You may know borax as a laundry detergent booster, but did you know borax has many unexpected uses around the house too?
Unexpected Uses for Borax Around the House
- Laundry detergent
- All-purpose cleaner
- Weed killer
- Garbage disposal sanitizer
- Carpet cleaner
- Mildew remover
- Rust remover
- Pet odor eliminator
- Pest deterrent
- Athlete’s Foot cure
- Window cleaner
A quick google search for borax as a household cleaner will show you there is some controversy around the safety of borax. Fear not! I have cut through the noise and given you all the safety information you need to use borax without fear in your household. Below I’ve listed 11 unexpected uses for borax. Click through to get the most out of this safe, cost-effective household product!
What is Borax?
Borax is a white and powdery natural mineral that goes by several chemicals names including:
- Sodium borate
- Sodium tetraborate
- Disodium tetraborate
The chemical makeup of borax is a combination of boron, sodium, and oxygen. In the United States, borax is mined in desert areas like Death Valley (before it was a national park). Borax is a common household agent that is used to improve laundry cleaning or to whiten teeth.
Is Borax Safe?
Sodium tetraborate is not acutely toxic, meaning you should not have anything to worry about if you get a little on your skin or accidentally breathe in some powder. The U.S. EPA did a study on borax in 2006 and concluded that this form of borax showed no signs of toxicity in humans.
That said, inhaling lots of borax powder can irritate human respiratory systems, and swallowing lots of it (which I hope you would never do anyway), can be very bad for you. This would be true for lots of household cleaners though. Regardless, for these reasons, borax is banned in the European Union, Canada, and Indonesia, and there is a lot of internet chatter about the safety of borax for this reason.
Borax has a pH of 8.5, meaning that it is very alkaline, or basic. Other items that have basic chemical properties are soaps and detergents. Don’t let the undiluted powder get on your skin, and if you do get some on you, wash it with cold water immediately to avoid any skin irritation.
Borax vs. Boric Acid
These two compounds are related, but are definitely not the same thing, and shouldn’t be used interchangeably. Boric acid (hydrogen borate) is made after processing regular borax powder and has different uses than borax. The safety data on boric acid vs. borax can be muddy. Regardless, treat each one as you would any other household cleaner and read the safety information on the product first.
Where can I purchase borax?
Borax is very easy to purchase in the United States. A very common brand of pure borax is 20 Mule Team Borax, which gets its names from the Nevada mines that used 20 mules to pull their borax to market. You can purchase borax at many supermarkets and Amazon.
Is Borax the same as baking soda?
No, borax (sodium tetraborate) is not the same as baking soda (sodium bicarbonate), although they are both used to make at-home cleaning products.
Uses for Borax Around the House
One of the most common uses of borax is as a laundry booster, or as an ingredient in homemade laundry detergent. This recipe for laundry detergent works for top-loading and front-loading washing machines and doesn’t include any of the artificial chemicals that create soap bubbles.
This recipe is also quite cost-effective, especially for large families that go through detergent quickly.
- 2 parts borax
- 2 parts washing soda
- 1 part soap flakes (or grate a soap bar)
If you just need an extra “oomph” in your detergent for some especially dirty clothes, simply add ½ cup of borax to your existing washing load.
Of course, every household needs some kind of all-purpose cleaner. You can mix this cleaner with vinegar and essential oil (optional), and use it wherever you normally use your all-purpose cleaner.
- 2 Tbs. borax
- 2 Tbs. white vinegar
- 2 cups warm water
- ½ Tbs liquid dishwashing detergent
This recipe mixes well into a 16oz spray bottle and can be used on painted surfaces and wood. Simply add all the ingredients to the bottle, and shake to mix.
Weeds. We’ve all got ‘em. We all hate ‘em. You can dispatch your unwanted weeds in a few ways with borax. Many herbicides are highly toxic to more than just plants and I know lots of households that prefer not to touch the stuff ever.
Thankfully, these less toxic herbicides are effective and you don’t have to worry about keeping the chickens and dogs away from the plants after you apply them.
Sprinkle the dry borax directly on unwanted plants or in concrete cracks. Be aware that this will also kill your wanted plants too so be judicious with your sprinkling.
Mix ½ cup borax with one gallon water, then spray the mixture on the leaves of the unwanted plants.
Sanitize the garbage disposal
We all know after a while garbage disposals can start to smell like, well, garbage. An easy way to clean out the disposal and give it a good clean (without sticking your precious fingers down there), is to use a combo of borax and baking soda.
- Pour ½ cup of baking soda down the drain, followed by at least 2 cups of white vinegar. This will create a fizzy reaction that will help loosen up debris and caked-on food particles.
