Bicarbonate is one of the most common and useful substances in the home: almost every household contains some. Also known by its common name of baking soda, you can use bicarbonate for cooking, cleaning, deodorizing and health purposes. Although a chemical substance, bicarbonate is generally safe to use in almost any situation.
Chemically, bicarbonate is sodium bicarbonate, an ionic compound. Other names for bicarbonate include baking soda, bicarbonate of soda, sodium hydrogen carbonate, sodium acid carbonate and carbonic acid monosodium salt. Its formula is NaHCO3.
Bicarbonate's standard form is the familiar white powder. The solid can dissolve easily in water, where it dissociates into sodium (Na+), hydrogen (H+) and carbonate (CO3-) ions. Despite the presence of a hydrogen ion (the normal marker of an acid), bicarbonate usually acts as a weak base.
There is not much limit to the uses for bicarbonate. You will find it in toothpastes, cleaners, deodorants, baked goods, antacids and many other familiar items. Bicarbonate works by neutralizing and capturing unwanted particles. Because bicarbonate functions as a base, it is especially effective at neutralizing acids.
Bicarbonate is essential for many baking recipes in which the soda is the agent that allows the dough to rise during the cooking process. Bicarbonate's principal benefit in cleaning and deodorizing is its non-toxic and natural status; you can use bicarbonate without fear of extra chemicals. Bicarbonate is also a key tool in fire extinguishing, as the powder can smother and put out even the grease fires that water cannot touch.
Although bicarbonate is non-toxic in normal doses, it can irritate the eyes if it comes into direct contact. You probably will not suffer any permanent damage from the bicarbonate, but you should flush the eyes with water to avoid significant irritation. You should also be vigilant if you use bicarbonate for medical purposes. While the substance does work as a mild antacid, be wary of claims for further medical benefits and do not depend on the bicarbonate alone for serious issues.
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