Dishwasher and Detergent

13 Reasons to Keep Borax in the House (and Why It’s Safe!)

Dishwasher and Machine

Recently this desperate message with a subject line Dishwasher Disaster! washed up in my inbox. I came this close to ignoring that message because I didn’t have much to go on.

Dear Mary: My dishes have accumulated a coating of grit due to the fact that someone (who shall remain nameless) insisted on rinsing the dishes before loading them into the dishwasher.

After a $59 service call which enlightened the guilty party as to the folly of his ways, I am now faced with futile attempts to remove said grit.

I have had only marginal success with Blue Dawn, a Magic Eraser, and much elbow grease. I can’t help thinking there must be an easier and more effective way to accomplish this.

Can you help? Katherine

See what I mean? There are so many variables like:

Is the water especially hard where Katherine and Nameless live? Is Katherine using a rinse aid along with her detergent? Did what’s-his-name unwittingly double up on the detergent? Was the water coming into the dishwasher hot enough from the first moment?

But then I stopped short, knowing the first thing I’d try if this were a problem in my kitchen.

Dear Katherine: I can’t be sure but it’s possible the surfaces of the dishes and glassware have become permanently etched as a result of using far too much dishwasher detergent without enough acid from food particles that dishwashers count on to properly activate the detergent. Just one theory, hope it’s not true.

Here’s what I would do: Fill your sink with HOT water. Add about 1/2 cup of borax (20 Mule Team is one brand, most supermarkets). Put the dishes in to soak. That should loosen the grit if indeed it is “grit” that is clinging to the surface. I’d be OK with using a scrubber (ScotchBrite BLUE option) to speed things along.

Hope that helps. Let me know …

Within only a few hours, I heard back!

Dear Mary: The Borax did the trick! Thanks for your help.

That got me thinking about all the ways I use Borax to clean and fix problems around the house.

What is borax?

Borax’s chemical name is sodium tetraborate. Sodium tetraborate is a salt compound from boric acid but not an acid. It is a salt found naturally in evaporation lakes with the most commercially important deposits found in Boron, Calif.

There is a difference between boron, borate, boric acid, and borax. Boron is an element that exists in nature. Borax is a combination of sodium, boron, and oxygen and can be mined from the earth in its crude form.

Powdered borax is white, consisting of soft colorless crystals that dissolve in water. Borax is an ingredient in many detergents, cosmetics, and enamel glazes. 20 Mule Team Borax is a trademark, named for the method by which borax was originally hauled out of the California and Nevada deserts. Borax is readily in supermarkets in the laundry or cleaning aisles and online under a number of different brands including generically.

Borax and Cleaner

Is borax safe?

Yes, it is safe.

Borax is alkaline and has a pH of about 9, the same as baking soda.

All the studies on borax that refer to cancer or fertility are based on rats who consume or ingest an incredibly large amount of borax for an extended period of time. You should never EAT borax! And let me be clear that none of those studies impact how borax is used to clean.

Here’s the full material data safety sheet if you want some light reading. This official document gives borax an overall health safety rating of “1” which is the same as baking soda and salt.


Generally, and this is true of ANY salt (baking soda, table salt):

  • Be careful about dumping large amounts into containers and breathing in the dust. You should never do this with anything that is a fine powder and not just with borax. Always be cautious about dust from salts— even flour.
  • Keep borax in a sealed container away from children just as you do with ANY cleaning agent, even natural ones. Natural cleaning agents are safe to use around pets and children, but you don’t want them getting into the container.
  • Do not use borax for skincare or topical use. It is for cleaning only.



1. Clean carpet

Borax is a natural odor neutralizer, which makes it a perfect option for boosting the cleaning power of your carpet machine. It will make those carpets smell even better. Whatever the solution you’re using—even if only hot water—add 1/4 cup borax per gallon before filling the machine’s reservoir.

2. Steam cleaning

Steam cleaning is a fairly robust way to clean, but adding borax to the process does a fantastic job of pulling up dirt and debris. Great for killing odors, too. Add 1/2 cup borax to 1-gallon hot water to help dissolve the borax. Use this to fill the steam cleaner reservoir.

3. Garbage disposal

Once a week or so and between deep garbage disposal cleanings, sprinkle 4 tablespoons of borax into the disposal. Allow to sit for 30 minutes to soak up grease, bad odors, and other nasty things that build up inside that appliance. Next, pour a pot of boiling water into the disposal while it runs for a few seconds to dislodge everything. This will keep the disposal clean and prevent it from getting stinky.

4. Unclog a drain

Got a slow-running drain? Unclog it with 1/2 cup of borax in the drain followed by 2 cups boiling water. Let that sit or 30 minutes or so, then follow with warm water to flush that clog away.

5. Scouring cleanser

Use borax straight up for a very effective scouring powder to scrub your sinks, tubs, and stovetops, too.

6. Freshen and deodorize a mattress

Lightly spray the surface of the mattress with water, concentrating on stains, Now sprinkle borax over the top and rub it in with a slightly damp cloth. Allow to dry completely, then use your vacuum to remove all of the dried powder.

7. Car upholstery

Mix up a batch of this homemade upholstery cleaner:

  • 3 drops Dawn dishwashing liquid
  • 3 tablespoons borax
  • 3 cups water

Mix all ingredients in a small saucepan over high heat and bring it to a boil. Remove from stove and allow to cool slightly but only until you can touch it. Pour into a spray bottle. You want to use this as hot as tolerable. With a good scrubber like a sponge or brush, scrub stained, or just plain dirty upholstery. Use it on the floor mats, too! Rinse with cool water and a clean rag. You can use this on any upholstery, by the way.

