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The difference between baking powder/soda and bicarbonate of soda

You will often see 'baking soda' or 'baking powder' recommended for use in cleaning, as well as....you guessed it, baking. But what's the difference between it and bicarbonate of soda (aka Sodium Bicarbonate, or 'bicarb' for short)?

The waters are muddied because American websites use the two almost interchangeably and many UK sites/people use the same terminology. As far as the UK goes, the difference is that Baking Powder is Bicarbonate of Soda PLUS cream of tartar which acts as a raising agent in baking. But bicarbonate of soda can also be used in baking; it still acts as a raising agent IF the recipe has an acidic ingredient (eg lemon) Once the two meet in a mix with moisture, the two react giving off bubbles. In the UK, you may well see Arm & Hammer Baking Soda on shelves - that is what we'd refer to as Bicarbonate of Soda.

Bicarbonate of Soda

We are often asked whether our bicarbonate of soda can be used for baking. Our version is exactly the same product that is used in the (more expensive) pots that you find in the baking aisle, but it has not been packed on a 'food safe' line. That means that it's packed on a line that may also be packing citric acid or borax substitute, so we can't officially recommend it for culinary purposes. Many people use it to make elderflower cordial and other drinks.

What it does mean though, is that there's no point paying for the expensive cooking bicarb when you're using it for cleaning & laundry purposes; you get 500g in each box and you can buy them locally!

And bicarbonate of soda has lots of other uses too, besides cleaning, you can use them to make bath bombs and toilet cleaning 'fizzies' as well as keeping the kids entertained making modelling clay.

86 thoughts on “The difference between baking powder/soda and bicarbonate of soda

    1. Although similar, the slightly different chemical structure means that one is often better for a particular cleaning task than another.

      Bicarbonate of Soda has one sodium molecule and 2 carbon molecules. Soda Crystals have one Sodium, one Carbon and 10 water. It means Soda Crystals are much more soluble in water, better at water softening and tackling grease. Bicarbonate of Soda is better at absorbing odours and has a much fine consistency making them ideal as a gentle scouring paste.

  1. Hiya I’ve just read that baking soda can help acid reflux, can I use baking powder or does it have to be soda as they are different? Thanks.

    1. Sorry Ginnie, but we aren’t allowed to give guidance on personal medical care, but can say that bicarb is routinely used in antacid remedies.

    1. Our bicarb is produced from calcium carbonate rock from the peak district – and converted to Bicarb in the solvay process. So it’s synthetic from natural minerals.

      We are not aware of naturally mined bicarb, but it can be extracted from natural sources such as Soda Lakes in Africa in the Rift Valley. It still needs to go through industrial processes to purify, and shipping heavy products has its own environmental issues.

    1. We can’t really comment on using our bicarb for personal care, but anecdotally lots of people use bicarb to clean their teeth. If you are cleaning and flossing as instructed and still have bad odours, then the chances are you need to see a dentist.

    1. We can’t really comment on using our products as personal care products, but the chemistry would be that bicarb (an alkali) will react with the acid of the lemon. Bicarb as used for teeth is largely acting as a gentle abrasive.

  2. Hi can i use bicarbonate of soda instead of baking soda in this recipe for cleaning toilet ? I was really excited to try it but I couldn’t find baking soda in my kitchen
    MODERATOR COMMENT: Link removed due to inappropriate content.

    1. Although they are similar in chemical composition, both are alkali and some tasks can be done by either product, they each have subtle differences in their properties which means that one will be slightly preferable to the other.In summary:
      Bicarb – deodoriser and mild abrasive
      Soda Crystals – water softener (laundry), tackles dirt, grease oil and dirt.

