The Difference Between Baking Soda and Baking Powder

Almost every cook has faced this scenario: you’re following a recipe that requires baking powder but you only have baking soda. What do you do? Can you substitute?

Or this one: you haven’t baked for a while, you make a favorite biscuit and use baking powder, only to find that your biscuits bake up flat as hockey pucks. What went wrong?

The difference between baking soda and baking powder

Baking soda and baking powder are both leaveners used in baking, but they are chemically different.

The easiest way to explain it is that baking soda is a base—it’s alkaline. Remember those experiments we did as kids, adding vinegar to baking soda to watch the eruption of bubbles?

When you mix a base (baking soda) with an acid (vinegar) you get a reaction (bubbles).

So if you encounter a baking recipe that uses baking soda, often that recipe will have an acidic element as well, such as vinegar, lemon juice, buttermilk, molasses, or yogurt. When the two come into contact, bubbles of carbon dioxide are formed, creating the leavening in your dough or batter.

Baking soda will create leavening on its own when it is heated (try pouring boiling water over baking soda in a sink to help unclog a drain, it will bubble up!), but unless it is balanced with an acidic ingredient, the resulting taste may be metallic.

Baking powder is a mixture of baking soda and a dry acid, such as cream of tartar, and perhaps some cornstarch to help keep the two separate and dry.

Most baking powders on the market are “double acting”, meaning that some leavening occurs the minute the baking powder gets wet, and the rest of the leavening occurs when it is heated.

How long do baking soda and baking powder last?

It depends on storage conditions. Baking soda can last quite a long time if stored sealed in a cool, dry space.

Baking powder however is problematic. It can last 3 months, or it can last a year. If you are in a humid environment, once opened, baking powder might not last more than a few months.

Having ruined a dish or two with old baking powder, I try to buy small cans, and I write the purchase date on the side of the can, so I know how old it is.

How to test if your baking soda or baking powder are still good

The easiest way to test baking soda to see if it is still good for leavening is to put some in a small bowl and add a little vinegar to it. (Make your own baking soda volcano!) If it bubbles up, it’s still good.

The easiest way to test baking powder to see if it still works is to put some in a small bowl and add some water to it. If it foams up, it’s still good.

How to substitute baking powder for baking soda

If you have a baking recipe that calls for baking soda, and you only have baking powder, you may be able to substitute, but you will need 2 or 3 times as much baking powder for the same amount of baking soda to get the same amount of leavening power, and you may end up with something that’s a little bitter tasting, depending on the recipe.

If a recipe calls for 1 teaspoon of baking soda, you’ll want to substitute with 2 to 3 teaspoons of baking powder. Just make sure your baking powder is still effective and not passed its use-by date.

How to substitute baking soda for baking powder

If you have a baking recipe that calls for baking powder and you only have baking soda, you may be able to substitute if you increase the amount of acidic ingredients in the recipe to offset the baking soda. You’ll also need much less baking soda as it is 3 times as powerful as baking powder. You’ll need about a teaspoon of vinegar or lemon juice for every 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda.

If a recipe calls for a tablespoon of baking powder, you’ll want to substitute with a teaspoon of baking soda. You’ll also want to add 2 teaspoons of vinegar or lemon juice to your batter.

You can also easily make your own baking powder.

How to make homemade baking powder

If you live in a humid environment, or don’t bake that often, it might be easiest to make your own baking powder when you need it. Packaged baking powder loses its effectiveness over 3 to 6 months, especially if it exposed to air or humidity.

To make your own homemade baking powder, you’ll need cream of tartar—a dry acid in powder form (no idea why it is called “cream”)—and baking soda. If you intend to store homemade baking powder, you’ll also want to add some cornstarch to keep it from clumping.

How to Make Baking Powder

Baking soda is much stronger than baking powder. To make baking powder, mix one part baking soda and two parts cream of tartar. So, if you recipe calls for 1 tablespoon of baking powder, use 1 teaspoon of baking soda, mixed in with 2 teaspoons of cream of tartar. If you are storing the homemade baking powder instead of using it right away, stir in 1 teaspoon of cornstarch.

Homemade baking powder is not double acting, and will start to react as soon as it gets wet, so work quickly and don’t let your batter sit around!

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  • Pauline Cook

    If the recipe calls for 4tsp of baking powder how much baking soda should I use?

  • Sum

    Great explanation

  • Falguni

    Can I still use baking soda as a replacement for baking powder if the recipe uses both of them?

    • Carrie Havranek

      Hi Falguni. Right up in the article, Elise explains how to do this….. hope this helps! Good luck!

