There are probably a million posts on Pinterest for miracle homemade all-purpose cleaner, made from vinegar and baking soda. We did some research (i.e., lots of Googling) to separate the science from the myth.
People swear by the stuff, and I’m sure it does smell lovely with lemon oil. But science says mixing vinegar and baking soda neutralizes the strongest cleaning components of each.
The science of baking soda
In fact, baking soda is a pretty awesome cleaning product all on its own. According to Wikipedia, a 2% solution of sodium bicarbonate (the scientific name for baking soda), was used to wash uranium oxides out of cotton cloth during the Manhattan Project. Within the slightly more mundane context of cleaning your home, you might use it to clean inside your oven or kitchen sink. It’s slightly basic, which means it works great on acidic messes, like grease. It also has a mild abrasive quality which makes it ideal for scrubbing pots and pans with stuck-on food.
What happens when you combine it with vinegar?
Vinegar is acetic acid diluted in water. The vinegar in your home contains about 5% acetic acid. This gives vinegar a mild acidic effect, and makes it a useful cleaning agent. It’s great for glass and mirrors especially. When you combine baking soda (a base) and vinegar (an acid), as you might recall from elementary school volcano experiments, you create carbonic acid. Carbonic acid rapidly decomposes into carbon dioxide gas (the fun bubbly part of the experiment). Within minutes, you’re left with small amounts of carbonic acid and lots of water. Therefore you are essentially cleaning with lemon-scented water. And hey, water can actually work pretty well as a cleaning agent in lots of contexts – but these all-natural cleaning product recipes are usually promising so much more.
If you’re looking for some gentler, greener every day cleaning products, baking soda and vinegar work much better separately than together. If you’re looking for a fun weekend science project, I’d recommend this baking soda-powered boat.