Borax. Is it as Safe as You Think?

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Borax. Is it as Safe as You Think?

{Today, please welcome Hilary Kimes Bernstein from Accidentally Green.  She is sharing about Borax.  Borax is a typical ingredient in many DIY household cleaners.  Hilary is sharing about how that might not be such a good 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’ve wondered about Borax for a while and really appreciate that you shared EWG’s findings on it! I hadn’t realized it received an F and really trust their findings. Thanks again!

  2. Thank you so much for this information. I used to clean with borax as well. I don’t anymore based on a lot of the information you covered. I’m glad there are safer options for our households with kids.

  3. Thanks for the insightful post!

  4. The only thing wrong with borax is that it is insanely cheap and no one can make any money off it. It has a lower toxicity than table salt! Look it up– table salt is more toxic and more damaging to reproductive organs in high doses. Many people consider it a health remedy and it has been used as a cure for candida and arthritis. I understand you can even buy it in tablet form(boron). I have a feeling that asking the EWG’s opinion about borax is about the same as going to your doctor and asking about high cholesterol. They mean well I guess…

    I’m not suggesting anyone take it internally, but I definitely will keep cleaning my house with it.

    • I’ll be interested to hear what Hilary has to say about this. What grade does salt have from EWG? Not that I think EWG is perfect about everything.

    • It’s important to note that Borax is NOT boron, Julie … it’s sodium borate.

      I do agree that table salt would be toxic and damaging in high doses … but isn’t just about everything? Ingesting too much water is harmful, and drinking too much white vinegar, another common cleaner, would definitely cause a lot of harm. Like I wrote in the post, Borax certainly is safer than bleach. And I know that some health-conscious individuals will gladly clean with it, but others may choose to avoid it.

      I absolutely agree with you that Borax is cheap, but so is washing soda … and the EWG gives that natural cleaner an A rating.

      • I just don’t think it is appropriate to be scaring people about reproductive harm etc etc when those studies required rats to ingest large amounts of something as toxic as salt. Do you hide the salt from your children? Creating a hazard score is a good way for the EWG to scare people but in your reply you admit that it is all in the dose. Used in the proper way there is exactly 0% chance borax will hurt you. And it is very effective. I started reading this blog because I thought that it would provide a broader perspective. Before citing one source as the definitive answer maybe you should investigate the other side first? Or write about both sides and let the reader decide?

        • Actually, I do keep salt away from my children. I learned the hard way, after my toddler poured out an entire container of table salt I had used for cleaning on our kitchen floor. Since then, I’ve switched over to cleaning system where I don’t have any cleaning products in my home (I only use Norwex cloths and tap water).

          I’m sorry you didn’t feel my post encouraged readers to decide for themselves – I truly hoped that it would. After cleaning with toxic cleaners for most of my life, I fully embraced green, homemade cleaners – but I had wrongly assumed that these homemade remedies were completely safe. (As we both know, I could write posts questioning the safety of cleaning with white vinegar or table salt. And maybe, someday I will on Accidentally Green.) That’s why the insecticide aspect of Borax came as such a shock to me. I wanted to share with others who might also have similar assumptions as I did.

  5. Bull…..ony! I seriously doubt anyone sits that and consumes the stuff or dumps it on their body and leaves it there. I’ve NEVER heard of anyone overdosing or getting chemical burns or dying from BORAX!

    • Let’s be nice “B”. I agree there is some murkiness here. But it appears EWG might be caught up in it as well. Let’s keep talking.

    • It’s a good thing that too much Borax doesn’t cause death or chemical burns! Remember, it’s only known to irritate eyes and skin … and the European Union has found a potential link between sodium borate and birth defects.

      For me, the hazard has nothing to do with responsible, rational adults who know how to use a cleaning products – it’s all about kids and pets. Just like I would be careful to keep hazardous cleaners – if I used them – out of the reach of my children or animals, I also would keep Borax away.

  6. Thank you for posting this information and your choice to not use Borax. I’ve avoided it, sitting on the fence only because I couldn’t find a consensus about it. I also have settled for a dye-free, fragrance-free, blah blah blah detergent that I can find in our organic-friendly grocery store. This might be one of those things for which there is no perfect answer. But you have affirmed my hesitance to go the Borax direction. Thank you.

  7. I really wish this would crash and burn. There have been discussions bout this all over the net. There is an excellent article here ; http://www.crunchybetty.com/getting-to-the-bottom-of-borax-is-it-safe-or-not
    make sure you read the comments for the people that had worked in those mines most of their lives with no problems.
    There is another excellent article here; http://www.health-science-spirit.com/borax.htm
    Here: http://www.educate-yourself.org/cn/boraxconspiracy03jul12.shtml
    Here; http://nexusmagazine.co.nz/resources/1904borax.pdf
    There is a LOT of articles that don’t take much to find. Comfrey is exceptionally good for many reasons and yet the government said it does harm to your liver. Do the research and you will find that it just isn’t so. I have been using it and consuming it forever and I am still here to talk about it. It is excellent animal fodder as well and my animals will tell you that.
    I take borax for pain and have for year and I am not dead. Yes, borax. You NEED this mineral in your body. You can take this cheap version or pop for it at the health food store. There are so many WONDERFUL natural remedies that have been unjustly vilified and borax is no exception. EWG is trying to pound a tack in with a sledge hammer.
    You want to bash something that is killing everyone? Pick on SUGAR! It is FAR more toxic than borax and is in darned near anything consumed. It has killed FAR more people through disease than borax ever has. It would be great if the scare mongering would stop but I doubt it will.
    Water is toxic if consumed in high enough amounts! There was a radio station in California several years ago that had a contest to drink as much water as you could to win a video game station. One woman did it to win one for her kids and now that woman is 6 feet under and her kids have no mother. Look it up. The DJ’s were fired and the story is out there.
    Borax is a wonderful MINERAL and it cleans well and safely. It never hurt my kids or me or my mother or my grandmother. If you need to worry about something harming your health, then sugar is definitely the thing to worry about.
    By the way, if one does the research on commercial detergent, you would find borax in most of them as well. it’s just hidden better because it IS so insanely cheap.
    The sky is not falling people. Let’s stop beating this dead horse. Where is the evidence that this supposedly harmed, maimed or killed people?? I have not seen a single head line about how people have been hurt by this but you can see the evidence of sugar doing harm EVERYWHERE! Just look under diabetes and obesity and cancer. They are always in the headlines and that is just a few problems it causes.

