Friday, December 14, 2012

Baking Soda

A reader, Amanda, pointed this out to me last week: "My dad received the book last night. Read it and loved it. But I think baking soda needs a promotion. Baking soda can be used for dental health and, to me at least, something with a dual purpose is twice as valuable. We can live without shampoo, totally, but I just have this uncanny affection for my"
She's right!  I briefly mentioned it in the Poverty Prepping book as just one in a list of minor stock-up items, primarily as an 'ingredient' for cooking with the basic food storage items.  Yet we buy it in bulk bags and use it for a lot of things, and I consider it an essential part of our own storage. 
I did a quick search to find lists of uses for baking soday and I came up with dozens of sites; "35 uses for baking soda" "52 uses for baking soda" "18 uses for baking soda", and so on.  So I'm just going to write about how we use it here at our house.  I welcome more ideas from you readers.
As Amanda said, it can be used for dental health.  We've used it for tooth brushing at times, and as a mouth rinse when we had tooth aches or mouth sores. 
We use it for shampoo.  It works especially good with soft water.  Once our hair is wet we sprinkle about quarter cup of baking soda over our scalp.  It doesn't lather, and you have to be careful to work it all the way in to your scalp.  Sometimes you have to duck your head into the water for a second to get it wetter so you can spread it.  As you rinse it out, work it down through the ends of your hair, if you have long hair.  I started doing this about three years ago, as a way to reduce chemicals in my life, and to save money.
We use it for body soap.  It's slightly abrasive, which means it exfoliates the skin.  It leaves the skin soft.  The only 'down' side of using baking soda for hair and skin is that it has no fragrance.  Your hair and skin will just smell like hair and skin, and it can take a little getting used to.  One of my daughters makes soap with things like oatmeal, coconut oil, and green tea in it, so I sometimes use that instead.
We use baking soda as laundry soap.  It does a great job cleaning clothes and removing odors.  Again, though, it has no scent.  It was even weirder getting used to clothes that didn't smell like laundry soap.  Even the "unscented" soaps have a scent, and we spend our lives accustomed to that, so clothes that have zero scent are strange to get used to.  We hang ours outside to dry, which helps a little.  The clothes smell like fresh air, sunshine, and pine trees.  I experimented with adding scent to my laundry water.  In the summer I'd pick and throw in a couple handfuls of rose petals.  Sometimes I add a couple drops of vanilla extract.  Probably the weirdest but most pleasant things I've done is to make a strong "tea" of spices, strain it, and pour that in the laundry water.  My favorite is a pickling spice that is heavy on cloves.  I like to pour about half a cup pickling spice tea in my laundry water, and my clothes have a faint scent of cloves and other spices.  Another good one is cinnamon and/or pumpkin pie spices. 
We use baking soda to wash dishes, instead of dish soap.  It cleans even the greasiest dishes, it's abrasive action cleans residue off of pans and other dishes, yet it's gentle enough not to scratch the surfaces.  We keep one sink filled with dish water and one with rinse water.  We put white vinegar in the rinse water, and I've never had such sparkling glasses and clean silverware.  I always wash each spoon, fork, and knive separately and thought they were clean, but the baking soda wash and vinegar rinse has our silverware looking "Wow!" clean.
I sprinkle baking soda on the counters and stove when I wash them, and I use it to clean the oven.  For baked-on stuff in the oven I lay a soaking-wet dish cloth over it for a while, then remove the wash cloth and sprinkle baking soda on the 'stuff' that needs cleaned off.  About an hour later I come back and clean it up.  Usually it gets everything off.
We use baking soda in the water we mop the floor with.  Then I give it a rinse with just water, and a final mopping with white vinegar in the water.  Yep, I end up going over the floor 3 times, but it's quick, it's cheap, it looks nice, and it's chemical-free.
I use baking soda to scrub out 'smelly' things, like coolers and the fridge.  I've sprinkled it on our throw rugs and rolled them up for half a day, then shook them out good and hung them on the line for the other half a day.  It keeps them fresh-smelling.  I've done this with sleeping bags before we went camping, to 'freshen' them.
My husband uses baking soda to clean the battery terminals in our vehicles.  He mixes a little with water and pours it over the battery posts and cable ends.  It dissolves all that 'crud".
We work it into our dog's fur as a 'dry shampoo', then brush her out.  We've sprinkled it on the car seats and floor matts, then vacuumed it out the next day, to deoderize the car.
Baking soda usually comes in a small box which, I think, is about a pound.  It's under a dollar.  If you have ( or know someone who does) a Costco card, they sell it in 13.5 lb. bags.  It used to be 14 lb. but I noticed when I took the above picture that it's now 13.5 lbs.  They cost somewhere around $7.  Sam's club might have them too, but they're not in our part of the country, so I don't know for sure.
I dump the bag into a 2-gallon air-tight, water-tight bucket.  The bags are heavy plastic and do work okay for storing it without opening it.  I keep a spare 1/4-cup measuring cup in the bucket.
Baking soda is a natural substance which is mined in Wyoming and surrounding areas.  For people who live in the inland western mountains and high desert, you can sometimes harvest it from the ground.  It's a white crust on the surface where puddles have dried up, out on the rangeland or in gullies.  Not all of it is baking soda, so test a tiny drop.  It should be slightly salty.  Scrape up a little bit and see if the county extension office will tell you, or take it to an agricultural school and ask. Farther south, in southern Nevada, we found what we thought was heavily concentrated baking soda.  It turned out to be salt!
Now it's your turn!  I'd love to hear of other uses.
 From the mailbox:
Dec. 16, 2012
"May I suggest that your husband wipe some Vaseline on the battery terminals. Of course it doesn't have to be the name brand but it will keep them nice and clean. This way he won't accidentally get baking soda in the cells. This is something I learned about 45 years ago or so, when I was but a wee lass and my dear old Dad would let me help him. 