    1. Hi – we aren’t officially able to talk about using bicarbonate of soda for personal care use. I guess the ‘science’ would be that it might absorb moisture that the fungus thrives upon, but bicarb won’t particularly have anti-fungal properties although the Reader’s Digest do suggest it as a home remedy here

    2. Iodine is brilliant for athletes foot. Make sure you dry it with a hairdryer after you have applied it and cover it, when it’s dried, with piece of kitchen roll and secure that with micropore.
      The Iodine will kill the fungus/bacteria and the dressing is to stop it getting moist.☺☺

  3. Hi Paul! I’m a total convert to bicarbonate, for its awesome effectiveness. I also love your soda crystals and found citric acid, but not at my local Savers unfortunately.
    I wonder if it’s possible, please:
    a – to have the crystals in biodegradable packaging, rather than plastic. and
    b – to stock citric acid in your ig1 Savers branch
    Thanking you in advance

    1. Hi Paola – we’re glad you’re a fan. There are often a number of decisions that go into packaging, which we explain here. Savers are aware of our citric acid but have decided thus far not to list it. If enough people contact them requesting that they stock it, then they may reconsider. Citric Acid is available from an increasing number of retailers, including Wilko (own brand) and more recently Home Bargains.

  4. I recently read an article about using bicarbonate of soda and vinegar for cleaning grout in tiles. Then another suggested bicarbonate of soda and hydrogen peroxide. Which do you think would be best?

    1. Hi Lee – this is why you need to tread carefully with articles on the net. Both those tips are flawed. Bicarb is alkali and vinegar is acid; the two just neutralise each other. Hydrogen Peroxide isn’t readily available and it would be destabilised by the bicarb and give off dangerous levels of oxygen. The best bet is Soda Crystals Laundry Boost which has added sodium percarbonate (oxygen bleach). Just use it as a paste with a stiff toothbrush.

  5. Since I’ve had my washing machine which is cold water fill only I keep getting a horrible smell around that area I have put the machine on auto clean but the smell is still there it’s only now and again someone recommended
    Bicarb what do you think and how much do I use

      1. Try putting a small container of citric acid, available in the home brewing section. Put in in the powder drawer and pop the washer on a hot wash. This sometimes works.

  6. @Parkes
    Been there twice with the fleas, got pest control, 2nd time spraying whole house worked. I lay out shallow dishes with water everywhere so they jump in then flush them down the loo. I’m glad I had wood flooring and laminate flooring so really it was mostly the cracks I treated. Getting the cat in and treating it with vet grade stuff – they jump on the cats to feed and die from the treatment.

    I got bit too – BAD…I was scratching til I was bleeding. I needed meds from the doctor, I couldn’t sleep either for the scratching. Just out of interest are you blood type B? I am and the fleas weren’t interested in anyone else legs. Always wondered why they go for some and not others.

    One thing that will work and you don’t need to use food grade (though where to get large amounts I don’t know) – is DE – diatomaceous earth. It dehydrates their exoskeleton. I’d sprinkle that on the floors – if you have carpets, sprinkle it everywhere and hoover up, if you have wood, sprinkle it all around the crevices, any floor board cracks. You could sprinkle it on upholstery but you would have to keep kids off it. It’s a natural substance (google to find out more) but has a high silica content and some people who work with it constantly can get silicosis (think thats the term) through inhaling the dust. Should be okay for your house. You may need to apply it several cycles to catch all the critters.

    Good luck.

    1. This is the only stuff I have ever found to work at flea control. You get a huge amount for your money on EBay, you can use it for all the pets beddings . Odd about the blood group. I am AB neg and the only person I know who suffers so badly .If get a flea bite from public transport or cinema it will start to itch in a few hours. And from my cat too of course although he is treated on a regular basis

  7. Hi I am looking at cleaning my mattress, the only how to videos I’ve found are American and call for baking soda to be used (500g) are they referring to what we in the UK call soda crystals? Many Thanks

  8. I just saw a video where they boil water with a ball of aluminium foil, then add soda to clean silver. What kind of soda do I use for this?

  9. Someone has suggested that I sprinkle ’20 Mule Team Borax’ (whatever that is) all over the house then vacuum it up to kill off flea eggs. I’m still trying to work out the difference between ‘borax’ and soda crystals. Already use soda crystals from time to time to aid washing in the washing machine, but not sure about using it for this purpose.

    We’ve tried everything to stop fleas in our house. 3 different kinds of flea spray, the cats have a ‘spot on’ and they are indoor all the time. The problem happened when a neighbourhood cat came in through our bedroom across our kitchen roof. We transferred the fleas to the cats, and barely a flea-free day since (that was October, it is now June!).