    • I do agree with you, Cindy, that sugar is causing so much harm. Just imagine how much healthier people – especially in the US – would be without consuming so much of it!

    • Thank you Cindy for your words and posted sites! They were exactly the ones I was going to post. I have known people who have cured themselves from Lupus, depression, candida, psoriasis and all sorts of problems with borax. And honestly, if people fear it… they can certainly take the homeopathic of Borax. (As for Comfrey, the government only bashed comfrey because a man in California overdosed on it and ruined his liver. What the news failed to mention was that this man had liver disease and liver failure in the first place… and was taking obscene amounts of comfrey to try to heal his toxic liver. ) I think Borax and Comfrey are incredible and I applaud you for speaking you mind. We are all entitled to our feelings of course, but I think others would do well to read the sites you posted.

      • I’m curious, Joyce and Cindy … do you swallow a spoonful of Borax? Or mix it in a glass of water?

        • Hilary,
          If you read the links that Cindy posted, you wouldn’t even have to ask that question. Just sayin’.
          The Borax Conspiracy is a very good read!

      • As Joyce said…Thank you Cindy for your posted words and sites. I too believe in Borax, and have used it as a pain reliever for arthritis. It seems to me that Hilary’s comment/questions after your posts were stated in a “mocking” manner. That doesn’t seem too “of God” to me. Praise our Lord for the freedom of speech and the right to choose what we put in our own bodies. OH BTW I have used it for fleas, insects, and laundry too! :) What it does to fleas, is basically dry them up by drawing out their body moisture due to the amount sprinkled on them. Who says GOD didn’t give us natural minerals to use for multiple purposes when used by a variety of doses?!!! GOD IS SO GOOD!!

        • I didn’t feel that Hilary was mocking at all – and I am pretty careful about that kind of stuff. I am sure she will be back to respond. Thanks for stating that you felt that way Cheri, but I don’t think it was the case.

          • Adrienne was right … I wasn’t mocking, but wasn’t exactly sure how else to word my question. I am sincerely curious if you take a sodium borate supplement or just Borax. While we’re on the subject, I’ve also been curious if it’s a home remedy or something your physician has prescribed. Again, these aren’t mocking questions, but honest and sincere ones. Since I’ve never heard of anyone consuming Borax, I’m very curious.

  8. I’m so glad you sent this… After researching for months on “flea-remedies”… Borax sprinkled on the carpet & left for 30 minutes or so, then vacuumed up looked interesting! NOW, I will rethink that as 3 of my fur-babies are cats & they keep their tongues so busy grooming, I’d hate for this TOXIN to be ingested at all!!! It is in a baggie in the kitchen & will probably wind up in the GARBAGE since I have septic that wouldn’t like it either… All I can say is “perfect timing”!

    God bless!!

  9. This is good news, actually – because I can’t seem to find Borax where I live. So I do grated soap and washing soda for my detergent and it works quite well. Thank you for sharing the health aspects of Borax.

  10. Thank you so much for this post. This was a big question for me, I am a chemist and researched detailed. For my baby and my family I don’t prefer to use borax. I love soapnuts and soapworts.

  11. While I was looking for a recipes for homemade laundry soap, I began reading that borax was not as good as it was once believed. I do not use it anywhere else as a cleaner so I included in the laundry soap even though there are recipes without borax.

  12. I use borax to kill weeds and ants, so, no, borax is not as safe as some people think. I treat borax like other chemicals: with care.

  13. Hi Hilary, thanks for sharing this information. I just started using soap nuts for laundry to reduce my chemical exposures but toying with the idea of making my own detergent with borax. I am glad I read your article. :)

  14. Scary!!! I have switched to baking soda and acv to clean my hair. One blog, can’t remember which right now suggested adding borax to the acv as an added conditioner. I did and it worked well to soften my hair, but after reading this I may as well have been using the store bought stuff. When the bottle I had mixed up ran out, I didn’t add the borax because I was in a hurry, and it’s on the back burner. Thank God! My son was using it also!

  15. I had purchased Borax to make my own laundry detergent. This is the one time I’m glad I procrastinated! I now use a green eco-friendly detergent from the store, and keep the Borax for pesky ant hills!

  16. 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.

  17. 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.

  18. 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?

  19. 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.

  20. 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!

  21. 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 :-)

  22. 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.

  23. 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.

  24. 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.