One ingredient you might not know so much about is borax. After you discover all its amazing uses below, you’ll never want to be without some in your cupboard.
What is borax, anyway?
Borax is the common name for the naturally occurring mineral salt, sodium borate. It is a water-soluble white powder used in the manufacturing of glass, ceramics and metals. It has fire retardant and antifungal properties. It is also an ingredient in insecticides, antiseptics, cosmetics and household products.
Borax was first discovered in Tibet hundreds of years ago and came into common use in the western world in the late 19th century when the commonly known Mule Team brand started importing it in large quantities.
Is borax safe?
When researching borax, there are some misconceptions about which specific chemical compound is being referred to. The substance sold under the name “borax” is sodium borate, or sodium tetraborate, and not boric acid, which is a harsher substance.
Borax does have some safety warnings, including potential eye and skin irritation with “repeated or prolonged excessive exposure,” and digestive upset if ingested in large amounts. However, most household substances such as vinegar, baking soda or salt could cause similar issues. So, to stay safe with borax, use common sense and keep it out of children’s reach.
Amazing ways to use borax
Once we started looking into it, we were surprised by all the common household frustrations that can be taken care of with borax. Read on to find some great ideas you might want to try out yourself.
Do your everyday cleaning
Clean sinks, counters, tubs and showers by sprinkling borax onto a sponge or cloth. Borax can be used even on finishes like fiberglass without scratching them. Be sure to rinse thoroughly after cleaning for a sparkling result.
You can also make an all-purpose cleaner by mixing one tablespoon of borax with two tablespoons of vinegar and a few drops of dish liquid in a spray bottle, then top it up with hot water.
To give your toilet a deep clean, pour one cup of borax into the toilet bowl and leave overnight. This will help loosen any stains, which will scrub away easily in the morning.
Clean windows and mirrors with a mixture of two tablespoons borax dissolved into three cups warm water. This is especially useful for very grimy surfaces. Use a soft lint-free cloth and buff to a shine. You can also repeat the cleaning with a mixture of water and vinegar after doing most of the work with the borax solution.
Get rid of tough stains and clogs
Clean chewing gum, tar, grease or adhesive residue with a paste made with two parts borax and one part water. Rub the paste onto the mess and then rinse or wipe clean.
For stains on clothing, apply a paste made with one part borax and two parts water. Leave the mixture on for half an hour, then launder as normal.
You can also use borax to remove stains from carpeting. If you are using a carpet cleaning machine such as a Rug Doctor, you can improve its cleaning power to remove tough carpet stains by adding borax to the water in the reservoir. Use a half-cup of borax per gallon of water.
Remove rust from tools or household items with a paste of one tablespoon borax, one tablespoon lemon juice and a little water. Use a sponge to clean off the rust.
A slightly different mixture will clean stains from stainless steel or porcelain sinks. Use one cup borax and a quarter-cup lemon juice to make a paste. Just rub on and then rinse clean.
You can also clean the more nasty parts of sinks and drains with borax. To sanitize and unblock a garbage disposal, put three tablespoons of borax into it, then flush with warm water after an hour. To unclog a drain, pour 1/2 cup of borax, then slowly add two cups of boiling water. After letting it sit for a little while, run the water to clear everything out.
Clean bakeware, pots and pans with cooked-on stains by sprinkling a little borax and rubbing with a damp cloth before rinsing thoroughly.
Remove odors and keep things fresh
Borax is a handy natural remedy for a number of common household odors. To deodorize smelly carpet, make a powder with equal parts baking soda and borax. Sprinkle this into the carpet, then vacuum up after 30 minutes.
For fabrics and upholstery, you don’t need to resort to a heavily-fragranced commercial deodorizing spray. Just mix a half-cup of borax into a spray bottle of water and apply to furniture, curtains or car interiors.
If you have a smelly or stained mattress, rub borax into the problem area with a wet cloth. Let the mattress dry, then vacuum up any residue.
Keep the trash can and your cat’s litter box fresh by washing with a borax and water solution. You can also put two or three tablespoons of borax in the bottom of the clean dry trash can and mix in with the litter to absorb extra moisture and odor. Note that if your cat has ever had a habit of eating litter, you shouldn’t add borax as it may cause digestive upset.
Clean mold and mildew with a mixture of one-gallon water, one cup borax. Apply the mixture with a spray bottle or cloth, and scrub mold away. You can leave the borax mixture there without rinsing, as it will inhibit mold and mildew growth on an ongoing basis.
