Make your own Alka Seltzer for a fraction of the cost


Over on Instructables, Belsey shows how to make your own Alka Seltzer for a fraction of the cost.

As I was making bath bombs to give for Christmas I felt a little heartburn. I reached for the Alka Seltzer... Wow... $8.99 for 36 tablets! One dose is made of 2 tablets, so that comes to 50 cents per dose. Then I looked at the active ingredients. Citric acid and sodium bicarbonate. Exactly what I was using for the bath bombs! Sour salt and baking soda! I made a rapid calculation: one dose comes to 2 grams of citric acid, and 3.88 grams of baking soda. If I figure that citric acid costs $4/lb and baking soda is $1/lb, the exact same dose of alka selzer's active ingredients would cost me about 2.5 cents to make myself.... Twenty times less than the store bought version! OK to be fair, I didn't figure the cost of filler, and the store bought alka selzer also contained aspirin, but I neither needed nor wanted the aspirin. Even if you end up spending more on the citric acid and less for the Alka Seltzer than I did, you'll still come out ahead.


  1. I wonder what the Citric acid is for, besides fizzing?

    You can treat heartburn by drinking a little bit of baking soda mixed with some water. I’ve heard it messes with your electrolytes somewhat to do this, but if you have bad heartburn you will feel terrific after you burp.

  2. Well, it is cool that you can make it your self, but there is probably no worse treatment for heartburn than aspirin–a stomach irritant that can actually **cause** heartburn.

  3. And you don’t actually need the citric acid
    (or cream of tartar).
    It’s more efficient to just stir a tablespoon of baking soda into a glass and knock it back. That way all of it will react with and reduce your stomach acid instead of having half of it turned into a salt before you drink it.

    Also, most modern baking powder (the stuff that doesn’t include sodium aluminum sulfate) is the same recipe, with cornstarch added in for filler

  4. I’ve actually done something like this before, only I just mixed baking soda with some water and drank it. Tasted nasty, but it settled my stomach right away. And thanks for the bath bomb link Jancola! Christmas presents are done, but there are always birthdays and Mother’s Day!

  5. I too wonder that the cirtic acid is for.

    I’ve used baking soda in water a few times in my life when I was out of generic Tums.

    Now… someone tell me where I can by some generic tums that have no sweetener and I’m in business.


  6. So THAT’S what citric acid is sold in bulk for. My local Arabic market has tubs of Sour Salt and I wondered what people were buying it for. Well, that leaves only Rose Water, Mastic, Gutta Percha and tiny dried figs as market products to figure out.

  7. Another home solution: ginger – even mainstream medical science supports ginger as a highly effective treatment for a wide range of minor GI disturbances.

    I was going to detail one of my favorite two-for-one uses for ginger (syrup and candy from one bulb), but a search showed that Ming Tsai’s already done it for me. [video] If you don’t want to watch the video, the basic idea is a simple syrup steeped with ginger and then drying the ginger in low oven – dead easy, and delicious.

    Ming’s method is the pretty much the same as mine, but I’d add a couple of things: I shake in a ziploc with a couple of tablespoons of sugar for the candying – much easier and more efficient than the dredging he shows. And I like to use the syrup in hot or iced black tea, which he doesn’t mention.

  8. As others have said, just a little spoon of baking soda in a glass of water will do it. There’s already plenty of acid in your stomach.

    It can also releave nausea, if it’s related to your digestion. Although I’ve been told it can go the other way if you’re too sick.

    Also good to cheat at burping contests.

  9. The citric acid makes the sodium bicarbonate more soluble in water. Old chemistry trick, still used in a lot of detergents.

  10. I agree with #15. Alka-seltzer is not just an antacid, it contains aspirin. You may be able to find bulk aspirin powder, but you might need to jump through some hoops to get it. Generally the FDA doesn’t like people doing their own compounding.

  11. I’ve always just taken a half-teaspoon of baking soda stirred into a small glass of water. Cheap and works extremely well. Tastes kind of nasty, but hold your nose while you chug it and it works fine.

  12. @presterjohn: My local supermarkets have citric acid power in the spice aisle, under the name “Sour Salt”. I’ve also seen it in the ethnic food aisle, the baking aisle, and the canning supplies aisle (it’s a rural enough area that we actually have one).

    If I remember correctly, the sour salt was actually citric acid mixed with a small amount of ascorbic acid (aka Vitamin C).

  13. If you use Alka-seltzer in quantities large enough to make this project worthwhile, you probably need to see a doctor.

