Before I started making my own laundry detergent, I didn’t know much of anything about washing soda. In fact, I’m pretty sure I hadn’t even heard of it until I started researching homemade laundry detergents!
But I became acquainted with it shortly thereafter as it became an essential ingredient in my own homemade detergent formula, and I’ve had a box of it in my laundry room cupboard ever since! But washing soda remains a rather mysterious substance to most folks, so today I thought I’d offer what I hope will be an informative overview on the subject! 🙂
We’ll start with the basics, including what washing soda actually is and how it works. After that, I’ll be sharing a super simple method you can use to make your own washing soda at home (which will be particularly useful to you if it isn’t available in stores or online where you live!)
What Is Washing Soda?
Washing soda, otherwise known as sodium carbonate or soda ash, is a water-soluble salt with a very basic pH of 11. In water, washing soda yields an alkaline solution with cleansing and water softening properties, making it useful as a cleaning agent, laundry booster, and more!
Modern washing soda is manufactured, but it can be found in nature too. In fact, in the past it was extracted from the ashes of plants that were grown in sodium-rich soils (hence the name “soda ash.”)
Washing soda gets an A on the Environmental Working Group’s rating scale, meaning they recognize it as non-toxic and generally safe to use. Though as with many other cleaning agents, washing soda can be irritating and drying on skin, so just make sure to wear cleaning gloves when handling it.
Is Washing Soda The Same As Baking Soda?
Although baking soda and washing soda have deceptively similar names and even appearances, they are not the same thing. Washing soda is a form of sodium carbonate, and its chemical formula is Na2CO3, meaning it has 2 sodium, 1 carbon, and 3 oxygen molecules. Baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) has the chemical formula NaCHO3, meaning it has 1 sodium, 1 carbon, 1 hydrogen, and 3 oxygen molecules.
Why is that important to know? Thanks to those similar molecular makeups, there’s actually a really easy way to turn baking soda into washing soda using your oven, which I’ll get to later in this post!
Is Washing Soda The Same As Borax?
This is another common question, but the answer is again, no. Washing soda is sodium carbonate, while borax is a form of sodium tetraborate (chemical formula: Na2B4O7·10H2O). While both borax and washing soda produce alkaline solutions in water that can be useful for cleaning, borax has a slightly less basic pH of around 9.
How Is Washing Soda Used?
Washing soda has been used in many interesting ways throughout history, like the manufacture of glass, paper, and soap, as a hard water softener, a food additive, and in photographic film development. But personally, I prefer using washing soda as a cleansing agent!
Washing soda is often marketed as a laundry booster, but it comes in handy elsewhere too. You can use washing soda to remove stains, scour a baking dish in the kitchen, scrub the toilet in your bathroom, clean furniture upholstery, and more! Explore more of the many household uses for washing soda.
As I mentioned earlier, the most important role washing soda has played in my life is as an essential ingredient in my favorite homemade laundry detergents. But in the years since I first started posting about making my own laundry soap, I’ve had readers from all over the world write to me to ask if I could recommend any alternatives because soda ash wasn’t available in their country.
Of course I couldn’t let those readers down, so I did some research and discovered that making your own washing soda at home is not only possible, but it’s super easy to make! And the best part? You only need some baking soda and an oven to do it.
Here’s how to make it at home:
How To Make Washing Soda From Baking Soda
- Baking soda
- Cookie sheet
Spread some baking soda out onto a cookie sheet in an even layer. (You can add as much or as little baking soda as you want as long as it fits on the cookie sheet, depending on how much washing soda you want to make.)
Preheat your oven to 400 degrees (that’s 400°F), then bake the baking soda for 1 hour. The heat of the oven will cook water and carbon dioxide off of the sodium bicarbonate, leaving sodium carbonate (AKA washing soda) behind.
If you compare your homemade washing soda with baking soda side by side, one thing you’ll notice is that washing soda feels a bit grainy compared to the silky smooth baking soda. (Fun Fact: The finished washing soda will also weigh less than the baking soda did when you put it into the oven, due to the loss of water and carbon dioxide.)
Allow the washing soda to cool after baking it, then transfer it to an airtight container for storage. Use your homemade washing soda to make homemade laundry detergent, soften hard water, to scour messes out of a baking dish, and much more!
Where To Buy Washing Soda
If you don’t want to make it, you can usually find washing soda (usually the Arm & Hammer brand) in the laundry aisle at many grocery stores and big box chains. If you don’t see it right away, check the top and bottom shelves. That’s where I usually find it!
You can also find washing soda online at Amazon and other major online retailers. Some people suggest getting it from pool suppliers, but these industrial forms of sodium carbonate (like AquaChem) have a slightly different chemical structure may not work well for normal household use. I would say you’re better off sticking with the safer store-bought and homemade varieties! 🙂
How do you use washing soda at home?
Make Your Own Washing Soda
- Baking Sheet
- 4 cups baking soda
- Spread four cups baking soda out onto a cookie sheet in an even layer.
- Preheat your oven to 400°F, then bake the baking soda for 1 hour. The heat of the oven will cook water and carbon dioxide off of the sodium bicarbonate, leaving sodium carbonate (AKA washing soda) behind!
- Allow the washing soda to cool after baking it, then transfer it to an airtight container for storage. If you compare your homemade washing soda with baking soda side by side, you’ll notice the washing soda feels a bit grainy compared to the silky smooth baking soda.