The Surprising Way Baking Soda Can Make Your Home Safer

updated May 1, 2019
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(Image credit: Cathy Pyle)

I recently moved south, to Raleigh, North Carolina. When we got here in August, it was hot as heck, in the 90s and extremely humid every day. But now that it’s late fall weather, I’ve been surprised at how cold it gets at night! It’s nice during the day, in the 50s and 60s, but the temperature often drops almost 30 degrees overnight. This drop is certainly a bigger difference than when I lived in Brooklyn, when warm air off the coast and the heat from all those close-together buildings kept the temperature fairly stable.

Which leads me to the one thing everyone tells me when I mention I’m new in town: We get ice here. Maybe only a couple inches of snow, ever (will I miss trudging through two feet of snow to get to the subway? Not sure!), but it heats up during the day and freezes at night, leading to icy conditions, everywhere. People freak out about the ice. It is very hilly here. Plus we have old, steep steps leading up to front porches that are tricky even when they’re bone dry. So I can imagine our steps, sidewalks, and streets will be treacherous come winter.

Sure, you can stock up on commercial deicer, but let’s say those first freezing nights sneak up on you, or perhaps you think everyone’s making a big deal out of nothing and ignore the warnings or procrastinate and don’t have deicer handy. You’ll need alternatives!

After doing some reading online, I learned that you can use baking soda in a pinch. I reached out to the Arm & Hammer team to see if they’d recommend it. The short answer: They do!

Use baking soda to melt the ice on slippery steps and walkways!

“Using Arm & Hammer to melt ice instead of a commercial deicer has some perks including a lower price tag and less chemicals — plus, chances are, you already have it in your home,” says Dr. Steven A. Bolkan, director of research & development at Church & Dwight (the brand’s parent company).

Because baking soda is a kind of salt, it can lower the freezing point for ice, accelerating the melting process. Plus, it’s less alkaline than calcium chloride, the salt commonly used for melting ice, which can corrode surfaces like bricks or concrete. “Baking soda is the least abrasive corrosive option compared to salt, kitty litter, or commercial deicers,” says Bolkan.

(Image credit: Ayn-Monique Klahre)

Since we haven’t yet had the snow-turning-into-ice scenario just yet, I did a simulation experiment with ice cubes. My daughter helped. (Science, at home!) We set up three side-by-side experiments: Plain ice sitting in the sun, ice with baking soda sprinkled on it, and ice with salt sprinkled on it (because that is a well-known deicer). Then we set a timer and waited. That is always the worst part of any experiment, so we had a snack.

After five minutes: Some progress! The ice with nothing on it was a little melty and slick. Dangerous. The ice with baking soda was more melty and had a little texture. Safer. The ice with salt on it was the most melted, and the surface of the ice cubes was pretty rough and puckered. Definitely the safest of the bunch. We set the timer for five more minutes.

After 10 minutes: About the same thing, more progress.

(Image credit: Ayn-Monique Klahre)

After 15 minutes: The salt and baking soda ice cubes were quite melty and textured. Success!

(Image credit: Ayn-Monique Klahre)

In conclusion: Baking soda works — not quite as well as salt, but it works! It is better than nothing, and will give icy surfaces a little grip, so it’ll work in a pinch. But if you’re really concerned about safety, stick with salt or a commercial deicer.

Have you ever used baking soda to make icy steps and walkways safer?