Why didn’t I know this?
I’d been finding that my towels had been coming out of the laundry smelling a bit musty; I figured there was a bit of water left in the washing machine, and getting a bit grotty in there. I’ve tried vinegar, but didn’t quite get the result I wanted. So I threw in some baking soda, which is sodium bicarbonate/bicarbonate of soda to eliminate odors, and found that it also made the detergent sudsier, and the towels, which had gone in sad and grey (I don’t like to use bleach), came out much, much whiter.
Apparently it’s alkali properties are efficient at breaking down greasy stains, and will soften hard water, which results in more suds.
Here’s a bit more information from NatureHacks, which also talks about vinegar and hydrogen peroxide as bleaching agents;
Bicarbonate of soda is similar to, but not identical to washing soda, which is carbonate soda, and also not the same as borax, which is sodium borate, sodium tetraborate, or disodium tetraborate. Washing soda is more alkali than baking soda, and is more caustic, which makes me cautious about using it, and there have been some recent concerns about the safety of borax. This article summarizes some findings from the Environmental Protection Agency regarding borax;
ETA (I always have to edit to add); furrywoodlandcreature had this to say about the ewg.org article; “that article is from the Environment Working Group, the chemical arm of PETA. It’s more correct to say that it misrepresents some information from the EPA to promote their own hysterical aims.” So I’d say, if you want to use borax, do some research and decide for yourself if you are comfortable using it. For myself; I generally have baking soda around the house, and I’m very pleased with the result, so I’ll stick with that. Also; check out the comments for more valuable tips using various environmentally friendly things.
The name sodium bicarbonate is a chemically inaccurate name; the chemical formula is NaHCO3, while sodium carbonate is Na2CO3. Don’t ask me more about the chemistry than that. ;)
In any case, baking soda is an environmentally friendly laundry whitening agent, which can be an alternative to chlorine bleach.