Laundry is a part of our daily routine (whether we like it or not), and the detergent we use is quite important. We wear clothes all day every day, after all, and if we use the wrong detergent, we can end up with discolored clothes and irritated skin.
But there are a lot of detergents to choose from, and the differences between them can be hard to understand unless you happened to major in chemistry. One question that is on a lot of people’s minds at the moment is whether borax is in their detergent and whether it’s safe to use.
Borax is not used in every kind of laundry detergent—some brands use it, and others do not. Tide and Persil, for instance, are two brands that do sell products that contain borax. Ecos and Purex are two brands that sell laundry detergent products that do not contain borax.
In this article, we’ll cover exactly what borax is, what it is used for, its connection with laundry detergents and what detergents use it. We’ll also look into other household products that use borax, and how to make a borax-free laundry detergent.
- What is Borax and What Does it do?
- Is Borax Safe to Use in Your Laundry?
- Are Borax and Laundry Detergent the Same?
- Does Laundry Detergent Contain Borax?
- What Other Household Products Contain Borax?
- Can You Make Laundry Detergent Without Borax?
What is Borax and What Does it do?
Commercially known as ‘borax’, this chemical compound can also be found on ingredient lists under the names ‘sodium borate’, ‘sodium tetraborate’, ‘sodium perborate’, or ‘sodium borate decahydrate’.
Tracing back to what borax really is requires a bit of an understanding of chemistry. It is a naturally occurring mineral that is the refined form of boric acid which comes from the element boron. Borax sold in supermarkets is dehydrated and comes in the form of a white powder.
It was used throughout the US during the 1900s, mostly under the brand name ‘20 Mule Team Borax’. There’s a fun fact tied to that unusual brand name. When the company first started mining borax in the 1880s, it used a team of twenty mules to haul it out of Death Valley, California, and this became the company’s name.
The company describes its borax as a ‘laundry booster’, meaning that it is used alongside other liquid laundry detergents during laundry. It has a surprising amount of properties suited to aid the cleaning process, the first of which is its water softening ability.
Borax is extremely alkaline, with a pH of around 9.5. This means it can soften the water in your washing machine and help create an environment better suited to lifting all kinds of soils & oils from your clothes. It’s also well suited for stain removal!
If you’re not sure whether you live in a place with soft or hard water, there’s an easy way to check that. If you touch soft water, it will feel soft and almost slippery between your fingers. If you live in an area with hard water, you will need to use a water softener like borax to achieve this effect.
What is Borax Good For?
Borax’s alkaline properties make it very good at removing acidic stains from mustard, tomatoes, and other kinds of food. Thanks to those outstanding cleaning properties, it is found in many industrial laundry detergents.
Borax is also readily soluble in cold water (and even more so in hot water). This property helps to dissipate the regular detergent in the wash, making it less likely to stick to your clothing fibers and leave a residue after cleaning.
Borax can also work as a whitener, by itself or with chlorine bleach. When paired with bleach, it creates hydrogen peroxide, which then heightens the bleach’s cleaning efficiency and whitening abilities to keep your white clothes as white as possible.
Borax increases the cleaning power of most detergents it is used with, and is great for getting rid of bleach stains, food stains and other acidic stains.
Borax is also able to neutralize strong odors in laundry, bringing life back to garments that have seen better days. Although you could also use it to remove stains and deodorize other surfaces such as carpets, this is not recommended!
Sprinkling borax on carpets and vacuuming it up would make it very easy to inhale the powder and suffer from its side effects, and that’s something you definitely want to avoid.
When utilizing borax in your laundry, it is mainly used either as a pre-treatment (adding it to water and letting the laundry soak for 30 minutes or so), or as a laundry booster which you add to your wash water during the normal laundry cycle.
Is Borax Safe to Use in Your Laundry?
This topic is widely debated, and conclusive evidence of its dangers or lack thereof is difficult to find. However, it is important to note that borax has been completely banned in the UK and EU. It was judged to be potentially hazardous to health, and a dangerous material to keep and handle in the average household.
In the US, it is accepted that ingestion, inhalation, and prolonged exposure to borax on the skin are hazardous to human health. It can cause a variety of unpleasant side effects like vomiting and fainting, and some people can be more susceptible to the effects than others (particularly children). This is why it’s crucial that you keep boric acid out of reach of children and pets, as it must never be ingested.
However, if handled properly, it is considered safe to use in the household for cleaning tasks like laundry, stain removal, and cleaning hard surfaces. It’s recommended that you use goggles, gloves, and a mask whenever handling it. This is to prevent you from accidentally inhaling the disturbed powder and to avoid it making contact with your skin and eyes.
