Is borax safe to use?

Children
Borax, a naturally occurring mineral, has been an ingredient in cleaning products for decades. It is not safe to ingest. Some people also use it to make children’s toys, such as homemade slime.

Borax can be harmful and may cause many serious side effects. In this article, we look at the safety and risks of borax.

What is borax?

White powder borax
Many household cleaning products include borax as an ingredient.

Borax is the common name for the chemical sodium tetraborate. It is a salt of boric acid. Powdered borax consists of soft white crystals that dissolve in water.

Many people know borax as a cleaning product. However, it has many other uses, including:

  • treating mold and mildew
  • killing insects
  • softening hard water
  • neutralizing odors
  • acting as a fire retardant

Also, many household products contain borax, including soaps and detergents.

Manufacturers sometimes use borax to prevent or slow bacterial growth in cosmetic products, such as shampoo, makeups, and body soaps. In some cosmetics, manufacturers use borax as an emulsifier to stop products’ ingredients from separating.


Is borax safe?

Many people automatically assume borax is safe since it is a naturally occurring substance.

While the National Library of Medicine (NLM) classifies borax as being noncarcinogenic, it does pose some risks, including:

  • skin, eye, and respiratory irritation
  • digestive problems
  • infertility
  • kidney failure
  • shock
  • death

In fact, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) banned borax as a food additive. Borax is not safe to ingest.

According to the NLM’s Toxicology Data Network, borax is easy for the body to break down when either inhaled or swallowed. However, if inhalation or ingestion occurs, both serious poisoning and organ damage can result.

Ingesting borax can also lead to reproductive issues, including with the testes, a developing fetus, and fertility.


Borax and children

Children playing with slime products
Borax is an ingredient in some slimy play products for children.

Children should avoid contact with borax and products that contain borax. In previous years, people used borax to make slime for children to play with. However, children are particularly at risk from borax toxicity.

According to the Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin, as little as 5 grams of borax can be harmful and potentially fatal if a child ingests it.

Some potential risks if a child ingests borax include:

People with children should avoid using pesticides, cosmetics, or other products containing borax. For example, if a child touches a pesticide, they may accidentally ‘ingest’ it into their bodies through contact with their hands.

Instead, a person should look for products with ingredients that are nontoxic to children.


Borax and pets

Pets are also at risk of accidental exposure and consumption of borax. People should avoid using pesticides that contain borax if they have pets that will wander through the area.

In addition, a person should store products containing borax away from where pets can access them.

Risks

Borax offers several potential risks to humans and animals. A person should strongly consider not using products that contain borax when possible.

Manufacturers do not need to list borax as an ingredient on the label of their products unless it is present in a pesticide.

For people interested in avoiding products with borax, the Environmental Working Group recommend looking for the Green Seal or EcoLogo.

Some of the products a person should use caution when purchasing include:

  • slimy products made for kids
  • cleaning products
  • cosmetic products


Precautions

Person using cleaning products while wearing protective gloves
Wearing protective clothing while using borax can help reduce health risks.

For those in regular contact with products that contain borax, some safety tips include:

  • wearing rubber gloves when handling cleaning products
  • washing away any cleaning product with water
  • avoiding contact with nose, mouth, and eyes
  • covering any open wounds before handling a borax product
  • keeping products out of reach of children or pets
  • making homemade doughs and slimes for children without borax
  • avoiding breathing in the powder
  • washing skin that comes in contact with the product

Takeaway

Just because borax is natural does not mean it is safe to ingest or handle frequently. Borax ingestion or frequent borax exposure has many possible side effects and may result in borax poisoning.

The risks are especially high for children and pets, who may accidentally inhale or ingest borax. There are other, safer products available.

If you think someone has ingested or inhaled borax, call the poison control center at 1-800-222-1222 or the local number in your area.

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