Mad, Beautiful Ideas
Sustainable Living - Baking Soda

Baking Soda, or Sodium Bicarbonate, is easily one of the most overlooked staples in most people's households today. For most people, Baking Soda is just a box kept in the fridge to help keep odors down, and the occasional ingredient in baked goods. This doesn't do this pantry staple nearly the justice it deserves.

Sodium Bicarbonate is the original antacid, long before Calcium Carbonate (the key ingredient in Tums Heartburn relievers became the norm. A single tablespoon of Baking Soda in a glass of water, sipped slowly was probably the first thing your great-grandparents would reach for for years. The key to using Baking Soda (or really, any antacid) is to take it slowly, until the discomfort subsides, as you can get serious health issues if you don't. Antacids can retard stomach acid production, inhibiting digestion, and calcium or magnesium-based antacids can lead to a mineral imbalance. Just take you time, and live with the discomfort. But why reach for baking soda? It's only 4 cents an ounce (if you buy the big box). Try to get that kind of value from any other proven antacid on the market.

But more than simply relieving heartburn as an old folk-style remedy, Baking Soda is, quite possibly, one of the most effective grime cleaners in your house.

I've written before about the fact that my Wife and I use real soap for bathing and general personal care, which, with the incredibly hard water in our current apartment, tends to accumulate a nasty soap scum. Due to life getting in the way, we'd fallen off the shower-cleaning bandwagon for a few weeks and the soap-scum had gotten pretty bad. Rather than reaching for our chemical surface cleaner, which smells awful and makes us both a bit woozy, we decided to try a more natural method that we picked up. Baking Soda and Vinegar.

Now, if you're anything like me, you're childhood was spent building baking soda and vinegar rockets using film canisters, but that same foaming, sudsing reaction is a boon for cleaning. We started by mixing two tablespoons of baking soda with some plant-product based dish soap (some recommend Castile Soap, but we couldn't find any locally). I can't say how much dish soap we used, because I didn't measure. The goal is the mix the two together until you get a thick paste. Spread that paste liberally on the surface you want to clean (tubs, toilets, sinks, your stovetop) and let it sit a few minutes. Come along behind with a spray bottle filled with plain old distilled white vinegar. Scrub with a sponge and rinse with water.

Admittedly, if your cleaning habits have fallen to the wayside, the surface won't be perfectly clean when your done. However, almost all of the residue you want to clean off will be removed, and it will sparkle. Scrubbing was easy and painless, and most importantly, I didn't feel gross at all after using this to clean. If you've ever had a problem with the fumes from cleaning projects, you owe yourself to at least consider this.

Plus, when I cleaned our stove, I apparently had gotten a bit of baking soda on one of the burners that didn't get completely cleaned off (the soda paste was underneath the coil). This did burn a bit when making breakfast this morning, but it only smelled like baking soda, not like the odor I would get if I'd failed to completely clean the other cleaners we used to use.

If you're green-minded, and care about the impact your cleaning has on the environment, you owe it to yourself to consider this method of cleaning. The additional time it takes (pretty much just the mixing up of the cleaning solution) is marginal, particularly as you start to learn the proportions you need, and all your flushing down the drain is a salt and vinegar. You're also not breathing in the harsh-chemical fumes that are standard with most modern cleaning agents. Plus, vinegar is a natural disinfectant.

This is a very important point. The Environmental Protection Agency has released statements recently that state that the air inside is often more polluted than that air outside.

In the last several years, a growing body of scientific evidence has indicated that the air within homes and other buildings can be more seriously polluted than the outdoor air in even the largest and most industrialized cities. Other research indicates that people spend approximately 90 percent of their time indoors. Thus, for many people, the risks to health may be greater due to exposure to air pollution indoors than outdoors.

Now, the EPA is blaming this on Mold, Carbon Monoxide, Tobacco Smoke, and more. I'm not going to claim these aren't dangers, they certainly are, but I hold that what have become common household cleaning agents are also highly responsible for this. This weekly column, Sustainable Living, is going to begin to touch on green cleaning, gleaned from my own research, experimenting my wife and I are now performing. With the seemingly far higher incidence of illness, particularly among children, this Indoor Air Quality issue is likely to receive far more scrutiny, and I believe that green cleaning methods, beginning with the baking soda scrub mentioned above, can work just as well as chemical surfactants, and they help maintain the health of your air, yourself, and your family.