Baking soda is not just a useful ingredient to have in your kitchen, but also a great cleaning agent when sprucing up the house, and a nifty powder to have in your medicine cabinet too. But with all these uses, is there a more dangerous side to baking soda that you have been missing?
The fact that it is used to make cakes and baked goods rise in the oven has led many to wonder, is baking soda flammable? In which case, are you exposing yourself to unnecessary risk by storing and using it in a kitchen environment?...
Luckily, the answer is no. Baking soda is not a flammable substance and is in fact sometimes used to put out fires due to its carbon dioxide producing properties. Baking powder is a different story however, which is why it is so important that these two ingredients should not be confused.
In this article we will break down what baking soda is, why it is not flammable, and what its many uses are around the home. We will also look at the properties of baking powder, why it is flammable, and how best you can store and use it safely. So, let’s go.
What Exactly Is Baking Soda?
Baking soda is a fine, white powder made from the chemical compound Sodium Bicarbonate. It has no smell, no real discernible taste, and it dissolves in water.
You would most likely recognize it from the baking aisle at the grocery store where it is sold in small pots next to the flour and yeast. This is because it is a very popular ‘rising agent’, added to cake mixes and recipes to ensure that sponges rise well and have a soft and aerated texture.
A little goes a long way, so most recipes will only require ‘half a teaspoon’ or ‘a level teaspoon’ of baking powder at most.
How Does Baking Soda Work?
Although baking soda is not flammable, it is ‘reactive’, particularly when it comes into contact with acids. When the chemical compounds in sodium bicarbonate meet acids they release carbon dioxide.
It is these tiny carbon dioxide bubbles that give cakes and sponges their lovely, airy appearance and texture. It is also this release of carbon dioxide that causes baking soda to fizz and foam when mixed with acidic substances, like coca cola or vinegar - but more on that later!
Can Baking Soda Catch On Fire?
Despite its reactive qualities, baking soda is not combustible, meaning it will not catch on fire. This is because the molecules in sodium bicarbonate have an incredibly high burn temperature.
It would require heat far beyond that achieved by most standard fires to get those molecules to catch flame.
In fact, it would take such a huge and powerful blaze to make baking powder light up that, if it ever did occur, you would most surely have far more serious things to worry about than a little pot of burning baking powder!
As a result, baking soda is a very safe product to have in your kitchen cupboards, and can be stored as near or far from heat sources as you like with no risk of combustion.
Is Baking Soda An Effective Fire Extinguisher?
Now that we have established that baking soda doesn’t catch fire, it is important to mention how it can actually do the opposite! Yes, baking soda can be used to extinguish flames, rather than to fuel them.
This is because baking soda releases carbon dioxide which is the counter opposite to oxygen.
Fire needs oxygen to take light and grow (just think of how forest fires grow rapidly in high winds, or how campfires only take light if you gently blow on them). If you starve a fire of oxygen then it will die out.
By throwing baking soda onto flames you smother the oxygen supply much like you do when you throw sand or salt onto a small fire. What is more, when baking soda heats up it releases carbon dioxide which helps to cancel out the oxygen molecules and put out the flames more quickly.
Baking soda is actually an ingredient used in some fire extinguishers known as dry chemical fire extinguishers.
These extinguishers are designed to be used on small fires that do not react well to water, like oil, grease or electrical fires. These types of small fires can occur in kitchen environments where oil and grease are heated over flames.
Should You Pour Baking Soda On A Fire That Is Getting Out Of Hand?
Although it is an ingredient in some fire extinguishers, baking soda is not the most effective way to put out a fire in your home.
For small fires it can work well, but it is rare that you would have a large enough supply of baking soda to put out anything more than a little fire.
Bigger fires suck oxygen in at a faster rate than a little pot of baking soda could smother it, therefore fire blankets, wet towels, and fire extinguishers are far more effective for serious situations.
If a fire appears to be getting out of hand you should get yourself to safety and call the fire department immediately. It is always better to let the professionals deal with an escalating situation because they have the appropriate training, equipment and safety gear.
What Can Baking Soda Be Used For?
Baking soda isn’t just used as a brilliant leavener in baking, but has many household uses. Here are just a few ways baking soda can be used about the house:
- Carpet cleaner
- When mixed with vinegar (which is a mild acid), baking soda reacts to create a bubbly foam that is very effective at lifting stains from carpet fibers.
- Heartburn remedy
- When dissolved in water, baking soda can be swallowed to soothe uncomfortable heartburn symptoms. It reacts with the stomach acid and neutralizes them.
- Sunburn treatment
- Baking soda can be added to cool bath water to create a soothing treatment for sunburn.
- Insect bite treatment
- When dissolved in water, baking soda can also be applied to nasty insect bites or sores to soothe itching and swelling
- If you dip a wet toothbrush into some baking soda to create a paste, you can use it to clean your teeth. The powder reacts with dirt and removes stains and plaque. It also neutralizes odours, thus getting rid of bad breath.
- Mouth ulcer treatment
- When added to a tablespoon of water, baking soda can be swilled around inside your mouth cavity to relieve the pain and swelling of mouth ulcers.
Can Baking Soda Explode?
No, baking soda is not combustible, and therefore cannot explode. However, it can create some pretty impressive reactions when mixed with certain other ingredients.
- When baking soda is added to coca-cola it fizzes up enormously and creates a bubbly fountain that jets high into the air depending on how much you use.
- When mixed with sugar and lighter fluid, baking soda creates something called a ‘black fire snake’ - however we do not recommend you do this experiment at home unless you have a fire extinguisher on hand.
Is Baking Powder Flammable?
Unlike baking soda, baking powder IS flammable. Baking powder is often confused with baking soda and the two are presumed to be interchangeable, however they are different substances.
Baking powder is made from sodium bicarbonate, which is an alkali, cream of tartar, which is an acid, and a filler such as corn flour, corn starch or rice flour.
The addition of these extra components make baking powder flammable, so although it looks similar to baking soda and is used for much the same purposes, it should never be thrown onto a fire.
Rather than helping to extinguish the flames, baking powder would fuel them and make them increase rapidly.
Is It Safe To Keep Baking Powder In Your Kitchen?
Despite its combustible properties, baking powder is perfectly safe to have in your kitchen so long as it is responsibly stored away from heat sources and flames.