  14. Chances are the asprin does something to help, but the sodium bicarbonate is definately the most important ingredient. And honestly, if you want to include it, it’s cheap.

    Also, because the instructables mentioned that one dose is two tablets… Just thought I’d point out that this is one of the two greatest marketing hoaxes ever devised.

    The company wanted to increase sales, but couldn’t figure out how to do it, given that the amount of heartburn wasn’t going to spontaneously increase… Then somebody just decided to double the recomended dosage. The whole “plop, plop, fizz, fizz” thing was a way of reinforcing their decision that you needed to take two of them instead of just one, so that you’d end up buying twice as many in the long run.

    The other one, with shampoo, works exactly the same way… “wash, rinse, repeat”.

  15. …Now *there’s* a DIY Christnukkah gift! Homemade Alka-Selzer in gift jars! There’s got to be a way to color this stuff without affecting the constituency or the effects, just like they do flavored Tums! I can see a whole new cottage industry popping up that’ll put Alka-Selzer out of business!!

    Ya gotta love it!!!!

  16. Brioschi. Look for a deep blue colored bottle, sold in some supermarkets, definitely in Italian food specialty stores.

  17. Rose water was specifically designed as a cover-story for all the people smuggling large bottles of ketamine out of India :)

  18. OMG, I’d look at the source of the indigestion and not reach for any medication, purchased or home-made. Those “remedies” don’t go to the source of the problem. You don’t want an ulcer, cancer, or other things to be developing, or just an upset tummy that causes headaches (maybe the reason for the aspirin). As the previous person said, aspirin can be irritating to the tummy. Salt is extremely toxic and irritating. I’d go online and find out the source of the problem, or seek out a holistic healer. Get well and stay well!

  19. Aspirin is merely a crude synthesis of the main active ingredient of willow bark tea. If you are concerned that your home-made alka-seltzer has no aspirin, simply take it in willow bark tea… available at many supermarkets.

  20. Aspirin is merely a crude synthesis of the main active ingredient of willow bark tea. If you are concerned that your home-made alka-seltzer has no aspirin, simply take it in willow bark tea… available at many supermarkets.

    Crude? What is crude is using tree bark that gives you no way to estimate the dosage you are receiving–if any instead of an inexpensive and effective concentrated and standardized dose of the same thing.

    By separating out the ***active ingredient*** in willow bark and creating precision standardized doses we can insure that people receive a therapeutic dosage rather than a toxic one or a useless, non therapeutic dosage. Standardized dosages are a good thing.

  21. Wow, 25 comments and nobody mentioning the absolute most important use of Alka Seltzer… BOTTLE ROCKETS!!!

    Now that I can make this stuff in BULK, I can make even BIGGER and CHEAPER rockets.

    Now to find a really big film canister……

  22. Skep, I must respectfully disagree. You have insufficient skepticism, perhaps?

    I know the proper dosage of willow bark (which I gather at no cost from my friend’s tree) better than an aspirin-bottling machine that does not know my weight, does not know my age, does not know my genetic background, does not know the diseases I may have suffered as a child, does not know if I drank goat milk yesterday, etc. etc. etc. Willow bark is very easy to use.

    If humans were standardized, standard dosages would be far more meaningful. As things stand today, the willow bark tea prepared and sold in groceries (under strict government safety regulations) is no more or less likely to be an optimal dosage than chemically produced aspirin – which has, incidentally, harmed many more people than willow bark tea. The crudely formed chemicals in standard doses of aspirin have damaged people’s stomachs and caused irreparable damage to children – this is a matter of record.

    I have co-evolved with the willow. It is more suitable to my uses than johnny-come-lately reagants produced by relatively simplistic, primitive means. Biological chemistry is vastly more complex and powerful than test-tube chemistry, at least according to biochemists.

    Eating mysterious magic things that witch doctors produce from their secret caves is primitive. Understanding how to live in one’s environment is sophisticated. I am not sophisticated, but still I know this.

    We are off topic again…

  23. Careful there! Food/drug grade chemicals are made to a different standard, often with really nasty, dangerous contaminants removed!

  24. “Generally the FDA doesn’t like people doing their own compounding.”

    Right! Just ask Wilhelm Reich!

    Baking soda was an antiacid before A-Selzer came along. I thought the citric was to cover the nasty taste … hadn’t heard about the extra solubility.

    Most ‘ready-made’ stuff … household cleansers for example … is astronomically priced compared to the raw materials. You can buy raw materials retail and *still* make better-than-Windex way cheaper.

