Baking soda is an impressive substance with a lot of potential uses. If we aren’t using it to help cakes rise, we’re adding it to cleaning products for a better scrubbing action and whiter result. It is also said that baking soda has the potential to put out fires, but is this true? Is baking soda flammable? Or, is it safe enough to use in firefighting?
Baking soda is not flammable, and is not generally a fire risk. However, there is a whole other side to this product that actually makes it a great substance for putting fires out.
In fact, I wrote an entire article on whether you can use baking soda to put out a fire. In this guide, I want to look into the chemistry of baking soda to see why it is so effective and how you can use it to tackle fires. I also want to take a moment to explain why you should never confuse it with baking powder.
Is Baking Soda The Same As Bicarbonate Of Soda?
Now, if you aren’t that into baking and the kitchen isn’t your usual domain, you might not be too familiar with baking soda, baking powder, or bicarbonate of soda.
Baking soda and baking powder are very different and we’ll talk more about that later. Bicarbonate of soda and baking soda are the exact same thing.
Some people sell boxes of bicarbonate of soda as more of a multiple-purpose tool for cleaning and baking.
Others lean into the culinary market and make it sound more accessible by calling it baking soda.
Either way, it is still the same sodium bicarbonate base product that will react in the same way. This is important to remember in case of an emergency.
Is Baking Soda Combustible?
Baking soda is not combustible. Bicarbonate of soda is a gentle base substance that will not ignite in a fire or act as a fuel source.
In fact, we can use it to great effect to fight fires. The reason for all of this is the reaction of the sodium bicarbonate in response to high heat.
As the name suggests, there are salts and carbon molecules in this power.
The heat separates these, allowing for two effective components. The salts help to form a barrier against any additional oxygen, which quickly starves the fire of an essential element.
This effect is enhanced by the creation of carbon dioxide.
Interestingly, it is this reaction with heat that makes baking soda so effective in baking. We use this powder as a raising agent to make cakes lighter.
The release of that carbon dioxide allows for a series of bubbles in the cake mixture, aerating the batter to create the ideal texture.
Can Baking Soda Explode?
Not exactly. Baking soda on its own is not going to react with a fire and cause an explosion.
It is baking powder that you need to watch out for. Baking soda has a positive reaction with fire, which is why we are going to talk so much about the potential for baking soda fire extinguishers below.
With that said, there is a chemical reaction where you can create an extreme reaction using baking soda and vinegar.
What happens here is that the base element of the baking soda violently reacts with the vinegar to create a mass of foam.
Because both ingredients are so safe to use, and there is nothing toxic about the resulting foam, this is a great science experiment for kids.
One popular option is to pour vinegar and red food coloring into a paper mache volcano full of baking soda.
You will end up with a lava-like eruption that looks great.
What Are Baking Soda Fireworks?
This name sounds a lot more intense and dangerous than it really is. The premise works a lot like the volcano experiment by using copious amounts of baking soda and vinegar.
Some people put the dry soda in molds with glitter and confetti and then pour in the vinegar.
This makes the soda foam up while the glitter dances and sparkles like the sparks in a firework. To be honest, this isn’t going to impress kids beyond early school age.
But, it is still a nice introduction to STEM learning.
Using Baking Soda To Put Out Fires.
As mentioned before, baking soda is a great tool for handling flames because it isn’t flammable but does produce all that carbon dioxide.
What this means is that we can dump the powder onto smaller electrical fires or grease fires. The upside to this is that you could handle small fires in chargers or portable devices very quickly.
But, you do need to be sure you have a good supply of baking soda in the house.
At this point, it is important to remember that this life hack only works for small fires that are easy to control.
For example, if you have a small grease fire in a pan or a plug or small appliance catches fire, you could theoretically dump enough bicarbonate of soda onto the flames to make a difference.
If the fire is larger or begins to get out of hand, you need to go for something better suited to the job.
The best option is always to call 911 and get professional help. Fire crews would rather come out to something low-key than be there too late.
Also, I wrote an article about what to say when you call 911. Click the link to check it out.
Another option, if accessible, is a fire extinguisher.
Can You Get Fire Extinguishers With Baking Soda In Them?
The efficiency of baking powder for electrical fires due to those chemical reactions means that there is greater potential for its use beyond just small-scale fires and DIY fire protection responses.
Fire extinguishers come in various forms depending on their purpose.
You may be used to seeing CO2 extinguishers around workplaces or residential areas, or perhaps fire blankets if you work in a kitchen.
However, there is also a dry powder option for Class C fires. These fires are generally larger electrical fires where you need a more effective spray with wider coverage.
Many of these sprays contain sodium bicarbonate, rather than classing it as baking soda.
This is simply because it needs a scientific name rather than the more accessible culinary name. It will do the same job.
Other Class C fire extinguishers will contain similar substances such as monoammonium phosphate, potassium bicarbonate, or potassium chloride.
Why Shouldn’t We Use Baking Powder Instead?
Baking powder and bicarbonate of soda are not the same things. They are very similar because of the reaction in food and the amount of sodium bicarbonate.
But, baking powder also has an acidic element, such as cream of tartar or cornstarch.
It is too easy to confuse baking powder and baking soda in the kitchen. They often come in similar containers and the names are too closely related.
While this can be annoying when mixing up ingredients while baking, it is an even bigger problem when trying to handle a small fire.
That is because the acidic cream of tartar and cornstarch in baking powder are flammable. When you shake this over flames there is a good chance that the particles will combust and explode.
In turn, you are simply going to make the fire much more volatile and hard to control.
Are There Any Other Kitchen Ingredients We Can Use On Fires?
Ideally, you will want to use a fire blanket or extinguisher to handle a kitchen fire if it is a grease fire.
Depending on the size of it, you should be able to quickly handle the flames by smothering them with something to seal off any additional oxygen supply.
Putting a tea towel over the flames can help, as can a pan lid or cookie sheet over a flaming pan. As for using additional kitchen ingredients, you could also use salt.
These particles also help to block the air supply while remaining unreactive.
However, you can’t just use any old powder in your cupboard and expect the same result.
Some have too low a melting point and will just burn in the fire as fuel. Others are combustible enough to lead to small sparks and explosions.
Flour is another example of this. Do not pour flour over a fire under any circumstances.
Of course, the issues with baking powder also mean you can’t use any pure cornflour or cream of tartar that you may also have in the cupboard.
To summarize, not only is baking soda not flammable, but it is a brilliant hack for putting out small-scale fires.
There are Class C fire extinguishers containing sodium bicarbonate for electric fires, and baking soda is just that on a smaller scale.
You can throw it on small fires and let the powder and carbon dioxide smother the flames.
Just make sure that you don’t do this with baking powder instead, and always know when to reach for the extinguisher and when to call 911.