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Bicarbonate of soda’s uses go well beyond baking – it also acts as a cheap and eco-friendly household ...
2022-04-25 09:00:00

Miraculous Sodium!
How to Clean Ecologically

“Scullery Maid”, Dutch School, c. 1660. Dulwich Picture Gallery (public domain)
Miraculous Sodium!
Miraculous Sodium!

When cleaning in a rush, we often don’t pay enough attention to the household chemicals we use, which is a mistake. Everything we use has an influence on the air we breathe; it penetrates the water we drink and the soil in which our food grows. So let’s not leave everything to chance – let’s use eco-friendly cleaning products. Becoming eco is both easier and cheaper than one might expect.

Read in 5 minutes

Snow-like whiteness

The primary item on the list of household chemicals is baking soda, i.e. bicarbonate of soda. It is found in mineral deposits, fresh water and groundwater. It is obtained on an industrial scale from sesquicarbonate (concentrated crystal soda), a deep-lying mineral deposit, which is then subjected to further mechanical and chemical processing.

Baking soda is available at any supermarket. It has numerous applications in the household: it speeds up cooking, it helps make dough light and fluffy during baking, it makes chickpeas softer, giving hummus a perfectly silky texture. Moreover, it can be used to clean things, such as a burnt oven. If we mix the powder with water, we get a cleaning paste (we can also add a little washing-up liquid to strengthen the effect). If the effect is still not strong enough, we can prepare a stronger kind of soda. All we need is one hour and an oven heated to 200°C. We bake the widely-available bicarbonate of soda, turning it into the less well-known soda ash (washing soda), i.e. sodium carbonate (we can also simply buy it on the internet).

This white powder, which dissolves perfectly in water and is very light, seems to have even more applications than the ordinary bicarbonate of soda. It is sometimes used as an acidity regulator in foods (its symbol on the label is E500), is an ingredient in washing agents, and is an efficient bleach and stain remover. You may use it alone or add some lemon juice. In order to get rid of persistent stains from our clothes, we should mix soda ash with hydrogen peroxide. By adding to soda ash a little water, we can make a paste that is perfect for cleaning the bathroom; if we dissolve soda ash in more water, the result will be a floor cleaning solution; if we add some grated soap to the mix, we obtain a washing powder suitable for brightly-coloured clothes. These are basic recipes. You can enrich the concoctions by adding, for instance, your favourite aromatic oil. In its pure form, soda ash can be used as a dishwasher powder. If you are, however, attached to tablets, you can form them by mixing soda ash with water and leaving them to dry.

All of these uses and recipes are easy, effective and safe. We should only be careful to avoid getting the powder in our eyes – while cleaning the bathroom, remember to wear protective gloves.

For special purposes

There are even more forms of sodium to perform miracles with. The next one on the list (also available on the internet) is sodium percarbonate, which has a decisive advantage over the substances discussed above. It can serve as washing powder, bleach and washing-up liquid; it cleans, disinfects, and completely dissolves in the air into oxygen and water. Be careful when using it, however: it is flammable and when it combusts, the fire is hard to extinguish.

What is the recommended dosage of sodium percarbonate? Three spoons into the dishwasher; two to three times as many for the toilet. To clean bathroom and kitchen surfaces, simply dissolve three to four spoons of the powder in one litre of water. To remove mould from the walls or from the grout between tiles, increase the dosage to three spoons for a glass of water. To create a homemade washing powder, mix sodium percarbonate with soda ash and borax (i.e. sodium tetraborate) in equal proportions. Add about two spoons of the mix to a load of laundry and wash it at at least 40°C.

At home and in the garden

The above mentioned borax – a non-organic chemical compound available in the form of water-soluble colourless crystals – can also be easily bought online. It is particularly suitable for coloured fabrics, but just like the regular bicarbonate of soda it has many other applications. If we make it into a paste or a water solution, it becomes an upholstery and carpet cleaner (thanks to which we can get rid of the unpleasant smell of animal urine or spilled milk). It also works as a fridge cleaner (half a spoon of borax for a glass of water). To clean windows, mirrors and chromium-plated surfaces, we can prepare a mixture with vinegar: to one litre of water, add one spoon of borax and one-third of a glass of vinegar, (optionally you can scent it with several drops of an essential oil).

For allergy sufferers, small children and people with sensitive skin, I recommend potassium soap (one of its ingredients is sodium chloride) – better known as household soap – and its derivates. It can be used as a body and hair wash. Potassium soap is also a great detergent. Grated, it is a washing agent; dissolved in water, it becomes a universal cleaner. When cleaning windows with this solution, add a little alcohol or vinegar so as not to leave trails.

An additional advantage is that any leftover water from potassium soap can be used to water plants. Not only will it not hurt them, but it will also provide natural protection against spider mites and aphids.

A sparkling effect

I am a minimalist. All I need to clean everything is vinegar and a little bicarbonate of soda paste, but some people expect more from household chemicals. Those who like a sparkling effect will definitely need citric acid (shown on product labels as E330). We eat it in many products, drink it, swallow it in pills, rub it on our skin with cosmetics.

Citric acid comprises only 8% of the dry lemon weight, so on an industrial scale it is not obtained from lemons, but through fermentation with the use of the mould fungus Aspergillus niger. Citric acid can remove limescale from the kettle (just add some citric acid to the water and boil); as a paste (citric acid with a little vinegar), it is perfect for polishing cutlery and bathroom fixtures.

As an ingredient of an eco-friendly toilet block, it will sparkle impressively when combined with bicarbonate of soda. Mix 100 grams of bicarbonate of soda with 25 grams of citric acid. Add your favourite essential oil (about a dozen drops) and a spoon of water – don’t pour it in, but spray it using an atomizer so as not to lose the sparkling effect. Place the solution in a silicon mould (e.g. one used for ice cubes) and cool for eight hours.

I think that switching to truly ecological and homemade cleaning agents demands a slight attitude change. The results will be different than when using regular, commercially-available cleaning supplies, but do not assume right away that they will be worse. Perhaps our laundry will not delight us with an intense smell, perhaps after cleaning there will be a slight scent of vinegar in the air, but we will also bring some relief to our planet.


Translated from the Polish by Adam Zdrodowski

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Dominika Bok

A few years ago, she reoriented her interests towards fields and meadows; she transitioned from culture to nature. In the past, she described herself as an ethnographer, journalist, archivist and cultural animator. Today, she thinks of herself as an embroider, herbalist, certified farmer and amateur mystic. She dreads to think what the future holds.