I use vinegar and baking soda to clean the drains."  - Elaine


  1. I love using baking soda as shampoo, have done so for 3-4 years now. I purchased an opaque condiment bottle in the kitchen gadget aisle at Walmart for about 99 cents--the kind you would put ketchup or mustard in. It holds 1 1/2 cups of water, to which I add 1 1/2 Tablespoons of baking soda. I shake it up well (warm water mixes best) and then apply it to my scalp and really massage it in well and let it sit while I scrub the rest of my body. I usually only use 1/3 of the bottle with each hair wash. I massage my scalp again thoroughly again before rinsing with water. For "conditioner" I have a second identical bottle which I keep a mix of vinegar and water (or lemon juice and water if I dont want to smell like a pickle) and I drizzle it through my long hair and work it in a bit before rinsing. Love, love, love the results! My hair has much more body and texture than it did when I used expensive shampoo and conditioners. -MC

    1. Yay! It's nice to hear from someone else who uses baking soda for shampoo! I love your idea of mixing it with the water first, then applying it to your hair. I'm going to try that.

      I've heard of using vinegar or lemon juice for a conditioning rinse but I haven't tried it yet. I might get brave and do that! Do you use white vinegar or apple cider vinegar?

      When I use rain water or melted snow with the baking soda my hair is light and soft and shiny. The tap water we use has a bit of iron in it and it takes more baking soda to keep my hair as soft, so I seldom use it on my hair.

      Thank you for your comments!

  2. My kids have REALLY bad eczema... to the point where often water "hurts", getting them inot the bath can be a real fight. Now we just sprinkle in some baking soda first and the kids are excited to get in... makes the water feel like silk and it not longer hurts.

  3. I've been using baking soda for my 'shampoo' for 4 months now. I love that I can get clean hair with one safe natural ingredient vs the long list of unique substances that made up my previous shampoo. I typically just put a pinch (maybe about a half to one Tbsp. of the baking soda into a small cup I keep in the shower, and when I am in the shower, get some water in the cup, about enough to swish the soda around and then pour it over the top of my head and work it through. I don't try too hard to get it all worked through, as when I rinse it out I feel it gets dispersed good enough. Every few days I will rinse with apple cider vinegar diluted with water. I do that if my hair seems to appear dry or at all frizzy. Works great! Good to keep in mind that the baking soda tends toward dryer hair and the vinegar tends toward 'greasy'. So if you have really greasy hair, I'd avoid the ACV, but if you have dry hair, it is wonderful!
    I usually use a natural bar soap to wash my body.
    SO happy to see that you can use it alone as 'dish soap' and 'laundry soap'. I see so many recipes containing things like borax, castile soap, salt, washing soda, etc, but I don't want to use some of those things, not to mention some are expensive. I like your idea of adding some cinnamon to the water. I think I may be excited to do my next load of laundry!! (Too bad I just did a load a few days ago and usually only need to do laundry a couple times a month). How much to you use per load?
    I also use it to clean the bathroom. I find the smell of chemical cleaners obnoxious!
    One question for you - You say that sometimes you use baking soda on your teeth, but what to you use regularly for toothpaste?

    1. I use 1/3 cup of baking soda in my washtub for laundry, but an automatic washer is bigger. Multiplying, using the different amount of water between my wash tub and an automatic washer, I would use 2/3 to 1 cup of baking soda in an automatic washer. If laundry to be washed isn't too dirty, and is mainly smelly or stale I use a lower amount (such as the 2/3 cup in a wash machine), but if it's pretty soiled, I'd use the whole cup of baking soday.

      I agree, most commercial cleaners are awful to smell while cleaning the bathroom. Baking soda does a great job, as does vinegar, and you don't choke on the smell.

      As for tooth paste, I normally use "Tom's of Maine" toothpaste since they don't have a lot of the chemicals and bad stuff regular toothpaste has. I like the Fennel toothpaste, and second to that I like the cinnamon. However if I run out and I'm not going to town for a while or just don't want or can't spend the money, I use baking soda for toothpaste.

      Thanks for your comments.