I have been wanting to make my own laundry detergent for a long time and this was the perfect reason! So I went and bought me some good 'ol Borax after much debate with myself. Here is what I can tell you about Borax so far in my search for truth via the Internet...which may or may not be completely accurate. But I try to use good sources for the most part. Bear with me.
Also known as sodium tetraborate, disodium borate, or sodium borate (About.com). It is a naturally occuring mineral commonly found in CA and Tibet and is commonly used as a natural laundry detergent booster. It is basic in nature (pH around 9; water is neutral-7) which apparently helps to create a favorable environment for other cleaners to work better. About.com states that Borax cleans, disinfects, deodorizes, and softens water. It is also used to repel bugs but we will get into that later. It is noted as a skin irritant although many people who make their own laundry detergent with it say they have handled it for years and have not been affected. I guess mine is always in my Tbsp measuring spoon so I don't touch it but I wear the clothes after they've been washed and I don't notice any skin reactions.
I did come across some blogs where people said it is not good to inhale. I apologize, I don't remember where I saw this so I try not to purposely smell my laundry detergent. But still, I don't know how credible that information is. Better safe than sorry I guess.
Now many people use it in dishwashing detergent which I am a bit leery of because it can be toxic if you ingest large amounts. And while it is not considered bio-accumulative, or able to build up in the body, this is still a personal concern of mine.
I had heard that Borax was a herbicide and an insecticide If a product can kill plants and bugs, do I really want it in my laundry? Here's where education becomes handy. The boron in the Borax can be harmful to plans in large amounts. That's like the whole Sucralose/saccharin argument People say that you need large amounts of it before it starts to look carcinogenic." But boron is a micronutrient for plans and they do need a little bit. It can be used
People often get Borax and Boric Acid confused. They are not the same. If you mix Borax with an acid like sulfuric acid, you will get boric acid which has a pH of around 5. This is very different from Borax (pH ~9) and it is more harmful in most of the studies and articles that I researched.
The National Institute of Health (NIH) says that "Borax is not classifiable as a human carcinogen" and noted that it was a mild to moderate skin irritant in one study. In another study, the NIH noted that it was a "simple respiratory irritant." Notably on the NIH website, they seem to combine both Borax and boric acid in the same categories when stating that it may be toxic and may cause or have caused death.
The latest MSDS I could find on Borax in updated in 2009 (Revision 8) states that it is not irritating to intact skin. Other MSDS forms from 2000 and 2007states it is not a skin irritant. I believe that new MSDS forms should be updated at least every 3-5 years for currency? I'm not totally sure where to find this information but I am curious if anything new has been discovered about Borax. If so, they would have been required to post it within 3 months (I think) of the finding.
People say, well if Borax is used as an insecticide to kill little bugs than wouldn't just a small amount be needed to kill me or a child? According to this website, the method if not quite understood but it is more toxic to insects than humans. In talking with an entomologist, it appears that the Borax can kill insects via physical contact or ingestion. Borax has a structure such that when the bugs come into contact with Borax and groom themselves, the Borax actually gives them little cuts and they end up dying from dehydration.
*I saw this blog post about Borax soon to be banned in the UK. It was written June 2012.
Apparently, according to this article, table salt is more toxic than Borax when ingested. I have never heard of that website before and I may not agree with everything but the facts that it states with references seem pretty credible. I only skimmed most of the page since it was extremely lengthy but while I found some information useful, I'm not sure about the attitude and purpose for writing that article.
*I would highly recommend reading Leslie Martin's (Crunchy Betty) perspective on Borax for pretty good overview of the ingredient.
If you are not afraid of Borax by now or don't know what to think, it can be found at a variety of stores. My Walmart carries Borax in the laundry detergent aisle. The brand I've seen most commonly is the 20 Mule brand which has been around for years. The 20 Mule Team website states that Borax may be used as a deodorizing agent/cleaning agent as well as making candle wicks and arts and crafts. There are many different uses listed.
Please let me know what you think or anything that you may know about Borax!
Whew. I am Boraxed out. When I finished writing this, I noticed that my title originally was "Laundry Detergent: 3 Easy Ingredients!" Haha...That did not end up to be the theme of this post. It's more like 2 easy ingredients...and Borax.