Clean and deodorize the fridge with water and borax on a sponge or cloth.
You can also freshen your humidifier by dissolving a half-cup of borax in a gallon of water and running it through the humidifier for ten minutes. Afterward, remove any remainder from the tank and rinse well with water.
Another appliance that doesn’t often get cleaned is the dishwasher. You can give it a much-needed freshen-up by scrubbing the bottom and inside with some borax, then sprinkle borax on the bottom of the dishwasher before running the next load of dishes as normal.
Take care of the garden and outdoor items
Patio furniture can be kept clean with a simple borax solution. Mix a teaspoon each of dish liquid and borax with a quart of warm water. This is best used in a spray bottle.
You can also use borax to fix problems in the garden. Kill weeds in concrete, walkways or driveways by sprinkling borax on them. Another option, if you want to keep additional borax out of your garden soil, is to use a cup of borax in two gallons of water and use a weed sprayer. This way you can concentrate on the leaves of weeds and not spray the soil itself.
Don’t use pure borax on plants that you want to keep alive, however you can use a mixture to fertilize plants. Crops such as broccoli, cabbage, onions and strawberries are especially in need of boron. Mix one tablespoon borax per gallon of water, add a few drops of dish soap as an emulsifier, and apply to the garden.
Feed your fruit trees with borax. Every three to four years, sprinkle some borax around your apple trees to provide boron, a vital trace mineral for healthy fruit development. Use a cup for mature trees or 2 tablespoons for a young tree.
Borax can even help you save money on pool chemicals. It can help maintain pH levels, prevent algae growth and reduce the need for chlorine. The exact procedure is out of the scope of this article, so be sure to consult a qualified source to determine how much borax you need for your swimming pool.
Get rid of pests
You can use equal parts borax and sugar and sprinkle anywhere you think pesky insects such as cockroaches or ants might be coming into your house. The powder can be vacuumed up afterward. Outside, you can use a mixture of equal parts borax with honey, corn syrup or maple syrup.
For fleas, sprinkle borax on dog beds or rugs where fleas might lay their eggs.
To keep mice at bay, sprinkle borax on the floor along the wall. This is where mice usually run, and they are less likely to return since they don’t enjoy having borax on their feet.
Create fun activities for kids
So far all of these uses for borax have been highly practical. But did you know borax can be used for some crazy fun shenanigans as well? These are great activities for keeping the kids off of their screens.
Try making slime by mixing 1/4 cup each of water and borax, with 2 tablespoons white glue, and a little food coloring. Keep mixing and kneading the dough until it becomes a fun slime. Slightly different recipes also make “floam” or silly putty.
Kids will love making beautiful crystallized snowflakes with borax. This is a great at-home science experiment. Simply make snowflakes with pipe cleaners, then mix one tablespoon of borax per cup of boiling water. Then use a popsicle stick and ribbon to suspend the snowflakes in mason jars filled with the solution. Leave the jars sitting still for 24 hours and you will see crystals form like magic!
Another surprising trick is to whip up a bouncy ball with some ingredients you probably have lying around your home. Mix one tablespoon each of borax and cornstarch, two tablespoons white glue and 1/4 cup water. Add some food coloring and glitter. Keep squeezing the mixture as it hardens and it will soon form a bouncy ball!
You’ll win the kids’ hearts forever if you make colored fire with borax. This one is obviously an adult-supervision-only activity. Simply put some methyl alcohol in a fire-safe bowl and add two spoonfuls of borax. After 30 seconds, carefully light the mixture and enjoy those eerie green flames!
And a few more surprising uses for borax…
You can use borax to clean the hairs of a bow used to play a stringed instrument such as a violin or cello. To remove extra rosin, use a damp toothbrush dipped in a little borax, then wipe clean, being careful not to get any on the wood of the instrument.
Make better wicks for homemade candles by soaking the string in a solution of water, salt and borax. Hang to dry for a couple of days before using it to make candles. This will help the wicks burn cleaner with less ash and smoke.
Preserve flowers with less wilting by sprinkling a mixture of 1/3 borax and 2/3 cornmeal into a box. Place the flowers inside and sprinkle a little more of the mixture on top. Leave the box covered for about two weeks and you will have beautifully dried flowers.
Cure toenail fungus by mixing one teaspoon each of borax and baking soda with a little water to make a paste. Apply to the infected toenail for one hour, twice daily, for two weeks.
And finally, if you have a grease fire in the kitchen, sprinkle it with borax!
Which of these handy household tricks will you try? Let us know in the comments!
— Liivi Hess