It looks and feels like laundry detergent. It's white, coarse and powdery. It's a mineral mined from dry lake bottoms and extracted from the ashes of vegetation in the Middle East, kelp from Scotland and seaweed from Spain. It's used to make glass, bricks, paper, rayon and toothpaste. It cleans silver and softens water.
Its real name is sodium carbonate, but it goes by soda ash, Na2CO3 and good old plain washing soda.
For years, I have added washing soda to the wash for cleaner, whiter, brighter laundry. It's also one of the ingredients in my homemade laundry detergent. It's cheap (about 10 cents per ounce), and it neutralizes and eliminates odors. I have recently discovered that washing soda is even more than a laundry detergent booster and odor eliminator.
With a powerful pH of 11, washing soda can act as a solvent all around the house, garage and garden. It removes dirt, grime, greasy buildups and a range of stains.
Look for Arm & Hammer Super Washing Soda in the laundry aisle of supermarkets and discount stores, and online. Generally, a 55-ounce box runs about $5. I pay a lot less for soda ash by buying it online, 5 pounds at a time. Both Arm & Hammer Super Washing Soda and soda ash are 100 percent sodium carbonate.
Here are some around-the-house uses for soda ash.
STOVETOP OVEN. Remove the burners. Sprinkle dry washing soda on a damp sponge, and scrub the stovetop, broiler pan and oven, making sure to avoid the heating element. Soak the burners in a solution of 1/2 cup washing soda dissolved in 1 gallon of warm water for at least an hour. This will soften and break down all of the greasy gunk and grime. Scrub as needed; rinse well; and dry.
COOKWARE, POTS AND PANS. To remove greasy burnt stains from cookware, first fill the pot with hot water. Add a spoonful of washing soda and a squirt of dishwashing liquid. Bring to a boil over high heat, and then simmer for 15 minutes. Do not use on aluminum cookware.
COFFEE POTS, CUPS AND CARAFES. Coffee and tea often leave ugly brown stains in kettles, pots and cups. Fill the stained item with hot water, and add some washing soda. Allow it to sit for at least an hour, or even overnight. Stains will be easily rinsed away in the morning.
PLASTIC. Clean and freshen garbage cans, tablecloths, shower curtains, patio furniture and anything plastic with 1/2 cup washing soda dissolved in 1 gallon warm water. Wash and rinse.
TOILETS. Use a cup of washing soda in the toilet to clean and freshen and help prevent blockages.
TILE AND GROUT. Clean wall tiles and grout with a solution of 1/2 cup washing soda to 1 gallon warm water. You may need to scrub the grout with a stiff brush. You won't believe the clean sparkling results.
WINDSHIELD. A mild washing soda solution will help remove dead flies, bugs and grime from windshields. Avoid splashing onto the car paint. Do not use on aluminum-alloy wheels.
PEST CONTROL. Get rid of whiteflies and mites by spraying plants and trees with a mild solution of 1/2 washing soda to 2 gallons water.
STAINS ON CONCRETE AND GARAGE FLOOR. Pour a generous amount of dry washing soda on spills and stains. Sprinkle lightly with water to create a thick paste. Allow to sit overnight. The following day, scrub with a stiff brush, rewetting as needed. Hose the surface down, and then wipe it clean.
TARNISHED SILVER. To removed tarnish from silver, line a nonreactive pan or bowl (glass or plastic) with aluminum foil. Fill with a solution of 1/2 cup washing soda to 1 gallon hot water. Add the tarnished silver pieces, and allow them to soak for 15 minutes. The tarnish will simply disappear. Rinse well, and then buff the silver pieces until they sparkle. This can also remove tarnish from silver plates, jewelry, gold, copper, bronze, stainless steel and most brass (follow the manufacturer guidelines).
CAUTION: While washing soda doesn't give off harmful fumes, you do need to wear gloves because it can cause skin irritation. Do not use washing soda on aluminum, fiberglass, leather, silk, wool, no-wax floors or treated wood surfaces. For more information visit www.everydaycheapskate.com/washingsoda.
Mary invites questions, comments and tips at [email protected], or c/o Everyday Cheapskate, 12340 Seal Beach Blvd., Suite B-416, Seal Beach, CA 90740. This column will answer questions of general interest, but letters cannot be answered individually. Mary Hunt is the founder of www.DebtProofLiving.com, a personal finance member website and the author of "Debt-Proof Living," released in 2014. To find out more about Mary and read her past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.