Borax. Is it as Safe as You Think?

Borax. Is it as Safe as You Think?

{I love making my own homemade home care products like homemade foaming soap, shower cleaner / DIY “Soft Scrub”, dishwasher rinse aid, and no-streak glass cleaner, though I will admit that I don’t make my own laundry detergent. Borax is a typical ingredient in many DIY projects.  Today, Hilary Kimes Bernstein from Accidentally Green shares why that might not be the best idea.}

When I was a brand-new mom, I thought I would save our family money by making our own laundry detergent.

With loads of spit-upon baby clothes and cloth diapers, I suddenly had a lot more laundry to do.

And because I quit my job to become a stay-at-home mom, my husband and I suddenly had to manage life on a tight budget.

For three years I faithfully made my own laundry soap by grating Fels-Naptha and then melting and mixing it with washing soda and Borax. Whenever it was time to make another batch of soap, I felt resourceful like Laura Ingalls Wilder – but couldn’t believe I was actually making my own laundry detergent.

When my family needed to relocate and ended up living with my parents for seven months, most of our belongings were kept in storage – including my boxes of Borax and washing soda. Life with two young children in a house that wasn’t our own was hectic, and I just couldn’t bear the thought of making my own laundry detergent.

So I switched to fragrance-free, dye-free store-bought varieties. Once my family finally moved and settled into our own home, I discovered that Fels-Naptha shouldn’t be used with septic systems. I finally began trying soap nuts (something I had wanted to do for years), but I also use a variety of other natural detergents, including my favorite – Molly’s Suds.

Now that I’ve been away from harsh fragrances for so long, I’m sure the distinct odor of Fels-Naptha would bother my now-sensitive nose.

Surprising Facts About Borax

Around that same time I found the results of the Environmental Working Group’s Guide to Healthy Cleaning.

On a whim I thought I’d test how safe my homemade detergent had been.

Washing soda received an A
Fels-Naptha received a C– and
– naturally-derived Borax received an F.

An F! Yikes!

What Is Borax?

What’s wrong with Borax? It’s made with sucrose, lactose and sodium borate. But the sodium borate is what is toxic to humans and pets at high levels.

While Borax is not a carcinogen, studies performed in the European Union, similar to studies the U.S. FDA performs, show that sodium borate may damage fertility or unborn children.

It’s also designated a skin irritant and eye irritant.

And animal studies reveal that sodium borate disrupts animals’ endocrine systems.

Borax is an effective insecticide – you can use it to kill ants. And it also kills mold without the harsh toxicity of bleach.

What I Decided about Borax

The safety of Borax is debated in green circles – some people believe that as long as you use it as a cleaner and know that you won’t consume it, it’s safe to use.

And to a large extent, they’re right. Borax is a natural choice for adults who are looking to avoid toxic-filled chemical cleaning products.

I chose to stop using Borax long before I knew about the EWG’s rating. For quite a while I had used it to clean my home. I remember being glad that I had such a natural cleaner – so glad, in fact, that when I would sprinkle it in my toilet, I let my 3-year-old scrub the bowl with a brush.

When I learned that it could be used as an effective insecticide, I knew I didn’t want my toddler cleaning with it anymore. I stopped using it, but if I didn’t have children I might reconsider.

Since I’m a mom of young children, though, I don’t want to keep it in my house as a cleaner. I use a variety of safe and green ways to clean my home that don’t involve any store-bought cleaners, so I choose not to use Borax anymore.

Do YOU use Borax?
What do you think about this?

Hilary Kimes Bernstein photoHilary Kimes Bernstein is a Christ follower, wife, mama, and journalist who writes about making healthy decisions that honor God and happen to help the environment at Accidentally Green. She also encourages others to manage God’s blessings with responsibility and grace through Intentional Stewardship. She’s written two eBooks, First Bites: How To Instill Healthy Eating Habits During Your Baby’s First Year, and Accidentally Green: How and Why One Family Began Making Healthy Changes That Honor God and Help the Environment.