  25. I think the citric acid in the Alkaseltzer is there to get the pill to dissolve rapdily when you drop it in the glass.

    The citric and alkali foam together, break apart the tablet to increase the surface area, and stir up the liquid up.

  26. I have not read One River, but I shall. Thank you for pointing it out to me – I found “the Serpent and the Rainbow” (also by Davis) intriguing when I saw the movie years ago.

  27. @37 With infinite respect &c.

    The aspirin bottling machine is at least run by a person, who knows that you are a human– willow bark knows you no better than than digitalis does. Biochemistry is wonderful, but plants have their own agendas.

  28. Youse guys are missing the point of why Alka-Seltzer contains asprin..or maybe not.

    As I recall, when it was pointed out that asprin is about the worse thing you could take when you have an upset stomach, they just changed the ads.

    I remember the TV ads in the era of “I can’t believe I ate the whole thing!” and “That’s a spicy meatball-a!.” They also had the actor saying, “My head! My stomach!’

    Get it? It’s for when you have an HEADACHE WITH an upset stomach. No reason to just take the medicine you need as you need it.

  29. Hmm, let’s broaden our thoughts on compounding. For example, what about mixing a packet of that instant chicken soup mix in with it?

  30. Citric acid is used in stone lithography to resensitize the lime stone to accept more grease drawing material.

  31. OK, $8.99 for 36 tablets of Alka-Setzer-brand indigestion/heartburn medication is a little steep. Fair enough.

    But surely the store where you purchase said medication has a generic version available, which would be far less expensive than the brand name, would work just as well, and would come in ready to use form. No measuring, no mixing, no muss, no fuss.

    This is a neat concept, but hardly worth the trouble to save a buck or 2. And if one wishes to avoid the added aspirin, then Rolaids or Tums both work just fine.

    Off-topic P.S. to Ito: An overwhelming body of evidence exists to support the benefits of aspirin in the 100+ years of use since its discovery. Care to offer examples as to your assertion that aspirin has “…harmed many more people than willow bark tea…”?

  32. @DAEMON: Most shampoo says “Wash, Rinse, Repeat as necessary”. People wouldn’t want to get very close to you if you didn’t follow the directions.

    Me? I repeat every morning around 8AM.

    Most medicines that come in doses of two are that way so that you can use half a dose for children.

  33. whatever happened to gouging natural chalk deposits with your tusks after over-indulging in ripened/fermented fruit?

  34. “Salt is extremely toxic and irritating. I’d go online and find out the source of the problem, or seek out a holistic healer.”

    Crickey. If you have a real medical problem the last thing you should do is seek out a holistic healer and go online. The first thing you should do is see a doctor.

    Be skeptical against your sources! Doctors aren’t always right (and certainly can be disastrously wrong on occasion so don’t switch of your common sense in the face of “authority”, if in doubt get a second opinion), but they are right vastly (as in: orders of magnitude) more often than random online commentators waxing poetically about chemical aspirin mixing machines and their co-evolution with trees. (Without any understanding of either chemistry or evolution it seems)

    Modern science and medicine is saving lives better than anything ever has in the history of mankind. Don’t disregard them or take them for granted. They are the principles that the technology in your life relies on. The fact that nature is structured and understandable to us, that we do not need to approach it through vague myths and intuitively plausible parables that mislead us to sacrifice life to placate Gods, but through honest and deep understanding.

    The conversation between scientists and nature is far more intimate and deep than that of “holistic” people could ever be (though that comes at the price of intuitiveness).

  35. For those of you saying this isn’t worth the trouble, seriously, how much trouble is it to buy some sour salt next time you go shopping? You’ve probably already got the baking soda. And if you want the aspirin in there, just powder a couple aspirin with two spoons, or add a packet of BC Powder (yes, you can get powdered aspirin)

    You don’t really even need the sour salt, as several folks have pointed out, the baking soda is what works as an antacid. The citric acid will make it more palatable and reacts to create the carbonation. It also neutralizes some of the antacid which means you need more sodium bicarbonate to get an equivalent antacid effect. The net effect is that you will have to consume more sodium.

    #5 mentioned corn starch. Have I told you all how much I LOVE corn starch?

  36. Willow bark tea is really not optimal. Not only can you not control the dosage beyond “more” and “less”, but salicyclic acid (the analgesic/anti-inflammatory in willow bark) is really hard on your stomach. Aspirin (acetylsalicyclic acid) is much better in this regard.