      If you have a baking recipe that calls for baking powder and you only have baking soda, you may be able to substitute if you increase the amount of acidic ingredients in the recipe to offset the baking soda. You’ll also need much less baking soda as it is 3 times as powerful as baking powder. You’ll need about a teaspoon of vinegar or lemon juice for every 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda.

      If a recipe calls for a tablespoon of baking powder, you’ll want to substitute with a teaspoon of baking soda. You’ll also want to add 2 teaspoons of vinegar or lemon juice to your batter.

  • Yola

    Thx u very much, it’s a complete explanation to grab the idea of these two..

  • Alex Drego

    Very clear. Good show.

  • Sarah

    Awesome article.

  • Aleta Corbett

    Is baking soda the same as bicarbonate of soda?

  • Arti pandey

    I needed that!

  • Frank Muschal

    Thanks Elise. Very informative and very useful. Your article answered a lot of questions that I was too lazy to look up.

  • Lina Cammarota

    Banana bread, I followed directions called for 1 teaspoon baking soda did not mound at top of loaf was flat , tasted and looked great but why did it not get mounded at top of loaf

    • Emma Christensen

      Hi, Lina! Did you check whether your baking soda was still active? The instructions for doing that are in Elise’s post above. Expired (or about to expire) baking soda is a typical culprit of quick breads that don’t rise very much. Did you make any other substitutes? Things swapping in whole wheat flour and other additions can also cause the loaf to not rise as much. Hope this helps!

  • chloe

    If a recipe calls for 2 teaspoons of baking powder, how much baking soda and vinegar should I use?

    • Elise Bauer

      Hi Chloe, no vinegar. But you should use 2/3 teaspoon of baking soda.

  • Tangi Pakari

    I use my baking soda and satay to cook my sausage stew which I didn’t have any baking powder is that okay I’m worried

    • Emma Christensen

      Hi, Tangi! Emma here, managing editor. It’s hard to tell without seeing your exact recipe, but how does your stew taste? If it seems ok, then you’re fine! If it tastes soapy or bitter, then you used too much baking soda. Eating food with too much baking soda can make you feel sick and cause intestinal issues (usually temporary, but still…not fun). You might be able to dilute it by making another batch of soup without the baking soda and combining them together. But it might just be better to toss this batch and start over. Hope this helps!

  • May

    Please help!
    I have been experimenting a recipe and I have failed many times. So the recipe calls for baking soda, SAT and sugar. There is not acid in the recipe and I wonder how baking soda can work? Can someone help me answering the question?

    • Elise Bauer

      Baking soda will produce bubbles just by being exposed to liquid and heat.

    • Teresa

      Acidic ingredients include: applesauce, soured milk or buttermilk, honey, brown sugar, molasses, cream of tartar, lemon juice or vinegar, chocolate and cocoa powder (only regular cocoa, not Dutch-process). So it would be the brown sugar in cookies, for example. Hope this helps, May!

  • Denno

    Can I use baking powdor as surfactant?

  • øystein loge

    wantin to make Norwegian vafler i found no milk nor baking soda nor baking powder in the Kitchen. so i used some drinking yoghurt With a blueberry flavour for milk, and skipped the soda or pwder. <got bad waffles? no! came out goood!

  • Deeksha

    In a cookie recipe if in one batch I am using only baking soda, and in other batch only baking powder, what would be the difference. I prefer crispy cookies from outside and inside

  • Dee

    Wished I had read this before I made my biscuits, I sub.baking Soda with baking powders an my biscuts were flat, thanks this will be helpful in the future

  • Vanessa

    Hello, this was helpful. However, my banana pineapple bread recipe calls for 1tsp baking powder AND 1/2 tsp baking soda. Since it already calls for both would i still be able to substitue my baking soda and vinegar or something like that or would it put too much baking soda in the recipe since it already has it? Thanks in advance, Vanessa.

    • Esther

      Use the1/2 tsp baking soda as required THEN to make a substitute for 1 tsp baking POWDER use
      ▪ 1/3 tsp baking soda + 2/3tsp Cream of Tartar Mix together then put into the Dry Ingredients.

      ▪Add 1 tsp Vinegar or Lemon Juice to your Wet Ingredients required in your recipe i.e. Milk or Oil

      ▪ Remember to preheat the oven BEFORE mixing batter. Mix quickly and put in oven immediately because it begins to rise once Wet Ingredients hit the Baking Soda.
      ▪ Baking Soda is not double rising like Baking POWDER and you don’t want your Banana Bread to not have any “rise” activity left while baking, if it sits around on the counter.

