A few weeks ago, I was looking for a new recipe for dish washing detergent and had to know: is Borax Safe? If you want to make your own cleaning products, or even your own lotion, sooner or later you will see Borax as an ingredient.
According to 20 Mule Team Borax, the most well-known Borax producer and distributor in the U.S., Borax is all natural. They say Borax is great as a detergent booster or multi-purpose household cleaner. Homemade detergent recipes include Borax because of its cleaning abilities. Homemade lotion recipes include Borax because it’s a emulsifier. It can combine oil and water to form lotion. Many believe that Borax is one of the most effective “green” cleaning products. But is Borax safe? Is Borax safe to use to clean your home and clothes? Is Borax safe to use to make lotion that will be applied on and absorbed by your skin? The answers to these questions are not straightforward. I have reviewed a ton of the available and credible sources on Borax to figure out: is Borax safe? The following is what I’ve found.
To Answer the Question: Is Borax Safe, We Begin with the Question: What is Borax?
When you open a box of Borax, you will find an odorless, white powdery substance. Borax is a mineral made up of “sodium, boron, oxygen, and water.” 20 Mule Team Borax says its Borax product is 99.5% Borax, also known as “sodium tetraborate” or “sodium tetraborate decahydrate,” and 0.5% “naturally occurring trace minerals.”
Borax is “produced by the repeated evaporation of seasonal lakes.” In the U.S., Borax comes from Death Valley, California. Death Valley houses one of the largest Borax deposits in the world. The deposit was first discovered in 1881, by Aaron Winters. After his discovery, he sold the land where the deposit sits to William T. Coleman. Coleman built Harmony Borax Works, a plant that refined ore deposits into Borax.
During the five years that Harmony Borax Works operated (1883-1888), the plant used 20 mule team wagons to transport Borax out of Death Valley and onto trains that carried Borax to consumers. The largest Borax producer in the U.S. honors that tradition and its can-do spirit by naming itself 20 Mule Team Borax.
The 20 Mule Team Borax box says Borax can be used to clean your clothes, your dishes, your carpets, your garbage disposals, your kitchen, your bathrooms, and your toilet bowls. The best thing about Borax is that it’s all nature. This characteristic seems to answer my question: is Borax safe? If it’s all natural, it must be safe, right? Well, unfortunately, to answer the question “Is Borax Safe?” you need to go beyond the fact that Borax is all natural. Most of us know that cyanide is all natural, because it’s released from natural substances. I doubt any of us think cyanide is safe. I know, I know. Cyanide is a very extreme example.
Why the Controversy Surrounding the Question “Is Borax Safe?”
In February 2011, The Environmental Working Group (EWG) published an article “Borax: Not The Green Alternative It’s Cracked Up To Be.” The article urged us not to use Borax in any homemade or DIY cleaning recipes. EWG said Borax may post health risks, including harmful effects on male reproductive system. EWG has “high concern” regarding Borax’s “Developmental and Reproductive Toxicity.”
The Executive Summary of a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) January 2006 Memo on boric acid and Sodium Borate Salts (which includes Borax), noted that Borax targets “testes [male reproductive organs], with testicular atrophy and reduction in sperm production observed in multiple species.” EPA said that Borax affected all animals tested (rat, mouse and rabbit). The observed negative effects on animals included reduced fertility and body weight. Even more alarming is that animal studies have shown a mother’s Borax exposure can cause harm to her unborn fetus. Maternal exposure in animals can cause fetal skeletal abnormalities, decreased fetal weight, and enlarged lateral ventricles (chambers) of the fetal brain. Well, is Borax safe? It’s definitely not safe for animals.
Then, is Borax safe for humans? No, Borax is harmful to humans. According to page 42 of the EPA Memo, there have been 2 reported cases of Borax poisoning of human infants. The first baby accidentally swallowed a Borax-honey mixture and had seizures. The second baby had diaper rash cream containing Borax and had “systemic poisoning.” “Systemic poisoning” means that Borax poisoned the baby’s multiple organs and systems.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), listed Borax in its National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Pocket Guide to Chemical Hazards. It said that Borax exposure can lead to “irritation [in] eyes, skin, upper respiratory system; dermatitis [skin rash]; epistaxis (nosebleed); cough, dyspnea (breathing difficulty).” Oh, in case you don’t know, Borax can be used as a pesticide and herbicide that kill insects, fungus and weeds. This usage doesn’t quite fit Borax’s “green” cleaning ingredient image. Does it??
Is Borax Safe? My Conclusion
EPA has concluded when used in a small dosage, including when used as household cleaning products or laundry detergents, Borax inhalation exposures are “below the level of concern.” So, EPA is saying that we only need to worry about: is Borax safe, when we have a high level of Borax exposure. EPA says that breathing in Borax at a low dosage, such as when using it to clean or do laundry, is “below the level of concern.”
Does that answer the question: is Borax safe? Well, it depends on you. It comes down to a judgement call, a personal preference. The answer to “Is Borax Safe” is at its heart a cost and benefit analysis, which is valued differently from person to person. Do the benefits of using Borax, with its great cleaning properties and emulsifying abilities, outweigh the possibility (maybe a slim possibility at “low” exposure) of harm it might cause you and your loved ones? Only you can answer that question.
I, for one, am getting rid of my Borax. To me, the possibility that my loved ones and I could be seriously harmed by a “green” cleaning ingredient is enough for me to cross it off my list. I am perfectly happy using other natural cleaners (Vinegar, Baking Soda, and Lemon Juice) for my home and clothes, and beeswax as emulsifier for my lotion.
I know there are more blog posts supporting the use of Borax than those calling for us to stop using Borax. You can read these blogs here, here and here. Again, the answer to the question “is Borax safe?” is not straightforward. I can’t answer the question for anyone but myself. I think of it as similar to the question, “should I eat only organic food?” It all comes down to a personal preference and a judgment call. Sorry. Like all tough questions in life, the answer to: is Borax safe?, is well . . . it depends.
So there you have it! You now know a ton about Borax and why I refuse to use it. Will you be joining me and throwing away your Borax (because you just don’t want to take that chance)? Or will you continue to use Borax (because you live dangerously or are not worried about your level of exposure)? Let me know your thoughts! If you enjoyed this article, please share it and pin it!