It’s a pretty common question: Baking soda vs. baking powder — which is better? But when people stop and think about it, many aren't sure about something else: What do baking soda and baking powder do, exactly? And are baking soda and baking powder the same thing? The short answer is that the two substances are different — and baking powder should be used for baking purposes only, whereas baking soda has a variety of uses, from cooking to cleaning.
Is baking soda the same thing as baking powder?
If you've ever wondered, "Are baking soda and baking powder the same thing?" you're not alone. The answer is simple: No. While both baking soda and baking powder are leaveners (substances used to make baked goods), chemically, they’re different. For starters, baking soda is a base, and it’s made up of only one ingredient: bicarbonate of soda (or sodium bicarbonate).
Remember those middle school science projects where you had to make a volcano? The bubbles were created using baking soda and vinegar. That’s because when baking soda and vinegar combine, a chemical reaction takes place. This bubbly reaction also happens in our cakes, cookies, and breads.
If a recipe calls for baking soda, it’ll usually also have some type of acidic element, such as brown sugar, buttermilk, lemon juice, yogurt, vinegar, applesauce, or honey. The baking soda will react with this element, which will cause your baked goods to rise.
Baking powder, on the other hand, is a combination of baking soda, cream of tartar, and cornstarch. Most store-bought baking powders are double-acting. This means the first leavening occurs when the baking powder gets wet (when you’re mixing dry and wet ingredients). The second leavening occurs when it’s heated.
Because baking powder already contains an acidic element to neutralize the baking soda, you most likely won’t need another acidic ingredient to finish off the recipe. But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to come across a recipe that calls for both.
Baking Soda vs. Baking Powder in Cookies, Pancakes, and Cakes
When it comes to cookies, there are just two things to remember: Baking powder rises (or puffs), and baking soda spreads. This is a big baking soda and baking powder difference. For cute cut-out cookies, for example, you’ll want to use baking powder. This is because it will allow the dough to rise without affecting or ruining the shape of your cookie. For chocolate chip cookies, however, you should use baking soda. This is because baking soda will allow the dough to spread, which helps allow for the perfect chocolate-chip cookie texture — crumbly edges with a gooey center.
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Making pancakes and baking cakes is a bit trickier than whipping up a batch of chocolate chip cookies. It's about balance; too much flour will make the batter too thick, dry, and dense, while too little will make the batter runny. Because baking soda needs an acidic element to work as a leavening agent, baking powder is best used in both pancakes and most cakes (unless you're making a Devil's Food Cake, which calls for an acidic element). Omitting baking powder, however, will cause your fluffy breakfast cake looking a little flat, sort of like a crepe.
Baking soda is generally used for quick-bake recipes, like scones, muffins, and pancakes, whereas baking powder is used for baked goods that need a bit longer to cook. If you’re having a hard time choosing which ingredient to use, just think about your end result. Are you looking for something on the fluffier or the flatter side?
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If you’re out of either, some substitutes for baking soda and baking powder include:
- Baker’s yeast — a substitute for baking soda
- Potassium bicarbonate — a substitute for baking soda
- Club soda — substitute for baking soda and baking powder
- Molasses — a substitute for baking powder
- Yogurt — a substitute for baking powder
- Lemon juice paired with baking soda — a substitute for baking powder
- Vinegar — a substitute for baking powder
Please note: Substitutes will alter the taste and color of your baked good. Keep this in mind when choosing the right substitute.
Baking Soda vs. Baking Powder for Cleaning
Did you know both baking soda can be used for cleaning? From revamping a dingy load of towels to deodorizing the carpet, here are 10 ways you can use baking soda in every room in the house.
1. Deodorize the rug. Sprinkle a little bit of baking soda on the carpet, wait at least 15 minutes (though it’s best to let it sit overnight), and then vacuum it up. The longer the baking soda sits, the better.
2. Get the grill ready for summer. Keep your grill looking clean and pristine. Just put some baking soda on a damp brush, scrub the grate, and rinse.
3. Brighten your whites. Add one cup of baking soda to your next laundry load.
4. Clean the coffeemaker. Run an empty cycle with baking soda. (You can also clean the dishwasher this way!)
5. Ease the pain of a bug bite. Mix baking soda with water and apply to the affected area. This works for sunburn and poison ivy, too.
