Borax, also known as sodium borate decahydrate, is a naturally-occurring mineral, and it is a natural product that is widely considered safe when used responsibly.
It is a soft white crystal that dissolves easily in water. If exposed to dry air, it loses its hydration and becomes sodium tetraborate pentahydrate.
Borax can be found in the same section as laundry detergents in the supermarket and it is a major ingredient in all-purpose cleaners. Therefore, the cleaning products that contain Borax are toilet bowl cleaners, laundry detergents, including those labeled as natural, laundry stain removers, air fresheners, dish detergents, glass cleaners, diaper creams, and pesticides.
It has been used as a cleaning product for several decades. It has many uses, to name a few:
- It helps get rid of stains, mold, and mildew around the house.
- It can kill insects such as ants.
- It’s used in laundry detergents and household cleaners to help whiten and get rid of dirt.
- It can neutralize odors and soften hard water.
Most people make use of borax because it has been advertised as a “green” product. So let’s find out what it is made of.
What is Borax Made Of?
Borax is marketed as a green product because it does not contain phosphates or chlorine. Rather, its main ingredient is sodium tetraborate, a naturally occurring mineral.
The white, powdered borax that you usually find in the grocery store consists of soft colorless crystals that dissolve easily in water. It is most times mistaken for boric acid, but it is not. Boric acid is more acidic and might easily turn toxic if absorbed through broken skin.
With a pH of around 9.5, Borax is highly alkaline, which makes it irritating to the skin and eyes when used undiluted. In any form – borax, sodium borate, or boric acid – undiluted borax should not be used as an eyewash or skin scrub nor should you drink it. But for occasional indirect contact, using sodium borate in things like cleaning products is safe.
How Does Borax Work?
As stated earlier, borax has a pH of around 9.5, which makes it highly alkaline and forms a basic solution when added to water. This is one of the reasons why borax is often advertised as a “laundry booster” – adding borax to laundry wash water raises its pH and assist in breaking up stains and making it easier for your laundry detergent to do its job.
Basic solutions can be really useful for both cleaning and laundry purposes because of the way they break down acidic, fatty, and oily substances—like the ones that lead to food stains and greasy messes.
Is Borax Safe For Use?
While borax may be natural, that does not mean it is completely safe.
It can cause inflammation if it comes in contact with your eyes, nostrils, or mouth.
Borax often comes in a box with a caution label warning users that the product is an eye irritant and that it may be harmful if swallowed.
The National Institutes of Health has found that borax has been associated with several adverse health effects in humans and They include the following:
- hormone issues
Exposure to borax can irritate the skin or eyes and can also irritate the body if inhaled or exposed. People have reported burns from borax exposure to their skin. The symptoms of borax exposure include:
- skin rash
- mouth infection
- eye irritation
- respiratory problems
It is believed that high exposure to borax and boric acid disrupts the body’s hormones. It is not certain but it may especially impair male reproduction, reducing sperm count and libido.
In a study, scientists found that when borax was fed to the rats, they experienced atrophy of their testes or reproductive organs.
In women, high exposure to borax may reduce ovulation and fertility. In pregnant lab animals, high-level exposures to borax were found to cross the placenta border, harming fetal development and causing low birth weight.
If ingested and inhaled, borax is quickly broken down by the body. Scientists have linked borax exposure — even from cosmetics — to organ damage and serious poisonings.
Fatal doses of borax exposure for adults are estimated at 10 to 25 grams, while for infants it takes as little as 5 to 10 grams of borax to cause severe vomiting, diarrhea, shock, and death. Infants can be exposed to borax through hand-to-mouth transfer, especially if they play with slime made with borax or crawl around the floor where pesticides have been applied.
According to the David Suzuki Foundation, borax poses significant health risks. To reduce that risk, people can replace the borax-containing products they normally use with safer alternatives. Here are some alternatives to borax that you should consider:
- Disinfectants such as food-grade hydrogen peroxide, half a lemon, salt, white vinegar, and essential oils.
- Clothing detergents such as liquid or powdered oxygen bleach, baking soda, and washing soda.
- Mold and mildew fighters such as salt or white vinegar.
- Cosmetics that contain natural ingredients other than borax or boric acid.
