You probably keep a box of baking soda in the back of your fridge and bring it out when you bake some biscuits. Or you may have taken it when your stomach hurt or used it to clean your washing machine. Baking soda is a staple in practically every household, but how can it benefit health?

What Is Baking Soda, and How Did It Become the Household Staple It Is Today?

Baking soda is an alkaline white powder that’s common in many of today’s kitchens. Its familiarity is largely credited to one big brand. In 1846, two brothers-in-law, Dr. Austin Church and John Dwight in the U.S. teamed up to distribute baking soda.

The product, which was made in Dwight’s kitchen, was called Arm & Hammer Church & Co’s bicarbonate of soda. By 1860, Arm & Hammer wanted to show the population just how versatile the ingredient was. They began to distribute mini-cookbooks, with recipes for bread, cakes, cookies, puddings, and more.

By the 1920s, Arm & Hammer was advertised in women’s magazines in an effort to spread its popularity. According to the company, it was in 1972 that people everywhere started keeping a box of baking soda in their refrigerators to keep things fresh.

When used in baking, baking soda acts as a chemical leavener, producing carbon dioxide in reaction to an acid (like vinegar), which produces bubbles that help the cake or biscuit rise to tender, moist, and fluffy perfection.

How Is Baking Soda Made?

Baking soda is the common name for sodium bicarbonate, an ingredient that got its start 4 million years ago when salt lakes around the world evaporated and formed trona deposits. Trona is the rock that’s processed into soda ash (sodium carbonate), a naturally occurring mineral. Soda ash can then also be processed to make baking soda.

The world’s largest deposit of trona is in Wyoming. The area produced more than 17 million tons of the mineral in 2018, for export around the world.

What’s in Baking Soda?

The only ingredient in baking soda is sodium bicarbonate.

What Are The Benefits of Baking Soda For Your Health

Traditionally, baking soda is a popular antacid for heartburn and indigestion because it can neutralise stomach acid. You can add ½ teaspoon (tsp) in ½ cup of water to help ease heartburn. A warning, however: Baking soda is high in sodium. Just ½ tsp contains 630 milligrams (mg) of sodium. Considering that the U.S. government’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend consuming no more than 2,300 mg of sodium daily, ½ tsp of baking soda will supply about one-quarter of that limit.

It is always wise to talk with your doctor or pharmacist before taking baking soda for heartburn or indigestion as it can potentially react with some medications, and you shouldn’t take baking soda or sodium bicarbonate for more than two weeks without approval from your doctor.

In some interesting research results, it’s possible that baking soda consumption may boost your workout. According to a 2021 review by the International Society of Sports Nutrition, taking baking soda before exercising can boost athletic performance in a variety of exercises and sports. For optimal performance, the authors recommended a dose of 300 mg of baking soda per kilogram of body weight, taken between 60 and 180 minutes before exercise or competition.

Baking soda may also be a valuable weapon against autoimmune conditions in the future. Research shows that when consumed, the antacid action of baking soda may help shift pro-inflammatory immune cells in the body to those who fight inflammation, something that may one day help treat disease.

What Baking Soda Definitely Can’t Do for Your Health

Baking soda is one of those ingredients that people claim is a cure-all for a variety of health conditions and diseases. But the truth is there’s scant research backing up large claims, such as the idea that it’s a treatment for cancer. At least one study, in mice, did find that baking soda could possibly help improve the body’s reaction to cancer therapy. A 2020 review found that a 5 percent sodium bicarbonate solution could have anti-cancer effects when applied to tumours locally in combination with traditional cancer drugs.

Yet that doesn’t mean a cancer patient can treat his or her condition at home or eschew traditional treatments. This research is still in its beginning stages and larger clinical trials in humans are needed to fully explore baking soda’s effect on cancer.

Can Baking Soda Help You Lose Weight?

There are no research trials to suggest that baking soda can help boost metabolism or prompt your body to burn more fat. It may help you get more out of your workout, but there are so many factors that go into the relationship between exercise and weight loss, that it is not something you can count on making a big enough difference.

What Are Some Surprising Uses for Baking Soda?

Baking soda is considered a versatile product for good reason. Here are just some of its many uses.

As a Produce Wash

Forget the pricey, fancy produce washes on the market. A simple baking soda and water soak for 12 to 15 minutes is enough to remove 80 and 96 percent of certain pesticides from apples – better than tap water alone or bleach. Baking soda helps degrade certain pesticides so they can be washed away.

As a Natural Cleaner

A mixture of baking soda and water can be used as an effective, non-abrasive cleaner. One use: to wipe away old food residues from the inside of a refrigerator. You can also sprinkle baking soda down the drain with hot water to freshen up your pipes, clean your tubs, sinks, and shower curtain, and buff out scuff marks from floors. Oh, and don’t forget, it’s a top-notch deodorizer. Sprinkle baking soda on a carpet, let it sit, and vacuum it.

To Safely Clean Pots and Pans

When cooked food stays stuck to the pan, the American Cleaning Institute recommends adding baking soda to the pan, filling it with hot water, and soaking it for 15 to 30 minutes. The baking soda will help lift the crusty food pieces.

To Wash Clothes

Adding ½ cup of baking soda to the rinse cycle will freshen up clothes –  without all the chemicals in other products.

To Help Ease Heartburn

For the occasional heartburn episode, add ½ teaspoon to ½ cup of water and drink. The alkaline baking soda will neutralise excess acid.

Care for Bug Bites

You know that annoying itchiness from bug bites? Rather than reach for a hydrocortisone cream, you can find relief by applying a paste of baking soda (mix baking soda with a little water until you get the right consistency) to the bite several times a day, suggests the Mayo Clinic.

To Care for Your Teeth During Pregnancy

Morning sickness happens. Along with the discomfort of queasiness, the stomach acid that goes along with vomiting can wear away at your tooth enamel. If you’re saddled with occasional or regular vomiting, rinse your mouth with 1 tsp of baking soda mixed with water. You can also do this when sickness (like food poisoning) is causing vomiting.

Treat Nail Infections

If you have a mild nail infection, you may consider a baking soda and water soak, as baking soda has anti-fungal properties.

Ease Discomfort During Cancer Treatment

Swishing your mouth with a combination of baking soda, salt, and water can help ease throat discomfort caused by radiation or chemotherapy. This mixture may also help prevent mouth sores from getting infected. Just be sure to gargle the solution — don’t swallow it. The American Cancer Society says to check with your cancer care team before using any mouth rinses as they can sometimes be harmful or make mouth sores worse.

Side Effects and Health Risks of Baking Soda

There are a few problems to keep in mind should you overconsume baking soda. Applying it to your teeth long-term can erode tooth enamel, as with combining baking soda with an acid as a DIY tooth whitener. Thanks to its high sodium content, it’s also possible to consume too much baking soda. An overload of sodium can cause vomiting and diarrhoea, as well as more serious problems like seizures and kidney failure. When using it as an antacid, it can actually make GI problems worse if it produces too much gas. Alarmingly, in rare instances, taking it after eating a large meal can cause a stomach rupture. Finally, because of its sodium content, you’ll also