baking soda or washing soda, but is there actually a difference between the two? We’ll take a closer look at washing soda vs baking soda and the different uses for both.  

Chemically speaking, there is a difference between washing soda and baking soda, which means you can’t always substitute one for the other. Let’s take a look at exactly what that difference is.

What is Washing Soda?

Simply put, washing soda is a naturally occurring chemical compound that comes from the ashes of plants grown in sodium-rich soils. Also known as soda ash or washing crystals, this grainy powder can help tackle several of your household cleaning issues. From a chemical standpoint, it’s known as sodium carbonate (Na₂CO₃) and it has a pH level of 11.4.

Most notably, it can be used as a deodorizer and to remove stubborn stains from laundry, which is why it is a central ingredient in both homemade and commercial detergents. Washing soda can also be used to treat hard water, remove soap scum, and get rid of coffee/tea stains from mugs and teacups. Other household uses include:

Tip: Wear gloves when using washing soda as it can irritate the skin. It’s also a good idea to keep it out of reach for children and pets!

What is Baking Soda?

Most people think immediately of baking soda as something to be used when making cookies, cakes, and other baked goods. And while those are great (and delicious) uses, this fine powder has several other household applications. Sodium bicarbonate (NaHCO₃) is chemically different from washing soda, and has a pH level of 8.4 (meaning it’s safe for skin). This naturally occurring mineral is obtained through mining, and the majority of baking soda in the US comes from the Green River Basin in Wyoming.

Baking soda can be used as a household remedy to clean things like your oven and baking sheets, as a natural toilet bowl cleaner, and to get rid of smells in your washing machine. In addition, you can use baking soda to:

You can always substitute baking soda for washing soda, but the reverse is not true – please do not bake with washing soda! But if you can’t find washing soda in the grocery store, you can actually make it out of baking soda.

Make Your Own Washing Soda

washing soda vs baking soda
Baking soda can become washing soda with a little bit of patience and a whole lot of heat. (Photo: CC0 Public Domain / Pixabay - Mike Gattorna)

If you really want washing soda because you have tough stains to fight, you can make your own using baking soda. This is also a great alternative for those who can’t find washing soda or soda crystals in stores. When it comes to washing soda vs. baking soda, the difference is water and carbon dioxide – both of which are removed during the cooking process. Here’s how to do it

  1. Heat your oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Sprinkle some baking soda into a shallow pan and let it bake for about half an hour.
  3. Stir occasionally throughout the process so it can bake more evenly.
  4. Once it’s finished, you’ll be left with a grainy and dull-looking powder. If it’s still clumpy, it needs more time in the oven – washing soda shouldn’t clump!

Now that you know the difference between washing soda and baking soda, it’s time to get started. Happy cleaning!

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