The use of borax has been restricted in some cosmetic and health products by Canada and the European Union. It is required that any products containing these ingredients should be labeled as inappropriate for use on broken or damaged skin. Such safety regulations are essential for the safety of those that make use of borax.
How To Safely Use Borax
If the appropriate precautions are taken, borax is safe to use as a cleaning product. Using borax safely involves minimizing your level of exposure to it.
Here are safety tips to follow:
- Do not use cosmetic products that contain borax.
- Avoid inhaling borax powder by always keeping it a safe distance from your mouth.
- Use gloves when using borax as a cleaning agent around the house.
- Fully rinse the area you’re cleaning with water after washing with borax.
- Wash your hands with soap after using borax if it gets on your skin.
- Make sure clothes washed with borax are fully rinsed before drying and wearing them.
- Never leave borax in the reach of children, whether it’s in a box or used around the house. Don’t use borax to make slime with kids.
- Avoid using borax and boric acid products around pets. This includes avoiding the use of borax as a pesticide on the ground, where pets may be commonly exposed.
- Keep borax away from your eyes, nose, and mouth to minimize your risks of exposure when using it as a cleaning product.
- Cover any open wounds on your hands when using borax. Borax is more easily absorbed through open wounds on the skin, so keeping them covered can reduce your risk of exposure.
- Now that we have dealt with how to safely use borax, let us delve into the household uses of borax.
Household Uses For Borax
- Cleaning Of Carpets: To boost the cleaning power of your carpet cleaner machine, add a 1/2 cup of borax per gallon of water to the reservoir.
- Feed Fruit Trees: If you have a garden and you would like to boost the growth of the fruit trees, then sprinkle a cup of borax around a full-sized apple tree or a young tree. This adds the trace mineral boron to the soil, which fruit trees need for good cell wall growth and fruit and seed development.
- Clean Mold And Mildew: Mix one cup of borax with one quart of hot water. Pour into a spray bottle. Spray on mold and mildew until it is saturated. Wait several hours, then rinse thoroughly.
- All-Purpose Cleaner: It can be used as an all-purpose cleaner. This is one of the most common uses for borax. To do this, mix two tablespoons of borax with two cups of water. Pour the solution in a spray bottle, and you have your very own all-purpose cleaner.
- Make Laundry Detergent: Borax produces a basic solution in water. Hence, it is an essential ingredient in the recipe for homemade laundry detergent.
It also helps to boost the effectiveness of the other cleaning ingredients in the laundry detergent.
- Deter Pests: Borax helps to keep roaches, water bugs, and ants away. Just sprinkle equal parts of borax and sugar anywhere you suspect they may be entering your home. However be wary that borax can be very toxic to little kids and pets if ingested in large quantities, so strategically place it where your kids do not frequent and if possible, barricade that area.
- Preserve Flowers: If you love gardening, then borax is the ideal product to preserve your flowers with, this applies to other varieties of fresh-cut flowers as well. Using borax helps removes moisture from the blossoms and the leaves and helps prevent wilting while they dry.
To use it, just mix one part of borax with two parts cornmeal, and sprinkle the mixture into the bottom of a box. Place your flower(s) in the box, then sprinkle more of the borax and cornmeal mixture over the top. Cover the box and let it sit for about two weeks until the flowers are dry.
- Kill Weeds: Borax makes for a rather effective herbicide as it can be used to kill weeds that come up through the cracks in your walkways.
- Clean Cookware: The gentle cleaning effect of borax is perfect for use on porcelain and aluminum cookware. To use, just sprinkle onto pots and pans and rub with a damp dishcloth to clean, then rinse thoroughly.
Beware, do not use your hand to wash.
- Borax Removes Rust: Borax can be used to remove rust. To use, just mix some quantity of borax with warm water and lemon juice to create a paste. Then, apply to the area with rust.
- Clear Clogged Drains: Borax is a much less toxic alternative to regular drain cleaners. Pour 3.5 oz (100 mg) of borax down the drain, then add 13.5 fl oz (around 400 ml) of boiling water. Let sit for at least 15 minutes and flush with several more cups of boiling water. If necessary repeat until the obstruction is gone.
- Get Rid Of Urine Smell: Borax is very effective at removing persistent urine odors from floors, carpets, or a mattress. So, if your dog has wet the carpet, dampen the problem area, rub it with borax, and use a vacuum cleaner to remove the solution once everything has dried off.