6 Reasons to Add Borax to Your Wash Loads

container of borax next to a stack of towels

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Do your clothes come out of the wash looking less than clean? Here's a frugal fix for that problem. Just add half a cup of borax to each wash load, and you'll boost the cleaning power of your laundry detergent.

What Is Borax?

Borax is a natural mineral, sodium tetraborate, which has been mined and used for thousands of years. It's safe to mix with chlorine bleach and detergents, and has been proven to enhance their cleaning power.

Borax has many uses throughout the home. Add it to your dishwasher for cleaner dishes; use it to clean your toilets, and make it your go-to for pest control.

pouring borax into a container
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6 Benefits of Using Borax

Borax will:

  • Whiten your whites: When you add Borax to your washing machine, it acts as a whitening agent. This enhances the action of bleach, whether you add it separately or it's already present in your laundry detergent. If you don't like to use bleach, borax is still a good whitener on its own.
borax next to white linens
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  • Act as a pH buffer: Borax has a high pH of about 9.24. When you add it to water, it changes the pH to around 8 (a neutral pH is 7). This slightly alkaline pH is ideal for cleaning. Since borax acts as a buffering agent, it helps to keep the water at this pH, even after detergent or other cleaners are added. For you, this means cleaner clothes.
  • Soften hard water: Hard water prevents laundry detergent from working like it's supposed to. This keeps your clothes from coming out as clean as they should, and is often the cause for gray, dingy-looking clothing. Since borax contains sodium, it helps to soften the wash water, so your clothes come out looking great. 
adding borax to water
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  • Remove soap residue from your clothing: The borates in borax work to keep soap dispersed throughout the load, so it's more likely to rinse out. Try washing your clothes in just water some time (no detergent), and you'll be amazed at how much detergent comes out of your clothing.
  • Neutralize laundry odors: Borax inhibits fungi and mold, which often grow in the moist environment of your washing machine and are notorious for giving it a musty odor. It also helps to get rid of ammonia odor in baby clothes, diapers, bed pads, and incontinence pads. If your workout clothes are super stinky, use borax to inhibit the enzymes responsible for the bad smell.
laundry in washing machine
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  • Disinfect clothing: Borax inhibits many organisms, including fungi, mold, and bacteria.
white linens in a laundry basket
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  • Increase the stain removal ability of your detergent: Pre-soak your laundry for 30 minutes in a solution of one tablespoon of borax per gallon of warm water or add 1/2 cup of borax to a pre-soak cycle. The alkaline pH of Borax helps to break down acidic stains, such as tomato or mustard. It works well on grease and oil stains, too.
adding borax to a laundry basin
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Tips and Warnings

  • Sold under the name 20 Mule Team Borax: It can be found in the laundry aisle of a grocery store or big-box retailer, such as Wal-Mart. The name comes from the history of surface mining it in Death Valley during the late 1800s; the borax was then transported in large wagons drawn by a team of mules of and horses.
box of 20 mule team borax
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Warning

Do not ingest and keep it out of the reach of children and pets. It's natural, but that doesn't mean it's non-toxic. Adults, children, and pets could all have a lethal reaction to borax.

  • Borax is an ingredient in other cleaners: It's a common ingredient in many commercially produced products, so just exercise the same care that you would with any cleaner, and you'll be fine.
Article Sources
The Spruce uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Washburn, Carolyn. "Home Cleaning Chemistry". Utah State University Extension, 2009, https://extension.usu.edu/archive/home-cleaning-chemicals.

  2. "Boric Acid Technical Fact Sheet". National Pesticide Information Center, 2012, http://npic.orst.edu/factsheets/archive/borictech.html.

  3. "Borax". Pubchem, 2021, https://pubchem.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/compound/Borax.

  4. "Boric Acid: General Fact Sheet". National Pesticide Information Center, 2013, http://npic.orst.edu/factsheets/boricgen.pdf.

  5. Boric Acid. National Pesticide Information Center.