Borax: Safe or Hazardous?

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by Ms. S on January 22, 2009

Borax has often times come up in conversation as a good green cleaning ingredient.  So I was excited to find the information in Section B below, until I came across a site (sections of which are copied in Section A below) that has made me concerned about using Borax.  (Although the site doesn’t look so credible, it has links to government information.)

 

SECTION A: What You Should Know

Borax is quite popular online these days.  It’s in recipes for everything from children’s craft concoctions to alternative cleaning products and homemade baby wipe solutions. Before you use it, though, make sure you know all the facts.

Borax, which is also known as Boric Acid and is sold under the brand name “20 Mule Team” is often touted as safe and natural.  While it is a naturally occurring mineral, that doesn’t mean it is without dangers.

Borax is often recommended as a “safe” pesticide, fungicide and cleaner, but it is officially classified as a poison.  Government sites recommend that people who work with Borax use gloves and handle it with caution.  Studies have linked it to reproductive problems in some lab animals, as well as a host of serious disorders at higher levels.

Boric acid is an acute eye and respiratory tract irritant, which is quite toxic if ingested.  In addition, it is unavailable in parts of Europe because of concerns that it caused birth defects and problems with the reproductive organs of children.  It is recommended that pregnant women and children in particular do not have exposure to Borax.

Here are some medical and U.S. government fact sheets about its toxicity:

Also, It might be helpful to look at 20 Mule Team’s MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheet), which they are required to provide.  You can view it here.

Note that they specifically say: “Nonetheless, the following effects have been reported for a component, sodium borate, and boric acid. Sodium borate upon entry into the body becomes boric acid.”

Also refer to section 3 (on page 2) where the company itself says: Based on our hazard evaluation, the following chemical substance(s) in this product have been identified as hazardous.

INGREDIENT:  Sodium Tetraborate Decahydrate

The health and safety warnings are also listed on the MSDS.  Everybody can make their own decisions.  I simply think it’s a bad idea to make craft concoctions for small children to handle (and possibly stick in their mouths) considering all of the health risks.

It’s important to remember that many products that we use around the house are just as harmful.  However, most of them aren’t included in recipes we give to toddlers!

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SECTION B

From Pure & Easy Cleaning website:

Borax helps to disinfect and deodorize. It is a naturally occurring mineral composed of sodium, boron, oxygen and water. It does not contain phosphates or chlorine. You can find it in the laundry product aisle of your local stores.

From GreenLivingTips.com:

Using Borax around the home

I always thought borax to be an extremely toxic man-made chemical, best avoided – but it turns out it’s a naturally occurring substance with many uses. It’s cheap and relatively environmentally friendly when handled with the proper care (i.e. don’t eat the stuff and keep out of reach of pets and children) and used minimally.

Borax, also known as sodium borate or sodium tetraborate, occurs naturally and is mined in the Mojave Desert (Boron, California), other US states, Chile and Tibet. It can also be created synthetically from other boron compounds.  The mining side of borax production isn’t all that earth friendly, but compared to some other chemical compounds used around the home, it’s likely to be the lesser of the many other evils, so it’s a “greener” choice.

Borax is used in all sorts of products – pesticides, insulation, makeup, detergents and other cleaners.  In our house we have recycled cellulose fiber for roof insulation that’s been treated with Borax in order to make it flame retardant.  The other side effect of this treatment is that it discourages vermin from nesting and kills insects.

 

Handy Borax tips

Warning – as mentioned in the start of this article; it’s *relatively* safe to use. Given it’s insecticidal properties, that indicates that it does have some level of toxicity and should therefore be treated with care. Ingesting Borax is certainly not recommended, although in some countries it’s used in foods in small quantities as a replacement for salt. Given that it does have some toxic properties, I was very surprised to find it used as a food additive and in makeup. It’s always advisable to wear gloves when handling borax as it can cause skin irritation for some people. Borax should also not be inhaled.

For more positive suggested uses and tips on Borax, visit: GreenLivingTips.com


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SECTION C: What My Reference Books Say About Borax…

From Healthy Child Healthy World:

  • De-mold safely.  It’s a myth that you need chlorinated bleaches, ammonia, or other chemically potent mold and mildew cleaners to obliterate spores.  For problem areas, wear gloves and a face mask (spores can be inhaled) and use a stiff bristle brush or toothbrush, a non-ammonia detergent (such as borax, hydrogen peroxide, or tea tree oil), and hot water.  Or spray with a solution of a half cup of vinegar to a cup of water.  (page 50)
  • Try natural bug repellents for Ants.  … Only use boric acid, which can be harmful if ingested, where kids and pets can’t get to it — behind refrigerators, under sinks and stoves, etc.

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SECTION D: My Conclusion

 

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