Part of the reason it is considered to be too dangerous to be kept in the average household is the unlikeliness that the average person will adhere to these safety precautions when handling a substance they become used to using on a daily basis.
Still, exposure in small amounts is unlikely to cause any effects, and the majority of people who use borax in the US do so without obvious problems. It is ultimately a decision to be made by you whether you would like to use borax in your home, or if you would prefer to use a borax substitute like sodium sesquicarbonate.
This substance is a mixture of sodium carbonate (washing soda) and sodium bicarbonate (bicarbonate of soda) and is the main borax substitute now used in liquid detergents and washing powder in the UK and EU.
Are Borax and Laundry Detergent the Same?
No, borax and laundry detergent are not the same. Borax is sometimes an ingredient of laundry detergent, or it is a separate product used alongside regular laundry detergent or washing powder.
Borax is not used for cleaning clothes by itself. Powdered borax is made up of various elements, including naturally occurring minerals that come from the element boron, and is used for water softening, removing stains and odors, and as a buffering agent when used with household cleaners.
Does Laundry Detergent Contain Borax?
In the US, various brands of laundry detergent will use borax in some of their products. Borax products are readily available in the US and are very popular. Big laundry brands like Tide detergent, Persil, Shout, Gain, Lysol, and Cheer use borax in select products.
Laundry detergent soaps without borax will likely be marketed as ‘plant-based’ detergent, and use a variety of naturally sourced ingredients such as washing soda instead of other chemicals used in other brands. Although borax is a naturally-forming substance, it is also left out of these types of detergent due to its controversies. Purex and Ecos are examples of such brands that provide a plant-based alternative to borax products.
It should also be noted that some detergent manufacturers do not freely offer information about their ingredients, and will not advertise the fact that their products contain borax due to recent controversies surrounding it. However, as mentioned above, as long as you’re handling borax safely, you will be fine with all types of detergents.
What Other Household Products Contain Borax?
Where thorough cleaning is needed, borax comes in handy, so you’ll find it in many household cleaning products that do not require a gentle application.
Other types of cleaning products like the Vanish toilet bowl cleaner, Windex glass cleaner, and Dip-It stain remover contain borax. It’s mostly used in cleaning products for hard surfaces like bathrooms and toilets, all-purpose cleaners, wood cleaners, deodorizers, and polishes.
However, borax can also be found in some cosmetics and personal care products like bath oils, bath salts, bubble baths, soap powder, hand soaps, moisturizers, and body lotions. Hair products like hair gels and hair conditioners can also contain borax, along with facial cleansers, diaper creams, and shaving creams.
It can even be found in certain toothpastes and mouthwashes, or as a mouth sore medicine. While these products are always thoroughly tested before being approved for use, some people prefer not to use borax cosmetics if they suffer from skin allergies and similar ailments.
The way it releases hydrogen peroxide can be useful for many jobs that require bleaching. A lot of these products are made to be applied to the skin, so it may seem surprising that they contain borax, a substance known to irritate the skin.
If you are uncomfortable with the thought of applying products containing borax to your face, hair, teeth, and skin, you should check the ingredients before buying a product. Remember, borax can also be called ‘sodium borate’, ‘sodium tetraborate’, or ‘sodium borate decahydrate’ when it appears on an ingredient list.
Borax is also widely used in the US to make ‘slime’. This is a children’s science experiment and toy that is often made at home as a way to entertain young ones. The majority of slime recipes included borax for quite a long time, but there are now a lot of borax-free recipes that have been developed for those in the UK or EU, or those who do not want to give borax to their children.
The main cause for concern when it comes to borax slimes is that young children are very likely to try and taste the slime, which could lead to the ingestion of borax. As long as you supervise your kids, they should be fine to play with all kinds of slime.
Can You Make Laundry Detergent Without Borax?
If you’re interested in making your own bar soap or laundry detergent soaps in order to closely monitor the ingredients and avoid certain chemicals, you’ll be pleased to know that you don’t have to use borax if you don’t want to!
The number one reason to make your own laundry detergent when so many options are readily available in stores and on Amazon is to tailor the liquid to match your particular needs. Borax is one such substance that plenty of people are eager to avoid, and there are a lot of non-borax homemade laundry soap recipes out there to choose from.
These recipes use washing soda, baking soda, sodium bicarbonate, and various other ingredients as alternatives to borax. Borax-free detergent can be particularly useful as baby laundry detergent because young children are particularly susceptible to the effects of borax. If you’d like to save time, there are plenty of brands that make laundry detergent for babies, such as Dreft Stage One.