  • Ann Marie Klavano

    Thanks for the information. I am sorry I didn’t have it in Papua New Guinea where baking soda was hard to find and baking powder prevalent. Plan to send a link to this article to my friends in PNG

    • Neale Underwood

      Is what is referred to here as baking soda not simply sold in shops as Bicarbonate of soda where your friends are because that is the correct name for it. Here in South Africa it is used for cleaning acid spills (battery etc) , baking, keep a box in refrigerator to keep air fresh , drink half a teasoon in a cup of hot water for instant relief from heartburn. Dirt cheap too !

  • fxarchi

    thanks for the feedback, I tried it as you said though the recipe did not specifically require lemon juice, the cup cakes came out very well. thank once again. looking forward to seeing more baking articles on your site

  • fxarchi

    thanks for the info. a quick question, when using baking soda do you add the lemon juice along side when mixing or after some few minutes.

    • Elise Bauer

      Hi, if you are using a recipe that calls for both baking soda and lemon juice, I would mix in the baking soda first. Only add the lemon juice right before you are going to put the batter in the oven.

  • Pashvina

    Thank you for the crisp & clear difference between them. This article is really helpful

  • Elishai

    Thanks for this important clarification.
    The baking powder available to me contains Sodium bicarbonate and Disodium diphosphate (instead of Sodium bicarbonate and Potassium bitartrate).
    Is it OK to use this baking powder?

    • Elise Bauer

      Hello Elishai, I don’t know.

      • Elishai

        I used the baking powder in this recipe and it was good, unlike the first trial with baking soda:
        Keeping baking soda only in order to avoid confusion proved to be wrong.
        From my personal experience, one should adhere to the original recipe and avoid baking powder – baking soda conversions.

    • Tony

      Hi. Baking soda is also named..Bicarbonate of Soda. So I guess what you have is baking soda and not baking powder.

    • Joe

      Yes, your’s has baking soda and a different powder acid. The article mentioned baking soda and cream of tartar. It’s ok.

  • GEL

    Thanks alot for the good info. My son ‘s assignment is to bring baking soda but I bought baking powder instead, i never thought they’re totally diffent.

  • kerico44

    Thanks a lot! very informative n useful detail given.

  • Natasha

    This description was very crisp. Thank you for such a lovely explanation!!!

  • Sam

    I didn’t know baking soda is another name as bicarbinate Soda! Is it an American term? Sam

    • Cynthia

      No, it’s the same all over. That is just the official scientific name for it.

    • Joe

      It’s not. It’s either sodium bicarbonate, or baking soda. And potassium bitartrate, or cream of tartar, an acid to the base (baking soda).
      Keep in mind, often recipes have baking soda in for not only leavening but to promote browning using the Maillard reaction (pronounced My•yar) So the extra acid in baking powder may hinder the intended chemical reaction.

  • yamini

    It helped a lot

  • cassie

    My friend ask me if she can also use baking powder as alternative for whitening her teeth…thanks

    • Elise Bauer

      I’ve never heard of using baking powder that way, but you can easily use baking soda as a toothpaste. It will help whiten the teeth. Just go gentle because it’s mildly abrasive. So don’t overdo it.

  • Karamella

    Which leavening agent would be better for something that you mix in advance and cook a small portion at a time over the day? I’m guessing baking powder because it works twice, once when added to the wet ingredients and again when heated. Correct?

    • Elise Bauer

      Hi Karamella, good question. I’m thinking neither would be ideal. But I do know recipes that call for baking powder and an overnight rest before baking.

  • P

    This person totally lifted (plagiarized) some of the sentences you have in this article to her blog post.

  • Michelle

    Never realised baking powder can go off!! All is explained about my butterscotch brownies….

  • Mamotsoane Seturumane

    thank you so much for the explanation, that’s what i have been looking for

  • Portia

    Clearest and most direct explanation I’ve ever read! Thank You!

  • Heli

    My cakes weren’t fluffing up. I couldn’t make out where was I going wrong. Thanks for the immense help Elise.
    A very well put up article.
    Heli :)

    • Rakhi

      Really this is very helpful

  • John Messina

    Would it be wise to add baking soda to tomatoe sauce to reduce the acid?

    • Elise Bauer

      You can do that if you must. I usually just add a little bit of sugar to tomato sauce if I need to balance the acid. Adding baking soda can sometimes give things a metallic taste.

