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What Is Soda Ash?

Malcolm Tatum
Updated May 17, 2024
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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.

Chemical Formula

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
  • Laundry
  • 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.

This reaction only occurs with plant-based fabrics such as cotton, hemp and linen. Soda ash won't affect tie-dye results on synthetic fibers.

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.

About Mechanics is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Malcolm Tatum
By Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum, a former teleconferencing industry professional, followed his passion for trivia, research, and writing to become a full-time freelance writer. He has contributed articles to a variety of print and online publications, including About Mechanics, and his work has also been featured in poetry collections, devotional anthologies, and newspapers. When not writing, Malcolm enjoys collecting vinyl records, following minor league baseball, and cycling.
Discussion Comments
By anon995383 — On Apr 24, 2016

Can soda be useful in grass for moss?

By anon356449 — On Nov 25, 2013

Can I use sodium carbonate to increase the PH of a beverage?

By anon290247 — On Sep 08, 2012

What is the purpose of spraying soda ash solution on bentonite lums and is it called mineral benefication?

By anon285281 — On Aug 15, 2012

Can I use soda ash light for cleaning an oily floor?

By anon282665 — On Jul 31, 2012

You can buy soda ash at a pool supply store.

By anon159687 — On Mar 13, 2011

What will happen if soda ash increases in manufacturing of dish washing bar? Mainly, what is the use of soda ash?

By anon155105 — On Feb 22, 2011

Does anybody can tell me how to use Soda Ash to increase the swelling in Bentonite? I know Bentonite is swelling naturally with water, but I need to increase this swelling.

By anon154063 — On Feb 19, 2011

what type of soda ash recommended for tie dye and what does it do when used in tie dye. How much is used in tie dye? Is it toxic?

By anon150204 — On Feb 07, 2011

i needed this for papermaking and found it next to the dye at a fabric store, it's expensive but if you only need a small supply of it, you can find it at Hancock Fabrics, JoAnns, etc. (Tulip Fashion Dye Soda Ash).

By anon129370 — On Nov 23, 2010

I am using soda ash to neutralize my acidic well water. I had an injection system installed. I am concerned about the long term effects on my health. An earlier posting of a heart patient had a concern about salt intake when using soda ash in their water supply. Anyone know about the effects of soda ash?

By anon125604 — On Nov 10, 2010

what cheaper materials should i replaced if i lower down the percentage usage of soda ash during the neutralization process of making soap?

By anon122022 — On Oct 26, 2010

is baking soda effective for dyeing a shirt?

By anon119534 — On Oct 18, 2010

You can get soda ash from most plumbing wholesale

suppliers. It is used for water conditioning to

neutralize acidic well water. I think it is used in

injection type conditioners where you need to neutralize stronger acidic water.

By anon108616 — On Sep 03, 2010

What is the formula for making soda ash or washing soda from baking soda? I know you bake the baking soda in the oven, but what temperature and how long? thanks.

By anon106256 — On Aug 24, 2010

Soda ash (sodium carbonate) raised PH and alkalinity as well as baking soda or otherwise known as sodium bicarbonate. 1.4 ounces of sodium carbonate are needed to treat off a 10,000 gallon scale to raise the PH 1ppm. Acids lower PH and this is not an acid; it's a base.

By anon105893 — On Aug 23, 2010

@No. 29: Not true. I have been using soda ash in an injection system for over 20 years to raise the ph of my well water from 4 t0 7ph.

By anon93517 — On Jul 04, 2010

You do keep talking about three different compounds. Borax = sodium borate (largely Boric Acid)

Baking Soda = Sodium BIcarbonate

Soda Ash = Sodium Carbonate (no Bi)

I don't know how different soda ash and baking soda really are, and it probably depends on what you are using it for. For example, if you are just lowering the pH in a swimming pool, either will work just fine, but if you are making paper, or wanting to increase then dye retention on a tie-dyed shirt, they make not work interchangeably.

By anon88251 — On Jun 03, 2010

You can use soda ash. it's the same as arm and hammer soda wash but more concentrated. you can buy this at a pool supplies store.

By anon85682 — On May 21, 2010

what can i do? i added soda ash to my pool to regulate my PH and it is turning blonde hair green! the water chemicals are testing normal, no copper, PH normal levels, but still green hair. i was told it is from the ash. is there any way to remove it now from my pool water?

By anon80721 — On Apr 28, 2010

#21. No, you can't use baking soda in a chemical injection pump to neutralize your water. The additive needs to mix fully with the water to dissolve and effectively contact the water in order to raise the acidity.

By anon80575 — On Apr 27, 2010

I just bought sodium carbonate, i.e. sodium ash, at Walmart. Try their swimming pool supply section, and look for the stuff to increase the pH. Mine was called Spa Time pH Up, 100 percent sodium carbonate! $5.00 for 18oz.

By anon79141 — On Apr 21, 2010

Soda ash (sodium carbonate) is a common ingredient in glaze recipes used by potters. I buy it in 50-pound sacks at my ceramic supply store.

By lexilu — On Apr 15, 2010

Can I use soda ash instead of baking soda to keep a cat litter box fresh?

By anon76388 — On Apr 10, 2010

To keep the water in a pool balanced it should have a PH of about 7.2. My indicator shows that i have to add soda ash if the PH turns acidic. This is what I did. However, the water turned white and it takes me days to filter it clear again. Has anyone experience how to use soda ash in a pool without blaring the water?

