Sodium carbonate is also used as a relatively strong base in various settings. For example, sodium carbonate is used as a pH regulator to maintain stable alkaline conditions necessary for the action of the majority of developing agents. It is a common additive in municipal pools used to neutralize the acidic effects of chlorine and raise pH. In cooking, it is sometimes used in place of sodium hydroxide for lying, especially with German pretzels and lye rolls. These dishes are treated with a solution of an alkaline substance in order to change the pH of the surface of the food and thus improve browning.
In taxidermy, sodium carbonate added to boiling water will remove flesh from the skull or bones of trophies to create the "European skull mount" or for educational display in biological and historical studies.
In chemistry, it is often used as an electrolyte. This is because electrolytes are usually salt-based, and sodium carbonate acts as a very good conductor in the process of electrolysis. Additionally, unlike chloride ions which form chlorine gas, carbonate ions are not corrosive to the anodes. It is also used as a primary standard for acid-base titrations because it is solid and air-stable, making it easy to weigh accurately.
In domestic use, it is used as a water softener during laundry. It competes with the ions magnesium and calcium in hard water and prevents them from bonding with the detergent being used. Without using washing soda, additional detergent is needed to soak up the magnesium and calcium ions. Called Washing Soda or Sal Soda in the detergent section of stores, it effectively removes oil, grease, and alcohol stains. Sodium carbonate is also used as a descaling agent in boilers such as found in coffee pots, espresso machines, etc.
In dyeing with fiber-reactive dyes, sodium carbonate (often under a name such as soda ash fixative or soda ash activator) is used to ensure proper chemical bonding of the dye with the fibers, typically before dyeing (for tie dyes), mixed with the dye (for dye painting), or after dyeing (for immersion dyeing).
Sodium carbonate is used by the brick industry as a wetting agent to reduce the amount of water needed to extrude the clay.
Sodium carbonate is used to encapsulate and kill mold. When mixed with water and put in a spray bottle, it is sold for its anti-mold cleaning ability. It is also used to blast off mold from wood or other materials.
Sodium carbonate is used in toothpastes, where it acts as a foaming agent, an abrasive, and to temporarily increase mouth pH.
The crystalline form of washing soda can be used to induce vomiting in dogs. A tablespoon for large breeds is sufficient to force the animal to empty the contents of its stomach.
Sodium carbonate may be used for safely cleaning silver. First, aluminium foil is added to a glass or ceramic container, and covered with very hot water and some sodium carbonate. Silver items are dipped into this "bath" to clean them, making sure the silver makes contact with the aluminium foil. Finally, the silver is rinsed in water and let to dry.
Sodium carbonate is soluble in water, but can occur naturally in arid regions, especially in the mineral deposits (evaporites) formed when seasonal lakes evaporate. Deposits of the mineral natron, natural sodium carbonate decahydrate, have been mined from dry lake bottoms in Egypt since ancient times, when natron was used in the preparation of mummies and in the early manufacture of glass. Sodium carbonate has three known forms of hydrates: sodium carbonate decahydrate (natron), sodium carbonate heptahydrate (not known in mineral form) and sodium carbonate monohydrate (mineral thermonatrite). The anhydrous mineral form of sodium carbonate is quite rare and called natrite. Sodium carbonate also erupts from Tanzania's unique volcano Ol Doinyo Lengai , and probably erupted from other volcanoes in the past . All three mineralogical forms of sodium carbonate, as well as sodium carbonate bicarbonate, trona, are also known from ultra-alkaline pegmatitic rocks, i.e. from the Kola Peninsula.
Trona, hydrated sodium bicarbonate carbonate (Na3HCO3CO3·2H2O), is mined in several areas of the United States and provides nearly all the domestic sodium carbonate. Large natural deposits found in 1938, such as the one near Green River, Wyoming, have made mining more economical than industrial production in North America.
The sodium carbonate concentration in soda ash varied very widely, from 2-3% for the seaweed-derived form ("kelp"), to 30% for the best barilla produced from saltwort plants in Spain. Plant and seaweed sources for soda ash, and also for the related alkali "potash," became increasingly inadequate by the end of the 18th Century, and the search for commercially-viable routes to synthesizing soda ash from salt and other chemicals intensified.
The sodium carbonate was extracted from the ashes with water, and then collected by allowing the water to evaporate.
The hydrochloric acid produced by the Leblanc process was a major source of air pollution, and the calcium sulfide byproduct also presented waste disposal issues. However, it remained the major production method for sodium carbonate until the late 1880s.
At the top, a concentrated solution of sodium chloride and ammonia entered the tower. As the carbon dioxide bubbled up through it, sodium bicarbonate precipitated:
The sodium bicarbonate was then converted to sodium carbonate by heating it, releasing water and carbon dioxide:
Meanwhile, the ammonia was regenerated from the ammonium chloride byproduct by treating it with the lime (calcium hydroxide) left over from carbon dioxide generation:
Because the Solvay process recycled its ammonia, it consumed only brine and limestone, and had calcium chloride as its only waste product. This made it substantially more economical than the Leblanc process, and it soon came to dominate world sodium carbonate production. By 1900, 90% of sodium carbonate was produced by the Solvay process, and the last Leblanc process plant closed in the early 1920s.
Developed by a Chinese chemist Hou Debang in 1930s. It is the same as the Solvay process in the first few steps. But, instead of treating the remaining solution with lime, carbon dioxide and ammonia is pumped into the solution, and sodium chloride is added until it is saturated at 40 °C. Then the solution is cooled down to 10 °C. Ammonium chloride precipitates and is removed by filtration, the solution is recycled to produce more sodium bicarbonate. Hou's Process eliminates the production of calcium chloride and the byproduct ammonium chloride can be used as a fertilizer.