  • Radwa

    Thank you :-)

  • Luke

    Great site! I have an old lady who told me that her banana cake recipe was better than mine. So I took her recipe and tried it. She had self raising flour (which contains baking powder) and additional baking soda. There is no acidic ingredient in the recipe to react with the baking soda. So why don’t we just take out the baking soda and add additional baking powder? In this recipe what is the point of having baking soda?
    110g butter
    180g sugar
    2 eggs
    250g ripe small Bali bananas mashed with fork
    250g flour
    7g baking powder
    3g salt
    2g bicarb soda
    125g milk
    Cinnamon and castor sugar for dusting on top (before baking)
    Thanks for your opinion.

    • Elise Bauer

      Hi Luke, if you heat baking soda, it will produce leavening on its own, without having to combine with an acid. To test this, put some baking soda in a bowl. Pour boiling water over it. It should foam up.

    • Tony

      Hi Luke. I see the recipe asks for 2g bicarb soda. Baking soda is called Bicarbonate of Soda.

  • Jessy Goth

    Finally I see an article about baking soda that’s not about cleaning but on its actual and proper use! Anyhoo, I’ll choose soda over power 10 out of 10 times, it works much better for me.

  • Paul

    Thanks for the info. I’ve saved it for future reference when baking. But I thought one of them, soda or powder can’t recall which, also required the addition of some salt if substituting. Please advise.

  • Rogers

    I honestly thought that they were the same..I even could have used baking powder for an experiment I was to do in school instead of baking soda..Thank you for the info.

  • Tina

    so which of the two is used as a facial mask to exfoliate the skin?

    • Elise Bauer

      Never heard of using either one for that, but I’m guessing it would be baking soda. Which by the way I wouldn’t at all recommend! Baking soda is alkaline and can strip the protective acidic layer from the top of your skin. I would never use it or baking powder on my skin.

  • syed

    why baking soda can be bought at cheap rate while we cant buy a baking powder at same

  • Sabiyya

    Is bicarbonate of soda and baking soda the same thing?

  • Rose

    Hi, I have a question which I’m hoping you can help me with :) I have a recipe which calls for 1tsp baking soda and 1tsp vinegar, but I only have baking powder in my cupboard, I know its fine, as I only bought it a month ago, and understand I’ll need 2-3 times more powder than soda, but my question is – do I still need the vinegar? It’s an egg-free and dairy-free recipe, so I’d assumed the vinegar was a replacement with those, but now I’m not sure! Thanks in advance if you can help :) R

    • Elise Bauer

      Hi Rose, hard to tell without actually attempting the recipe. Depending on what it is you are baking a splash of vinegar can improve the taste. Do make sure to test your baking powder though, to make sure it’s still good, before using, especially if it’s the only leavening.

  • Joshua McGee

    Elise writes: no idea why it is called “cream”

    When you purify tartar through recrystalization, the layer that ends up at the top is potassium bitartrate. This chemical is called “cream of tartar” as a reference to the fact that cream is what floats to the top of non-homogenized milk. :-)

    Loved the article. Thank you!

    • Elise Bauer

      Mystery solved, thank you Joshua!

      • Haileymon

        Thank you for the article. I like knowing the science behind the process. Like in brewing, understanding the chemistry can make you a better baker. Now I can attempt more airy/crispy waffles.

  • Suzanne Kleiman

    Thank you so much for the difference between baking soda and baking powder. You made the explanation very clear.

  • Shrads

    A very informative and concise article. Thank you for finally clearing things for the amateur baker in me !

  • Melanie Kramar

    I have tartaric acid but don’t really know what it is used for – for now I put a pinch when making syrup (treacle)?

  • Nan Jones

    I have two copies of the same old recipe that has been used in our family for years. Someone must have recopied it incorrectly at some time. One says baking powder and the other says soda. How do I know which should really be used for best results?

    • Elise Bauer

      Hi Nan, I think the only way you can tell is to test the recipe both ways.

  • Emma

    This info is very helpful! I’m in 6th and doing a project on muffins.

  • Jenny

    Thank you so much! I’m in 8th grade and I used this information to help me with my science project last year (when I was in 7th grade) and my grade was a 98%. I’m using it again this year for kind of part 2 of my experiment . thanks so much! :)

  • Strawberry

    Thank you for these useful information.

  • Kate @¡Hola! Jalapeño

    What a great refresher! Also, I never knew that this is why my baked goods sometimes tasted metallic, lightbulb moment!

  • Lea

    Thank you so much for this!

    I use far more baking powder than baking soda (pancakes, muffins, etc.) and have had a VERY hard time finding it in the stores lately (someone said it’s a “seasonal” item only now in many stores). I rarely use cream of tartar but now I know that I can use that with the baking soda to make baking powder if I need to! I knew they were related but never knew how before!

