What Is Sodium Hydrogen Carbonate?

Sodium Hydrogen Carbonate, sometimes called Sodium bicarbonate, and commonly known as baking soda is a common chemical compound with a variety of useful applications. The chemical formula of sodium hydrogen carbonate is NaHCO₃, it is a white solid crystal salt composed of sodium and bicarbonate ions.

What is the exact chemical composition of sodium bicarbonate, and how does this composition enable it to be used for so many different things?


The Chemical And Physical Properties Of Sodium Hydrogen Carbonate

The chemical formula for baking soda is NaHC03. This means that the molecules comprising baking soda are each comprised of one sodium atom, a hydrogen atom, a carbon atom, and three oxygen atoms. Its chemical composition makes it a very stable compound that is useful for doing things like baking, cleaning your house, and even dousing fires.

Properties of Baking Soda:

  • Sodium hydrogen carbonate has a density of 2.159 g/cm³
  • Water-soluble at a rate of around 8 g per every one hundred grams of water
  • It’s a chemical base. It’s found on the pH scale at 8.2, which makes it a weak base

When it reacts with acids it frees up carbon dioxide gas in the acids, and this property makes it useful for baking. Baking soda has a melting point of approximately 60°C (100 these Fahrenheit). The chemical is noncombustible, meaning it doesn’t have a flashpoint where it will catch fire. It also doesn’t have a boiling point, though it will decompose at temperatures over 70°C or 158 degrees Fahrenheit.

How Baking Soda (Sodium Hydrogen Carbonate) Is Used In Cooking

“Baking may be regarded as a science, but it’s the chemistry between the ingredients and the cook that gives desserts life. Baking is done out of love, to share with family and friends, to see them smile.” — Anna Olson


Baking soda leavens things like pancakes and fried foods. Baking soda is used when the batter for a specific food item isn’t strong enough to hold its shape long enough for the yeast to cause the bread to rise. The gas produced by the baking soda means that the batter doesn’t have to rise for long periods of time, as must happen in yeast-based pieces of bread. The batter just needs to be exposed to heat and then the expansion that was caused by the gas bubbles becomes cemented.

Photo: HomeMaker via Pixabay

Batter containing baking soda will rise slowly if it is left to sit on a table at room temperature. The acids and the bases react in the batter, they just do so more slowly than when baking. Baking leads to a much more dramatic rise in the batter because the heat of the oven causes the baking soda to decompose and release gases at a higher rate.

“Sympathizing over the behavior of men is the baking soda of women’s friendships, it seems, the thing that makes them bubble and rise.” — Barbara Kingsolver

What Is Baking Powder?

Baking soda is an exclusively alkaline compound. Yet there is a version of sodium bicarbonate that has been combined with salt. Baking powder is baking soda with salt included in it, but the acid within the salt won’t react with the base in the baking powder until liquid has been added to it. One should avoid using baking powder when they are attempting to make a recipe that has additional acidic ingredients, and use baking powder if the recipe doesn’t have enough acids by itself.

Other Uses For Baking Soda

Baking soda has a wide variety of uses outside of baking. For instance, it is great at absorbing both moisture and odor. Sodium hydrogen carbonate is excellent at absorbing moisture because it is amphoteric. Being amphoteric means that although baking soda is a weak base, it can act as either an acid or base depending on what kinds of compounds it contacts. The small particles of baking soda have a crystalline structure that is capable of refracting both acids and bases, meaning that if you have enough surface area baking soda in your fridge, it will neutralize the particles that cause Foul odors.


Baking soda and vinegar can be combined to clean a wide variety of surfaces. Baking soda should be used to clean the worst and dirtiest spots of the surface first, and the vinegar should be applied afterward. This method can be used to clean dirty stovetops and countertops with ease. Baking soda can also be used to remove mildew from bathtubs and showers, again combined with some vinegar. The vinegar will kill the mold and bacteria first, and then the baking soda can be used to scrub away the remnants.

“The arts are not frosting but baking soda.” — Michael S. Gazzaniga

If you have a urine stain from a dog or cat that you need to clean up, baking soda can also be used to clean the spot of the accident. The stain should be soaked first with a combination of vinegar and warm water, and then the baking soda should be sprinkled on top of the spot. The baking soda will be able to absorb the urine thanks to its moisture-absorbing properties, and it will also be able to neutralize the acids responsible for the unpleasant odor.

Baking soda can also be used to clean clothes of foul odors. If your clothes smell heavily of sweat or another unpleasant odor, one or two cups of baking soda can be put in alongside regular soap or detergent to remove the odor from your clothes.

Photo: Bru-nO via Pixabay

Baking soda even has a few medical applications. You can use it to treat indigestion by using a quarter teaspoon of baking soda in water if the indigestion was caused by acid. It is also capable of treating insect stings and bites, and it is a frequent ingredient in creams that treat the itchiness and pain caused by bug bites or stings. You can also use baking soda as a toothpaste by putting some on your toothbrush, or use it as a breath freshener by swishing with half a teaspoon of baking soda dissolved in water.

Safety Considerations For Sodium Hydrogen Carbonate

Though sodium hydrogen carbonate is generally safe for a variety of uses, it can be harmful if too much of it is ingested or if it comes into contact with a person’s eyes. It is suggested that you drink plenty of water to dilute the strength of the baking soda if ingested and that you rinse your eyes thoroughly if it makes contact with them. It is also important to wear goggles if using large amounts of baking soda for experiments.

Finally, the properties of sodium hydrogen carbonate (baking soda) allow you to easily test whether or not it is still good. There’s at least 18 months’ worth of shelf life for most baking soda, and you can determine if it is no longer good by combining it with an acidic substance. Mix a small amount of baking soda with a few drops of lemon juice and see if it bubbles vigorously. If it does it means it’s still good, if not, it’s time to replace it.



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