Is Borax Safe?

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Borax is recommended for a lot of DIY “green cleaning” products around the house, but is borax safe? In this post, we’ll cover the basics about borax safety so you can make a more well-informed decision about using this product in your home.

Borax. Is it as Safe as You Think?

When I was a brand-new mom, I thought I would save our family money by using a non-toxic laundry detergent recipe.

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.

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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.

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.

Of course, even if you choose not to use borax and wish to make your own laundry detergent, there are other ways to do it such as this Homemade Sensitive Laundry Detergent.

Update from Adrienne – I’ve been rethinking this whole thing due to reading that table salt has the same toxicity as sodium borate. So there is definitely going to be a follow up post on this….

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

Hilary Kimes Bernstein photo

Hilary 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. 

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  1. Boron is a component of Borax and is likely considered a necessary trace mineral in the human diet. Like all other trace minerals, excess intake is toxic. A deficiency of this trace mineral appears to affect hormones, joint and bone health, mental acuity, utilization of other minerals, and much more. Borax or other boron sources like Calcium Fructoborate (naturally found in fruits and vegetables) are sometimes added to dietary supplements, but the amount is typically only as necessary to provide in the order of 3 milligrams of elemental Boron or slightly more.
    Reviewing the Materials Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) for Borax (Sodium Borate) and common Table Salt (Sodium Chloride), we can conclude that borax toxicity is only roughly twice as toxic as table salt.
    Regarding the toxicity of Borax or its derivative Boric Acid to ants and cockroaches, the toxicity occurs when the substance recrystalizes within their microscopic digestive tracts after ingestion. Crystallization ruptures their digestive tracts.
    I believe Borax can generally be safely used as directed on the box. I doubt it would be sold for household use if it was of great risk, but like all other household cleaning products, these products should not be accessible to children and pets, and should be properly handled.
    Of further note…. Borax is a naturally occurring mineral salt and is not some man-made substance. Borax is also a great mold inhibitor and was used decades past as a food preservative, and is still used in some cosmetics like certain lipstick brands also as a preservative.
    Please Google everything I have stated above for yourself and do not accept my comments above at face value. I make no recommendations for or against the use of Borax or other compounds containing the element Boron. Please share your thoughts and experiences with me. You are in your own.
    Here is a link to the Federal website the National Institute of Health (NIH) regarding the roll of the mineral Boron (which is a component of Borax) in human health.

    1. Thanks for the thorough comment and for reading. Actually I have been planning to redo this post for a long time–I just need another me! But thanks again. 🙂

  2. Borax, or sodium tetraborate (Na2B4O7), is a salt. Salts can cause metabolic acidosis if taken in high amounts. Compare:

    SODIUM CHLORIDE (table salt)
    (Link deleted by Whole New Mom due to it not working anymore)
    The deaths were usually preceded by a syndrome that included metabolic acidosis, CNS depression, respiratory distress progressing to gasping respiration, hypotension, renal failure, and, occasionally, seizures and intracranial hemorrhage.

    (Link deleted by Whole New Mom due to it not working anymore)
    SEVERE TOXICITY: Dehydration, hypotension, CNS excitation or depression, lethargy, seizures, coma, acute renal failure, dysrhythmias, and metabolic acidosis have been reported in patients with severe toxicity.

    I mean, table salt can be pretty toxic as well. Better keep the kids away from that too… Anyways, boron itself is not toxic. Even though it is not known whether it is beneficial in humans, it is an essential nutrient for plants, and since we eat plants, one would expect we would be adapted to digest it.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  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 🙂

    1. I agree with you, Hannah … Soap Nuts are great! And they are so much easier than making your own detergent.