By anon63085 — On Jan 30, 2010

Soda ash is sold at art supply stores.

By anon59961 — On Jan 11, 2010

Can anyone tell me if I can use baking soda instead of soda ash in a soda ash feeder that is a part of my water softener? We're planning to use the feeder to help neutralize our acidic water, which is eating our copper pipes.

By anon58825 — On Jan 04, 2010

I buy soda ash for our water softener at plumbing supply houses as well as "Culligan" water treatment. Most plumbing houses carry it as well as any company who installs/sells water softening products/install, etc.

By anon50900 — On Nov 01, 2009

Has anyone used soda ash as a wetting agent for gardening purposes?

By anon34521 — On Jun 24, 2009

Actually, using cold water prevents the soda ash from dissolving fully and produces more heat than if you use warm water.

By anon33996 — On Jun 15, 2009

This is actually pretty funny. When my parents purchased their home a few years ago, they inherited a pallet of Soda Ash left in the basement, 50 lb bags. No one ever knew what this stuff was -my parents couldn't give it away.

They delegated the responsibility of getting rid of it to me. Here i am going from not knowing what this is and trying to figure out a way to get rid of it -to- finding out on this page it's pretty useful - and - there's many people looking for it. This is one of those times where anonymity is the enemy.

By anon33715 — On Jun 10, 2009

i read that arm + hammer washing soda contains bleach + perfumes, and only 37% washing soda; and that soda ash sold in bulk is typically more pure.

after discovering this i am glad i didn't have any luck finding it at stores and was forced to order online. next time i'll check the pool supply and feed stores, as mentioned by other readers.

By anon33262 — On Jun 03, 2009

Soda ash is also a bi-product of mining trona (a.k.a. baking soda), which is where your arm and hammer brand will come from. Trona is a hard salty rock mined near Lyman, Wyoming. It is a major industry, although widely unknown. The USA used to be the largest producer of this until the mines in Wyoming sold their technologies to China.

By anon32432 — On May 21, 2009

Does soda ash affect the alkalinity of pool water?

By dreamy8765 — On Apr 25, 2009

I found a large container of soda ash at the pool supply store. I have been making my own laundry detergent for awhile now using the soda ash, borax and fels naptha soap:

* 2/3 bar Fels Naptha Laundry Soap (equivalent of 1 cup grated)

* 1/2 Cup 20 Mule Team Borax

* 1/2 Cup Soda Ash a.k.a. Washing Soda

* Container large enough to hold 2 cups of laundry detergent(or more if you are going to go bulk)

I have really sensitive skin and it doesn't bother me. You can also make dishwashing detergent from equal parts of borax and soda ash. These are better for the environment than name brands and usually when I run out I have the supplies to make more. Same reason why I use cloth diapers, I would rather run a load of laundry then go to the store at 12am!

By anon29734 — On Apr 07, 2009

I have been wanting to make my own laundry soap and have had trouble finding "Washing Soda". Researched and found washing soda and dense soda ash are the same thing. Found it at our local feed store. Much less than buying Arm n Hammer Washing Soda.

By anon27536 — On Mar 02, 2009

I have never been able to find Soda Ash a.k.a. Washing Soda at WalMart. However, I did (finally!) find it at Fry's Marketplace in Queen Creek, AZ. I'd be willing to bet that other Fry's Marketplace stores carry it. It was shelved with the laundry products, next to the Borax. It is "Super Washing Soda" sold by the Arm & Hammer company. Hope this helps anyone who's been looking for it.

By anon26988 — On Feb 22, 2009

FYI; Borax is not Soda Ash. It is Sodium Borate. It is also used in the manufacturing of detergent.

By anon26255 — On Feb 10, 2009

I bought soda ash online. Does anyone know where to buy some at a store?

By anon19501 — On Oct 13, 2008

Posted by: anon19420

i need a detailed article on solvey process for the production of soda ash..


Select "Suggest a Topic" from the wiseGEEK Features drag-down menu at the top of the page; that will allow you to submit a request for an article on the topic.

By anon19420 — On Oct 12, 2008

i need a detailed article on solvey process for the production of soda ash..

By anon16370 — On Aug 04, 2008

I use soda ash as an acid neutralizer in my well water. I am trying to find out how much sodium that would add to my water - as I am a heart patient and need to restrict my sodium intake.

By anon15504 — On Jul 13, 2008

Soda ash can be found at pool supply stores. Make sure to mix with COLD water as it produces intense heat when water is added.

By anon14982 — On Jun 28, 2008

Arm and Hammer Washing Soda is Soda Ash and is available in the laundry section of your local grocery store (if they have it).

By DragonLady — On Jun 26, 2008

The local feed store sold me what turned out to be sodium bicarbonate. I need soda ash for papermaking. We are doing hand made paper for a class at school. I also bought 20mule team borax and it just does not seem to do it properly. I would be interested in suggestions from a knowledgeable person.

By anon14794 — On Jun 24, 2008

I am looking for soda ash to use when I am dyeing fabric. Is this actually 20 Mule team Borax, or what should I be looking for, hopefully in a grocery store. Or, would I find this in a garden/vegetable type store like Paris Farmer's Union? Thank you!

Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum, a former teleconferencing industry professional, followed his passion for trivia, research, and writing...
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