borax: not the safe, green alternative we thought it was

Our friends at Better Life blogged about Borax today.  I’ve since ran out, but I used to keep borax in the cupboard as a sink and toilet cleanser and even added it to cloth diaper washes before!  This info on it’s harmful effects is all news to me and I’m thankful I now know!

First, is it safe? NO. It is actually listed as a poison, pesticide, and a fungicide. It is poisonous, especially to young children. Even as little as a teaspoonful could prove fatal if swallowed by a young child. For this reason, be very careful if using it anywhere near food and wipe up spills immediately.

From the National Institute of Health:

The infant death rate from boric acid poisonings is high. However, boric acid poisoning is considerably rarer than in the past because the substance is no longer used as a disinfectant in nurseries. It is also no longer commonly used in medical preparations.

Studies by the EPA have linked it to reproductive problems, kidney and liver problems, nervous system issues, and it is a skin and lung irritant. The other big issue with borax is that it accumulates in your body. So, the more you use it the more toxic it becomes to your body. Chronic exposure is especially harmful in children.

As far as green, borate is an open-pit mined mineral and borax is toxic to aquatic life. Environmental Working Group senior scientist Rebecca Sutton wrote a great article here.

From Rebecca:

Borax and its cousin, boric acid, may disrupt hormones and harm the male reproductive system. Men working in boric acid-producing factories have a greater risk of decreased sperm count and libido. According to EPA’s safety review of these pesticides, chronic exposure to high doses of borax or boric acid causes testicular atrophy in male mice, rats and dogs.

Animal studies reviewed by the EPA indicate that while the female reproductive system is less sensitive to borax, exposure to it can also lead to reduced ovulation and fertility. Borax and boric acid can cross the placenta, affecting fetal skeletal development and birth weight in animal studies of high-dose exposures.

Find the full blog post here. Thanks to Better Life for giving us helpful info yet again! And don’t forget that you can enter to win a set of their green cleaners until next Monday! Image via.

About Amanda

Amanda Robinson is the eco-chic, green living, fitness loving mom behind Natural Mommie. Since 2009, Amanda Robinson has been the source for moms to learn how to bring more balanced green beauty, eco-friendly, sustainable, organic products into their homes without being too “crunchy” or “granola”. Amanda is passionate about design, wellness and inspiring moms to make more eco-friendly and healthy choices without having to trade in their stilettos for Birkenstocks. In addition to Natural Mommie, Amanda is also the owner and designer behind Top Knot Style - a beautiful collection of handmade oversized luxury knitwear.

23 thoughts on “borax: not the safe, green alternative we thought it was

  1. My sister is expecting, and I was just telling her that it was a natural thing to use to freshen up clothing that has been in storage. I use borax quite a bit, but I will be limiting its use in the future.

    1. Annie do you mean freshen it up by sprinkling it on? Or for washing in the machine?

  2. Wow! Daycares use it all the time for making flubber… I will be looking into this! Thanks Amanda!

    1. You’re welcome! I tried finding a borax free flubber/goo recipe but all I could find were homemade playdough ones.

    2. Please study your chemistry more. Sodium borate is NOT the same as boric acid. Sodium is only only harmful if you ingest it on a regular basis or in a large quantity. Sodium borate when mixed with a strong acid like sulfuric acid will become boric acid which is highly toxic and used as an insecticide (typically an ant killer). Please don’t all going pitching out your borax powder thinking it is a deadly poison.

  3. I had no clue…I use it occasionally in my laundry for things like cloth diapers. I am really glad that I keep it up on a high shelf with our other laundry cleaning agents. Thanks for sharing Amanda.

  4. I’ve used it for cloth diapers, cleaning, and actually now that I think about it I mixed it with some peanut butter to put on paper strips when there was an ant problem at our back door. Should have put two and two together then!

    It’s always disappointing to find out that something we’re using to clean with isn’t safe especially when we try SO hard to use safe products and even make our own!

    Anastasia, thankfully I think we’ll always be safe with baking soda and vinegar!

  5. It seems like for every article on the web that is PRO borax, there is one that is ANTI borax. Baking soda and salt are also toxic if consumed in large quantities. Even when I clean with vinegar, I make sure to keep that out of my child’s reach. There is nothing that I use to wash cloth diapers or my toilet with that I would want my child ingesting, so for me, that is not a concern. It also stated that it is unhealthy to water life in concentrated amounts, so I am not sure if the amount I use to clean the toilet qualifies as “concentrated,” although it is definitely concerning.

    Borax is not the same as Boric Acid and the article posted from the NIH is about boric acid. The article you posted from the EPA is very interesting (and way lengthy) because it discusses the use of borax on food crops and I had no idea that it was used that way, so we may all be ingesting more than we know. It also says, in the summary, that more studies are required and the “toxicology database for boric acid is not considered complete.”

