How Safe is Borax?
A common non-toxic cleaning ingredient that may not be so harmless
For years people have recommended Borax as a safe and natural cleaning solution as an alternative to harsher traditional cleaners. It’s also used a lot for other things like a non-toxic pest solution, to clean carpets, and even as an ingredient in slime for kids(1). But is Borax actually safe? Some say it is completely safe and others swear you should never use it. So we decided to do the research and figure out if Borax is a product we should be using in our everyday lives. We found that there are some issues associated with it, but there are ways it could be used safely in particular circumstances with the right precautions.
Keep reading to learn more about Borax and it’s safety, as well as some alternatives you can use instead!
What is Borax?
Borax, or otherwise known as sodium borate, is a natural mineral mined from the Earth that is most commonly found as a white powder. It’s most notably characterized as being a good emulsifier, preservative, and buffering agent (2). It’s also known for being a great disinfectant, getting rid of stains, whitening clothes, and neutralizing hard water (2, 3). Because of these properties Borax is often found in common household products like laundry detergents, soaps, and degreasers. It’s also found in topical medicine, food preservatives, pesticides, and other industrial uses because Borax can inhibit the growth of bacteria and mold, increase resistance to heat and chemicals, kill insects, and helps balance acidity (4).
Is Borax safe?
Since it is considered a natural product, it pops up in a lot of DIY recipes for various tasks around the house. However, just because it is deemed as natural that does not mean it is considered safe. Borax comes in many forms but you’re most likely to handle it in its powder form for cleaning or for doing laundry. As a powder, borax has been known to be a skin and eye irritant because it can easily travel through the air and be inhaled or get in the eyes of anyone close by. Borax has also been associated with reproductive issues, endocrine disruption, and developmental issues from exposure to any of its forms (3). It’s worth noting that most of these health problems were found in rats that were exposed to pretty high doses of Borax (2), so this probably means that the average person won’t come into contact with enough Borax to be very dangerous, but you should still take caution when handling it in your everyday life.
It’s also important to look at some of the other uses for a product when determining it’s safety. In the case of Borax, one common use is as a pesticide. To kill certain pests, Borax is found as either a powder, which sticks onto the insect’s body and then they ingest it from cleaning themselves, or it is mixed into food bait that the insects ingest directly. The Borax will build up in their system inhibiting their metabolism and reproductive system causing them to die. Borax is also really good at breaking down and destroying the exoskeletons of some insects because the powder is very abrasive to them (5).Obviously insects like ants are much smaller and more fragile than us, however, it is slightly concerning that Borax, a product we use relatively often in our homes, has the ability to be used as a pesticide as well.
Not only is Borax used as a pesticide, it is also used as cooling agents, adhesives, anti-freezing agents, building materials, and so many other industrial uses (2). Most of these chemicals and products are usually not associated with good human health so it is something to keep in mind when using Borax to clean around the house.
How to use Borax safely
Borax has been known to have some negative health consequences when exposed in high levels over time and lethal if ingested at high doses in animals and humans (6). Because of this it is best to limit our exposure which means that it’s probably okay to be using it every once in a while, but we do not recommend using it for all of your cleaning and household purposes. If you are planning to use Borax for different tasks around the house, we found some ways you can stay safe and avoid any health issues.
- Keep the area where you are using Borax well ventilated by turning on a fan or opening a window.
- Wear long sleeves and pants to prevent any Borax from getting on your skin because it could cause irritation.
- If you spill any Borax on your clothes make sure to take them off right away and wash them. This goes for spilling Borax on anything, clean it up right away!
- Use glasses or even goggles to prevent any Borax dust from getting in your eyes.
- Try to keep the Borax far away from your face so you don’t breathe it in. Avoiding dust is the best thing to do!
- Keep the Borax container tightly closed when you’re not using it.
- Try to not use it everyday, just every once in a while.
- Vacuum up the floor of anywhere you used Borax in case any dust settled onto the ground.
- Do not ingest any Borax because it can be lethal at certain doses. This goes for children as well, keep the box out of their reach at all times (2).
Alternatives to Borax
As we mentioned, a lot of DIY cleaners and laundry detergents call for Borax. Because it can be a skin and eye irritant we wanted to give you some alternatives you could use instead if you are concerned about using it in your homemade products. We included some other homemade cleaners you can use instead, as well as some store bought all-purpose cleaners that we love!
- Vinegar: Distilled white vinegar is a great disinfectant and deodorizer, making it a great alternative to Borax’s disinfectant qualities. (7)
- Baking soda: It is a natural and safe deodorizer, as well as, a mild abrasive that can help scrub off tough messes and stains. (7)
- Non-chlorine bleach: Non-chlorinated bleach is a much safer alternative to the traditional bleach and is a great disinfectant.
- Washing soda: Washing soda is a popular cleaning additive that is great for removing stains, dissolving grease, softening water, and getting rid of unpleasant smells.
- All purpose cleaners: Instead of making something at home, check out some of the eco-friendly all purpose cleaners we love!
- Here is a great recipe for kids slime without Borax!
- A. Fotso Kuate, et. al. Toxicity of Amdro, Borax and Boric Acid to Anoplolepis tenella Santschi (Hymenoptera: Formicidae) 109-152. International Journal of Pest Management. https://core.ac.uk/download/pdf/18234674.pdf#page=109