Baking soda—a.k.a. sodium bicarbonate—is cheap, readily available, and incredibly versatile. While you might already use the chemical compound to clean your kitchen or make cookies rise, there’s a lot more you can do with it. Here are 10 things you probably didn’t know baking soda could do.
1. Tenderize meat.
Bakers often use baking soda as a leavening agent in breads and cookies, but some chefs also use it to tenderize meat. Many Chinese recipes call for marinating raw meat in a solution of baking soda and water, which alters the meat’s pH level and keeps the meat tender as it is cooked. Make sure you apply the baking soda directly to whatever meat you’re working with—rather than the meat’s skin or fat—and wash it off before cooking.
2. Polish silver.
Silver jewelry and utensils can be difficult to clean, and you probably don’t want to spend time scrubbing your silver with toxic cleaning solutions. For a cheap, non-toxic cleaner, sprinkle a quarter cup of baking soda into an aluminum foil-lined basin filled with your dirty silver items. Pour boiling water onto the silver, and let it soak until your silverware is clean.
3. Remove splinters.
If you’re having trouble extracting a splinter that’s embedded deep in your skin, don’t fret. Apply a mixture of water and baking soda to the skin around the splinter, and cover it with an adhesive bandage. In a day or two, the baking soda will soften the skin around the splinter, making it easier for you to coax the splinter out with tweezers.
4. Irrigate your sinuses.
The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology recommends that people with chronic hay fever try a homemade saline sinus rinse to remove extra mucus and allergens. Mix three parts iodide-free salt with one part baking soda, and add distilled or boiled (and cooled) water. Put the solution into a bulb syringe, and with your head tilted, squeeze the solution into each nostril.
5. Combat body odor.
If you want to make your own non-toxic deodorant, grab some baking soda. Spread a paste of baking soda and water under your armpits, or make a natural deodorant stick with coconut oil, cornstarch, baking soda, and essential oil.
6. Make your home smell better.
You may already keep a box of baking soda in your refrigerator to neutralize bad smells, but don’t overlook the rest of your home. Create a homemade air freshener by putting half a cup of baking soda and a few drops of an essential oil into a small jar. Cover the jar with cloth, and put it in your bathroom or closet.
7. Relieve itchy bug bites.
For any irritable bug bites, you can use a baking soda paste to relieve the pain, swelling, and itchiness around the bite. Apply a mixture of three parts baking soda and one part water to the skin on and around the bite. This solution will relieve pain from insect bites, bee stings, and even poison ivy exposure.
8. Kill bugs.
Insects, ants, and cockroaches who eat baking soda will die as the baking soda releases fatal carbon dioxide bubbles in their bodies. For more environmentally friendly pest control, sprinkle baking soda and vinegar on ant mounds, and pour baking soda on plants to kill any bugs that might try munching your veggies.
9. Reduce dandruff.
Rather than buy an anti-dandruff shampoo, try washing your hair with baking soda. When you’re in the shower, massage a paste of baking soda and water into your hair. After a few seconds, rinse it out. The baking soda can remove excess oil and flaky skin from your scalp.
10. Get rid of musty book smell.
Old book smell is great, but when that delicious aroma passes over into musty, it's time to reach for the baking soda. Simply place the old book in a container alongside a box of baking soda; put the lid on the container and allow it to sit for several days. After a week has passed, that mildewy smell should be history (and if it's not, just pop it back into the container for a few more days).
A version of this story ran in 2016; it has been updated for 2021.