6. Get rid of pesky weeds. Sprinkle baking soda into the cracks in your walkways and driveway.
7. Remove crayon marks from the wall. Have your kids coated the wall in artwork? Pour a little bit of baking soda onto a damp sponge and scrub lightly. The crayon marks should slowly disappear.
8. De-clog the drain. Dump a ½ cup of baking soda, followed by ½ of vinegar, down the drain. Cover with a damp cloth, wait five minutes, and flush with hot water.
9. Get rid of tarnish. Sterling silver doesn’t stay shiny forever. Get rid of tarnish by making a paste made with baking soda and water. Apply it to your dull jewels with a lint-free cloth and rinse.
10. Wash produce. Baking soda mixed with water can remove dirt and that gross waxy coating that comes on produce from the grocery store.
While baking powder can be used for cleaning, it’s cheaper and more efficient to use baking soda. If you’re in a pinch, it’ll still do the trick — but baking soda is much more widely used as an inexpensive, natural cleaning ingredient.
Baking Soda vs. Baking Powder to Whiten Teeth
You don’t have to go to empty your wallet or go a fancy spa to get whiter teeth, right? Well, not exactly. Yes, it is possibe to whiten your teeth using baking soda, but you'll need to proceed with caution so that you avoid damaging your enamel, according to Colgate.com. All you need is about ½ tsp. of baking soda and a few drops of lemon juice.
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Step 1: In a small bowl or cup, combine ½ tsp. with a bit of lemon juice. You’ll want it to be pasty, so it’ll be easier to apply.
Step 2: Using a toothbrush (or your fingers), rub the paste on your teeth. If you have a particular stain you want to get rid of, put the paste directly on the stain and let it sit for two minutes.
Step 3: Brush your teeth for a few minutes, focusing on the cracks and crevices. Don’t brush any longer than two minutes, though. Baking soda can become abrasive after a few minutes of intense brushing.
Step 4: Rinse. Spit out the baking soda and rinse your mouth out with mouthwash or water. It’d also be a good idea to rinse out your toothbrush.
Step 5: Repeat this process every other day for one or two weeks. You should notice a difference within just a few days.
Baking Soda vs. Baking Powder for Skin
Unlike baking powder, baking soda has a variety of uses when it comes to your beauty needs. Some of the beauty benefits of baking soda include exfoliating the skin and unclogging blocked pores. Here are three ways to incorporate baking soda into your beauty routine:
1. DIY facial scrub. Add 1 Tbsp. of baking soda to your everyday facial cleanser. Once it forms a paste, massage it into your skin. This will leave your skin feeling clean and soft.
2. Remove nail stains. Sometimes nails can look tinted or appear yellow. Remove the stains by combining peroxide and baking soda and scrubbing it on your nails. Combine 2-2 1/2 Tbsp. of baking soda per Tbsp. of hydrogen peroxide to make a paste. Spread the paste on and underneath your nails, rinse, and pat dry.
3. Give yourself a pedicure. Mix 2 - 3 Tbsp. of baking soda with water for a much-deserved foot soak. Soak your feet for 20 minutes and then scrub with a paste of baking soda and water to buff out the rough spots.
Baking Soda vs. Baking Powder for Hair
Can you use baking soda or baking powder for dry shampoo? Well, some folks do use baking soda as a dry shampoo, but it's probably not a great idea. As blogger Kristen Smith reports, there are those who have vowed to stick to the all-natural “no poo” method (washing your hair with a baking soda and water solution and then conditioning it with apple cider vinegar), but some women have reported severe damage to their hair over time.
Even though plenty of people do use baking soda as a substitute for dry shampoo, there’s no real evidence that baking soda can soften your hair or restore it’s beautiful shine. There is research, however, that proves baking soda is an irritant. Because baking soda has a high pH level, it’s more likely to cause hair breakage, irritation, cuticle damage, and frizz (basically, all of the things you’re trying to prevent).
You should avoid the “no poo” method if you:
- Have brittle or dry hair
- Chemically treat or color your hair
- Use heat to style your hair (curling iron, straight iron)
- Have sensitive skin