What Is Borax & Is It Safe?

Borax has long been touted as a green cleaning superstar, but what is borax, and how safe is it?

Borax is a salt derived from boric acid, and in cleaning recipes it can help boost stain-fighting and grease-cutting power. It’s used in all sorts of products and industries from making homemade cleaning supplies to replacing mercury in small-scale gold mining operations. You can even find borax in food products as a preservative, though its use in foods is banned here in the U.S.

How harmful could a salt be, right? This might be old news to some folks, but the Environmental Working Group’s 2012 Guide to Healthy Cleaning flunked borax as a green ingredient. Kirsten Hudson at Organic Authority says:

“At the very least, borax can cause skin, eye and respiratory irritation. Exposure to borax can also disrupt hormones and cause damage to the male reproductive system. A safety review by the Environmental Protection Agency found that chronic exposure to high doses of borax, or its cousin boric acid, causes testicular atrophy in male mice. Animal studies also show disruptions in ovulation and fertility in females when exposed to borax.

This isn’t the first time EWG has questioned borax’s safety. Back in 2011, they also recommended cutting borax out of your green cleaning regimen.

There isn’t any solid research yet on how borax affects humans when we’re exposed to small amounts through cleaning supplies, but if you operate according to the cautionary principle, it’s probably safest to avoid borax until it can be proven safe at those levels. On the next page, check out five borax-free cleaning recipes!

Image Credit: Creative Commons photo by AlishaV

Borax-Free Cleaning Recipes

5 Borax-Free Cleaning Recipes

If you’re using borax in your cleaning recipes now, you may want to consider alternatives. Here are some ideas to replace common cleaning homemade cleaning recipes that include borax

1. Soft Scrub

Mixing up a soft scrub doesn’t have to be complicated or really take any time at all. To scrub surfaces like tubs, tile, and sinks, all that you need are baking soda and water. Just sprinkle the area liberally with baking soda and add just enough water to moisten. Grab a rag, and you’re ready to scrub!

Like with any soft scrub, you’ll want to test a small area before scrubbing the whole surface, to make sure it doesn’t scratch.

2. All Purpose Cleaner

When you’re wiping down surfaces like counter tops, you want to gently degrease and disinfect. To make a simple, borax-free all purpose cleaner, just combine 1 part water with 1 part white vinegar in a spray bottle, and use it just like you would any all-purpose cleaner.

The vinegar smell will evaporate within an hour or so of cleaning at the most, but if you can’t stand the vinegar smell, try adding 10-15 drops of essential oil to the mix. Something citrusy like lemon or orange covers the vinegar smell up nicely!

Related Reading: No ‘Poo: Get Beautiful Hair with Just Baking Soda and Vinegar

3. Laundry Stain Remover

The most common use for borax is probably removing laundry stains. Instead, try pre-soaking your tough stains in a 1:1 mixture of water and vinegar for 10-15 minutes before washing.

4. Toilet Cleaner

You don’t need borax to clean the toilet! Next time, just sprinkle the bowl liberally with baking soda, then follow with about a cup of full-strength white vinegar. Close the lid and let the mixture sit for 10 minutes, then flush. Any remaining residue should wipe away easily with your toilet scrubber.

5. Pan Degreaser

Soak your pans with a few tablespoons of white vinegar or lemon juice to break up grease without any borax!

I bet that you guys make your own cleaning supplies, too. What’s your favorite borax-free recipe?

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Spirit Spider
Spirit Spider2 years ago

Interesting info...although i'm not sure how valid it is :/

Dave C.
Dave C.2 years ago

I'm a vinegar and baking soda cleaner myself.....not big on borax, but we did buy some years ago for some non-cleaning project that I cannot remember.....

Chi Hoo
C H2 years ago

Any time someone makes a statement about a [substance], one MUST consider the Source, as well as possible influencing factors, AND, put it into perspective, like,
---If plain, old fashioned borax is toxic, how toxic is it compared with the chemical cleaning agents usually being used??
---Who made the statement that it is toxic, and what is that based upon? Who is encouraging them to make that statement, and who stands to profit from making that statement?
---If plain, old fashioned Boric Acid is toxic, who said so, based on what data, and who stands to profit? At what dose or exposure is it toxic? [[water is toxic, if one takes in too much of it!!]]

Lin M
Lin M2 years ago

I've not used it but maybe I would if I didn't forget to.

Cindy M.
Cindy M.2 years ago

I heard somewhere that there is a certain type of Boric Acid to avoid, and that it's only in Europe, so this makes me leery in either direction. I'm not quite ready to give up Borax, especially when it's stated it causes skin irritation, because I have extremely sensitive skin, of which Borax is one of the gentlest things I've found I can use. This contradicts some statements made against it. I'm not trying to convince anyone to use it, but I'm saying that you should question not using it just as much as using it.

Donna Hamilton
Donna Hamilton3 years ago


Nikolas Karman
Nikolas K.3 years ago

This is a fear mongering exercise as borax actually has benefits to the human body but cannot be patented, therefore out comes the smear/fear rhetoric from big Pharma. Just look up on the net how useful it is, stop letting others think for you.

Roger M.
Past Member 3 years ago

Thank you.

Barb Hansen
Barb Hansen3 years ago


Lynn C.
Lynn C.3 years ago

PS: STOP torturing animals!!! And yes, even mice are animals.....Grrrrrr.