What is Borax and is it Safe to Use? The Real Facts About Borax and Its Many Uses

What is Borax and is it Safe to Use?

Borax is a naturally-occurring white mineral that is used for cleaning, getting rid of bugs, and adding to laundry detergent. Borax powder is also a popular ingredient for making slime that children love playing with. Many people use borax around the home because it is natural and doesn’t contain phosphates, chemicals, or chlorine.

Despite the fact that borax is completely natural, many people wonder if borax is safe to use around the home. Borax is a skin irritant and can cause gastrointestinal upset if swallowed. The side effects of borax may also affect children more than adults.

In this article, you will find out if borax powder is safe to use around the home. You will learn about ways that borax can be used safely and any precautions you need to take.

What is Borax?

Borax is a white powdery substance that is also called sodium borate, sodium tetraborate, or disodium tetraborate. Borax is described as a borate-mineral concentrate that has a number of uses in heavy industry and around the home. (1)

Borax and borate products are used to make glass, fire retardants, insecticides, and added as a laundry bleach to detergents.

The journal Reproductive Toxicology reports that borax and boric acid can be found in drinking water, fruits and vegetables, household products, and insecticides. (2)

Borax vs. boric acid

Both borax and boric acid are boron compounds; however, they have a different chemical structure.

Boric acid is made from processing and refining borax. This results in a chemical that is more toxic than borax. According to studies, using boric acid is inexpensive, and effective insecticide to control bug populations. (1)

Borax Uses

How can you use borax around the home to keep your home clean, free from insects, and use it in your laundry?

Use Borax to Get Rid of Roaches and Insects

One of the most common ways to use borax safely is to keep your home free from creepy crawlies.

Borax is often used as a natural insecticide agent to get rid of ants, roaches, spiders, and other insects. Boric acid and borax are used to kill off insects because they are toxic for bugs but pose relatively few dangers for mammals. (3)

Another study found that using borax (sodium tetraborate) in baits can help to control roach population numbers. The results of the study showed that boric acid was more effective than borax in killing cockroaches. (4)

You can create your own natural bait to kill off roach infestations and other bugs. Mix 3 parts borax with 1-part sugar. Apply the insecticide under sinks, in dark places and along baseboards where you have noticed signs of roaches. It is best to avoid areas where children play or pets can come into contact with it.

Further reading: How to get rid of roaches naturally.

Use Borax as a Laundry Detergent Booster

You can usually find borax in the laundry aisle at the supermarket as it is sold as a laundry additive to help clothes come out white.

A report on safety precautions when using borax and other borate-compounds said that borax has been used in laundry detergents since the early 1900s. Borax can help to soften water, deodorize clothes, and acts as a bleaching agent in washing. (5)

You can sprinkle ½ a cup of borax powder in your washer tub before putting dirty laundry in. Wash your clothes as normal. Borax has the advantages of helping to treat hard water and also removing stains from clothes.

You should use the same precautions with borax as you would with your regular washing powder.

Borax is Good for Household Cleaning

Borax is used in household cleaning products to kill off germs and disinfect surfaces.

The National Library of Medicine says that one of the many uses for borax is as a cleaning agent. Borax acts as a germicidal cleanser, and many products use 20% borax in their solutions. (5)

How can you use borax around the home? Here are some ideas:

Use borax as a toilet cleaner. Sprinkle a cup of borax in your toilet bowl and around its rim before you go to bed. Spray ½ a cup of white vinegar over the borax and leave overnight. The next morning, thoroughly clean the toilet bowl with a brush to get rid of any grime or deposits.

Use borax to clean carpets. Add a ½ a cup of borax for every gallon of water in your carpet-cleaning machine to help remove stains and smells from your carpets. Clean your carpets as normal.

Use borax as a surface cleaner. Fill a spray bottle half full with hot water. Add 1 tablespoon of borax, 2 tablespoons of Castile liquid soap, and a ¼ cup of white vinegar. Add 20 drops of tea tree oil to help make your spray antibacterial. Use to disinfect surfaces as you would a traditional surface cleaner.

You can find out about more natural alternatives to bleach to help keep your home smelling and looking clean and fresh.

Borax is an Effective Fungicidal Agent

One of the ways to keep your home safe from potentially dangerous pathogens is to use borax to clean away mold.

Scientists say that mold in homes can be a result of dampness and poor ventilation. Being exposed to mold, fungi, and other pathogens can cause severe illnesses. Mold can cause respiratory problems, skin irritation, and lead to lung infections. (6, 7)

Research has found that borax is a safe cleaner to remove mold that has contaminated drywall. In studies, borax was just as effective as commercial mold-removing products in getting rid of the organisms. (8)

Mix 1 cup of borax with a gallon of water. Use a scrubbing brush to remove the mold off the surface and wipe away any debris or mold particles. Leave the surface to dry completely.

Learn more about the dangers of mold and how to spot signs of mold-related illnesses.

Is Borax Safe or Toxic? Borax Side Effects

Although borax is a natural product, it doesn’t mean that there are no side effects associated with it. However, that doesn’t mean that it is not safe to use.

For example, there are adverse effects associated with many natural products that we use daily. Ingesting large amounts of raw vinegar is not good for you. Or, rubbing salt into your skin can cause irritation. Also, essential oils are good for your health, but you should only use them sparingly and never apply them undiluted to your skin.

What about borax? Is borax safe to use around the home without risk to your health?

