Washing soda and soda ash are two different names for the same substance. Both are terms used to refer to sodium carbonate, or Na2CO3. Other names for this substance include soda crystals and sal soda.
Sodium carbonate occurs naturally in the ashes of many plants. It is often found in the mineral deposits left behind from seasonal lakes. Seaweed ashes are one of the most common sources of natural sodium carbonate. It is likely from this association that it earned the moniker “soda ash.”
In addition to its natural form, soda ash can also be created through chemical processes. The Solvay process is the most prevalent. In this process, the heating of calcium carbonate combined with sodium chloride and ammonia produces sodium bicarbonate, which can in turn be heated to produce sodium carbonate.
Hou’s process is another way to create soda ash or washing soda. This process is very similar to the Solvay process. The final steps differ in that ammonia, carbon dioxide, and salt are added to the ammonium chloride solution. When cooled, this combination generates sodium carbonate.
Washing soda or soda ash appears as a fine white powder, which dissolves in water. It can be purchased commercially and used for common household purposes. Sodium carbonate is also used in many industrial processes. This substance acts as an alkaline agent for chemical and industrial uses. It is used in glass making and paper production. It can even be used in cooking in lieu of sodium hydroxide. Sodium carbonate is even used to make Ramen noodle flavoring.
The term washing soda has been applied to sodium carbonate due to its myriad purposes as a household cleaning agent. It is present in many washing detergents and can be used on its own for a variety of cleaning jobs. As a basic, multi-purpose cleaner, it can be used on nearly any surface with the exclusion of aluminum and fiberglass, which can be scratched by washing soda.
To experience the full range of washing soda’s usefulness, try adding it to a load of wash to supplement your detergent. Difficult stains from oil, grease, coffee, tea, ink, and blood can often be removed from clothing and other fabrics with this substance. Attack grease stains on pots and pans or kitchen surfaces with washing soda as well.