Refreshing your towels with vinegar and baking soda- the science behind the idea

Baking soda and vinegar are two staples in my household.  Not only do I use them for their intended purposes (baking and cooking), but also for some unconventional applications as well.

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Distilled White Vinegar
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Y’all already read how I tried (and failed) at using them on my hair.  Sigh.  Still a little hung up on that fail.

I often use them for cleaning around the house- vinegar is a great disinfectant and baking soda is awesome as a deodorizer.  I usually pour a cup of vinegar in with my laundry to boost my detergent’s cleaning power (especially when I’m dealing with diaper laundry) and it works as a natural fabric softener as well.  When my washing machine starts smelling a little…funky…I sprinkle some baking soda in there before I start a load (or I’ll run the washer by itself with baking soda) to get rid of the odor.

One thing I’ve seen (and pinned!) on Pinterest a million and a half times is how to clean your towels using baking soda and vinegar (that link is from 2009- did Pinterest even exist yet??)  I’m not going to walk you through the steps because it’s been written up by a lot of different people and it’s pretty simple to do (and it works!!)  BUT.  Let me give you a tip.   

Don’t try to save time by combining the baking soda and vinegar. 

It won’t work.

Why not, you ask?  Let me put on my chemistry hat for a minute and explain.

Do you remember the volcano experiment from grade school?   The one that combined baking soda and vinegar??  Well, you’re not going to create a volcano in your washing machine (although that could be cool!)
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Errr, maybe not…
When you combine baking soda and vinegar, they react together to neutralize each other (the bubbling, which is carbon dioxide gas being formed).  This is because vinegar is an acid (pH less than 7) and baking soda is a base (pH above 7).  If you were combine equal parts vinegar and baking soda you end up with a solution that’s a neutral pH (around 7). 
So what does that mean?  Your solution of baking soda and vinegar has undergone a chemical reaction and is no longer baking soda and vinegar.  The reaction forms water, carbon dioxide gas (all those bubbles) and sodium acetate.  Sodium acetate is a salt.  Which does you no good as far as cleaning goes.
Bummer right??   I totally wish this didn’t happen so I could save myself a step (because my washing machine takes FOREVER to run a load of laundry, especially on the heavy duty setting).  
There’s my science tip of the day for y’all.  Happy washing, and cheers to fresh smelling towels!!
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4 thoughts on “Refreshing your towels with vinegar and baking soda- the science behind the idea

  1. Hahaha…. thank you for sharing this. I actually need to give my towels a good refresh and want to try this. I do know that if you pour these ingredients down the drain, the volcano should do a good job at cleaning out the pipes. I wanna try that, too.

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    • I think the reason the combination of the two works has to do with the chemical reaction and formation of carbon dioxide. But I’m not certain of that. Glad I could help motivate you to refresh your towels! I need to do mine again- it really works well! 🙂

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  2. This is amazing. I have been meaning to do this to my towels. Glad you brought up the volcano experiment – people use vinegar as a fabric softener and baking soda as part of their detergent, and when I first read about that I instantly thought back to the 5th grade! haha

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