Well, it's time to remove this powdery cleaner from your green cleaning supplies. Borax has lost its status as a safe go-to green cleaning option. For years Borax has been promoted (including here on Organic Authority) as a natural cleaner that gives laundry a boost, deodorizes stinky areas and can clean all sorts of messes from the kitchen to the bathroom. Sadly, no more.
Despite it being a natural-occurring mineral, the Environmental Working Group, a non-profit research organization, has deemed borax and all of its pseudonyms (sodium borate, sodium tetraborate and disodium tetraborate) as unsafe. In the EWG’s newly-released 2012 Guide To Healthy Cleaning, borax received an F. Green cleaning fail.
Causes for concern
As it turns out, borax is pretty far from “green”, and definitely not good for your health. (It’s even used as a pesticide, if that tells you anything.) At the very least, borax can cause skin, eye and respiratory irritation. Exposure to borax can also disrupt hormones and cause damage to the male reproductive system. A safety review by the Environmental Protection Agency found that chronic exposure to high doses of borax, or its cousin boric acid, causes testicular atrophy in male mice. Animal studies also show disruptions in ovulation and fertility in females when exposed to borax.
Little data exists on the effects on humans when exposed to small amounts of borax through cleaning supplies or personal care products. Probably because in a 2006 review of the safety of borax pesticides, the EPA declined to perform a risk assessment that included exposures from cleaning supplies, cosmetics and other consumer goods.
Despite hardcore evidence against borax exposure through cleaning supplies, you green sleuths have probably figured out that you shouldn’t take a chance with borax any longer. Not to mention that so many other healthy cleaning options exist, whether you choose to make your own or clean with store-bought versions.
Some safe alternatives
Luckily, you don’t need to search far to find a replacement for borax. Baking soda makes the perfect substitute for borax in any homemade cleaning recipe. Baking soda can get rid of funky odors, scrub through caked on gunk on the stovetop and it can make your toilet sparkle. You can even clean your oven using just baking soda. And, when you combine baking soda with vinegar you get a foamy chemical reaction that can remove stains, unclog drains, and get rid of soap scum. Guess we didn’t really ever need borax anyway. (If you’re into grades, baking soda earned an A in the EWG’s healthy cleaning guide.)
Not into making your own cleaning supplies? Look for store-bought cleaning products at health food stores that are certified by either Green Seal or EcoLogo. Green Seal is an independent non-profit organization that works to safeguard the environment and transform the marketplace through its certification program. Similarly, EcoLogo provides third-party certification of environmentally-preferable products. You can also check to see how your cleaning products stand up—both for the planet and health-wise—on the EWG’s Guide to Healthy Cleaning.