What is the difference between Baking Soda and Washing Soda?

One of the main questions that we get asked regarding laundry is about the usage of Baking Soda and/or Washing Soda. There is much conflicting information across the diapering sites and diapering boards online. Many are concerned that Baking Soda will build-up on their diapers, in their washing machines or even, eat away at their diaper’s fibers. There is also confusion about the difference between Washing Soda and Baking Soda, why either should be used and which one should be used (if at all) in laundering cloth diapers.

The Baking Soda/Washing Soda question pondered . . .

A definition from Dr. Dan Berger (Faculty- Chemistry/Science dept. at Bluffton College) gives a bit of understanding regarding the primary difference between Washing Soda (Sodium Carbonate) and Baking Soda (Sodium Bicarbonate).


“. . . washing soda will consume two equivalents of acid, while baking soda will only consume one equivalent.”

So, what does this mean for those of us concerned about laundering our cloth diapers and family laundry? Well, basically that Washing Soda is a stronger base than baking soda, and is in fact, CAUSTIC. This is one reason why it isn’t used for baking!

Washing Soda is caustic/alkaline with a pH of 11 (with 7 being neutral). Though it does not give off harmful fumes, you do still need to use/wear gloves when handling it directly as a cleansing agent. In reading about safe household cleaners, it always is recommended to save the Washing Soda for the stubborn stains that you are going to tackle by making a paste. For instance, if speaks about petroleum spills on garage floors . . . grease build-up in your oven . . . y’know, truly STUBBORN STAINS!

Baking Soda is only slightly alkaline with a pH around 8.1 (again, 7 being neutral).

What exactly is PH?

I personally prefer Baking Soda to Washing Soda for my laundry because it is a much milder alkali and yet, still can lift dirt/grease/urine/poopies off my diapers/laundry effectively to dissolve easily in the wash water. Because it is so very water soluable, it dissolves before its soft crystalline molecules can scratch or damage a surface. The same is NOT TRUE of Washing Soda – because of its extra alkaline, it can eat away at elastic and cloth over time and is also used to rough-up fabric for dying. In fact, Washing Soda has just enough alkaline content to fall short of being labeled non-toxic.

Baking Soda and Washing Soda have the power to neutralize odors, instead of just covering them up. Most unpleasant odors come from either strong acids (like our baby’s urine) or strong bases (fish oils – which we find in some of our mainstream diaper rash ointments). The Baking Soda and Washing Soda deodorizes by bringing both acidic and basic odor molecules into a neutral state.


Consider buying large bags
of baking soda for your wash!

Robert Barefoot – Medical Journalist – cites from Nobel Prize Winner, Otto Warburg’s work in his article, “Why is our pH Balance So Important . . ?” He substantiates that all body fluids are supposed to be mildly alkaline at pH 7.4, EXCEPT for stomach and urine fluids. Stomach fluids must remain acidic to digest food and urine must remain acidic to remove wastes from the body.
Drawing from what we know of Baking Soda’s neutralizing properties and the acidic levels naturally present in our baby’s urine, we can see how Baking Soda would help restore pH balance in our washing routines.

We know that our body also produces a form of sodium bicarbonate (Baking Soda) and utilizes it much like we do with our laundry. For instance . . . our body’s naturally produced sodium bicarbonate neutralizes the stomach acids mentioned above (helping to prevent ulcers) and neutralizes plaque acids (helping to prevent tooth decay). So, this ‘like’ substance that even our bodies produce is most definitely a safe alternative for stain removal and pH balance in our laundry/for our diapers.


What is pH?

It is a measure of whether a particular substance is alkaline or acidic based. It is compared to water – which has a neutral base of 7.0. If a substance falls below 7.0 it is considered to be acidic. If a substance rises above 7.0, it is considered to be alkaline. Two examples are Blood and Urine. Blood is slighly alkaline (between 7.35 and 7.45) while urine is slightly acidic (with a pH of about 6.4).

© 2002, Heather L. Sanders. May not be reprinted without permission.

I am truly blessed to be married to an endearing husband (who is an incredible daddy) to be a SAHM to 2 vibrant and energetic gals, one precious little man and to do something I LOVE! My website was built out of my pure addiction to cloth diapering, natural parenting, writing and a desire to turn my full-time job as a SAHM to a WAHM! The Diaper Drama was my true, personal journey from disposables to cloth and has my heart woven all through it.

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18 Comments on Baking Soda or Washing Soda?

  1. sheri says:

    thank-you for the “simple”explanation……we were tying to find arm and hammer washing soda to make our own laundry soap…and are unable to find it any where close to us 9 we are here in canda0 …but after reading your aticle ….i am now thinking the baking soda would do almost the same job…..if there is any other info you could share with me that would be greatly appericated….many thanks…sheri

    • Crystal says:

      I live in northern Alberta and instead of scouring stores in my town, I order washing soda (and lots of other supplies) from well.ca–they have free shipping too! Good luck!

  2. Rain says:

    Yes! Thank you for the very well written, informative article that clearly helps with my decision to use baking soda, instead of washing soda in my laundry detergent. It was just what I needed to know.

  3. Kat says:

    Order it online. You need the stronger base to make your own laundry detergent with borax and natural bar soap. Most tutorials specify that it should be washing soda instead of baking soda. They sell it in the laundry aisles of American supermarkets and Wal-Mart stores, Arm and Hammer makes it, and the box is yellow. It’s cheap!Baking soda is strong enough to use for laundry boosting, whitening, and odor removal though. I already use it for that purpose. Good luck and try using some vinegar in your final rinse water as an alternative to fabric softener!