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  1. I’m so glad I didn’t just read the article and have a freak out moment since I’ve been using Borax in my homemade detergent for 2 years (with my 3 young children too!) I appreciate the response from Cindy with resources. If you’re writing a about potential health consequences please be sure you are using good sources. The possibly side effects named are scary and not backed up! I only follow a few blogs that I really respect, and I’m really disappointed in this blog.

    • Hello Missy. I think if you read the end of Hilary’s post you can see where she is coming from. She is concerned about her children’s exposure. I don’t think it is “over the top” scare tactics at all, but merely a mom doing what she thinks is best. Could you please clarify what you think is a bad source in the post?

      I personally consider Andrea Fabry, another writer here, to be a very detail oriented and balanced thinker. Here is her post about Borax. She advises caution as well. I would love to hear what you think. Thanks. http://momsaware.org/household-general/139-borax-friend-or-foe.html

    • I completely agree about using good sources, Missy. It’s why I cited agencies and organizations who are accountable to the public. (And I do use the EWG’s consumer guides for my own purchases for my own family so I have some kind of a framework about the safety of products.) Like Adrienne, I also would like you to please clarify what is a bad source.

      I had read Crunchy Betty’s post about Borax (http://www.crunchybetty.com/getting-to-the-bottom-of-borax-is-it-safe-or-not) last year and noticed she offers the same perspective as I have tried. The only difference is that she chooses to still use Borax and I don’t.

      Like every product, it is completely up to you if you want to use Borax or not.

      Unlike some cleaning products on the market that are unequivocally harmful, Borax is a personal judgment call. (And, as I explained, because my children help me clean, I’ve chosen to not use it in my home.)

      I do love Andrea Fabry’s post about Borax, also. (http://momsaware.org/household-general/139-borax-friend-or-foe.html)

      If you have a free moment to read Cindy’s resources, you’ll note that three of them are the same article reprinted in different websites – Walter Last’s “The Borax Conspiracy.” The other resource is Crunchy Betty’s post.

      I’m glad you didn’t have a freak out moment; I certainly didn’t intend any scare tactics. (As I wrote in the post, the European Union studies show that Borax MAY cause damage and that animal studies were performed.) I just wanted to give homemakers something to ponder because natural remedies aren’t always flawless or completely harmless, even if we hope – or even expect – them to be.

  2. StrivingSimply says:

    The lowest published lethal does for washing soda is 714 mg/kg (http://www.sciencelab.com/msds.php?msdsId=9927263), whereas the lowest published lethal dose for borax is 709 mg/kg (http://www.drugfuture.com/toxic/q126-q420.html). While the EWG gave them different grades, they have similar side effects for humans, and I certainly wouldn’t give either chemical to my children to play with. Exposure through laundry soap that you don’t expose skin to and rinse off of clothing with vinegar? No need for getting people worked up.

  3. Very informative. I do use Borax. Basically for cleaning my floors & the tub. I was using it in my DIY powdered laundry detergent and then found out that it really needs to be used with hot water in order for it to perform best. I almost exclusively wash in cold water. I did make liquid detergent with it before–but really disliked exposing myself to inhaling all those ingredients while I cooked it (it just doesn’t seem like the best idea to me). I have used it mixed with sugar for ant control. I will continue to use it.

    • Hmmm, must be used with HOT water, eh? I use cold or warm water most of the time…I wonder if that’s why my tea towels don’t seem absorbent anymore?? What to do, what to do? I have borax/washing soda/Linda bar soap (not Fels-Naptha) stocked up to make another batch of homemade detergent and I’m down to my last few scoops…

      Does anybody who has used any variation of this recipe combo care to comment about its affects on laundry? Besides the lack of absorbancy in the tea towels now, my laundry also isn’t as white as it used to be. That doesn’t really bother me but I’m wondering if that’s normal?

