The table salt that we use is made up of two elements: sodium and chloride. Since pure sodium is very reactive, it is very rare to find in nature. It is always found as a compound. There are many uses for the compounds of sodium, even though not a lot of them are known.
1) Sodium is used in sodium vapor lamps, or street lamps. They have sodium gas inside the light bulb to create an orange-yellow light. Without these lights, we would have “light pollution” which is when there is so much light filling the sky that it takes away from a scientist’s perspective of the night sky. The sodium vapor lights are softer and less glaring so that scientists, enabling scientists to study the night sky. In fact, because of its ability to penetrate fog, it was chosen to be the lights that light up the Golden Gate Bridge.
2) Sodium is also used as the compound sodium carbonate, or soda ash. Soda ash is used to make glass and paper, and is used in water softeners. The water softeners help soap and shampoo clean your skin and hair better.
3) Sodium is also included in sodium bicarbonate, or baking soda. Baking soda can be used to clean, wash clothes, absorb odors, soothe feet, and bake. It helps bake by producing the gas, carbon dioxide, which makes the bread rise. Another compound is sodium hydroxide, or lye. Lye is one of the key ingredients in drain cleaners. When lye reacts with the grease in clogged drains they combine to make soap that washes down a drain easily.
4) Sodium chloride is sprinkled on the roads in cold climates to melt the ice and snow on the streets. The reason that this works is that salt can lower the freezing temperature of water.
5) An unusual use for a sodium compound is that it is used for “truth serums”.
6) Another unusual use for a sodium compound is that it is used to make the yellow color of fireworks. Sodium compounds are varied and have many more uses than you might have thought.