Sodium carbonate (known as washing soda or soda ash) is a chemical found in many household and industrial products. This article focuses on poisoning due to sodium carbonate.
This article is for information only. DO NOT use it to treat or manage an actual poison exposure. If you or someone you are with has an exposure, call your local emergency number (such as 911), or your local poison control center can be reached directly by calling the national toll-free Poison Help hotline (1-800-222-1222) from anywhere in the United States.
Sodium carbonate is found in:
- Automatic dishwashing soaps
- Clinitest (diabetes testing) tablets
- Glass products
- Pulp and paper products
- Some bleaches
- Some bubble bath solutions
- Some steam iron cleaners
Note: This list is not all-inclusive.
Symptoms from swallowing sodium carbonate may include:
- Breathing problems due to throat swelling
- Eye irritation, redness, and pain
- Low blood pressure (may develop rapidly)
- Severe pain in the mouth, throat, chest, or abdominal area
- Swallowing difficulty
Symptoms from skin or eye contact may include:
- Skin burning, drainage, and pain
- Eye burning, drainage, and pain
- Vision loss
Seek immediate medical help. DO NOT make a person throw up unless told to do so by poison control or a health care professional.
If the chemical is on the skin or in the eyes, flush with lots of water for at least 15 minutes.
If the chemical was swallowed, immediately give the person one glass of water, unless instructed otherwise by a health care provider. DO NOT give water if the person is having symptoms (vomiting, convulsions, or a decreased level of alertness) that make it hard to swallow.
If the person breathed in the poison, immediately move them to fresh air.
Before Calling Emergency
If readily available, determine the following information:
- The person's age, weight, and condition
- The name of the product (ingredients and strength, if known)
- The time it was swallowed
- The amount swallowed
Your local poison control center can be reached directly by calling the national toll-free Poison Help hotline (1-800-222-1222) from anywhere in the United States. This national hotline number will let you talk to experts in poisoning. They will give you further instructions.
This is a free and confidential service. All local poison control centers in the United States use this national number. You should call if you have any questions about poisoning or poison prevention. It does NOT need to be an emergency. You can call for any reason, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Take the container with you to the hospital, if possible.
What to Expect at the Emergency Room
The provider will measure and monitor the person's vital signs, including:
- Oxygen saturation
- Breathing rate
- Blood pressure
Symptoms will be treated as appropriate. The person may receive:
- Blood Tests
- Airway and/or breathing support -- including oxygen via external delivery device or endotracheal intubation (placement of a breathing tube through the mouth or nose into the airway) with placement on a ventilator (life support breathing machine)
- Electrocardiogram (ECG)
- Endoscopy -- a camera is used to examine down the throat to see burns in the esophagus and the stomach
- Laryngoscopy or bronchoscopy -- a device (laryngoscope) or camera (bronchoscope) is used to examine down the throat to see burns in the airway
- Eye and skin irrigation
- Fluids through a vein (IV)
- Medicines to treat symptoms
- X-rays of the chest and abdomen
Sodium carbonate is usually not very toxic in small amounts. However, if you swallow large amounts, you may have symptoms. In this rare situation, long-term effects, even death, are possible if you do not receive quick and aggressive treatment.
Sal soda poisoning; Soda ash poisoning; Disodium salt poisoning; Carbonic acid poisoning; Washing soda poisoning
Hoyte C. Caustics. In: Walls RM, Hockberger RS, Gausche-Hill M, eds. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2018:chap 148.
Woolf AD. Principles of toxin assessment and screening. In: Fuhrman BP, Zimmerman JJ, eds. Pediatric Critical Care. 5th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2017:chap 127.
Review Date 7/1/2020
Updated by: Jesse Borke, MD, FACEP, FAAEM, Attending Physician at FDR Medical Services/Millard Fillmore Suburban Hospital, Buffalo, NY. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.