8. Bathroom cleaner

There are tons of DIY bathroom cleaner recipes out there, but none can top this one.

  • 1/2 cup white vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons borax
  • 1 tablespoon blue Dawn dishwashing liquid
  • 2 cups warm water
  • 10 drop lemon essential oil (optional, but adds a lovely clean scent)

Pour all ingredients into a spray bottle and shake to mix.

This works really well on ceramic tile, the outside surfaces of toilets, sinks, counters, floors—the entire bathroom!



9. All-purpose cleaner

Pour these ingredients into a 16-oz. spray bottle:

  • 1 teaspoon borax
  • 1/2 teaspoon washing soda
  • 1 teaspoon blue Dawn or castile soap
  • 18 drops lemon essential oil

Fill the bottle with hot water and shake until everything is mixed well. This cleaner is perfect for greasy messes and all manner of fingerprints and smudges.

10. Rust stains

Borax can remove rust stains from sinks—porcelain and stainless steel. Mix 4 parts borax with 1 part lemon juice to make a paste. Rub this into that rust stain, let it sit for a few minutes, then rinse it all away.

11. Soak up liquid stains

Imagine a spill of wine or coffee on your beautiful new carpet. Or cat piddle. Instead of hitting it with a dry cloth in an attempt to soak up the liquid, sprinkle borax on it and let it soak up for a few minutes before wiping up. You’ll be amazed. Works well on carpet but hard surfaces, too. And while absorbing the offending liquid, it helps neutralize the odor too.

12. Homemade laundry detergent

Borax is a key ingredient in our homemade laundry detergents. Because of its 9 ph in water, chemically it has the ability to boost the effectiveness of the other ingredients.

13. Pest control

You can deter ants and roaches with a 50/50 mix of powdered sugar and borax. Sprinkle it any place you suspect those pests may be entering your home.

Borax is known to be highly effective in killing fleas. It is odorless and non-toxic to human skin. But when fleas come in contact with it, they get severely dehydrated. Using borax for flea control is a popular method for fighting flea infestations.

Sprinkle borax directly on pet beds, carpets, and other places you suspect fleas are laying their eggs. Allow to sit for an hour or two and then vacuum up.


Before using borax around pets, there are necessary precautions you should be aware of. If you expose them to too much borax, your pets may develop some sickness symptoms such as loss of appetite, which is very dangerous for your pet.

Keep borax far away and out of reach of your pets and make sure that you treat any sickness symptom of your pet with seriousness—especially if it has been exposed to borax for so long.


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  1. Pugo says:

    I bought some Borax to try on my stained porcelain-that’s-lost-its-shiny-surface kitchen sink and found that using Borax for that purpose is like using sand. The directions on the box say to pour some on a sponge and wipe. It does not dissolve at all and with more scrubbing than a cleanser requires, it did remove some of the stains (same result whether I left it to work or not). I wiped the sink after scrubbing and the sponge was full of what appeared to be all of the gritty borax that I had put in it. How do you clean with it?

  2. Sl says:

    Can yhe bathroom cleaner be made and saved for future use or made ad used fresher? I would live one I can make and save t use Swim. Thanks

    • Mary Hunt says:

      Yes. Borax is a non-biodegradable cleaning alternative that is naturally forming and is considered safer than most household chemicals used for cleaning purposes.

      Borax has been shown to be non-toxic and good for the beneficial bacteria that live in your septic tank and to ensure that you don’t have any septic tank problems. I just don’t recommend pouring an entire box of borax down any drain.

  3. Shirley Wiandt says:

    I use borax to control fleas, as my cats are allergic to commercial treatments, and it really works. But what are the important precautions that you mentioned? They don’t show up in the article.

    • Mary Hunt says:

      Sorry about that! Here it is and the post is amended as such.

      Before using borax around pets, there are important precautions you should be aware of. If you expose them to too much borax, your pets may start developing some sickness symptoms such as loss of appetite, and that is very dangerous for your pet.

      Keep borax far away and out of reach of your pets and make sure that you treat any sickness symptom of your pet with seriousness—especially if it has been exposed to borax for so long.

  4. Lija W says:

    I just thought of something. Would it be safe to put a small amount of borax into my compost to deter ants? I don’t have a vegetable garden; I only use compost on my decorative outdoor plants.

    And I don’t mind a few ants, I just don’t want them building a nest in there! Thank you!

  5. Lija W says:

    Hi Mary, I didn’t know borax could be used to remove rust stains. I didn’t think *anything* removed rust stains!
    Years ago, I had read about Borax & sugar for roach control, but never had need of it. Will definitely try it for fleas, though. Thank you again, Mary.

  6. Kathy Cuevas says:

    You left us hanging: Before using borax around pets, there are important precautions you should be aware of.

    What are t he precautions???

    • Mary Hunt says:

      Before using borax around pets, there are important precautions you should be aware of. If you expose them to too much borax, your pets may start developing some sickness symptoms such as loss of appetite, and that is very dangerous for your pet.

      Keep borax far away and out of reach of your pets and make sure that you treat any sickness symptom of your pet with seriousness—especially if it has been exposed to borax for so long.

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