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What does baking soda do?

My wife has been on a kick of brushing her teeth with baking soda. Seems that baking soda can do all kinds of things. What is going on with that?

"Just give me the basics," he said acidly...
In general, when a chemical base reacts with an acid, they produce a weak acid and some kind of salt. When the base is baking soda (sodium bicarbonate), the resulting weak acid is carbonic acid, which breaks down to water and carbon dioxide gas.

"What about volcanos?" he erupted...
Possibly the most useful application of baking soda is mixing it with vinegar to make a "volcano." The carbon dioxide gas results in the fun foaming action. The salt is sodium acetate which, among other things, gives salt and vinegar chips their flavour.

"Let them eat cake," she said sweetly...
When baking soda is used in a recipe, it reacts with acidic ingredients, such as chocolate, sour cream, or honey, to produce the carbon dioxide gas that helps fluffs things up. Baking powder has baking soda and an acid, cream of tartar, which react when they get wet.

"It cleans!" she said sparklingly...
As a powder, the crystals of baking soda can act as abrasive. In solution, the baking soda base can react with acidic things you want to get rid of. This might be helpful with teeth for neutralizing the acidic byproducts of bacteria. Vinegar can also be a good cleanser but it does not help to combine them. If you are washing your hair with it, the higher pH opens the cuticle in your hair so they can be cleaned out. Then you need something acidic like vinegar as a conditioner to flatten out the cuticle. The long term effects of this "no poo" strategy has some controversy.

"I smell something fishy," he said pungently...
Many bad smells are acidic, such as sour milk. The baking soda reacts with these molecules to neutralize them, although some are dubious of its effectiveness. Why are people leaving stinky things in their fridges anyway?

"I'm all out," he fired back...
A fire requires heat, oxygen and fuel. Baking soda and absorb heat and release carbon dioxide which can snuff out a small fire.

Some people call baking soda a "chemical free" alternative. Seems to me, it's still a chemical, but it does seem to be relatively harmless and quite cheap. It might not be the best solution in all situations, but it might be worth trying.