Washing Soda: Meet Your Ingredient

Meet Your Ingredient

What is it?

Also known as sodium carbonate or soda ash, washing soda is a mineral substance that occurs as a grainy white powder. Its chemical formula is Na2CO3. 

Where does it come from?

Washing soda occurs in natural deposits in the ground, and can also be manufactured synthetically from sodium chloride and lime (two naturally occurring and very abundant chemicals). In the United States, there is a very large deposit of washing soda near the Green River in Wyoming, so removing this by mining is more cost effective than producing it synthetically. It’s a smart assumption that if you buy washing soda in the US or as part of a product that was made in the US, the source of that washing soda is in Wyoming.

What happens when it interacts with water, air, people?

Washing Soda in Water: this is where the work gets done. The washing soda acts as a water softener, which allows any detergent or soap to interact with dirts and fabrics instead of getting tied up in interactions with Calcium and Magnesium (hard water) ions. Washing soda is also alkaline, meaning it will raise the pH of the water. Higher pH water is more effective at cleaning. So, just as described on the commercially available boxes, it really is a ‘laundry booster’ in that it helps both the water and the soap do a better job of cleaning.

Washing Soda in Air: Washing soda will have a minimal effect on air since it typically exists as a solid or is dissolved in water.

Washing Soda and People: since the washing soda is caustic (another term for substance that raises pH of water), it can be irritating to skin, eyes, or lungs upon high exposure or breathing in of dust. After working with washing soda without gloves you may notice a drying effect or possibly a ‘slippery’ feeling on your fingers if they get wet. This is similar to other caustic materials and usually milder than strong caustic solutions such as bleach. If you experience prolonged exposure to washing soda, wash any exposed skin thoroughly and breathe clean air. If you continue to have issues, contact a health professional.

Why do we use it?

Since washing soda is a laundry booster, raising the pH and helping the soap and water clean fabrics more effectively, using it means you can clean better with less powder. it is much milder than other chemicals that perform a similar function, and it is a simple molecule sourced naturally in the US.

Where can you buy it?

The biggest seller of washing soda in the US is Arm and Hammer (yes, the same company you recognize from baking soda!). In stores, it is often found in the laundry or cleaning aisle in a yellow box. It can also be found online.


Sources and More Information: 

Arm and Hammer Website

Wikipedia Article - Washing Soda

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