    • diaperpin says:

      This is exactly what I use in all my loads….baking soda in the wash and vinegar during the rinse cycle.

    • Linda says:

      I have two questions: 1)Do you use plain White distilled vinegar? 2)Do you put it in the fabric softener dish in your washing machine?
      Also, I am trying to make home-made laundry detergent using 3TBS Borax, 3TBS Wahing soda, 2 TBS Dawn dish soap in a gallon jug, fill w/ hot tap water. I found this pinterest & thought I would try it.

      • diaperpin says:

        Linda – I didn’t write this article but my answers to this question are YES and YES. I do not use fabric softener – I use vinegar instead. Contrary to what you’d think it does not make your clothes smell like vinegar -I actually don’t smell it at all. I’ve been doing this since I started CDing my kids and continue this practice with all my washes now. I’ve never tried making home made detergent. I’d love to hear you thought on it!

  4. Narkuss says:

    I couldn’t find the Arm & Hammer washing soda today at Walmart, but I did find it at my Co-Op grocery store. So, its definitely available here. I’m in SK and I know I have other Canadian friends that have bought it at their local Walmart store.

    Hope this helps

  5. Jamie says:

    Do you think s combination Oxygen cleaner and baking soda in the wash and vinegar in the rinse would clean my diapers? A friend uses a recipe of baking soda, washing soda, and oxygen cleaner, but after reading this I’d like to avoid washing soda.

    • diaperpin says:

      I personally haven’t used oxygen cleaner but based on experiences I’ve read from our forum members there are mixed reviews on using it. During my cloth diapering days and years later – I use baking soda to boost the wash and vinegar in the rinse. Check out the discussions in our Bubble Bubble Toil and Trouble forums for lots of great info.

  6. […] *Baking soda may be omitted and is somewhat redundant when used with washing soda.  You may need to add more washing soda to have gel-like consistency.  To read about the use of baking soda and/or washing soda, please go to Diaper Pin Corner. […]

  7. Sandra Mort says:

    Don’t give up! Washing soda is sold in nice BIG containers in the pool supply section! Look for “Soda ash”. Here’s one example: http://search.lesliespool.com/.....0Carbonate

  8. Jessica says:

    Thank you.. we just started using cloth diapers. I have already made homemade laundry soap but I used washing soda and I wanted to make sure it was safe for the diapers but I will be making his own with baking soda. Thank you!

  9. Ella says:

    Can the wash be done with just baking soda in the wash and vinegar in the rinse?

    Also, I dont really understand the ‘booster’ bit people are mentioning.

    I hang my wash outside when not too cold – does this have any impact of the choice of ingredients in my ‘soap’?

    Thanks so much!

    • maria says:

      Heather – Excellent “washing soda” explanation! Thanks so much for the well-written details!

      I just bought a new carpet washer (to rejuvenate my 3-yr-old carpet) and I’m researching things to put in it (instead of sticky, toxic, perfumey junk). Looks like I’m going with hot water and a mild baking soda/water mix in the “soap” dispenser, and then maybe a spritz of vinegar, once I’m sure there are no stains.

      And, Ella, we use just baking soda in the wash dispenser (1 small “scoop” &, we use Bob’s red mill brand, to support them and the earth) and a lil bag of soap nuts in the drum (I wet mine 1st, but not necessary). We also use just white vinegar in the fabric softener dispenser. Nothing else in the washer (‘cept clothes!).

      Outdoor drying isn’t really an option for us (wish it was), so we use a gas dryer with wool balls. We put a few drops of essential oil on the balls (lavender or peppermint), but again, not necessary.

      We have a front loader HE machine and we also leave the door and dispenser drawer open after washes.

      The machine is 3.5 years old and we’ve been using this “formula” for the past 2 years. No “detergent”, “fragrance”, or “fabric softener” (liquid or sheets). Just baking soda, soap nuts, vinegar, wool balls, & EO. We have never had an issue with mold/mildew on the door gasket or in the drum (smells like nothing & I have a “super sniffer”). The drawer stays clean of m/m now that we use this new “formula” and keep it open after washes. And, the installation of a whole-house water filter (1 year ago) helped, too – untreated, our town water turns everything it touches slimy pink/orange/brown – yuck!

      To pretreat, I just mix a scoop of baking soda with a pint or two of water, shake, and splash on affected areas (armpits, collars, etc) prior to washing.

      A note on “sun drying”: as you know, the sun gives us uv rays. Not many know that these uv rays have anti-bacterial (anti-microbial? Anti-septic? Anti-viral?…will have to look into that) properties, which further help to clean laundry (or other items left in the sun). I sun dried my clothes several times while in Italy, using the same wash routine, and they all dried nice and soft :)

      PS – we have no kids, but are two people who sweat a lot and aren’t afraid to get a little dirty (but really like to be clean!)

  10. Kee says:

    Washing soda can be made with baking soda. Pour baking soda on a cookie sheet @400degrees for 30-45minutes till it gets a glossy shiny look and is crumbly. I use it to make my own laundry detergent, I use vinegar in the rinse. The scent disapears as my clothes dry. I am a washaholic. And this helps me to wash as a please at pennies per load.

  11. charlene walsh says:

    FYI~ I live in Niagara Falls, Ontario.I found washing soda at our local Home Hardware.

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