Discovering the Myriad Uses of Sodium Bicarbonate

Sodium bicarbonate is a chemical compound that is extraordinarily versatile and useful. It can be used in cleaning products and during baking and food preparation, and it has medicinal properties as well. Sodium bicarbonate is found in practically every home in some form, because it is a substance that has multiple uses yet is also safe and non-toxic.

The Many Names of Sodium Bicarbonate

Sodium bicarbonate is a chemical compound known by many names, such as its technical name of sodium hydrogencarbonate, bicarbonate of soda, and the most common name of baking soda.Laymen also refer to sodium bicarbonate as bread soda, cooking soda, and the simply shortened version--sodium bicarb. The natural mineral form, nahcolite, is found in volcanic tunnels, such as those near Vesuvius, as well as in the human digestive system as a component of bile. It is a close cousin of sodium carbonate, which is better known as washing soda.

Chameleon Properties

Sodium bicarbonate is a white crystalline solid, but most will think of it in it’s finely ground powder form, which resembles a salt in appearance and taste. The chemical formula is NaHCO3; it is highly reactive, and therefore has many uses, particularly in baking, where a chemical reaction is necessary to facilitate dough rising. It is mildly alkaline salt in an aqueous solution, but interestingly enough, sodium bicarbonate is an amphoteric, which means it can react as a base or an acid. It can act as an acid or base, which means it is extremely versatile.


In addition to sodium bicarbonate’s many reactive properties, it is a mainstay for another reason – it is incredibly safe to use in most instances. The main hazard with the compound in typical use is that it is an irritant to the eyes. It is manufactured in the body already, so the body can handle exposure well. Sodium bicarbonate decomposes at high temperatures, but even this is a positive property. Reacting with fire, it releases carbon dioxide and helps to smother fires, making it a helper in the lab, and a basis for many fire-extinguisher compounds and flame retardants.

Medicinal Uses

The body excretes sodium bicarbonate naturally in the form of nahcolite. Our bile duct excretes the compound into the duodenum, where it neutralizes the stomach’s hydrochloric acid. Sodium bicarbonate is often taken orally as an antacid for heartburn and excess acidity in the digestive tract. Other medical uses include gripe water for colicky infants, counteracting aspirin overdoses, treating uric acid renal stones, chronic renal failure, renal tubular acidosis, and hyperalkemia. A doctor’s care must be used in medicinal uses of sodium bicarbonate, however, as taking too much internally can cause life-threatening consequences, including, but not limited to alkalosis, and kidney stones.

Personal Use

The compound is helpful in topical products. Sodium bicarbonate is used in toothpastes, often mixed with hydrogen peroxide for a whitening effect, but it also removes surface stains, and reduces oral acidity, which can cause cavities. In skin care, it can be used to exfoliate and lighten skin, and can be used alone or mixed with other substances as a deodorant. Sodium bicarbonate, usually in the form of household baking soda, is used as a first line of defense against burns, insect bites, and other skin problems, such as rashes caused by poison oak, ivy and sumac.

Sodium bicarbonate has few hazards associated with its use andmany possible beneficial applications. While many are familiar with its use in baking, there are numerous other uses in a multitude of settings. It is a workhorse compound for the laboratory and the home.