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What are the Most Common Uses for Borax?

By Robyn Clark
Updated May 16, 2024
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Borax, the common name for sodium borate, is a mineral widely used as a home cleaning product. Best known as a detergent and a cleanser, it has a wide number of potential uses in the home. Tips and suggestions for the most common uses can be found in books and online, including recipes for cleaning solutions and for treating stains and controlling pests. Although borax is generally recognized as safe, it can be toxic if consumed in large quantities, and care should be taken when using it around pets and children.

Unlike many commercial cleansers, borax does not contain phosphates or chlorine, and it is not harmful to plumbing or septic systems. Many experts recommend it as a natural and eco-friendly alternative to harsher chemical cleansers. In the laundry, it acts as a detergent booster, a stain remover, and a water softener. It can also be used to remove stains and odors on carpets. When mixed with hot water, borax can also be effective as a drain cleaner for minor clogs in pipes.

Its versatility as a cleaner, degreaser, and deodorizer makes this mineral a natural substitute for commercial cleaners. Diluting borax with hot water creates an all-purpose cleaning solution that can be used to sanitize and deodorize many surfaces, such as outdoor furniture and trash cans. Rinsing a small amount with hot water through a garbage disposal helps to cut down on unwanted food waste odors. Applying a mixture of borax and lemon juice can remove or minimize the appearance of rust stains. The powder is non-abrasive, and can be used as a gentle cleanser on many surfaces.

One of the most popular uses is for pest control. Sprinkling borax around the perimeter of a room can help keep out ants, cockroaches, and other bugs. Mice are also likely to stay away from treated areas. As a simple flea control measure, consumers can sprinkle the powder onto carpets, allow it to sit, and then vacuum it up. Pets and children should not be left unsupervised in areas where borax has been applied.

Natural home cleaning enthusiasts recommend borax as an all-purpose alternative to buying a cupboard full of specialized cleaners. Care should be taken to use this product only as directed. Gloves are recommended when handling the undiluted powder, as it may cause skin irritation in some individuals. Borax should not be ingested. Consult with a medical professional or a poison control center if ingestion occurs or is suspected.

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Discussion Comments
By Perdido — On Mar 19, 2012

I like to use borax in my dishwasher. It helps get the dishes much cleaner and shinier.

My dishwasher has a problem with leaving spots and a bit of grease behind on really dirty dishes. I had heard that borax could cut through the grease and prevent spots from forming, so I bought some.

I put a quarter of a cup in the detergent tray, along with some detergent. My dishes looked as clean as they used to when I would wash each one by hand. None of my silverware had those spots that always seem to form on it.

By OeKc05 — On Mar 19, 2012

My best friend uses borax in her candle making process. It can prevent the wicks from smoking, and it can cut down on the amount of ashes produced.

She uses a solution of warm water, borax, and salt. She soaks the wick in it for one whole night and day before using it to make a candle.

I have burned some of the candles she has made using borax, and it really does keep them from making that putrid smoke when you blow them out. I also don't have to deal with all those black ashes in my freshly melted wax.

By kylee07drg — On Mar 18, 2012

@StarJo – Yes, borax can kill your dogs if they ingest enough of it. I would steer far away from it if I were you.

I refuse to even use it in my laundry room. My dogs live outside, but I have this horrible fear of them somehow getting inside and getting into something that could harm them, so I try to buy all natural, pet-safe products.

My friends who don't have pets use borax to preserve flower blossoms and leaves. The borax sucks out the moisture and keeps them from wilting. It's a pretty cool method, but I will never use it in my home.

By StarJo — On Mar 18, 2012

@julies – My mother uses it to deter ants, and it works very well. She had problems with ants coming in around the window panes, and once she sprinkled borax on the windowsills, this stopped.

It amazed me that it worked so well, because she had tried just about every repellant known to man, and nothing had worked. She was so frustrated with the whole situation, because the ants were making trails to her cabinets and eating her bread and cereal.

