Borax may be a natural mineral, but it doesn't mean it's green. Borax is sold as a powder in a box, and it is still commonly used for commercial laundry, household cleaning, and as a pest repellant, although not always listed on the label. Borax is toxic to humans. It's also toxic to pets.
What Is Borax?
Borax is a white mineral called sodium borate, sodium tetraborate, or disodium tetraborate. It is a hydrate salt of boric acid. Borax was believed to be the component called "flux" used in ancient Rome to make unbreakable glass in the 1st century AD. Today, most of the world's supply comes from a gigantic open-pit mine in California near a town appropriately named Boron.
If you're hesitant about using borax for your green cleaning due to health and safety concerns, read on to find safer, greener, and more effective substitutes. Ahead, 12 ways you can switch out borax for another toxic-free ingredient.
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Boost Laundry With Baking Soda
Borax is a laundry booster used to soften hard water, deodorize laundry, and boost the stain-removal abilities of your detergent. But you can do the same by using baking soda as a substitute for borax. Baking soda can brighten and soften clothing and lower the pH of hard water just as borax does, but it's risk-free and non-toxic.
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Deodorize Your Home and Laundry With Vinegar
Zap odors with harmless ingredients like white vinegar. You can use it as a room deodorizer in spray form by making an all-purpose aromatic vinegar spray. You can also add vinegar to your washing machine rinse cup to deal with a load of particularly smelly clothes. As a bonus, the vinegar will act as a natural fabric softener.
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Scrub Toilet Bowls With Baking Soda and Vinegar
Combat toilet bowl odors, hard water stains, and mildew by pouring baking soda into the bowl and adding a little white vinegar. Allow the mixture to fizz, then swish it around. Let the mixture sit for a minute. Voilà! You have a clean toilet using this borax substitute.
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Polish Porcelain With Baking Soda
Want sparkling clean porcelain surfaces? Baking soda (and borax) are mildly abrasive, so go gentle and use a non-abrasive cloth or sponge on porcelain tubs, tiles, and countertops if you want the glossy finish but not the hairline scratches. Make a non-toxic DIY scouring powder or paste of baking soda and water that works just as well or even better than borax.Continue to 5 of 12 below.
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Launder Delicates With a DIY Linen Wash
Be gentle with your delicates by using commercial green laundry soap and a homemade linen freshener that is just as gentle on you and the environment as it is your delicates.
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Fumigate Garbage Pails With Baking Soda
Instead of sprinkling borax in the bottom of your trash can, try baking soda or used (or fresh) coffee grinds, which all work wonders. You can also use baking soda and water to clean your trash can. Throw in some vinegar for extra odor-fighting action.
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Freshen Fridges With Greener Cleaners
Considering that borax is something you don't want touching your food (it can potentially cause vomiting and nausea when ingested), the last place you would want to use it would be to clean the inside of your refrigerator.
Instead of borax, use a paste of baking soda and water to clean the fridge, and then use a rag or sponge to rinse it off well with water. A multipurpose lemon and lime spray is another recommendation; this mixture uses fresh citrus juices and vinegar.
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Shine Fiberglass With Baking Soda
Get fiberglass surfaces to gleam by using a simple paste of baking soda and water instead of borax. Let the paste sit on any stains on the fiberglass surface for about 10 to 12 hours, then scrub it with some water and a few drops of sudsy liquid dish detergent. If you want more cleaning power, pour or spray some undiluted white vinegar onto the surface and wipe it around with a soft sponge. Then rinse the entire paste, suds, and vinegar with clean water. The result should be a glossy shine.Continue to 9 of 12 below.
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Soften Baby Clothes With Natural Ingredients
Using borax to clean baby clothes should be your last choice. Instead, try a non-toxic, green laundry detergent and add baking soda to boost the detergent. Then, add vinegar to the rinse cup to deodorize, soften fabrics, and remove any remaining traces of detergent.
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Wash Dishes and Clean the Dishwasher Without Borax
Borax for dinner, anyone? The answer should be a resounding "no," so skip cleaning your dishes and dishwasher with this mineral. Many DIY dishwashing detergent recipes include borax, but stay safer by just using environmentally-friendly dishwashing detergent. To clean your dishwasher, use white vinegar and baking soda to remove mineral deposits and dish detergent residues without the worry of leaving behind any borax residue on your plates, utensils, or cups.
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Purify Humidifiers With Hydrogen Peroxide or Vinegar
Cleaning a humidifier is tricky because whatever you use to clean the tank will inevitably make its way out into the air that you breathe. But if you don't clean it, you run the risk of mold and mildew growth. Use hydrogen peroxide or vinegar to clean and deodorize the tank, base, and wick (if it has one) instead of borax.
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Household Cleaning With "Borax Substitute"
In the UK and EU, borax is no longer sold for household use. Sodium sesquicarbonate, marketed under the name "Borax Substitute," is a non-toxic mineral compound with similar pH to borax, making it ideal for cleaning and laundry. It is more potent than baking soda. You can find it sold online as sodium sesquicarbonate or alkali washing soda in the US. It is also used to make bath salts, shampoos, and soaps.
Pongsavee M. Effect of borax on immune cell proliferation and sister chromatid exchange in human chromosomes. J Occup Med Toxicol. 2009;4:27.
New Jersey Department of Health. "Hazardous Substance Fact Sheet: Borate Compounds, Inorganic." November 2009.