We got so many questions about Borax from our post Mythbuster: Borax is a Natural Green Cleaning Product but is Poisonous that we thought we should take a hard look at the science of this green cleaning product!
Borax is probably best known as a laundry booster because it helps make the water soft and can leave clothes brighter. It is also frequently touted as a great natural green home cleaning product. Let’s try to understand the science behind borax to help you decide if you REALLY do want to include it in your green cleaning products.
Borax is a white powdery substance that is naturally occuring. Borax, a combination of sodium, boron, oxygen and water, is also known as sodium tetraborate decahydrate, the boron mineral is a salt that is mined directly from the ground. The world’s largest borax (borate) mine is in Boron, California, which opened in 1891. Although there are numerous industrial applications for borax, for the residential purchaser, it is most commonly available from Dial Corporation as a laundry booster with the title of 20 Mule Team Borax.
Borax has chemical properties that contribute to its cleaning power. Borax and other borates clean and bleach by converting some water molecules to hydrogen peroxide (H2O2). The pH of borax is about 9.5, so the alkaline solution increasing the effectiveness of bleach. It also softens hard water.
Borates bond with other particles to keep ingredients dispersed evenly in a mixture, which maximizes the surface area of active particles to enhance cleaning power. It is for this reason that Dial Corporation markets it to clean your laundry.
The good news is that borax is inert and not harmful to the environment. Additionally it is not known to cause cancer and it does not accumulate in the body as so many other chemicals do. While it is a naturally occurring mineral, however, that doesn’t mean it is without dangers. Borax is poisonous and has other harmful effects, both acute and chronic.
Acute (Short Term) Health Impacts: With short-term or acute exposure, borax can be irritating when the exposure occurs through skin or eye contact, inhalation or ingestion. Toddlers and young children face special risks from hand-to-mouth transfer of things that have been cleaned with borax. When ingested, the lethal dose for a child or pet is less than 5 grams. (This is a tiny amount!)
Chronic (Long Term) Health Impacts: Over the long term, exposure may result in hormone disruption. Men working in boric acid-producing factories are known to have a greater risk of decreased sperm count and libido. In animal studies of high-dose exposures, borax and boric acid have been found to cause issues with both male and female reproductive systems.
Both the European Union and Canada restrict the use of borax as an ingredient in body care products made for children under three years of age. Furthermore, any products for any age containing borax or its compounds must be labeled as not appropriate for broken or damaged skin. No similar safety standards are in place in the United States.
Many borax-free recipes are available, use them. Also consider some other natural cleaners that may be new to you, including ketchup, rice, coffee grounds, tea, soft drinks, bread. If mixing up your own cleaners is not for you, Green Cleaning Products offers many great cleaners that are nontoxic, safe … and effective, such as Fabric PreWash or All Purpose Cleaner.