By Brian Clark Howard(Photo: Chris Eckert / Studio D)
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The nontoxic, natural cleaning powers of baking soda have been known for generations, and many people leave a box of the stuff in their refrigerator to try to fight odors. But many of us aren't using it correctly. There are some things you should know about how baking soda works to get real results and the best value for your money.
Baking soda, which is really 100% sodium bicarbonate, eliminates odors by neutralizing strong acids and stabilizing strong bases - the root causes of most bad odors.
According to Leslie Stein of the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia, there aren't any real-world studies that prove the odor-eating effectiveness of baking soda, but there are reams of anecdotal evidence and lessons from the lab.
To get the most out of baking soda, follow these three guidelines.
1. Replace it often
Most of us leave an open box of baking soda in the fridge for months, if not years. But experts recommend changing out a fresh box every one to three months.
Baking soda neutralizes odors by turning them into inert crystalline salts, according to Ray Brown, a research and development scientist with Church & Dwight, the company that makes Arm & Hammer. Over time, the salts build up (that's the crust that develops on the top) and baking soda loses its effectiveness. Brown says the odors work their way through the box, and stirring it up doesn't really help.
After its odor-fighting ability is exhausted, the used baking soda will still have enough power to use for cleaning counters, trash cans, or drains, Brown says, but don't use it for baking or personal care.
2. Open the box in the right location
It's critical that the baking soda powder actually come in contact with the odors. Tear off the box top, and make sure that airflow around the baking soda isn't restricted by a shelf or other items in the refrigerator.
The best bet is to place an open box as close as possible to the refrigerator's fan.
"Baking soda is not like a fragrance, which goes into the air to cover up odors," says Brown. "Baking soda reacts with the bad odors. When the fridge door is closed, air is circulating past the baking soda, and odors are continually removed."
[ Related: Six Surprising Sources of Indoor Air Pollution ]
3. Use the right tool for the job
If baking soda isn't working on a tough odor, or if you want to get rid of all odors, including chemically neutral ones like fruity or floral scents, try activated carbon (sometimes called activated charcoal). This material is treated to make it extremely porous, like a sponge for the air, so it can absorb a large amount of odor - but it still must be replaced.
Activated carbon is used in water filters, shoe inserts, cat litter, and fish tanks, and can be purchased at pet stores or ordered online. The downside? It's not as widely available as baking soda, and it costs more (about five times as much, per pound.) So most of the time, you'll be better off sticking with baking soda.
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Reprinted with permission of Hearst Communications, Inc