- Pour several cups of boiling water down the drain to clear out the vinegar/baking soda mixture
- Pour a few tablespoons of dry borax into the drain, let it sit for a few hours, then flush the system out with hot water.
This recipe is intended to be used in an electric carpet cleaner that uses hot water, but I’ve also got a recipe for a borax-based carpet freshener below as well.
Mix one cup of borax sodium tetraborate per gallon of water to your carpet cleaning machine
Mix two cups of fine cornmeal with one cup of borax powder and add a few drops of essential oil of choice (optional). It is important to use the finest cornmeal you can find so that you don’t end up with corn granules stuck in your carpet for years to come.
Sprinkle it onto the carpet and let it sit for at least 30 minutes. The borax will absorb gross carpet odors, and then you can vacuum it up like normal.
Prevent mildew buildup
Remember how I said that borax has a high pH value of 8.5? Well, that high pH value is very inhospitable to mold and mildew, which grows best at pH levels between 3.5-8.0. So you can use a borax-based solution to help keep mildew at bay!
This solution can be used on all surfaces including wood and metal.
- 1 cup borax
- 1 gallon water
Simply spray this mixture onto your intended surface and let it sit for several hours (at least two to give the borax a chance to kill everything). Then scrub off the surface with a sponge, and let the surface dry.
If you’ve got a tough spot to clean (maybe one that is dark and damp naturally or has been mildewy a long time), you may have to repeat this procedure a few days in a row.
Rust! An inevitability of time, and a real pain to get rid of. Rust happens when moisture oxidizes metal and begins to eat into the metal (no bueno). Of course there are several commercially available products (with strong chemicals) that can take care of rust, but obviously, I want you to know how to take care of this yourself.
This simple recipe can be used with lemon juice to remove rust safely. Note that as this mixture creates a somewhat concentrated borax paste, you should wear gloves to keep it off your hands.
1. Mix 1 cup borax with ½ cup of lemon juice. Stir the mixture until it becomes a paste (and wear some gloves, please!)
2. Apply the paste to your rusty spot and let it dry.
3. Remove the dry paste with a rag dipped in warm water
- Dry the area with a dry rag
Eliminate pet odors
Pet urine can be notoriously difficult to remove from carpets and pet beds. Urine is one of nature’s original billboards, and it frankly isn’t designed to be washed away easily! Animals use urine to signal to one another, mark territory, and advertise to mates. Unfortunately, the staying power of urine is not needed or wanted in human homes.
To use borax to remove pet urine (or, for that matter, small kid urine), spray down the affected area with water, and sprinkle borax over it. Allow the borax to dry, then vacuum it up.
Another great thing about using borax for this purpose is that it kills fleas! If you’re also worried about fleas make sure you leave the borax on for at least 24 hours before vacuuming it up.
Keep mice out of your home
Rat poison is notoriously nasty stuff. It obviously has to be extremely toxic to kill small varments but left outside, rat poison can kill wildlife or neighborhood animals as well. While the following recipe is also toxic to mice and other animals, you should be able to strategically place such small amounts of it in your house it won’t affect wildlife.
Mix one part boric acid (not borax) with two parts peanut butter and roll into small, pea-sized balls (using gloves, of course). Place the bait in locations you know you have a mouse problem, and let nature take its course.
Keep the bait balls out of reach of pets.
Sprinkle the borax around the entryways where you think mice are getting in. Again, if you use this method make sure your pets or kids don’t have access to the area where you’ve placed the borax.
Treat athlete’s foot
Athlete’s foot is caused by a fungus, and if you’ll recall from the earlier discussion about how borax kills mold and mildew, you may also have put together that it can cure topical fungal infections as well.
As with any medical advice, always check with your doctor before trying something new. And if your condition worsens, see your doctor.
To make a foot scrub for athlete’s foot mix:
- ½ cup hydrogen peroxide
- 1 Tbs. borax
Mix these two ingredients in a small bottle. Soak cotton balls in the mixture and apply the damp cotton balls to your feet. Do this twice a day until the athlete’s foot gets better (which it should within a week or so).
Not all household cleaners are created equal when it comes to achieving a streak-free window or mirror. I have used regular household cleaners to wipe mirrors before, and they looked dirtier after I wiped them.
You can use borax to achieve that streak-free shine, but note that it has to be done in two steps.
Step 1: Mix
- 1.5 cups of water
- 1 Tbs. borax
Step 2: Wipe the windows or mirrors with this mixture.
Step 3: Mix equal parts white vinegar and water and wipe the windows after the borax to get the streaks off.