    At my wit’s end since whilst they leave my husband alone, they seem to have a particular taste for my blood. I’m sick of spraying chemicals that frankly just don’t seem to have any long-lasting effects other than to drastically reduce our woodlice population.

    We wash everything at as high a temperature as possible for each garment, but unfortunately I have sensitive skin so I have a lot of polyester clothing. Bad backs mean we just cannot vacuum thoroughly every day, although we do it once a weak and I mop afterwards and we shower every day too. Even the cats had their first bath yesterday – I’ve the scars to prove it.

    Is Borax one of your products? Do you know products you sell that might work better than flea-sprays or at least offer an additional alternative? It’s been an absolute nightmare. Any helpful suggestions welcomed…

    1. Hi there – sorry to hear of your problems with fleas. Unfortunately Borax Substitute does not have the same pest control properties as Borax. We would advise contacting the Pest Control or Environmental Health Department at the local council. Hopefully they will be able to advise but it does sound like the whole house needs treating. Although this article appears to originate from the States, it may be of use. It recommends the use of salt on carpets as it acts as a desiccant. You may also want to try white vinegar on surfaces as well. Good luck with sorting the issue.

    1. Hi Emmanuel
      Legally we can’t advise the use of our bicarb for ‘personal care’ such as toothpaste. Although it is food grade bicarb, it isn’t packed on a food safe line. But seeing as you’d notice any foreign objects anyway, then you can use your own judgement. We are aware anecdotally that many people use bicarb for such purposes as it is indeed one of the ingredients used in off the shelf popular toothpastes.

    2. Clean teeth with your normal toothpaste first. Mix say two drops of lemon oil with half a teaspoon of compressed coconut,put on tooth brush then brush teeth gently for one minute ,leave for five or ten minutes then rinse. Caution: Too much lemon oil and you will find yourself rinsing your mouth for hours

  10. A teaspoon of ordinary and very cheap bicarbonate of soda diluted in hot water, then cold added, is an good detox drink for body. I start my day with that. Can cause fluid stools when starts working, after about half an hour, but not to worry, for literally gets rid of all the **** (Word edited by moderator) accumulated, left overs from toxic food !

    1. We are unable to comment on the use of bicarbonate of soda for internal consumption. Although bicarb is an ingredient in many over the counter indigestion remedies, it’s always wise to consult your GP. Those with high blood pressure or heart problems need to be particularly careful about their sodium consumption (Bicarb is Sodium Bicarbonate).

  11. On utube they use baking soda for hair eyes skin masks etc how do I know what and where to buy this ? Can I use baking powder instead for the above ??

    1. We are unable to comment on the use of bicarb for personal care use unfortunately, but please do read similar comments on this page on the matter.

    2. Don’t put baking soda on your face. It’s far too harsh. Remember people on YouTube are not qualified. They’re literally just people with cameras.

    1. Hi Ritty, technically we can’t advise the use of our bicarb for ‘personal care’. Although it is food grade bicarb, it isn’t packed on a food safe line. But seeing as you’d notice any foreign objects anyway, then you can use your own judgement. With regard to ‘eye bags’, we’ve not heard of that one. We’ve heard slices of cold cucumber work wonders.

  12. Just read about soda crystals in a magazine then looked at your website – really excited and I am now off the shops to buy your product – I think I was a lundry maid in a past life as I love to see white washing on the line blowing in the wind. Thankyou.

  13. We have a septic tank and so I have been using bicarbonate of soda in my laundry however would I be just as well using your soda crystals in the laundry instead? does it do exactly the same job as using bicarbonate of soda?

    1. Hi Rosie – many people take bicarbonate of soda to settle an acid stomach/heartburn. People with high blood pressure should check with their GP because it contains sodium.

      Although our bicarb IS food grade, it isn’t packed on a ‘food safe’ line, so technically, we can’t recommend it for such use.

  14. For teeth wash/cleaning, should i use baking soda or baking powder?
    Can i use either of the two when one is not available?
    Which is more preferable?

    1. Our bicarb is designed for cleaning. It is actually food grade, but not packed on a food packing line. With regard to your question, we can’t really comment. It’s largely the mild abrasive properties that will be doing the cleaning, so possibly either, but there may be other sites that can advise.

