Many advertisements claim that combining the cleansing powers of vinegar and baking soda creates a powerful, all-purpose cleanser. But is that true? Ask Science is on the case.
Let’s Get Chemical, Chemical
The low pH of acetic acid makes vinegar an excellent cleaner. Cleaning experts recommend its use for polishing metal, cleaning mildew from tile, sanitizing your garbage disposal, and removing calcium deposits. Just ask my fellow Quick and Dirty Tips expert, the Domestic CEO; she’ll tell you. Also, Ancient (and some modern) physicians even used vinegar to cleanse the inside of the body.
Sodium hydrogen carbonate (aka baking soda) is a base. Bases are also good cleaners, and baking soda in particular seems to have no end to the things it can be used for. It’s been recommended as an air freshener, antacid, carpet cleaner, toothpaste, and more.
Since both of these things are such good cleaners separately, surely mixing them together will provide even better results. Right?
Danger, Will Robinson!
Let me stop here to give a general warning:
Don’t mix chemicals unless you know what you’re doing!
In the case of baking soda and vinegar, the results are harmless. But other mixtures, like ammonia and bleach, can create toxic and even explosive results.
So what exactly happens when you mix vinegar and baking soda? Since vinegar is an acid and baking soda is a base, they undergo an acid-base reaction. Now there are a couple of different theories that scientists use when discussing acid-base reactions, but generally when an acid and a base are mixed together, the result is that the acid and base neutralize each other to form water and a small amount of salt.
In the case of vinegar and baking soda, the acetic acid and sodium hydrogen carbonate combine to form water, carbon dioxide (which is responsible for all the bubbles), and sodium acetate.