    I plan to keep using borax safely but this is a great post! If I ever see a definitive study on its effect on aquatic life (meaning, does it take 100 pounds to be toxic or is 1/2 a cup poison), that would certainly change things.

    1. Borax is a salt of boric acid. Though not the same, it has the same safety concerns. Borax is tough b/c it isn’t acutely toxic, it doesn’t eliminate from our bodies but hangs out in the fatty parts of our bodies, so it’s the chronic effects that are a problem.

      Make sure you are wearing gloves when you clean with it. I understand what you are saying. There are so many toxins out there, you have to pick your battles. My main point for writing my article was that I kept hearing my friends talking about Borax as this “safe, natural” product that they had their kids cleaning with, and I wanted people to understand that while it may be “safer” it is not safe enough for children to use.

      If you page down to Aquatic Ecotoxicity, you can see the toxicity effects of Borax on aquatic life. Again, a little all by itself might not be harmful, but repeated exposure is.

      I take EPA studies with a heap of lobbyist salt. In the European Union, they have listed it as a Substance of Very High Concern and Toxic to Reproduction.

  6. I was using it for my laundry. What I need to find is a good green stain remover. I have tried Bac Out but no luck.

  7. So – is it still a concern for using in homemade laundry detergent? I am assuming since build-up is the issue, it could be. But since it is washed out of the clothes… just so confused about all this. We cloth diaper my 17 month old son and I do up to 8 loads of laundry a week for my family. I have been trying to cut down on chemicals in my home as well as cut down on costs. I did find an alternative laundry recipe:
    1 bar of soap (Dr. Bonners bar soap was recommended)
    1 c. Arm & Hammer Washing Soda
    1/2 c. baking soda

    I wonder if this works well and if it would clean and disinfect cloth diapers?

  8. Google “the Borax Conspiracy”. Borax is actually safe (although not if eaten in large quantities… Duh!), but was black-labeled by persons who stood to make money off of a competing product.

  9. I think the way to look at Borax , is possible the way you should look at everything – in moderation and with common sense. No matter what you are cleaning with, you should be careful around kids – just because it is “green” or environmentally safe – they should not be putting it in their mouths or think they can. Borax was used a lot in my grandmothers era and my moms. My grandmother had 15 kids, and most of them had families with between 3-5 kids, so I don’t think fertility was an issue, and they were all pretty healthy. I used Borax on cloth diapers when my kids were little with no ill effects. I did double rinse them. I also kept it, along with other cleaning products out of their reach. I now use Borax in homemade laundry detergent. The amount in the detergent is very small if you look at it in comparison with the other ingredients. It is good to be informed. I am sure that 20 years form now our kids will be finding things that we have used that will “be bad” as well. Knowledge and common sense is power. Thanks for the info:)

  10. I agree with the statements about looking at the difference between Borax and Boric Acid. When mixed with hydrochloric acid Borax becomes Boric Acid which is Not safe. THE BORAX CONSPIRACY is a great in depth article having a Lot of information. There are MANY testimonials of ppl detoxing with it (in very small amounts daily) even to remove flouride which is poison from the body and in turn were surprised to find it cured Many ailments and diseases they were suffering with. Also had been known as the Magical Crystal a a long time ago for the versatility of it’s ability to clean but also when consumed as a supplement cured Many illnesses. The pharmaceutical companies and government won’t push it as an option to health because sad as it is they are looking for profit first not making ppl well. At $3.98 a box (20 Mule Team brand at Wal-Mart) and only 1/8 teaspoon a day boiled into 1 liter distilled water and consumed gradually over an Entire day…doesn’t compare to hundreds individuals pay monthly to minimize the symptoms rather than eliminate the cause when profit is the priority. One last thing too is the brand 20 Mule Team for Borax on their site they talk about the purity of their product and a lot of interesting history to their beginnings. From what I’ve gathered Borax in small amounts (no different than salt and baking soda) is safe and even beneficial to our bodies deficiency and has MANY uses it can be applied to for pennies. Also Borax on its own NOT mixed with other chemicals (like hydrochloric acid) is simply a natural mineral. (20 Mule Team ingredient list is only one Sodium Tetraborate (a natural mineral) And salt is said to be more toxic than Borax. Those whose priority is profit will label something as Poison especially when it threatens their market and begin making ppl well. As with all things use and store with caution.

    1. Thank you for comment. I was just about to say ALL of that, once I read what was said about borax. Don’t write about something you apparently know nothing about scaring ppl into not using it when it actually does so much good. All things in high enough doses can hurt or even kill a person. Even water can kill you if consumed enough.

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