Everything you need to know about this old-fashioned, all-natural detergent booster, including whether it's safe to use.

By Katie Holdefehr
Updated June 03, 2019
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What Is Borax
Credit: 20muleteamlaundry.com/Getty images

Decades ago, a box of borax could be found in laundry rooms across the country, but over time, the powdery white laundry booster fell out of favor. Now, this old-fashioned laundry additive seems to be gaining in popularity, particularly among those interested in natural cleaning methods and homemade cleaning solutions. But what exactly is borax and is it really safe? Here's everything you need to know about this trendy-again laundry supply.

What Is Borax?

Also called sodium borate, borax is a naturally-occurring mineral salt most often mined from Turkey and California. Powdered and partially dehydrated, the borax you'll find in the cleaning supplies aisle at the grocery store looks like a white powder. The most common brand you'll spot in stores, the "20 Mule Team," was named after the process by which the mineral was carted out of the California and Nevada desert in the late 1800s.

How Does Borax Work?

Borax is extremely alkaline (pH of around 9.5), which creates a basic solution that can help fight acidic stains (like tomato or mustard) when dissolved in water and used as a pre-treating solution. When added to a load of laundry in the washing machine, borax can help get white clothes whiter. And when combined with bleach? It helps boost bleach's cleaning abilities.

If Borax Safe?

The safety of borax has been a big source of debate. While this mineral used to be used in cosmetics and body care products, it has since been replaced by other emulsifiers because of safety concerns. As we mentioned above, borax is very alkaline, so in its undiluted form, it can irritate skin. Similar to bleach, borax should be kept out of the reach of children and should never be ingested. Essentially, just because borax is naturally occurring doesn't make it harmless—treat borax as you would other cleaners in your home and keep it in a safe spot away from children.

Why Is Borax Becoming Popular Again?

If you joined in on the slime crazy over the past few years, then you may already have been reacquainted with the grocery store supply. Borax is used in many slime recipes, which inspired others to create borax-free alternatives for parents who were worried their little ones might eat the slime (again, as mentioned above, borax shouldn't be ingested). Thanks to the slime trend, borax was once again back in homes.

Recently, borax has become a source of debate in the natural cleaning community. As blogger Julia from Simply Living Well explains in her Instagram post on the topic, as long as you're not planning to eat or inhale the powder, borax can be a safe, yet powerful natural laundry booster. To make your own homemade borax-based laundry detergent, follow Julia's recipe above combining Castile soap, borax, and washing soda. Your laundry will never look cleaner.