Let’s say you are baking some cupcakes in the oven, and all of a sudden, a fire ignites and gets out of control. What are you going to do? I am sure running for a fire extinguisher is the first thing that comes to your mind. But wait! A fire extinguisher might not be at hand or it may even be expired. This is where baking soda can come to the rescue.
Why Does Baking Soda Put Out Fires?
To many, it’s a mystery why baking soda can put out fires. In the minds of many firefighters and other first responders, fire extinguishers should be a household staple.
So, why does baking soda extinguish fires?
Baking soda both smothers the flame and releases carbon dioxide. This changes the ratio of CO2 and O2 in the immediate environment. The fire cannot get enough O2 and goes out.
Baking Soda Chemical Formula
The chemical formula of baking soda or sodium bicarbonate is NaHCO₃.
The reaction is:
Na + HCO₃ –> NaHCO₃
Baking soda is composed of two types of ions: sodium ions (Na+) and bicarbonate ions (HCO3-).
Is Baking Soda Basic Or Acidic?
Baking soda is basic.
When baking soda mixes with an acid, it alters the pH level. This makes baking soda good at covering bad smells, among other things.
What Chemical Elements Do Fires Require?
The fire triangle requires heat, fuel, and oxygen (O2) to be present to sustain a fire. Baking soda interrupts this process by replacing the oxygen required for the fire. Once the oxygen is removed from the fire, it goes out.
Is Baking Soda Flammable?
A key to baking soda’s ability to put out a fire, is that it is not flammable, or is it? Under the right amount of heat, baking soda can break down, but it will not catch on fire.
If it is heated above 176 degrees Fahrenheit (80 degrees Celsius), it will break down into separate compounds: sodium carbonate (Na2CO3), carbon dioxide (CO2), and water (H2O). This can happen easily once the baking soda contacts a flame.
If baking soda gets very hot, it will release carbon dioxide gas, and this makes the fire unable to get enough oxygen, and that’s after the baking soda had a chance to smother the fire. When this happens, the baking soda makes a colorful flash similar to fireworks.
The CO2 released by the baking soda (CO2 does not support combustion) starves the fire of O2, and the water that is released cools down the heat source.
Does Baking Soda Work On All Fires?
No, baking soda does not work on all fires. The main reason baking soda does not work on all fires is the quantity required to be effective.
Fires baking soda does work on includes:
- Small kitchen grease fires
- Small electrical fires (appliances, computers, etc.)
- Small wood or paper fires (fireplaces, trash bins, etc.)
Baking Soda Works On Small Electrical Fires
For electrical fires, using water is a bad idea because it is a conductor. Baking soda makes a good replacement until you can get hold of a class C fire extinguisher. This is very effective when the fire is in the living room or dining room attached to the kitchen (where the baking soda is stored). It is less handy when the fire is in an upstairs bedroom.
If a device, such as a computer, or plug-in heater catches fire, dumping some or all of the baking soda should be enough to smother the flames. However, pouring baking soda onto the outlet may not work very well.
If you do have an electrical fire, shut off the power via the breaker as soon as possible so the fire does not reignite.
Baking Soda Works On Small Wood Or Paper Fires
Baking soda can also be used to extinguish wood fireplace fires or small gasoline fires, but they must be small. You would need a lot of baking soda accessible to put out a big one. This is why a garden hose, a bucket of water, or a fire extinguisher is better for putting these out.
Baking soda can be used to put out many types of fires, as long as they are not large electrical fires (small ones are ok) or caused by heavy oil. Baking soda especially does not work well putting out flares, acetylene fires, or lit gunpowder.
The reason is that a fire that is too hot will offset the smothering effect and CO2 released by pulling in more oxygen. This can either make the fire go out faster or prolong it.
Why Does Baking Soda Put Out A Kitchen Fire?
Fires in the kitchen can happen quickly and in close quarters. Baking soda can be a lifesaver in these situations. But why? What makes baking soda so good at extinguishing fires?
First of all, baking soda tends to be in most people’s kitchens, either stored on the counter or in a nearby cupboard. This means it is easy to access. Many people who cook have also grown up learning that baking soda can quickly put out a stove fire. But this does not fully explain it.
If you work in a commercial kitchen, a fire extinguisher should be available. If the fire is too large to handle even with a fire extinguisher, it is best to leave the facility immediately and let the fire department handle it.
Baking soda works especially well for kitchen grease fires, such as those that flare up on the stove when cooking bacon or deep frying chicken. Baking soda will extinguish grease fires, but only if they’re small. It takes a lot of baking soda to do the job.
This is why it is best to have a fire extinguisher stored in your kitchen ready to go once the baking soda has run out. The fire could always flare up again and want to have one handy. Baking soda should only really be used to keep a fire under control.
In fact, a fire extinguisher may not be enough either if the fire is too far along. This is the time for anyone inside the kitchen and house to immediately vacate the premises and call the fire department.
Actually, even if you put the fire out, calling the fire department may be a good idea so they can inspect the home for any additional fire risk.
Why Do You Put Baking Soda On A Grease Fire?
Grease fires that get out of control are the main cause of large kitchen fires. This can cause the entire house to go up in flames and risk the safety of anyone inside. The main culprits of grease fires are deep fat fryers, pan-frying of fatty meats, or hot oil heated on stovetops.
People may assume that pouring water on a grease fire will put it out, but in fact, it will make the fire worse. Refrain from pouring water on a grease fire because the oil will pop and shoot more flames into the kitchen.
The way to put out grease fires is to smother them and deny them oxygen. This is where baking soda comes in. Dumping a container of baking soda on a grease fire should be enough to put out the flames, and quite fast.
If baking soda cannot be found quickly, using a large pot cover or baking sheet to cover the pan will also do the job.
Fire Extinguisher Vs Baking Soda Cost
A medium sized container (1 lb.) of baking soda will cost between $5-10 USD. A class ABC, B, or K fire extinguisher (for putting out cooking oil fires) will run between $30 – 100+ USD. So, baking soda is much cheaper than a fire extinguisher, but may also be less effective at putting out a kitchen fire.
Baking Soda Fire Extinguishers – Do They Exist?
Yes, some fire extinguishers do have baking soda (bicarbonate of soda) inside them. Different types of fire extinguishers have contents that are intended for specific types of fire.
Class C fire extinguishers contain sodium bicarbonate as one of their agents, which is useful for fighting electrical fires. Other ingredients such as mono ammonium phosphate, potassium chloride, or potassium bicarbonate all have the same effect as baking soda.
However, class C fire extinguishers are not well-suited to fighting kitchen grease fires. For these, a class B dry chemical extinguisher or a fire blanket is most effective. Dry chemical extinguishers contain sodium potassium bicarbonate, potassium chloride, and urea potassium bicarbonate-based agents. Soda-acid fire extinguishers are very effective for home use. These have a mixture of sodium bicarbonate and sulphuric acid.
Baking soda is very effective at putting out small fires, but only when a person has quick access to it. This is why just relying on baking soda to put out fires is not a very good idea. Instead, purchase a good quality fire extinguisher and keep fire prevention in mind. This will best help protect you and your family from fire danger.
Nick Klamecki is a certified Fire and Workplace Safety expert with 15 years experience in product research and testing. He has a degree in Economics from U.C. Davis, is an active outdoorsman and spent years ensuring the safety of special needs children. Nick researches and tests workplace, industrial and safety products and provides advice on their safe use.