How Baking Soda Cleans

Baking soda's cleaning power is mostly physical. A mild abrasive, it gently wears away stains. But chemistry is involved, too. Baking soda reacts with the grease in stains to form glycerol, a common cleansing ingredient in soaps. Mixing it with vinegar creates carbonic acid, a weak acid that boosts the corrosive action of vinegar. It also releases carbon dioxide, the gas that makes soft drinks bubbly, which may enhance the scrubbing effect. Also, as a weak alkali, baking soda neutralizes acids in odor molecules to eliminate strong smells.

Although some toilets are made with a stain-resistant finish, the bowl is still at risk of staining. The minerals in standing water can discolor the porcelain. Brown- and rust-colored rings can be a particular problem in areas that have mineral-rich water, also known as hard water. If allowed to build, such stains require strongly acidic cleansers to remove. These products can slowly erode the porcelain, not to mention the immediate damage they can do to the skin, eyes, nose and throat.

It's worthwhile, then, to practice preventive maintenance. First, make "flush" a family rule. Also, make a simple routine part of your weekly cleaning: Sprinkle the toilet with cup of baking soda. Let it sit for 30 minutes, then spray or squirt with vinegar (a mild acid) to moisten. Scrub with a bowl brush and flush away [source: Niagara County].

Minerals contribute to another common bathroom cleaning problem. Read on to learn how baking soda can clean up the scum of the earth.