What you’ll need to make homemade laundry detergent without borax products
If you want to make your own laundry detergent without borax, we’ve prepared a recipe for you that will help you do it. Make sure you have the following:
- 2 cups of hot water or warm water
- 1 cup of baking soda (such as Arm and Hammer)
- ⅓ cup of salt
- 1 cup of unscented liquid castile soap (not bar soap)
- A few drops of essential oils to add scent (optional)
Note: Some homemade detergents may include other ingredients such as vinegar, but this should not be used if you are planning on washing your clothes in a washing machine. Vinegar can erode the seals in your washing machine and damage it, so you want to avoid using it outside of hand-washed laundry!
How to make homemade laundry soap without borax
To make this homemade detergent, first, dissolve 1 cup of baking soda and ⅓ cup of salt into 2 cups of hot water. The hotter the water, the easier it will be to dissolve the baking soda and salt, but there’s no need to heat or boil the mixture on the stove. Very warm water will suffice.
Next, add 1 cup of unscented liquid castile soap (Dr. Bonner’s brand, for example). You could also use a scented version, and leave out the essential oils. However, if you want to choose your own scent and its strength, or make a completely unscented detergent, then you will need unscented castile soap.
Finally, add the essential oils if you desire. If you’re not sure how much you’d like to add or how strong you’d like the scent to be yet, we recommend starting with just a few drops and adding more to your next load if necessary. You can always make the scent stronger, but it will be difficult to get rid of it if you happen to add too much!
An important note: this detergent is homemade, and therefore contains no bonding agents to keep the ingredients together. This means that the salt, baking soda, and soap will naturally separate, but this is completely fine. Just make sure to store your homemade detergent in a well-sealed bottle so you can give it a good shake before each use. The amount you need to use for a full load can vary depending on your machine, but a good place to start is about half a cup.
This kind of natural detergent is borax-free and chemical-free, so you can feel happy and safe using it in your home even if you have children or pets! The baking soda is completely non-toxic and should not cause harm to anyone. It is also a naturally low-foaming detergent, so it is safe to use in a HE washer.
If you have more questions about boric acid/borax, we’re here to address them! Check out our handy FAQ section below.
1. Is Borax Safe for Washing Dishes?
Borax is toxic to humans and pets and definitely should not be ingested. For this reason, adding any amount of borax powder to water to help wash your dishes is not recommended.
However, some dishwashing detergents will have borax as an ingredient. It will be a much smaller amount than if you were to add borax yourself, and is deemed to be safe in the US.
If you are not comfortable using borax on the dishes you eat off, you should check the label of your cleaning product for ‘sodium borate’, ‘sodium tetraborate’, or ‘sodium borate decahydrate’. Look for non-toxic dishwasher detergents if you want to avoid borax.
2. What is a Borax Substitute?
The most popular borax substitute used in the UK and EU (where borax is banned) is sodium sesquicarbonate. It is made up of a mixture of sodium carbonate (washing soda) and sodium bicarbonate (bicarbonate of soda).
It is a cold-water-soluble substance with a pH level similar to borax, which means it can soften water and deodorize clothes just like borax can. However, unlike borax, it is a non-toxic substance that can be used safely by anyone.
This borax substitute will be found in a lot of borax-free laundry detergents. Washing soda, baking soda, and sodium bicarbonate can also be used as borax alternatives when making homemade laundry soap powdered detergent.
3. Does Tide Detergent Have Borax?
The Tide brand does use borax in a number of its products, including Tide Hygienic Clean Heavy Duty 10X Detergent, Tide Plus a Touch of Downy Liquid Detergent, and Tide Simply Clean & Fresh Detergent. However, not all Tide products contain borax.
If you want to know whether your specific Tide product has borax in it, check the label for ‘sodium borate’ or ‘sodium borate decahydrate’.
4. Does OxiClean Contain Borax?
Some OxiClean products contain borax. However, the main ingredients of OxiClean stain remover are sodium percarbonate, surfactants, polymer, sodium carbonate, and water.
This product is used to achieve the same results as borax, such as softening water, and removing stains, oils, and odors. Therefore, OxiClean could be considered an alternative to borax if you would prefer to use a non-toxic laundry booster.
Borax can be found in a lot of products in the US, from laundry detergents to toothpaste. It is widely known to be toxic to humans and pets and can cause vomiting and fainting when too much is ingested or inhaled. It can also cause eye irritation and severe rashes when exposed in high concentration to the skin for too long.
In the UK and EU, borax is completely banned, and all laundry detergents use a borax alternative instead. However, it is inconclusive what kind of effects such a small amount of exposure actually has on humans.
If you are still unsure what you think of borax or whether you want to use it, you could try out a borax-free laundry detergent like Ecos or Purex, or try making the homemade laundry detergent mentioned above if you’re feeling crafty.