Baking soda is not baking powder per se. With a single touch of acid, only one of the duo – baking soda and baking powder- is flammable.
But which one is which? Let’s find out in this article.
Is Baking Soda Flammable?
Baking soda, aka bicarbonate of soda or simply sodium bicarbonate, may indeed be reactive with acids. However, baking soda is not flammable because when heated above 176°F, its molecules would break down into components that would likely kill the fire.
Like baking soda, baking powder produces similar components when heated to 176°F (a temperature less than the boiling point of water). But unlike baking soda, baking powder contains an extra dry acid and corn starch components which are flammable.
So, compared to baking soda, baking powder will catch fire when thrown into flames. This happens because of the cream of tartar (a dry acid) and the corn starch components it contains. Those two add-ons are likely to make the fire burns more rather than kill it.
Baking Soda Vs Baking Powder: What’s the Difference?
- What Do Baking Soda and Baking Powder Have in Common?
Baking soda and baking powder contain the same active ingredients, and that’s sodium bicarbonate. In the science world, we write that as NaHCO3. And this NaHCO3 causes the leavening action of both substances.
They are both used to make dough rise. For that reason, they both come in handy when making baked products like cakes, biscuits, and any other thing you can think of.
- What Then Makes Baking Soda Different?
Unlike baking powder, the leavening action of baking soda comes to life only when combined with a liquid like water and an acidic substance. That acidic substance can be as common as buttermilk or lemon juice.
Once added, the baking soda becomes active. When that happens, the carbon dioxide (CO2) in its NaHCO3 molecules gets liberated. The bubbles from that CO2 are precisely what makes dough used in baked goods like cakes, cookies, and muffins to rise.
- What Makes Baking Powder Different?
Earlier, we noted that baking soda becomes useable as a leavening agent only when you add a liquid and an acidic substance to it. Baking powder doesn’t need that. Instead, you can use it directly and add water along the way.
This is because, unlike baking soda, baking powder already has an acidic substance added to it in dry form. In most cases, the dry acid added is called cream of tartar (aka tartaric acid), got as a by-product in wine breweries.
Besides baking powder, you can also use cream of tartar to add more strength to egg foams and give more tang to snickerdoodles. It all depends on your preference, of course. But it’s almost sure that your baking powder will have a few sprinkles of tartaric acid in it.
Apart from tartaric acid, most baking powder also contains a buffer called cornstarch. This cornstarch works to prevent the basic NaHCO3 part of baking powder from reacting with the tartaric acid when stored.
To use baking powder, you simply add water and get the same reaction you get with baking soda. There are two kinds of baking powder, though. You can find more about that here.
- READ MORE: Is Beer Flammable?
Does Baking Soda Put out Fires?
Ordinarily, baking soda can put out a fire. Because when heated, baking soda (NaHCO3) breaks down into three components—water (H2O), sodium carbonate (Na2CO3), and carbon dioxide CO2.
The CO2 part has a long-standing history as a good fire extinguisher. In fact, you will find a series of extinguishing canisters out there that contain just CO2.
Kitchens, laboratories, mech rooms, and rooms for storing flammable liquids are good places to find CO2 canisters. Some fire extinguishers, called dry chemical fire extinguishers, even feature baking soda as an active ingredient to liberate the CO2 needed.
They work because carbon dioxide displaces the oxygen that makes fire burn. Without oxygen, which is an essential part of the fire triangle, the fire dies.
However, CO2 doesn’t really work for class-A fires because of two reasons:
- Class-A fires often suck in oxygen way faster than CO2 can smolder them. So, it won’t be able to displace enough oxygen to kill the fire.
- Even if the CO2 succeeds at first, most class-A fires can smolder and re-ignite. This second time, they burn even more ferociously.
That means baking soda (which relies on its little CO2 component to extinguish fires) will only be effective at putting out small fires. Then again, we often have small amounts of baking soda in stock.
So, there’s a high chance you won’t have enough to put out enormous fires. So, once you realize that the fire is getting out of hand, just get to safety and call for help. The baking soda you have at home won’t be enough help.
- READ MORE: Is Water flammable?
Baking Soda and Vinegar: A Fire Extinguishing Mixture.
When mixed, baking soda and vinegar become a mixture that can extinguish fire. The science to this is quite simple. So, let’s explain in a few words.
Vinegar contains a weak acid called ethanoic or acetic acid. Like all other acids, the acetic acid reacts with the bicarbonate in baking soda to release CO2.
As discussed in earlier sections, the CO2 so-released accumulates and displaces the oxygen needed for the fire to keep burning. Without oxygen, the fire later dies.
In this article, we noted that baking soda is non-flammable while baking powder can catch fire.
This happens because when heated, baking soda produces CO2 components that kill the fire. Whereas, baking powder contains additional dry acid and cornstarch components that catch fire easily.
However, that doesn’t mean you can use baking soda to put out enormous fires. We discussed this already in this article, and you can find the information you need in the right sections.
But there’s one more thing we’ll like you to know. And that is, sodium bicarbonate, the essential component of both baking soda and baking powder, is not hazardous at mild concentrations.
However, if you expose yourself to a large amount of dry sodium bicarbonate, you may suffer from eye irritation, sneezing, and intestinal irritation. When wet, you may even suffer from mild skin irritation if it comes in contact with your skin.
So, when dealing with baking soda and baking powder, always wear protective gloves and goggles, as required. You can learn more about how to keep safe when using sodium bicarbonate here.