Medically Reviewed by Sabrina Felson, MD on August 20, 2022

Borax is a powdery white substance, also known as sodium borate, sodium tetraborate, or disodium tetraborate. It’s widely used as a household cleaner and a booster for laundry detergent. It’s a combination of boron, sodium, and oxygen. 

Borax is often found in dry lake beds in places like California’s Death Valley, where the water evaporated and left behind deposits of minerals.

Boric acid is made from the same chemical compound as borax and even looks like it. But while borax is commonly used in cleaning, boric acid is mainly used as a pesticide. Boric acid kills insects by targeting their stomachs and nervous systems. 

Both borax and boric acid in loose powder form can be harmful if swallowed, particularly for children. They can also irritate your skin.

The best-known use for borax is as a cleaner, but you can find the ingredient in many other household products, including:

  • Specialty toothpastes and mouthwashes
  • Cosmetics such as lotions, skin creams, moisturizers, sunscreen, and acne care products
  • Paint and ceramic glaze
  • Herbicides

Borax is also an ingredient for making putty-like “slime” for kids. 

Scientists have been studying whether the compounds in borax might help your body fight conditions like arthritis or osteoporosis, but more research is needed to know if or how they might work.

Borax health risks

Borax can cause nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea if you ingest it by itself, and large amounts can lead to shock and kidney failure. It's banned in U.S. food products. It also can irritate your skin and eyes, and it can hurt your nose, throat, and lungs if you breathe it in. If you're around it often, it can cause rashes and might affect male reproductive organs.


Overexposure to borax can cause the following symptoms:

  • Headache
  • Weakness
  • Lightheadedness
  • Dizziness
  • Tremors
  • Passing out

Instead of borax, you can use the following household products to clean your home:

  • Vinegar: Equal parts of water and vinegar can be mixed together and put in a spray bottle. The solution can be used to clean sinks, counters and floors around the house in the kitchen and bathroom. 
  • Lemon: It can be used to clean soap scum and hard water stains. It’s also good at cleaning brass and copper. Lemon can be mixed with baking soda to make a paste to clean dishes and scrub surfaces. Olive oil mixed with lemon juice makes a good polish for hardwood furniture. Use lemon on a small area first to make sure that its acidity doesn’t cause any unwanted bleaching.
  • Baking soda: It makes a good nonabrasive cleanser, as well as a deodorizer for garbage cans, refrigerators and laundry. Plus, it can also be used to clean your teeth and boost your laundry. 

If you’re going to use borax at home, there are precautions you can take to make sure you do so safely:

  • Wear gloves.
  • Use borax in a well-ventilated area.
  • Change your clothes if borax touches it. Remove contaminated clothing.
  • Wash your hands well thoroughly before eating, drinking, putting on makeup, applying cosmetics or using the toilet after using borax. 
  • If borax powder gets in your eyes or on your skin. In case of contact, flush your skin and eyes (for at least 15 minutes) with water for at least 15 minutes.
  • Begin rescue breathing in case of accidental inhalation.
  • Get medical help if needed, in case of exposure.
  • Call Poison Control and other emergency services, if needed.

Show Sources


National Library of Medicine, Toxicology Data Network: “Borax.”

National Park Service: “Mining in Death Valley.”

20 Mule Team Borax: “Laundry uses,” "Borates in Personal Care Products.”

National Pesticide Information Center: “Boric Acid.”

Boy’s Life: “How to Make Slime With Glue and Borax.”

Royal Society of Chemistry: “Boron.”

Journal of Evidence-Based Complementary & Alternative Medicine: “Growing Evidence for Human Health Benefits of Boron.”

Journal of Trace Elements in Medical Biology: “In vivo and in vitro effects of boron and boronated compounds.”

Environmental Health Perspectives: “Essentiality of boron for healthy bones and joints.”

International Program on Chemical Safety: “Sodium borate.”

Journal of Intercultural Ethnopharmacology: “The adjuvant use of calcium fructoborate and borax with etanercept in patients with rheumatoid arthritis: Pilot study.”

Arthritis Foundation: “Osteoporosis Self-Care.”

FDA: “Food Additive Status List.”

Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology: “Antimicrobial Activity of Home Disinfectants and Natural Products Against Potential Human Pathogens”

David Suzuki Foundation: “Is borax safe?”

Arm and Hammer: “Uses for Baking Soda”

Morton, J. Fruits of Warm Climates, Julia F. Morton, 1987 “Lemon p. 160 - 168”

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