Borax, scientifically known as sodium borate, has been used for decades as a laundry detergent and insecticide, but lately some people have wondered about its safety. It's often recommended as a safer alternative to over-the-counter laundry products, because it's not stuffed with unknown fragrance and other chemicals.
But now some are debating that idea. An article last year by Rebecca Sutton, Ph.D. and senior scientist for the Environmental Working Group (EWG), stated that Borax is not a green cleaning ingredient, and that the EWG does not recommend using it to clean your home.
What is Borax?
Borax is a white, powdery, naturally occurring mineral that is also called sodium borate, sodium tetraborate, and dosodium tetraborate. It has been used in cleaning recipes to help boost stain-fighting and grease-cutting power. Many use it to make their own cleaning products, and it's also found in personal care products like diaper creams, some hand soaps, and some tooth bleaching formulas.
Is it Safe?
Though generally considered safe, there are some concerns with Borax. The first is that it is an irritant, and can hurt your skin and eyes. This is especially true with young children, who may transfer it from their hands to their mouths if they find it nearby, so you want to keep it out of reach.
Some of the other concerns, however, are a little difficult to root out, because many of the studies that show the ingredient to be toxic aren't looking at borax—they're looking at boric acid, which is slightly different. According to Sutton, men working in boric acid-producing factories have a greater risk of decreased sperm count and libido. But they were exposed to high amounts of boric acid—not small amounts of borax.
The Environmental Protection Agency states that boric acid and borate salts have low toxicity by the oral and dermal (skin) route. Higher doses, however, have been linked with seizures and convulsions, and infants have been accidentally poisoned by boric acid or borax. Neither has a connection to cancer, however.
There was also some evidence in EPA tests that borax and boric acid can cross the placenta, affecting fetal skeletal development and birth weight, but again, this was at high doses. The Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) on Borax lists it as “slightly” irritating to skin and eyes, and states that chronic exposure can produce eye irritation, cough, and skin rash. There is no evidence that the salt accumulates in the body, however. The MSDS rates it as a health hazard of only 1—the same as baking soda and salt.
Bottom Line—Your Choice
I think overall, as long as you keep your children and pets away from it, you're okay to use Borax in the home. Of course you need to rinse it off well if you use it for cleaning, and make sure your clothes are well rinsed before putting them on children. If you have cuts or scrapes on your hands, wear gloves or avoid using borax until you heal.
The EWG recommends omitting borax from your homemade cleaning products. You can use baking soda instead, or vinegar and lemon juice. You can check out their “green cleaning tips,” here.
Have you changed how you use borax?