Dishwasher and Detergent

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

Recently this desperate message with a subject line Dishwasher Disaster! washed up in my inbox.

Dishwasher and Machine


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

I came this close to ignoring that message because I didn’t have much to go on. 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 it is not an acid. It is a salt that is 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, which is 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 in any way 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.

Precautions to take

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

  • Be careful about dumping large amounts into a container 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, too.
  • 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 really 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 clean

Steam cleaning all by itself is a fairly powerful way to clean, but adding borax to the process does an amazing 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 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 to the top 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.

Before using borax around pets, there are certain precautions you should take.

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, carpet, 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 important precautions you should be aware of.


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