Baking soda and vinegar react with one another
because they both have a lot of energy that they
don't want and they can help each other get rid of
it! You might think this explanation is too
simple, but it's true to what's happening.
Before we go into more detail, let's be clear
about our materials. The chemical name for baking
soda is sodium bicarbonate. Its chemical formula
is NaHCO3, meaning it's made of one sodium atom,
one hydrogen atom, one carbon atom, and three
oxygen atoms. Vinegar is a mixture of acetic acid
and water. Dilute acetic acid is the chemical name
for vinegar, and its chemical formula is CH3COOH.
From here on out I will write the chemical
formulas in parentheses.
Baking soda is a base, and vinegar is an acid.
An acid is a chemical that wants to get rid of a
proton, or a positively charged hydrogen atom. A
base is a chemical that wants a proton. When you
mix an acid with a base exciting things can happen
because the acid is ready to give away its proton
and the base is right there to receive it!
Water is often added to acids and bases to tone
down the intensity of this exchange. Water also
acts as host in which the acid and base can break
apart and react. In water, baking soda breaks
apart into a positively-charged sodium ion (Na+)
and a negatively charged bicarbonate ion (HCO3-).
An ion is a charged atom or molecule. Acetic acid
doesn't break apart on its own in water as much as
sodium bicarbonate; it's mostly diluted so it's
not as strong.
When we mix baking soda and acetic acid in
water together, acetic acid gives its proton to
the broken-apart baking soda and together they
form sodium acetate (CH3COONa), water (H2O), and
carbon dioxide (CO2). These products are created
quickly, and the carbon dioxide comes out as a
gas, so the whole event is spectacular as you've
By reacting with each other, the acidic acetic
acid and the basic sodium bicarbonate give up a
lot of their energy and create things that have a
lower energy relative to each other. The universe
favors things at their lowest energy, and so we
see a lot of exciting reactions involving acids
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