    And if the standard 250mg pills of ASA aren’t suited to your unique body weight and medical history, you can cut them in pieces, or even take more than one.

    I prefer Ibuprofen, myself. One pill and a hearty breakfast does wonders for a hangover.

  37. using herbs means learning them,working with them over time and hopefully having some supervision at the onset from someone with experience. Yes, they are uncertain in some ways compared to rigidly quantified and quality controlled commercial drugs. But their very uncertainty makes you more mindful about using them – as opposed to pills in a bottle that encourage you to believe someone else has done the thinking for you. A lot depends on the pace of your life. I’ll still take conventional, modern medicine when my health is seriously deranged, but a traditional herbal approach would probably be more preventative in the first place.

  38. Jennylens – I’d go online and find out the source of the problem, or seek out a holistic healer.

    I find the internet far more trustworthy than any holistic healer I’ve ever met, and that really is saying something.

  39. Sodium Bicarbonate in any form is an all-around a bad idea because it sends the wrong message to your body. Long-term use can even throw off your stomach’s ph and create a serious problem.

    Most heartburn is caused by meals being out of sync with the stomach’s expectation. Examples of this are unexpectedly eating something dense in calories but easy to digest or skipping meals (perhaps to make more bath bombs). The appropriate home remedy is eat something that puts the acid to work. Next time, try some plain raw vegetables; I like to use carrots.

    If you have persistent heartburn that doesn’t respond to eating, then you could have a serious medical problem and should consult a doctor.

  40. Modern medicine has given us hip replacements, antibiotics and oral contraceptives. Nutritional medicine (via the appropriate supplements) has proven effective in mitigating the effects of things like osteoarthritis and Tourette syndrome. Herbal medicine is apparently effective in at least some cases where modern medicine doesn’t quite make it. About 15 years ago, New Age magazine ran an article about a schizophrenic who after being in and out of psych wards several times finally found relief through alternative treatments. One point I remember from the article – which I wish I could find online – is that they drew his blood to examine his mineral profile. It turned out that his copper levels were seriously elevated.

    Yeah, there are herbalists and homeopaths who don’t know aspartic acid from holistic treatment, just as there are conventional doctors who’ll tell you “you’re fine” even if you feel like death warmed over. Indifference and incompetence know no school of medicine. As for “Doctor Google”, it’s good for general research and anecdotal information, but for the final call, I go see the doctor.

    As for the Alka-Seltzer, “Plop, plop, fizz, fizz, oh, what an expense it is!”

  41. @24: Jeffbill

    I thought you were kidding about the uses of Gutta Percha, but then I looked it up, and found it all to be true. That stuff is rediculously useful! In fact, I’m sure I’ve got some inside one of my teeth right now.

  42. Im thinking that if you managed to seal one end of a tube of this stuff up and then let it go in the water that it would shoot like a little jet boat across water.

  43. This is how my Native American Grandmother treated her gluttons: Stir 1/2 teaspoon sugar into 8 oz. glass of cool water. Rapidly stir in 1/3 to 1/2 teaspoon of Bicarbonate of Soda (baking soda). Drink up! It makes a delightful Fizz. Also, you can use Bicarbonate of Soda or regular table Salt as an emergency mouth cleaner after eating candy and you develope a nasty tooth ache. I have saved alot of money avoiding weekend trips to my Dentist by using baking soda as a emergency mouth cleanser. Additionally, if you like Gin & Tonic Water on the Rocks (Gin/Canada Dry Tonic Water/a couple of ice cubes), try drinking a 8 oz. glass of Canada Dry Tonic Water (no ice) for pain when your joints hurt. It contains quinine.

  44. MFGG, I would say that while the willow tree knows me better than an aspirin-bottling machine, neither knows me well enough for me to suspend my own judgment about my health.

    Momus, the wikipedia entry for aspirin lists some of the problems associated with standardized dosages used in accordance with doctors’ orders. Reyes Syndrome is only one of the many issues. Essentially, medical science proceeds by thesis and trial, and you can choose to be one of the experimentors or one of the experiments. (I usually insist on both, personally; I am something of a curmudgeon I suppose.)

    Drinking willow bark tea soothes my headaches (though not the migraine) and does not upset my stomach. But others should not accept my statements as fact without experimentation; that would be no different than swallowing aspirin because it has well-shaped bottle.

    Takuan’s point is well made; the act of preparing tea may be more important to one’s pains than the drinking of it. Is the finger pointing at the cow at one with the moo?

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