Baking soda is one of those things that most people have in their pantries but only reach for on certain occasions, like when a cookie recipe calls for it. The thing is, it can (and should) be used for so much more than baking.
In case you don't already know, baking soda is sodium bicarbonate, a basic chemical compound that's good for things like baking and cleaning because of the way it reacts with acid. Since baking soda is slightly alkaline (its pH is between 8 and 9), it's often used to neutralize odors, which typically have acidic pH levels. Its abrasive texture is perfect for scrubbing things that can be hard to clean, like grout or a dirty oven. And these same features also make it a great tool for everything from maintaining dental hygiene to keeping your garden alive.
To get the most out of your baking soda from now on, start incorporating these hacks into all aspects of your life.
1. Scrub your tiles with it, whether they're in the bathtub, in the shower, or on the kitchen floor or counters.
"Baking soda is really satisfying to use when cleaning the shower," says Kirsten Horton, creator of Organized Charm. "You can see the grout becoming white immediately," she adds. Anywhere there's grout or tiling, baking soda can come in handy.
To use it this way, here's what she's says you'll need: baking soda, lemon juice, and water. "Mix them together until they create a paste, and then use a toothbrush to scrub tough stains out," she says.
However, most experts don't suggest using baking soda on marble as it can actually be too abrasive.
2. Use it to polish silverware.
Combine a tablespoon of baking soda and a cup of boiling water. Let your silver soak in this for about a minute, then wipe it dry. They'll be shiny as new! While Horton hasn't had a chance to try this method out yet herself, it's a well-known trick and a lot of people swear by it. Just skip this for your antique silver, since it might be too abrasive for that.
3. And remove stains.
Baking soda dissolves stains the same way it does grime, and it's great for cleaning up plastic food storage containers that still smell like yesterday's lunch. It won't totally get spots out of your laundry, but it will help kick-start the process, especially for things like red wine and blood stains, which will need a lot of help. A trick that I've used many times: Combine a few tablespoons of baking soda with just enough water to make a paste, rub it onto the stain, let it sit an hour or two, then throw it in the wash. Baking soda's whitening properties will help restore it to its original state.
4. That also means it's a great addition to homemade laundry detergents.
Since it can help remove stains and odors, baking soda works well in DIY laundry detergents. Make a bunch, pack it up, and give them as gifts. Get a simple homemade detergent with baking soda recipe here.
5. And an excellent oven cleaner, too.
Cleaning bloggers love to use baking soda to wipe down their ovens. Because it absorbs smells and cleans up stains, it's the perfect tool to make your oven look (and smell) brand-new again. Find out how to use it for the task here.
6. It can deodorize your fridge.
Horton says that she always keeps an open box of baking soda in her fridge to absorb bad smells and maintain freshness, and I can confirm that this method totally works. After having it in your fridge for just an hour it will already smell better.
7. And your litter box!
Thanks to baking soda's odor-absorbing qualities, you can also use it to de-stink your cat's litter box, Horton says. Just sprinkle a thin layer on the bottom of the litter box to help absorb odors—if you put it on top, the smell can be off-putting to your cat.
8. It can make soil more plant-friendly.
"Soil pH is important to plants because it changes the amount of nutrients and their survival rate," Thania Avelar, education coordinator at South Coast Botanic Garden, tells SELF. "There are few plants who can survive in acidic soil," she continues, "but adding baking soda can help reduce the acidity of the soil."
To know if your soil is too acidic, Avelar says you should look at your plant. If its leaves are beginning to change color, that could mean your soil is in trouble. If you're really not sure just from looking at it, though, she says you can also purchase pH litmus papers at your local home and gardening stores (or buy them online here). "They are very easy to use and will give you a clear indication on how your soil is doing," she explains, and there are usually packaged instructions that are easy to follow.
Avelar says that to balance the pH of your soil, all you have to do is sprinkle about a teaspoon of baking soda directly on top. (In general, use about 1 teaspoon of baking soda per plant.)
9. And keep your plants from getting sick.
Avelar says that if you notice that your plant has a fungal infection, a bit of baking soda can help the plant recover. She says you'll be able to spot an infection if your plant begins to have a dusty white powder on its leaves that look like chalk. In some cases, you may also notice a plant has developed very dark spots that almost look black.
To use baking soda to help your plant recover from an infection, simply make a solution with 1 teaspoon of baking soda and a gallon of water, and transfer it to a spray bottle so that you can evenly apply it to the infected leaves.
Avelar adds that this can also help keep aphids (insects that feed on plant sap) away.
10. You can also turn it into homemade toothpaste.
Kenneth Allen, D.D.S., says that using baking soda to brush your teeth is safe, and it actually has properties that make it great for dental care. "It is granular in texture and has an alkaline pH," he explains, "and therefore provides a light abrasive to the tooth surface as well as having stain-dissolving elements." You've probably noticed that many toothpaste brands feature baking soda as an ingredient, but you can also mix it with water to make your own toothpaste.
11. Or use it as a quickie breath freshener.
Since baking soda absorbs bad odors, it makes a great quickie, homemade breath freshener. Just mix about a teaspoon with a half of a glass of warm water. Then swish it around like mouthwash and spit it out. However, Dr. Allen notes that it won't have a long-lasting freshening effect, because bad breath stems from a wide range of factors, like tooth decay. So it'll work in a pinch, but you might want to see a dentist and find a permanent solution if your bad breath persists.