Soda ash is the common name for sodium carbonate, a chemical compound frequently used in manufacturing, industry, and even around the house. Glass production is one of the primary uses for sodium carbonate. Detergents and cleaning agents may also make use of it, and it can be used in cooking or as a food additive, as well.
Use in the Home
Sodium carbonate is a natural water softener, which makes it a common additive to detergents. Products used for these purposes are often sold as washing ash or washing soda. Soda ash prevents hard water from bonding with the detergent, allowing it to be distributed more evenly during the washing cycle.
In addition, the compound has demonstrated ability to help remove buildup. It can help remove alcohol and grease stains from clothing, as well as calcifications in everything from coffee pots and espresso makers to boilers and hot water heaters. Running a solution of sodium carbonate and water through these systems from time to time will help prevent the minerals in water from building up in them and keep them functioning at their best.
Soda ash can also be used to increase the alkalinity in swimming pools, helping to ensure the proper pH balance of the water. It can be used in dying to help the dye bond to the fabric effectively. Photographers also use a sodium carbonate solution as part of the photo development process.
Uses in Food and Cooking
Some recipes may also require soda ash, usually as a reactive agent. Many German pretzel recipes, for instance, call for boiling lumps of dough in a soda ash mixture before baking in order to create a crispy outer shell or crust. Using the ash in this way is usually a substitute for lye.
A number of prepared foods and beverages also contain sodium carbonate. It is commonly added to corn syrup, for instance, which is a popular sweetening agent. Soda ash can be used as an anti-caking agent, to help baked goods to rise, and to help control the acidity of some foods. The compound may also be included in pharmaceuticals, particularly over-the-counter pain killers.
Use in Glass
One of the most common products that can be made with soda ash is glass; more than 50% of all sodium carbonate produced around the world is used for this purpose. When mixed in proportion with sand and calcium carbonate, heated to the right temperature, and then cooled quickly, the end result is soda-lime silica glass with excellent durability and clarity. This sort of glass is in heavy demand in the automotive and manufacturing industries, and can be found in everything from windshields, to mirrors, to beer bottles.
Industrial and Manufacturing Uses
Soda ash is a very common industrial chemical as well. In addition to food and cosmetic products, it's also used in fertilizers. When it comes to exhaust towers and chemical stacks, this ash can play a very important role in air purification because when sodium carbonate reacts with sulfur dioxide and hydrochloric acid, for example, less harmful compounds are produced.
Sodium carbonate is known by the chemical formula Na2CO3, in reference to the elements that make up its base composition: Na, which is sodium; C, which is carbon; and O, which is oxygen. The Na2CO3 combination does not usually occur in isolation in nature, however, so it must be intentionally refined by scientists.
There are two main ways of refining sodium carbonate. Trona, a mineral that occurs in natural deposits in evaporated lake beds throughout the world, is the most common source. Some salt water also contains sodium carbonate compounds. To extract the ash, scientists usually subject the trona ore or salt water to different crushing, heating, spinning, and other techniques.
The compound can also be created in a lab using the Solvay process rather than isolated from existing compounds. Synthetic sodium carbonate usually has the same properties as that found in nature, but can be more expensive to produce. The manufacturing process also creates waste products, including calcium chloride, which can potentially cause pollution.
Sodium carbonate is generally regarded as a safe substance. It can be handled without extraordinary precautions, and the United States Food and Drug Administration has deemed it safe for human consumption in all its forms. Those working to extract the compound from raw ore or in labs should wear masks, however, as prolonged exposure to any powder particulates can be harmful.
Is Soda Ash the Same as Baking Soda?
Soda ash is frequently confused with sodium bicarbonate, commonly known as baking soda. While baking soda is typically derived from soda ash, its chemical composition is different, and it serves different purposes.
How Is Baking Soda Different From Soda Ash?
The chemical formula of sodium bicarbonate is NaHCO3. Like soda ash, it contains sodium, carbon and oxygen, but unlike soda ash, it also contains hydrogen. Sodium bicarbonate can form naturally, but it is more often produced artificially by processing soda ash with carbon dioxide.
The most significant difference between soda ash and baking soda is pH. Baking soda has a pH of around 8, which is close to neutral, while the pH of soda ash is around 11, meaning it is highly basic.
Are Baking Soda and Soda Ash Interchangeable?
In general, soda ash is more popular in industrial applications, while baking soda is more popular for household use. However, there are some situations in which either product may be used, including:
- Household cleaning
- Fabric dying
- Swimming pools
This does not mean that soda ash and baking soda are interchangeable, however. When it comes to household cleaning and laundry, soda ash is generally a more powerful stain remover. However, it can also irritate the skin, so it should be used with caution. Baking soda, while not as powerful, is less caustic and less abrasive, making it a better choice for delicate fabrics and surfaces, as well as a safer alternative for people with sensitive skin.
Is Washing Soda the Same as Baking Soda or Soda Ash?
Washing soda is sodium carbonate that is marketed for laundry and household cleaning. It is the same as soda ash, although it generally contains more moisture than other forms. Washing soda is a popular laundry booster and a key ingredient in most homemade laundry soap recipes.
You can find washing soda alongside the laundry detergent in most stores. The packaging often resembles that of baking soda, but don't be misled; they are not the same.
How Much Soda Ash To Raise pH?
Soda ash is often added to swimming pools to raise pH. Pool experts recommend using around six ounces of soda ash for every 10,000 gallons of water. Soda ash raises both the pH and the alkalinity of the water.
pH vs. Alkalinity: What's the Difference?
pH is the concentration of hydrogen ions in the water; more hydrogen ions means more acidic water. Alkalinity measures the concentration of carbonate and bicarbonate ions, which neutralize hydrogen. Therefore, pH measures how acidic or basic the water is, and the alkalinity determines how stable the pH is.
When it comes to swimming pools, alkalinity matters because substances with higher alkalinity are more resistant to changes in pH. Low alkalinity can lead to unstable pH. Therefore, pool owners need to keep track of both pH and alkalinity.
To raise both pH and alkalinity, use soda ash. To raise alkalinity without affecting pH, use baking soda instead.
Does Soda Ash Make Tie Dye Brighter?
Many artisans use a soda ash soak before tie-dyeing fabric with fiber-reactive dyes. These are dyes that form chemical bonds with the cellulose fibers in the fabric, creating a permanent color that won't bleed or fade. A soda ash soak prepares the fabric for dyeing by raising the pH of the fabric; this produces a better chemical reaction with the dye and results in a brighter color.
Can Baking Soda Be Used Instead of Soda Ash in Tie Dye?
Baking soda is less effective than soda ash due to its more neutral pH. However, you might choose baking soda instead of soda ash if:
- You don't have access to soda ash
- You're tie-dyeing with children
- You are sensitive to caustic chemicals
- You're dyeing wool
- You're going to set the dye with steam
Baking soda is less caustic than soda ash, making it gentler on the skin and safer to use with wool. However, it does not work well at room temperature; you need to set the dye with heat for better results.
Is Soda Ash Safe?
The FDA classifies soda ash as "Generally Recognized as Safe." Although it is considered non-toxic, it can irritate the respiratory tract if inhaled. Handling soda ash can also irritate the skin. Therefore, it is wise to use protection when working with soda ash, especially if you have chemical sensitivities.