Let’s Talk about Borax (Baby)

Posted on January 21, 2010 by Stefanie


Photo credit: Pattyanne:made

Any time I’ve done any digging for information on safe, natural ways to clean, the same few magically versatile ingredients come up again and again. Baking soda. Vinegar. Castile soap. Borax. That last one I’ve often skipped over, because frankly, I had little idea what it was or how it’s used. I decided it was time I finally remedied that.

What I knew about borax was thus: it is sold alongside the bleach at my local Target stores, it is a white powdery substance of unknown (to me) origin, and it can apparently be used to clean and freshen many of the same things in many of the same ways that baking soda can.

Do you know any more about borax than that? If so, I apologize for what may be a “Thank you, Captain Obvious” sort of post. If not, let’s learn a little more about borax, shall we?

Borax (also known as sodium borate or sodium tetraborate) is a boron compound, a mineral, and a salt of boric acid. If your recollection of high school chemistry is as vague and limited as mine, to say something is a salt means that it’s an ionic compound that results from the neutralization of an acid (in this case, boric acid). (Science is fun, yo.) Borax occurs naturally in mineral deposits, but it can be produced synthetically as well. Most of the naturally occurring borax comes from mines in California and other southwestern states, or from Chile or Tibet.

OK, science lesson over. What’s this stuff good for? The most common household use for borax is as a natural laundry booster. It can remove stains and brighten, freshen, and deodorize fabrics better than soap or detergent alone. It also helps to soften hard water, which in turn helps your soap or detergent work better, too.

I bought my first box of 20 Mule Team Borax last week, and I immediately put it to the test on a particularly tough load of laundry: the clothes I wore and the scrap rags I used during a weekend of bathroom retiling. My old jeans and t-shirt were covered with smudges of thin-set tile mortar, and since I wear the same clothes for every messy project I take on, they’re spattered with years-old paint stains in colors matching every room of my house as well.

I added a half cup of borax to that load, and what do you know, believe it or not, it…  didn’t budge a dang one of those stains. This should be a surprise to exactly no one, of course. Borax may be awesome, but a downright miracle worker it is not. My work clothes are, however, completely free of any residual construction dust, and I have confidence that in an ordinary load of laundry with only your average, run-of-the-mill spots and stains, borax could, in fact, work splendidly.

Borax isn’t just for laundry, though. Dissolve a bit of it in warm water and it makes a good glass or all-purpose cleaner. Sprinkle some on a damp sponge and it’s great for cleaning sinks and tubs. You can also use it to clean your toilet, brighten your grout, deodorize your garbage can, and clear your drains. And it’s an effective pesticide and herbicide, too—you can use it to get rid of ants and roaches, and to deter weeds around your house as well.

20 Mule Team (the most popular and readily available brand of borax) has lots of specifics and how-to tips on their web site. I found this list from Green Components really helpful as well.

Not only is borax really versatile, but it is widely deemed one of the safest and most environmentally friendly cleaners around. It’s not flammable or reactive, and it can be mixed with most other cleaning agents safely, without creating toxic fumes. It can irritate your skin, and in larger-than-you-would-ever-ingest doses, it can be toxic, but in general it’s considered as safe as salt or baking soda. On top of that, it’s cheap, too.  The fairly giant box I bought set me back less than four bucks. Whee.

So tell me: Is borax already a trusted tool in your household arsenal? What other borax tips do you have for me?


  1. Well, anything that would remove years-old paint spatters would frankly be a little scary to me anyway. But it sounds like Borax has enough other uses to make up for it.

    This is great information! I’m going to add borax to my shopping list right now. Thanks, Stefanie!

    January 21st, 2010 at 10:46 am
    Comment by Courtney
  2. I never knew anything about borax, and frankly the name used to scare me. I’ll definitely try it soon.

    January 21st, 2010 at 10:59 am
    Comment by The Modern Gal
  3. I didn’t know anything about borax either, except that Death Valley was once a hotbed (ZING!) of borax mining.

    January 21st, 2010 at 11:39 am
    Comment by mickey
  4. Thanks for the additional info on Borax. I have a box in the laundry room, but often wonder why I purchased it! LOL Now I know.

    January 21st, 2010 at 12:17 pm
    Comment by Mooreganics
  5. I have been using borax for years! I use it to clean (as you said) & as an ingredient in my laundry soap. I also add some to my whites and it does brighten them.

    January 22nd, 2010 at 11:58 pm
    Comment by Tia
  6. Homemade laundry detergent:
    1 cup borax
    1 cup washing soda
    1 bar castille soap (grated)
    Use 2 tbsp per load

    Homemade All-purpose Cleaner:
    1 tsp borax
    2 tbsp white vinegar
    1/4 tsp Murphy’s Oil Soap
    2 cups hot water

    Happy cleaning!

    January 23rd, 2010 at 5:35 pm
    Comment by Jess
  7. [...] the bleach and keep your whites white and your colors bright with vinegar, borax, or oxygen-based bleaches like OxiClean [...]

    March 18th, 2010 at 12:39 am
    Pingback by Happy New Year! (Er, Sort of…)
  8. [...] sad to see discontinued last year. Use about a quarter cup for a regular load; add baking soda or borax for extra brightening and whitening [...]

    September 30th, 2010 at 12:21 am
    Pingback by What’s the Deal with Castile?
  9. can I use Borax to purify water if it is contaminated with radiation and what are the quantities to use in 100litre tank?

    June 2nd, 2011 at 7:35 am
    Comment by mary chambers
  10. Great to make a fun slime for the kids,
    1 cup Borax
    2 cups hot water
    1/4 cup of elmers glue
    2 drops of food coloring
    mix all in one bowl and let your children go crazy!

    August 16th, 2011 at 3:57 pm
    Comment by Sean
  11. [...] when I told you about all the awesome things borax can do? Yeah, apparently I didn’t either, because  I never think to use the stuff anywhere but in [...]

    November 24th, 2011 at 12:01 am
    Pingback by Borax: It’s for Everything AND the Kitchen Sink!

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If It Doesn’t Smell, Don’t Wash It


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