  4. Athena K. says:

    Water is a chemical and it can be toxic. My background in chemistry has taught me that everything is a chemical and everything can be toxic based on how, where, when, and how much is used. Borax is not a bioccumulative compound, it does not cause cancer, and it is a natural as can be. People don’t need to freak out. As you said, it is up to each person to decide to use it or not, and although you said you were not going for scare tactics I am sure you do realize the title is meant to grab people’s attention, and it was written with the sock factor in mind. And with all these blog posts out there people just don’t know what to trust anymore. So sadly many will reads this article and go “OMG borax is toxic! Let’s stop using it altogether” and that is when bloggers do a disservice.

    • I don’t think Hilary wrote this to shock at all. I think she was very balanced and shared that this was her decision and not everyone’s. Now, if she had said “Borax is a killer. Get it out of your house NOW!” then that would be different. I do appreciate your “holding out feet to the fire” but I would check our her writing a little more and see if you don’t agree with me. Thanks.

    • I’m sorry, Athena, but I really wasn’t going for scare tactics. When I was a new – and naive – mom, I didn’t realize that everything is a chemical and that everything can be toxic based on how, where, when, and how much is used. Since I didn’t know and was surprised to find out, I thought other moms and pet owners would at least like to be informed and choose their own decisions.

      I believe readers should carefully pay attention to the information in whatever blog post, newspaper or magazine article, or book they read. All writing should be read with discernment.

  5. Just to add to your research, check out “The Borax Conspiracy”. It is a very interesting read. As we know, there are a lot of people out there that don’t like the fact that sometimes the things that help us the most are inexpensive, and more natural and pure. Of course they want us to be buying THEIR products. Makes sense that you can find anything and everything on the internet that says what ever you want it to say. That’s where our trust and God given instinct has to fall in to place. TRUST in your own gut feeling in what you read!

  6. Hi!
    Thanks for the info :-) I used to use Borax, but I got tired of making detergent. Sometimes it feels like all I do is cook and make products for cleaning! SOOoo I discovered Soap Nuts. They are awesome. I have been using them for about 4 months now and my husband and I agree that we can’t tell any difference in the cleanliness of the clothing. There is one interesting difference though. I no longer need dryer sheets or softener! Apparently the detergents build up in the fabrics of the clothes and cause static. I Live in Colorado Springs which is very arid most of the time. I love the fact you can use the same bag of 6-8 nuts for up to 6 loads of laundry too! They can be thrown in the dryer. They don’t need to be taken out during the rinse cycle. And somehow my clothes come out magically clean and smelling like nothing at all. Sometimes I’ll drip a bit of essential oil on a cotton ball and throw it in the dryer if I want some fragrance. I do a lot of laundry and I have been on the same 14 dollar bag of nuts since I started using them. I think I’m about half way through the bag. Look on Amazon for more reviews :-)

  7. Oh…by the way. I still use Borax to soak my whites in if I have a particularly bad load. Also, I use it diluted in cleaners that I make. I don’t have an issue with it. I just think that Soap nuts get my clothes cleaner and require no extra work.

  8. I don’t drink it, put it in my eyes or feed it to my animals – so, no way am I going to stop using it. I think those alarms are way overstated, because, seriously? Who in their right mind is going to do any of those 3 things? I have (really should say, HAD) Rosacea, until I found a natural cure for it. Rather than paying $165 for a generic cream that obviously would have never “healed” me, but, just made it worse? I found that by making a water/borax solution, soaking a cotton ball with it and half hydrogen peroxide on the same cotton ball, then putting it all over my face, neck and chest every morning and night….(all for a cost of under $10, I might add) – within a week, my rosacea was gone. AND, two moles that I had scheduled for surgical removal disappeared too! My face is extremely soft now as an added bonus. Take away my Borax?? I think NOT.

  9. Having looked at the ingredients of the deals-naphtha soap I decided that using that in the homemade laundry soap. Then a while later I read you could use ivory soap. That is what I have been using in the laundry soap I make. And yes borax is one of the ingredients. Fels-naphtha scares me more than borax.