If you are looking for a natural abrasive cleanser, baking soda can't be beat. There’s been a big buzz about baking soda in green cleaning circles for the past several years, so I decided to do an objective test and see what science had to say. I compared baking soda and Ajax cleaner, on various tough cleanups around the house. The results? Read on and see for yourself.
Baking soda and Ajax: price and safety
To even the playing field, I looked at price and safety factors, as well as cleaning power.
Pricewise, baking soda and Ajax are pretty much neck-and-neck, depending on where you purchase them. At Walmart, I found a 16 oz. box of baking soda for 72 cents (or 4.5 cents per ounce), and a 21 oz. can of Ajax for 88 cents (4.2 cents per ounce).
In terms of safety, the manufacturer warns that Ajax is an eye and skin irritant. Its Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) also states that "overexposure … may cause respiratory irritation" and that Ajax contains crystalline silica, a low-level carcinogen. The MSDS says there is no expected hazard from ingesting the cleanser – something I won't be experimenting with.
On the other hand, baking soda looks good on the surface, since it’s frequently used as toothpaste or an age-old remedy for heartburn and indigestion. Dig a little deeper, though, and you’ll find that swallowing large quantities of baking soda can also be harmful, causing symptoms like diarrhea, vomiting, seizures, dehydration, kidney failure, and stomach ruptures.
Good thing we’re using these two substances for scrubbing and not for snacking!
Now let’s talk cleaning. Here are a few comparisons I tried out, testing plain baking soda vs Ajax, with the help of a non-scratch sponge.
Food stains on a laminate countertop
I noticed equal countertop cleaning power, but I did need a bit more elbow grease with the baking soda. However, the baking soda was easier and faster to sponge away, using hot water. The Ajax gave a slightly deeper clean, but left a lot of residue, requiring a lot more water and more cloths or paper towels to clean up.
Rust stains on floor tiles
My kitchen features two great old farmhouse kitchen chairs I found at a yard sale. The downside is that the chairs have some type of metal on the base of the legs, which leaves rust stains after I wash my floors. Both baking soda and Ajax got those stains right up.
Paint on floor tiles
I have a heavy red toolbox stored on the floor of my pantry. Over the years, each time I’ve pulled out the toolbox, red paint stains have been left behind. It took more scrubbing with the Ajax than the baking soda to remove the paint stains, then plenty of heavy rinsing again for the Ajax.
Stainless steel and porcelain sinks
Mild abrasives are best for protecting stainless steel and porcelain sinks against scratches, so baking soda wins based on that point alone. However, both products cleaned about equally, with a bit more shine on the stainless steel from the Ajax. An added benefit to using baking soda on sinks is its ability to help unclog drains. Ajax, especially the type that contains bleach, sends more toxins into the water supply.
Both products cleaned equally well, but baking soda will keep your pipes clearer, is safe for septic systems and won't pollute the water supply.
Since the bathroom is where we all go to clean ourselves, it also has a tendency to be one of the rooms in the house that gets dirty fastest. I would never use a strong abrasive on linoleum, but a light scrub with baking soda is good for getting out grime that gets into the indentations of the patterns in the linoleum.
So, anywhere in your home that you can use a light, non-toxic abrasive, baking soda is the humble winner.
For help with scrubbing your house clean, hire a professional cleaning service.
Updated February 4, 2018.