    1. Although there are lots of articles on the internet describing how cancer can’t survive in an alkali environment, that’s in a petri dish! As soon as any foodstuff is ingested, it is affected by our body. For example, lemons are acid, but once ingested, is alkalising within the body.

      You should always discuss such things with your GP or other medical professional eg oncologist/dietitian.

      The general advice is to eat a healthy balanced diet.

      Here are a couple of posts we wrote on the topic: http://www.dri-pak.co.uk/tag/cancer/

    1. Hi Heather – it depends what is causing the blockage. Unlike sink drains that tend to get blocked by grease and food debris, toilets usually get blocked by objects such as toilet paper. Sanitary towels and other items should never be disposed of down the toilet. Is it TOTALLY blocked or just slow filling/draining?

      The things you could try are:

      1. Make a strong solution of Soda Crystals and dissolve in hot water. Pour quickly into the pan (unless the pan is full and not flowing) and leave to drain. Repeat the process if necessary.
      2. Use a plunger; if you don’t have one, try a toilet brush or mop and agitate vigorously so that the pressure dislodges the blockage.

      If all that fails, you may want to try some rods or call a plumber.

      Once unblocked, keep toilets clean by a regular treatment of soda crystals and a toilet brush scrub. Many toilet cleaners are extremely harmful to aquatic life.

      If you have limescale, use citric acid.

    1. What purpose are you using it for? The simple answer is:
      If for cleaning – bicarbonate of soda
      If for baking: If the recipe already has an acidic ingredient eg lemon, then bicarb will be fine. If it doesn’t, it needs to be ‘baking powder’ which has cream of tartar (usually) added.

  15. Home remedies said baking/bicarbonate of soda can be used as a face musk,is it true? beacuse i do not want to see my face damaged

    1. At the moment Dri-Pak bicarbonate of soda is not sold for personal care or food use. The product is actually ‘food grade’ but it is packed on lines that may have packed other traditional cleaning products. Although the lines are cleaned down between different runs, there may be residue.

      As for using bicarb for personal care, it is used in many products, including toothpaste. When used as advised and sensibly, it should be fine. It would make sense to test a small area first. If in any doubt, check with a competent medical or skincare professional.

  16. Dear Dri-Pak,
    Do you think you will ever have a Food Safe Line? It would be good for the other producers of Bicarbonate Soda to have some competition. 🙂
    Grace McCarron

    1. Yes – this is something we are currently investigating. Stay tuned for updates, by signing up to the newsletter or following us on Twitter or Facebook.

  17. I saw a listing for the Soda Crystals product that listed the ingredients as Sodium Carbonate Decahydrate. Can somebody please tell me if that is different from Sodium Carbonate and if so, how?

    Would they be different once placed in water?


    1. Sodium Carbonate (anhydrous) does not disperse well in water. As the title suggests, decahydrate is 10H2O bound up in the crystal and being 60% water disperses much more readily. Sodium Carbonate will try to absorb water from the atmosphere so must be kept in a dry sealed environment.

    1. Although bicarbonate of soda can be used in baking, then normally, no – you should use baking soda as it has extra raising agents.

  18. Not quite right on the explanation, at least for America; Baking Soda (i.e., Arm & Hammer) is bicarbonate of soda…Baking POWDER is bicarbonate of soda AND an acid, usually Cream of Tartar.

  19. I use soda crystals for cleaning already, but I’ve seen a video on youtube where baking soda is mixed into a paste with vinegar then applied to the dirty oven. The oven is then heated to 100C for 45 minutes and the grease just wipes off. Is it safe to do this with soda crystals please?

      1. There’s little point. Soda Crystals are alkali and great at dissolving grease. Vinegar is acidic and the two will simply counteract each other.

        The best approach is to turn off the power and scrape off any solid residue. Then make a paste with Soda Crystals and hot water and apply to the surfaces and leave to ‘work’ for at least 10 minutes. Then rinse off with a brush or cloth regularly dipped in clean hot water. You could also try Liquid Soda Crystals.

        Be careful not to get water on heating elements.

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