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How Sustainable Are Baking Soda and Vinegar?

How Sustainable Are Baking Soda and Vinegar?

I feel a little silly, eating up old school homemade cleaning recipes, believing right away that they’re less toxic than my conventional petro-chemical based cleaners.

I haven’t done my research here, unlike with sodium lauryl sulfate and methylparabens, which I know to be bad bad things for body and earth. SLS gives me dry skin, and is frequently made from palm oil, which is controversial due to the practice of clearing tropical forest to plant these trees. Parabens can give me breast cancer, and are produced using petroleum by-products.

But how about baking soda and vinegar, trusted by green living experts the world over? How are those made, and how do they compare with SLS and parabens?

Baking Soda

Baking soda is mined in the form of trona ore, which is then dissolved in water and treated with carbon dioxide. Trona ore is found in North America, and parts of Egypt and Africa. The largest known deposit of trona ore, where most baking soda is commercially manufactured, can be found near Green River, Wyoming.

So baking soda is made from a non-renewable resource, though people on the Internet tell me the deposit at Green River Basin will provide the world’s appetite for baking soda for thousands of years to come.


Vinegar can be made from pretty much any fruit, or anything that contains sugar. It’s made in two steps:

1. Yeast convert sugars into alcohol, a process known as alcoholic fermentation.

2. A particular group of bacteria transform the alcohol to acetic acid, which typically makes up only about 4-8% of the volume in table vinegar.

The “mother” of vinegar is a natural byproduct of bacterial metabolism, a carbohydrate called cellulose. “Mother” is not harmful, but you’d probably want to filter it out.

Most vinegar used in household cleaning is ‘distilled’, which gives a clear solution of about 5-8% acetic acid in water.


Vinegar is made from a renewable source, though baking soda isn’t. At the moment it’s still better to use baking soda than a multitude of other, most likely petroleum-derived chemicals. Plus, baking soda is multifunctional. You can use it for dishwashing, hair-washing, laundry, multipurpose cleaning, as deodorant, and even in cooking.

This post originally appeared at Upcycled Love!


  • So very glad to hear that I can keep using these. a world without baking soda and vinegar is not a world I want to live in!

    • Me too! In a few thousand years we’ll be pressed to find a baking soda alternative.

  • EXCELLENT post RL! I was wondering about these things a while back, being a user myself, and did not have the time nor verve to mine the information that you have so clearly & concisely presented here – Thanks you!

    Another thought I’ve had is along the lines of how to produce these materials on an individual level, off the grid, if you will. Sounds like the Vinegar is possible but the baking soda would require a trona ore deposit on site. Bummer. I was kind of hoping it was something more accessible, like how charcoal is made.

    Interesting that the trona ore is treated w/ Carbon Dioxide. Do they generate their own CO2? Because it would be awesome if they harvested it from existing polluters somehow.

    “No, that hose running from my exhaust pipe to my trunk is not a crazy highway suicide ploy officer. I’m harvesting CO2 for my trona ore!”

    • Thanks, glad it was helpful! Yes, I think vinegar is entirely possible to make off grid. I’m not sure about the CO2, but you’re right, it would be awesome if they linked up with existing polluters!

  • Don’t forget that baking soda can also be used as toothpaste. I mixed a fresh batch this morning using a teaspoon each of baking soda, salt, and ground sage. Put some on a wet toothbrush and brush away!

  • Just remember to use vinegar that isn’t derived from petroleum!

  • oh no! my heart started pounding as i saw the title and started reading. so i guess what i’m hearing is, that while it’s not as perfect as we may have thought, it’s still the best option. i guess at least we know they’re both edible and biodegradable! thanks for exposing the reality. :)

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