Minerals (Category B)
Sodium carbonate (also known as washing soda, soda ash and soda crystals), Na2CO3, is the water-soluble sodium salt of carbonic acid.
It most commonly occurs as a crystalline heptahydrate, which readily effloresces to form a white powder, the monohydrate. Pure sodium carbonate is a white, odorless powder that is hygroscopic (absorbs moisture from the air). It has a strongly alkaline taste, and forms a moderately basic solution in water. Sodium carbonate is well known domestically for its everyday use as a water softener. It can be extracted from the ashes of many plants growing in sodium-rich soils, such as vegetation from the Middle East, kelp from Scotland and seaweed from Spain. Because the ashes of these sodium-rich plants were noticeably different from ashes of timber (used to create potash), they became known as "soda ash". It is synthetically produced in large quantities from salt (sodium chloride) and limestone by a method known as the Solvay process.
The manufacture of glass is one of the most important uses of sodium carbonate. Sodium carbonate acts as a flux for silica, lowering the melting point of the mixture to something achievable without special materials. This "soda glass" is mildly water-soluble, so some calcium carbonate is added to the melt mixture to make the glass produced insoluble. This type of glass is known as soda lime glass: "soda" for the sodium carbonate and "lime" for the calcium carbonate. Soda lime glass has been the most common form of glass for centuries.