In many cases, the dangers associated with borax are connected with long-term use or prolonged exposure to undiluted substances.

According to the National Library of Medicine, breathing in borax dust can cause irritation to the respiratory tract and other mucous membranes. You should also protect your eyes from borax powder as it can cause redness, pain, and vision problems. (5)

It is not safe to ingest borax because it can cause vomiting, nausea, and diarrhea.

Borax is not a cancer-causing chemical as it is not listed as a carcinogenic substance. (5)

Ingesting large amounts of boric acid can result in death. There have been reported cases that consuming between 15 to 20 grams would be enough to kill an adult. It may take as little as 5 to 10 grams of borax to cause death in a child. (5, 9)

So, it is important to keep borax in sealed containers out of reach of children to prevent accidental injury.

Borax is Not Safe for Children

One of the health concerns is the adverse effects that borax could have on young children.

Reports indicate that infants are more sensitive to the effects of boron products than adults are.

One of the ways that children could be exposed to low levels of borax is with slime. Many slime products and homemade slime for kids use borax in the ingredients. This is a risk that could expose children to borax poisoning.

Many parents make non-toxic slime at home by substituting other products for borax.

Borax Can Irritate Your Lungs

One of the adverse effects of borax is breathing in borax powder.

The British Journal of Industrial Medicine reported that borax dust can cause a number of respiratory issues. Workers in borax factories commonly suffer from lung irritation, dryness of the mouth, throat, coughing, and chest tightness. The effect of breathing in borax powder can be even worse for smokers. (10)

Other studies have shown that even short-term exposure to sodium borate dust can negatively affect lung health. One study found that 15-minute exposure to borax was enough to impact on respiratory function. (11)

Borax Exposure Can Upset Hormone Balance

One of the reasons why borax can be harmful is that long-term exposure can cause hormonal imbalances.

One study involving male rats found that adding borax to their diet resulted in testicular atrophy and caused infertility. (12)

While there are no studies on the hormonal effects on humans of ingesting borax, there is certainly no reason to drink or ingest borax.

How to Use Borax Safely

Even though borax is generally non-toxic to humans and can be safely used around the home, you still have to take some precautions when using it.

To use borax as a cleaning product or to get rid of roaches from your home, here are some safety tips:

  • Use gloves when handling borax powder and avoid breathing in any of the dust particles.
  • Keep borax and boric acid away from pets and children.
  • If you use borax as a laundry booster, thoroughly rinse clothes afterward before you dry and wear them.
  • If you used borax to clean surfaces, thoroughly rinse the area with water after washing with borax.
  • Wash your hands after using borax and rinse your skin if any powder comes into contact with it.

What to do if you ingest borax?

Borax poisoning in humans can cause serious consequences and even be fatal. Even ingesting a teaspoon of boric acid could be fatal for infants.

In cases of ingesting borax, you should seek emergency medical attention immediately. Borax ingestion of several grams can affect liver function, cause gastrointestinal upset, and even death. (5)

Where Can You Buy Borax?

You can usually find boxes of borax in the laundry detergent aisle at your supermarket. You can also buy borax in hardware stores, grocery stores, and health food stores.

Of course, it is very easy to find borax online.

Borax Substitutes

Despite the fact that borax is generally safe to use, you may want to look for safer, less toxic alternatives to borax.

What are some of the best non-toxic cleaners for your home that don’t include borax in the recipes?

Baking Soda

One of the best all-purpose cleaning powders to use as a substitute for borax in your home is baking soda.

Like borax, baking soda is an alkaline powder that has powerful cleaning properties. The grainy texture of baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) is good for scouring away sticky grime and grease from surfaces.

Some studies have shown that baking soda has antimicrobial properties that make it a great natural cleansing agent. (13, 14)

To use baking soda as a natural household cleaner, make a thick paste with the powder and a little water. Use a scouring pad to easily remove grease, grime, germs, and stains from kitchen surfaces.

For more ideas on how to use baking soda, please see my article on the many household uses of baking soda.

Lemon Juice

If you are looking to make your own antimicrobial surface spray with a borax substitute, then you can use lemon juice.

Studies have shown that citrus juice from lemons or limes has antimicrobial properties. Lemon and lime juice concentrations were useful for inhibiting the growth of various bacterial and fungal pathogens. The researchers concluded that citrus juices have great potential in curbing unwanted microbial growth. (15)

Lemons are not only good for cleaning grease, germs, and making surfaces smell fresh, but drinking lemon water has a number of health benefits.


One way to help keep surfaces clean without using borax is to incorporate white vinegar into surface sprays.

Vinegar is a good borax alternative because it helps kill germs without harming humans or pets. The journal mBio reported that acetic acid in regular vinegar has antibacterial properties and act as a disinfectant. Scientists found that cleaning surfaces with vinegar solutions can help to even get rid of disinfectant-resistant bacteria. (16)

To make your own non-toxic, all-purpose surface cleaner, fill a spray bottle 1/3 full with white vinegar. Top up with water and add a little dish soap. You can also add a few drops of your favorite essential oil to add a pleasant scent. Use the spray to clean and deodorize surfaces every day.

Find out about more ways to use vinegar around the home as a cheap alternative to anti-bacterial sprays.

You can also use vinegar in your laundry to help brighten your clothes and get rid of offensive odors. Pour in 1 cup of distilled vinegar to the last rinse cycle to help soften clothes and get rid of smells.

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