I would love to use this in my house, but I have dogs that live indoors, and I don't know what it would do to them. Would borax make them sick or could it potentially kill them?

By bagley79 — On Mar 18, 2012

@julies - I have never tried using borax for pest control. I don't know if you sprinkled it around the outside of your house if you would get effective results or not. It would be worth a try anyway.

One of my favorite uses for borax is to keep my drains clean and smelling fresh. My garbage disposal gets used a lot, but after awhile it starts to drain very slowly.

This is when I mix borax with some hot water and pour down the disposal. I usually let it sit for awhile before I run anymore water down the drain. This really works well at keeping my drain flowing better and I don't have that bad odor.

By julies — On Mar 17, 2012

My only complaint with using borax as a laundry detergent is that it doesn't make very many suds.

I know that just because you see suds doesn't mean you are getting your clothes clean, but I still like to see suds when I am cleaning or washing something.

I would be interested to know if anybody has used this for pest control?

In the spring when it is damp, I have a horrible problem with ants. I am trying to avoid using chemicals to take care of this, and wonder if I would get good results using borax.

I have a box of borax here that I need to find some more uses for. I'm just not sure I want to see white powder sprinkled around the room.

By SarahSon — On Mar 16, 2012

@LisaLou - I have used borax for many years not only for my laundry, but for many household cleaning chores.

There are only three ingredients needed to make your own laundry detergent. I use the brand 20 Mule Team borax, along with soap and washing soda.

There are a lot of sites online where you can find recipes for this. As far as getting everything clean, I have always thought it did a good job. Some people like to add more borax and washing soda for an extra boost.

For me, this is not only a great money saver, but also good for my family and safe for the environment. If you have tough stains to get out of clothes or fabric, making a paste with the borax works better than anything else I have tried.

By LisaLou — On Mar 16, 2012

I have never noticed borax on the shelves when I was buying laundry detergent, but next time I am going to look for it.

We live in the country and have our own septic system. I have been trying to find products that don't contain phosphates and other harsh chemicals.

We recently had to have our septic system cleaned, and this is one of the things they recommended to me. Before this, I had never given much thought to the products I used that went down the drain.

This has made me much more aware of using environmentally friendly products. I know borax has been around a long time, and think I will look for it and try making some of my own detergent.

Does it clean as well as other laundry detergents I am used to using? I don't want to buy a big box of it and then find out it doesn't get my clothes clean.

By Kat919 — On Mar 15, 2012

@ElizaBennett - I'm planning a second pregnancy and I want to quit my job and stay home, so I am thinking about ways to save money like using cloth diapers and making my own baby food. I will definitely look into making my own laundry detergent!

My mom is a little "crunchy" and she used to use borax to clean her oven. I think it was borax, liquid dish soap, and maybe vinegar? Give me the self-cleaning oven every time!

Borax is considered safer than other chemicals, but it was actually used as a food preservative and turns out it's not so good to eat it! I had this book when I was a kid about the early days of the FDA and how they made our food supply so much safer. One of the things they did was recruit a bunch of strong, healthy volunteers and feed them tons of food made with borax so that they got sick - the idea was the prove that adding borax to your food just isn't safe. (Washing your clothes with it is a much better idea!)

By ElizaBennett — On Mar 14, 2012

Not only can you use borax as a detergent booster, you can also use it as an ingredient for making your own laundry detergent. All you really need are some kind of soap, washing soda, and borax. You can usually buy borax in the laundry aisle, so the washing soda is the tricky part. Arm and Hammer makes it and sometimes you can find it in the laundry aisle, but if not, you can order it online.

A lot of cloth diaper enthusiasts like to make their own laundry detergent because for one thing it's cheaper, and people who cloth diaper (like me) can be cheap. But the main thing is that then you know exactly what's in it. Additives like scents and optical brighteners are no good for cloth diapers - and they don't do your clothes much good, either!

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