Revised July 14, 2016
Borax belongs in your cleaning arsenal. And you can do a lot more with it than just clean.
Do you have a cabinet full of products that only clean one thing? You don’t need any of them.
A small collection of products like borax, washing soda, vinegar, and salt can do the same work just as well. They may even be safer.
You may have seen warnings about borax’ safety. Most of these articles seem not to understand the difference between borax (an alkaline) and boric acid. For the following uses, borax is not toxic. Still, keep it away from children and pets.
General cleaning with borax
You will probably find it with the laundry detergents in stores. Add about ½ cup to the washing machine along with the detergent to boost its cleaning power. Or use it as presoak at a somewhat higher concentration. If your linens have a musty odor, presoaking them in a borax solution will remove it.
Hand wash delicates in a sink with ¼ cup of borax and 2 tablespoons of laundry detergent in warm water. After soaking them for 10-15 minutes, rinse them with cool water, blot them with a towel to remove excess water, and hang them to dry.
All-purpose borax cleaner
You can make an all-purpose cleaner by combining 2 tablespoons of borax and 2 cups of hot water in a spray bottle.
The water needs to be hot because borax doesn’t easily dissolve in water. Shake it vigorously. If you like, you can add a teaspoon of dish detergent and a teaspoon of ammonia or vinegar.
Borax is naturally antifungal, so this cleaner works very well to remove mold and mildew. If you have a mold problem too great for the all-purpose cleaner, smear a thick paste of borax and water on it and let it dry overnight or longer. Sweep and rinse.
The basic cleaner works well on windows. If the windows are very dirty, though, soak a cloth in 2 tablespoons of borax and 3 cups of water. Soak another cloth in equal parts vinegar and water. Use the borax cloth first, then the vinegar cloth. Then dry the window with another cloth to prevent spots and streaking.
Likewise, you can use the all-purpose cleaner for patio furniture. If it’s very dirty, mix the cleaner in a bucket of hot water instead of a spray bottle.
If you use it to clean the shelves and walls of your refrigerator, it will smell better. Borax absorbs odors, I’ll have more to say about it for deodorizing later.
Besides walls and other hard surfaces, you can use this same mixture on carpet stains. Spray to soak the stain. Blot it dry. (Don’t rub!) Repeat as needed.
Other ways to clean with borax
Is your mattress stained? Make a paste of one part borax to two parts water. Rub it directly on the stain. Vacuum the mattress when it dries.
Remove stains from sinks or bath tubs with a paste of 1 cup borax and ¼ cup lemon juice or vinegar. You can even clean fiberglass fixtures this way. Borax is not abrasive. It works on rust too, although if you’re cleaning a vertical surface, the paste doesn’t adhere and turns hard very fast. So rub vigorously with a cloth immediately after mixing the paste, before it has a chance to dry out.
Use the general instructions for making the all-purpose cleaner to clean the tub, sink, counter, and other tile or fiberglass surfaces. Instead of using the spray bottle, fill the tub or sink with water and let it soak.
When you drain the tub or sink, you will still have some residue. Scrub before you rinse it out. It won’t require hard scrubbing, but it will take some.
If your shower curtain liner is stained with mildew, soak it in the tub. If you use a cloth liner, it’s ready for the laundry when you drain the tub. If it’s plastic, you can scrub it before rehanging it.
You can clean the hard water deposits out of your teapot by adding 1 teaspoon each of borax and laundry detergent and boiling it for a while. Let the solution cool, then discard it and rinse the pot.
Clean dingy china with ½ cup of borax in warm water. Rinse with clean water. (In the interest of saving water, fill another sink or tub with clean water rather than rinsing under running water.)
To clean out plumbing fixtures, pour 2 cups of borax in a clogged drain. Add 2 cups of boiling water. Let it sit for at least 15 minutes, and then flush with tap water.
To clean the toilet, dissolve ½ cup of borax in a gallon of water and let it sit in the toilet for about an hour. Then brush the toilet thoroughly and flush.
Deodorizing with borax
Unlike many products on the market, borax absorbs odors. It doesn’t merely mask them. So what stinks?
Your garbage can probably does. After you empty the garbage, let a solution of borax and water sit in it for a while. Dry it or let it dry after you pour the water out. Sprinkle borax in the bottom before replacing the garbage can liner.
If a drain or garbage disposal stinks, add about 3 tablespoons of borax powder and let it sit for at least 15 minutes. Flush with tap water. Let the garbage disposal run for a little while you flush.
If your mattress or carpet smell bad, sprinkle borax on them. Let it sit for about half an hour, then vacuum. Keep pets and children away.
You can use the all-purpose cleaner to deodorize upholstery. Check an inconspicuous place for color fastness.
Mix about ¼ cup of borax in your cat’s litter box. Add a little more litter to the top so your cat won’t ingest it.
Personal care with borax
Use borax to treat fungal infections of the skin (such as athlete’s foot, jock itch, or ringworm), poison ivy, acne, or even liver spots. Wet the skin and rub borax into it. Repeat daily until your skin clears. It can irritate your skin temporarily, but then so can other treatments.
Borax makes a great shampoo. Add a cup of borax to a clean one-gallon milk jug. Fill the jug with very hot water and shake it until it dissolves.
I just pour some into my cupped hand and from there to my head until my hair is thoroughly wet. After I rub it into my scalp, I take my shower and rinse my head when I’m finished. It works as well as any dandruff shampoo.
I have read that women treat vaginal infections with a douche of 1 tablespoon of borax in a cup of water twice daily. I’ll have to take their word for it!
The web has numerous anecdotal accounts of treating rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, and some internal infections by ingesting a weak borax solution. The science isn’t conclusive enough for me to recommend it, but it’s enough for me to provide a link so you can follow up if you’re interested.
Pest control with borax
If you have weeds growing in your driveway or sidewalk, pour some borax around them. It will kill them as quickly as the more toxic weed killers.
I have read that a small, judicious amount of borax around garden plants will keep aphids and other pests away. Apparently boron is like salt—a necessary nutrient that’s toxic at excessive levels.
So feed excessive levels of it to mice, ants, cockroaches and other pests. Mix a little borax and a little sugar and put it near ant trails. It’s probably best to put it on a little square a wax paper in case you want to move it. The ants will feed the borax to the queen, so you can kill not only the ones crawling on your counters, but the entire colony.
For cockroaches and mice, mix equal parts of borax, sugar, and flour. Add enough water to make a paste about the consistency of the icing you’d use for writing words on a cake. Squeeze it out as a treat for them behind appliances, near baseboards, under drains, and other dark places where your pets won’t find it. This mixture is the only thing I can think of where I would recommend a disposable bag.
If you have fleas on your carpet, sprinkle borax on it. Leave it for an hour, and then vacuum. Again, it’s probably best to keep pets and small children out of the room until after you vacuum.
Borax is one of three versatile cleaners in powder form you can find at the grocery store. The others are baking soda and washing soda. These products are pretty much interchangeable for cleaning, but with a few differences:
- Baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) is used in food. It makes a good antacid and underarm deodorant.
- Washing soda (sodium carbonate) is not edible. It is a skin irritant, so not suitable either as an antacid or deodorant. It is also less expensive than baking soda and comes in larger containers. So I recommend washing soda over baking soda for cleaning.
- Neither soda shares borax’ antibacterial or antifungal properties. They deodorize, but do not disinfect. They cannot substitute for borax for the personal care or pest control uses I have described.
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Borax, vinegar, washing soda. My photo.
Others: sources not known.