Borax is an ingredient that is often included in many natural cleaning, gardening, and craft projects. In fact, our natural goat milk laundry soap contains borax, and people often ask if it is a safe ingredient to use around children and pets.
What exactly is borax?
Borax is sodium tetraborate or sodium borate. The important thing to notice is the word "sodium". Borax is a salt of boric acid. Borax is NOT boric acid. These two ingredients are chemically different.
Borax is a naturally occurring mineral that derives from the trace mineral boron. It is actually used in the making of boric acid. Both borax and boric acid are borates.
Borates have a low toxicity to mammals (such as humans, goats, cats, and dogs) but are more toxic to insects like ants. This is why borax and boric acid are often used in homemade, natural pesticides because they are a much safer alternative for humans than a can of commercial insect killer.
Borax vs Boric Acid
Borax and boric acid are natural products. They can occur in nature or can be made in a lab. They are a lot alike in name and chemical makeup. Thus, they are commonly confused because not only are their names similar but so is their chemistry.
But it is important to note the differences between these products. For instance, Boric acid is toxic at far smaller doses than borax if you swallow it.
It is also important to realize that many of the safety studies for borax actually either directly use boric acid or don't specify whether they've used boric acid instead of borax.
So when a borax containing product has a caution label about contact with eyes or skin, recognize that you don't know what ingredient was studied. Also understand that while a product may cause skin irritation, it doesn't make the ingredient unsafe for human use. How the ingredient is used matters.
For example, we would never recommend bathing in borax, but using it as an ingredient in laundry soap, where it completely washes clean, is different as far as safety is concerned.
Many online articles claim that borax is dangerous because they are talking about boric acid. But they are two very different ingredients. The main thing to remember is that boric acid is generally more dangerous than borax.
Borax safety ratings
Borax is alkaline. It can be irritating when used on the skin undiluted, and you probably shouldn’t ingest it. When making craft projects with young children, you might want to steer away from crafts that involve borax, such as slime. Too many toddlers just have to taste it, and the best way to ensure safety is to avoid ingredients that could be harmful. Making slime with older children who can follow directions not to taste the craft project, would be much safer.
Borax has a safety rating of 1 according to the Dial Corporation’s safety data sheet. That means it’s about as safe as baking soda or salt. In fact, in nature borates have the toxicity of table salt. So, if you get borax in your eyes it will cause irritation, as would salt or baking soda.
Borax is listed with a safety rating of 5-6 by the Environmental Working Group. This group warns about skin or eye contact, and long-term ingested and undiluted use. But their studies are ambiguous because they use both boric acid and borax in the same category.
Is borax safe?
There are a lot of different opinions as to the safety of borax. So, as always, do your research and decide for yourself. But from my research I have found:
- The warnings on Borax pertain to eye and skin irritation. And if ingested in large concentration it could be dangerous.
- The ECA and the FDA labeled borax as a substance of concern, but the findings are ambiguous since they used both boric acid and borax interchangeably, and they are different products.
- The European Union bans the use of borax in products made for children under the age of three such as baby powders that remain on skin. They are allowed in laundry products.
- I couldn't locate any data proving that using borax in diluted concentrations such as in laundry soap is dangerous.
- As a pesticide, borax is much safer than your average bottle of insecticide.
Everyone needs to do their own research and reach their own conclusion about the safety of the products they use. I have found no evidence suggesting that using borax in our laundry soap is dangerous.
I make sure not to let my children or pets eat the laundry soap. And I don't directly inhale it. You should do the same. But for me, I feel that the benefits borax achieves in cleaning my clothes are worth adding it to the laundry soap.
Stay tuned for our blog post about the benefits of borax in your laundry soap and why we use it.
Disclaimer: These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. Keep borax out of reach of children and pets.