Borax is frequently used in homemade laundry soap, dishwashing powders, and personal care products. The question often arises: Is borax safe to use?
Borax, also known as sodium borate, sodium tetraborate, or disodium tetraborate, is a naturally occurring mineral composed of sodium, boron, oxygen, and water. (The scientific name for borax is sodium tetraborate decahydrate.) It is a white powder consisting of soft, colorless crystals that dissolve quickly in water.
The Safety of Borax
Borax can be found in most grocery stores under the label 20 Mule Team (pictured here).Mountain Rose Herbs offers a version without the surfactants and detergents commonly found in commercial products.
According to 20 Mule Team Borax’s Material Safety Data Sheet, borax is a potential health hazard and should not be ingested:
Sodium borate and boric acid interfere with sperm production, damage the testes and interfere with male fertility when given to animals by mouth at high doses. Boric acid produces developmental effects, including reduced body weight, malformations and death, in the offspring of pregnant animals given boric acid by mouth.
The above mentioned animal studies were conducted under exposure conditions leading to doses many times in excess of those that could occur through product use or inhalation of dust in occupational settings. Moreover, a human study of occupational exposure to sodium borate and boric acid dusts showed no adverse effect on fertility.”
Borax was added to the Substances of Very High Concern list by the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) in December 2010, based on studies showing toxicity for reproduction.
Reassessment of boric acid/borax by the EPA’s Office of Pesticide Programs found potential developmental toxicity.
Borax is classified by the EPA as a pesticide and is toxic to ants, cockroaches, termites, and other insects. In its chemicalWATCH Factsheet, the organization Beyond Pesticides says this about boric acid and its related compounds:
Boric acid is a low-toxicity, non-volatile mineral with insecticidal, fungicidal, and herbicidal properties. It has long been embraced as a safer alternative to highly volatile, synthetic chemical pesticides.
For information on using borax for weed control in lawns, see this GardenGuides.com article.
Clearly there are health risks associated with the use of borax. Therefore, it should be used with caution. It is important to note, however, that even table salt can be hazardous if ingested at high levels.
There are those who suggest that borax can be of great benefit due to the body’s requirement for boron. See the article The Borax Conspiracy for more.
Given the small amount of borax used in homemade laundry powder and automatic dishwashing powder, the benefits may outweigh the risks. Since 1-2 tablespoons of the mixture are needed per load, the amount of borax used is minimal. Compare this with the high amounts of petroleum-based chemicals present in conventional products. The exception would be for those using a greywater system (water from washing machines, sinks, etc. used for yard irrigation). Borax is best avoided for these systems. For more information, see the Greywater Action website.
Borax is a safe and efficient cleaning agent for toilets. Allowed to set overnight, it will help eliminate iron rings and stains, with no harmful vapors.
The use of borax in personal care products may be more questionable. Our skin and scalp easily absorb chemicals, both naturally occurring and synthetic.
As with any substance, knowledge and awareness are key. Used sparingly and with caution, I believe borax may be utilized safely in the natural home.
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MCS Gal says
Thanks for the information. I didn’t know I could get the ring out of our second hand toilet by soaking with borax – I learn something new every day 🙂
I try to stay away from a lot of man-made chemicals – I would rather use products nature has provided us. Nature has given us some good products, we just have to learn how to use them wisely.
Jill @ Jills Home Remedies says
I do use Borax in my homemade laundry detergent. Perhaps one of these days I’ll come up with something even safer. 🙂 Thanks for the excellent info!
Home made laundry detergent with no borax can you
suggest any please?
Andrea Fabry says
There is a borax-free liquid version here:
Gypsy Magician says
My father, a chemist, worked for the company that marketed Borax at the time. His department tested every way they could to demonstrate that adding it to laundry made clothes cleaner in any way, but they were unable to find that it made any difference.
Renee Kohley says
I didn’t know this Andrea! Thank you for sharing!
Kristie Mobley says
I have done some reading on Borax. I came to some of the same conclusions. I don’t use it in every load of laundry, but I do add it sometimes. I feel it does help our clothes become cleaner in our hard water. Thank you for sharing your research!
Andrea Fabry says
Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Kristie. I appreciate it.
Rosella Koeller says
My friend is ingesting 20 Mule Team Borax on a daily basis to strengthen her bones and help with pain.
Isn’t that toxic??
Andrea Fabry says
I’ve heard of taking borax or boron as a supplement. If it is mined from a pure source with no additives it can help with boron deficiency from what I understand.
My asd son’s OT offers home made slime (made of glue and borox) for sensory input. So, you think we should avoid playing with this slime, since borox can get absorbed through the skin.
Andrea Fabry says
Hmmm. Not sure on this! I don’t think I would hesitate but as the mom go with your gut.