If you are looking for a nontoxic abrasive cleanser, baking soda can't be beat. In a comparison I did between baking soda and Ajax, results were similar in terms of cleaning power. However, according to the Colgate-Palmolive website, Ajax is an eye and skin irritant. The site also states that "over-exposure can cause respiratory irritation." The site mentions that Ajax contains crystalline silica, a low-level carcinogen. The site also said that there is no expected harm from ingesting the cleanser — which is something I won't be experimenting with.
On the other hand, baking soda is so safe you can use it for toothpaste or an age-old remedy for heartburn and indigestion.
Baking soda is slightly cheaper than Ajax, depending on where you purchase it. On average, an 18-ounce box of baking soda is about 60 cents, whereas a 14-ounce can of Ajax is about 75 cents.
Here are a few comparisons I tried out. I used plain baking soda, Ajax and a no-scratch-backing sponge.
Food stains on a laminate countertop
I noticed equal countertop cleaning power, but I did need a bit more elbow grease with the baking soda. The baking soda residue was easier and faster to clean up (hot water and a sponge). The Ajax gave a slightly deeper clean, but left a lot of residue. There is a greater need with Ajax to use a lot more water and, if not a sponge (used only for cleaning), more cloths or paper towels to clean the residue.
Rust stains on floor tiles
I have two great old farmhouse kitchen chairs at my table which I found at a yard sale. The one downside is the chairs have some type of metal on the base of the legs, which while flush with the chair leg, leaves rust stains after I wash my floors. Both baking soda and Ajax got those stains right up. I would have concerns for leftover residue from the Ajax though, as my pets will often lick things up from the floor.
Paint on floor tiles
I have a heavy red toolbox that is stored on the floor of my pantry. Over the years, each time I have pulled out the toolbox, red paint stains have been left behind. The odd thing was it took more scrubbing with the Ajax than the baking soda to remove the paint stains, then plenty of heavy rinsing again for the Ajax.
Stainless steel and porcelain sinks
Mild abrasives are best for stainless steel and porcelain, so baking soda wins on that factor alone. However, both products cleaned about equally, with a bit more shine on the stainless steel from the Ajax. An added benefit to using baking soda to clean sinks is its ability to help unclog drains. Ajax, especially if it contains bleach, sends more toxins into the water supply.
Both products cleaned equally well, but baking soda will keep your pipes clearer, is safe for septic systems and won't pollute the water supply.
Since the bathroom is where we all go to clean ourselves, it also has a tendency to be one of the rooms in the house that gets dirty the fastest. I would never use a strong abrasive on linoleum, but a light scrub with baking soda is good for getting out grime that gets into the indentations of the patterns in the linoleum.
So, anywhere you can use a light, nontoxic abrasive, baking soda is the humble winner.