Posted on January 21, 2010 by
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.
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?