First, let me start off by saying WHEW!
This topic is blowing my mind. Why? Because at first glance, it appears as if we are suggesting using a highly toxic substance in our homemade natural cleaner recipes that we have been sharing.
We started off posting recipes using natural materials, but we had the question a few times about the safety of Borax from you!
Before using Borax, I thought I knew it was safe based on many things I read about it and based on many homemade recipes that are “natural” and “safe” that contain Borax.
So the first time I got the question, “Isn’t Borax toxic and why are you using it in your recipes?” I sorta freaked out a little.
Well, after this question the first time, I began researching again. The very first thing I came across on many places online was this statement:
WHAT!! Borax IS Boric Acid?!
I am not only trying to be thrifty, but healthy too and I thought my home grown cleaning and cleaning products weren’t natural and safe like I thought.
Well, a few websites out there touted Borax and Boric Acid as the same thing and using the words interchangeably in their articles about this toxic substance.
THIS.DID.NOT.MAKE.SENSE.TO.ME. because on many “green” sites and many other books and resources, they rave about the wonderful natural cleaning power of Borax… which is why I started making my own recipes using it!
I then pulled out my 20 Mule Team Borax yet again to examine the box for the 1000th time, AGAIN, looking for this information!
There is of course the caution about avoiding contact with the eyes. But we also shouldn’t put salt, black pepper, corn starch or anything else in our eyes! (You can also see the 20 Mule Team Borax FAQ HERE which answers some questions too!)
The only ingredient listed is Sodium Tetraborate.
What is Sodium Tetraborate?
According to the EPA, Sodium Tetraborate is essentially boron! This is a naturally occurring element usually found in sediments and sedimentary rock formations.
Boron has been used to treat physical elements and taken as a supplement. No way am I saying to ingest it, but just letting you know what this ONE ingredient in 20 Mule Team Borax is sometimes used for!
It is also used in skin lotions, detergents, cleaners, mouthwash AND (surprise!!) in herbal bath salts as a primary ingredient! This is the short list, but it is widely used in natural and otherwise cosmetics too!
So what is Boric Acid??
Boric Acid is created by mixing Borax with Sulfuric Acid. And YES, this is TOXIC and it is NOT the product I have been including in my recipes and I HIGHLY suggest that you do not use it either! Don’t confuse it when you buy it as it would be unsafe. Borax alone is an alkaline substance, it becomes a toxic acid after the mixing with other substances.
Boric Acid is used to kill ants, roaches and as a pesticide. It’s bad stuff, but it’s not the Borax by itself.
So now that we have nipped that in the bud, let’s get back to the topic at hand. Now even natural products have warnings. I know of a fruit that is highly nutritious and kills cancer cells at an alarming radical rate and far higher than chemotherapy. And it is NATURAL. But pregnant women should not eat this fruit or drink the juice as it can be fatal to a baby as the fruit is effective in attacking new cells that show up in the body.
So here’s a warning for you:
You may experience abdominal pain, coughing, diarrhea, shortness of breath and vomiting. This may also be accompanied by high fever. Other symptoms that are not common are shock seizures and metallic taste.
These symptoms sound SCARY and like you are ingesting a toxic substance. Well, this is toxic in high levels… It is SALT. The above warning is for table salt!
I bring up the salt example because Borax is about as toxic as salt. But guess what?? We are not suggesting you eat it!
In fact, I saw a discussion board where commenters were in an argument that appears to be unsettled about which one is more toxic in higher levels – salt or borax? I am not a scientist and so I am not even going to begin to understand the elements that make up these two minerals and scientifically deduce which will cause problems faster, but it did set my mind at ease that they two were being compared since salt is used without question and it is something most all of us regularly eat.
If the salt was the question here and not borax, would you question it’s natural cleaning safety and usefulness based on what you know about salt?
Would you confuse it with Saltic Acid and make a claim it is toxic? Of course not! BTW – Saltic Acid probably doesn’t exist. I just made it up 🙂
But salt is toxic in high levels and even fatal in infants and pets when consumed in large quantities. It also burns and irritates sensitive skin. Have you ever had an open wound and gotten salt on it? It stings like nothing else! Have you ever seen salt poured on an insect like ants? They get burned and die!
Would you pour salt in your eyes? Would you pour salt down your mouth and swallow it by tablespoons? All of this should be an emphatic NO as we know that although it is a naturally occurring mineral, there are health risks with using it!
So in short, Borax is a mineral similar to that of salt, although this is tasteless and colorless. They are mined in the grounds primarily from dried up or evaporated hot springs or saline lakes.
Borax does have cautions/warnings. This what is on the 20 Mule Team Borax box with the specific ingredient of Sodium Tetraborate warns about: “Avoid contact with eyes. Do not take internally.”
That’s it on the box!
But in my course of research, I did also find this information:
There is one concern and that is that is can cause reproductive issues if ingested and consumed. This has not been tested in humans, only in mice, dogs and cats and when ingested with high levels of borax. I haven’t ever suggested it for consumption (even though many do for other health benefiting factors) and so I will say it again…. DO NOT EAT BORAX, INGEST IT, CONSUME IT OR DIGEST IT.
So why is it a good cleaner for homemade natural cleaners??
But in addition, Borax has several different cleaning properties, I am quoting this information from GreenFootSteps.com, but have known about these cleaning properties for a long time from past research!
- It can act a little like hydrogen peroxide in that it has a bleaching effect when dissolved in hot water. A reaction occurs in which a little hydrogen peroxide is produced (H2O2).
- It also enhances the cleaning power of other cleaning agents. Bleach for example, is made stronger by mixing with borax (please note, I, Cassie, stopped using bleach and so although you can safely mix it with bleach, you will not find recipes on our site doing this. Bleach hurts my lungs and makes it difficult for me to breathe, let alone my sweet babies!). It can be used to pre-soak clothes before washing or even as a substitute washing powder.
- It has anti-microbial properties and it inhibits molds and fungal growth. It can be used to prevent or remove smells from appliances such as washing machines and dishwashers.
- It is quite strongly alkaline, so it’s probably best to wear gloves if you are putting it into washing up water or using it for cleaning surfaces.
- It’s not very reactive which means that it can be safely combined with other cleaning products.
- Don’t mix it with acids or store it with acids.
So in the end, the moral of the borax story is that it is about as safe (or safer depending on your expert) than salt, don’t eat it or ingest it, only use it in cleaning products and for possible skin irritation… wear gloves! And don’t let children or pets get near it, just like you would keep the salt away from them! It isn’t a good idea to give any of them access!
Picture of the ingredients for one of the 26 homemade cleaning product recipes.
Finally, you can check out our full growing list of Homemade Cleaning Product recipes HERE that currently has 26 different cleaning products, and some that do include the use of Borax if you choose to use it!