    Thanks so much,

  • Herb Klug

    How many years have I wondered about this topic??? I mean, if you follow directions exactly, you don’t need to know the difference, but there’s a part of me that has always WANTED to know. Excellent explanation. Thanks Elise!

  • Nicole

    @Joelle, try using citric acid or “lemon salts” instead of cream of tartar. You can also substitute yoghurt for any milk in the recipe.

    • Joelle

      Thank you Nicole for the tip. However, I will probably use plain old freshly squeezed lemon juice, because of the potentially hidden sulfites in any store bought product. (My husband’s allergies make cooking very tricky!)

    • Joëlle

      (This is an update on my last comment). I have indeed been using fresh lemon juice to activate the baking soda in all my recipes since July, and it works very well, with a à added bonus: it seems that in doing so, the strong taste of the soda completely disappears.

      Again, thank you Elise and Nicole.

  • Tina

    Thank you. This is really helpful, and interesting, too.

  • Joelle

    Thank you very much for the tip. I can’t use baking powder because of the cream of tartar (my husband reacts to it as it is usually made using sulfites) and had been substituting with baking soda. But I often got unhappy results ( taste too strong, for one). Now I will know.

    • Esther

      Have you tried NON GMO ALUMINUM FREE brands like Pamela or Rumsden Baking Powders? [Pamela’s is also Gluten-free.]

  • Lynn

    Thank you, I’ve wondered about this too, but I always thought they were two completely different things. About 40 years ago I was making cookies and was short on flour so I substituted some corn starch, it was white and powdery and was made from food. You know, wheat, corn, they’re both grains? Yup, I ended up with hockey pucks you could break your teeth on. I’ve never done any substitutions in cooking since.

  • Ynothbrook

    Grandiosas recomendaciones que nos has dado a conocer hoy ,aparte de sus funciones que yo ya sabia que es lo maximo para la digestión junto una cucharadita en seco te la tomas on un vaso de agua que ya le exprimiste el jugo de medio limón y nunca bas a tener problemas con tu estomago y digestión, saludos

  • Peter

    Thank you for this article – very helpful.

    When making baking powder at home, can one use extra baking soda (e.g., use equal parts baking soda and cream of tartar) with the excess soda acting as a leavening agent only when it is heated and not immediately when wetted? If yes, how would one “fix” any residual metallic taste?

    If not, is there another way to recreate the “double acting” feature at home?

  • Renee

    Very good information about how to make our own baking powder – especially since I don’t like using any that has aluminum added to it.

  • Lindsay Eckhart

    Wow, today I learn a lot thanks to you, Elise. I’d always thought that baking soda and baking powder are different but don’t know what’s the actual difference. Really informative. Thanks.

  • Mike C Smith

    Today I learnt a few things I should have researched before now. I often wondered why you have to use baking soda as I find the taste is not to my liking. the same with baking powder, I did not know it was a combination using some baking soda in the mix.
    Thanks very much for sharing I’m glad I dropped by from facebook.

  • Manjula Singhi

    Thanks good information.

  • Weng Ladaran

    Thank you Elise. Very interesting!! I heard that baking soda also is a meat tenderizer, Is it true?

    • Elise Bauer

      Hi Weng, that’s new to me. It wouldn’t surprise me though. Baking soda is slightly caustic, so perhaps it could break down muscle fiber if left on long enough. You would want to wash it off before cooking. My mother used to put a paste of baking soda and water on our mosquito bite when we were kids to help stop the itching. It worked okay, but the thing that really worked? Meat tenderizer. Best thing for mosquito bites.

  • Lynn

    The information on how to make your own baking powder is very helpful, since I use it so rarely that I’m sure it’s gone bad on me and I didn’t realize it. Now all I have to do is remember how to make it when I need it!

  • Derek Hanson

    Thanks for this informative piece – I think we have all been struck by this dilemma before. Baking demands a greater precision than many other kinds of cooking, but when you get it just right, it is extra satisfying. (Looking forward to having a proper oven after three years of living in a small oven-less Japanese apartment!) best,

  • Melanie Kramar

    Thank you so much for sorting out this dilemma that has been plaguing me for years.

    So excited when I saw this. I’m from South Africa and always got confused when following international recipe sites especially when it calls for baking soda. Here in SA we have bicarbonate of soda and baking powder, and never knew which one to use when the recipe called for baking soda.

    • Pat

      Oh yes same as in Australia. Never knew what baking soda was, I guessed it was bicarb but wasn’t really sure what was the difference.

  • Georgina Pritchard

    This is very interesting thanks Elise. I always thought there is a difference between baking powder and baking soda :). This is very helpful. I follow you and visit your site most of the time and tried your recipes and it is always a success!

    Thanks again!