Borax is used in many natural cleaning products, even homemade ones, but there is a big debate going around in the natural community about the ingredient Borax and its safety in cleaning products, and for this reason I would like to talk more about it.
What Is Borax?
Borax, also known as sodium borate, or sodium tetraborate, is a naturally occurring mineral and salt that is mined directly from the ground. The confusion on safety may stem from the fact that when borax is combined with another acid, (like sulfuric or hydrochloric acid), it produces boric acid, which is dangerous. Borax is a salt of boric acid, but it is not chemically the same.
Borax is NOT boric acid.
According to the product safety data sheet on Borax:
No chronic health effects are expected from the intended use of these products or from foreseeable handling of them in the workplace. Nonetheless, the following effects have been reported for a component, sodium borate, and boric acid. Sodium borate upon entry into the body becomes boric acid.
Sodium Borate: Sodium borate and boric acid interfere with sperm production, damage the testes and interfere with male fertility when given to animals by mouth at high doses. Boric acid produces developmental effects, including reduced body weight, malformations and death, in the offspring of pregnant animals given boric acid by mouth.
The above mentioned animal studies were conducted under exposure conditions leading to doses many times in excess of those that could occur through product use or inhalation of dust in occupational settings. Moreover, a human study of occupational exposure to sodium borate and boric acid dusts showed no adverse effect on fertility.
Obviously these studies are referring to incredibly high doses of Borax take by mouth, which wouldn’t be an issue with indirect contact from cleaning products. If ingested in high quantities, it can cause upset stomach, nausea, and vomiting, however so can salt and baking soda. Vinegar can also be toxic in high doses if ingested, but is perfectly safe as a cleaning ingredient.
That being said, the Environmental Working Group gives borax an “F” grade and a level of “high concern”, however they don’t seem to have any links to the studies they used to reach their conclusion, at least that I could find. However, the Materials Safety Data Sheet lists borax as a “1” for health, the same level as baking soda and salt.
What About Boron?
Interestingly enough, Boron is an element that is essential to life and is said to play a biochemical role in animals and humans, Boron can be found in borates, and according to Wikipedia:
In biology, borates have low toxicity in mammals (similar to table salt), but are more toxic to arthropods and are used as insecticides. Boric acid is mildly antimicrobial, and a natural boron-containing organic antibiotic is known. Boron is essential to life. Small amounts of boron compounds play a strengthening role in the cell walls of all plants, making boron necessary in soils. Experiments indicate a role for boron as an ultratrace element in animals, but its role in animal physiology is unknown.
So Is Borax Toxic Or Safe?
It looks like the jury is still out on this one, but from the research it seems that Borax should be relatively safe as long as you aren’t ingesting large amounts of it, which won’t be an issue with natural cleaning products. Since I haven’t found any strong evidence of Borax being a danger to health, unless rubbed in the eyes or ingested in high doses, using Borax as a natural cleaning agent for the home shouldn’t pose any risks to your health.
The Bottom Line
For me, I think Borax is safe when diluted and used for products that produce indirect contact, like homemade laundry detergents, dishwasher detergents, or other cleaning products. However, I personally choose to leave it out of most of my cleaning products since it can easily be substituted. Some of the recipes you’ll see on this site will have Borax as an ingredient, but you can easily swap it out for baking soda or washing soda.
The use of Borax in your natural cleaning products really comes down to your decision to use the ingredient or not. My best suggestion would be to definitely do your own research on the matter, and decide whether or not this ingredient is a good option for you and your family. If you do choose to use Borax, 20 Mule Team is considered a pure and natural form of Borax.
Do you use Borax in cleaning products? Do you feel it’s safe?