Common household baking soda, also known as sodium bicarbonate, bicarbonate of soda, or sodium hydrogen carbonate, has been used in many ways for a very long time – right back to when the Egyptians used it to preserve corpses. Natron, used in mummification, was a naturally occurring mixture of sodium carbonate (washing soda – don’t confuse that with baking soda!) and sodium bicarbonate, along with small quantities of common salt.

You probably don’t have any corpses you need to preserve right now, but sodium bicarbonate is useful for many other things, particularly cleaning, and provides a good alternative to a number of harsher chemicals. And if your property has a septic tank, baking soda is regarded as safe, if not outright beneficial, for the microbial life in the tank. You might like to take a look here for reassurance on that.

Baking soda is a really good remover of grease. It is excellent for less-than-perfect housekeepers like me, who realise their kitchen lampshades are covered in fuzzy greasy stuff just before a visit from someone who may disapprove of such slovenliness. It works better than detergent in most cases and leaves you with no froth to clean up. Just tip some directly onto the grimy surface and use a cloth dampened in warm water to wipe the grease away. It is similarly brilliant on stove tops, for removing spills and baked-on scraps, and can be used as an oven cleaner as well. You can scrub the oven walls and glass door panels with it using a damp cloth, or if things are really nasty, mix some up in a little water and apply as a paste to the stubborn areas of dirt. Abandon it for an hour or two, then come back and wipe it off with a damp cloth.

You can also use it to clean silver jewelry. It avoids the use of commercial silver-cleaning compounds, and it does take quite severe tarnish off. Just dip a dampened soft cloth in bicarb, and rub gently over the silver until the surface is clean. Wash the item in water (do put the plug in the sink as a precaution against losing your precious item down the plughole!) and it’s ready to go.

Baking soda is good at dealing with smells. If you’ve had something nastily pungent in the fridge, put a little baking soda in the bottom of a jar or dish on one of the shelves, and it does a surprisingly good deodorising job. Smelly rubbish bins also benefit from a dose of baking soda in warm water – I’ve found it works as well as, if not better than, a soak in disinfectant. You can use it to clean the toilet too: tip in a handful, swill it round with the loo brush and flush it away.

I’ve only presented a few uses of a very handy household chemical – ones that I have used myself and can recommend with confidence. There are actually so many applications that books have been written on the subject. You might like to have a look at “Bicarbonate of Soda: expert advice”, by Diane Sutherland, Jon Sutherland, Liz Keevill, and Kevin Eyres (ISBN 978-1-84786-521-2).

There is one word of caution though: many sources, including the book, just mentioned, say how gentle it is on your skin. That may be so for many people, but not for me, and not for some others, I’ve met. I wear gloves if I’m handling more than a small amount because its alkaline nature inflames my skin. Because of this, be careful when trying any of the cosmetic applications, such as bath soaks and the use of baking soda as a deodorant, until you have established that it doesn’t cause irritation.