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

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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 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. 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 the 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. It is mined mostly Turkey and the U.S., with the most commercially important deposits found in Boron, California.

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 is used in many different commercial applications, including as an ingredient in household cleaning products, as a buffer in chemical laboratories, to help extract gold in mining operations, and as a component of glass and ceramics.


Borax and Cleaner

Is borax safe?

As I have researched borax, I’ve come acoss some very misleading information regarding about the white powdery stuff. I thought I would clear that up today together with unique ways to use borax around the house that can make our lives easier. But let’s answer the big question first. Yes, borax is safe.

Borax, or 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 deposits of lakes. It is mined in the U.S., mostly in southern California.

Borax is alkaline and has a pH of about 9, which is the same as baking soda. Chemically speaking, borax has a crystalline structure that dissolves well in water. It’s the boron in borax that makes it an excellent pH buffer to aid in cleaning and soap dispersion.

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.

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. And remember this: More is not better. You only need a small amount of borax to get any number of jobs done.

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 1/2 cup borax per gallon before filling the machine’s reservoir.

2. Steam clean

Steam all by itself is a fairly powerful cleaner, 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 sightly damp cloth. Allow to dry completely, then use your vacuum to removed all of the dried powder.

7. Car upholstery

Mix up a batch of this homemade upholstery cleaner:

  • 3 tablespoons Dawn dishwashing liquid
  • 3 tablespoon borax
  • 3 cups boiling water

Mix all ingredients in a small sauce pan over high heat and bring it to a boil. Remove from stove and allow to cool slightly but only until you can touch it. You want to use this as hot as tolerable. With a good scrubber like a sponge or brush, scrub your car’s upholstery. Use it on the floor mats, too! Rinse with cool water and a clean rag.

Pro tip

This is a great cleaner for any upholstery, not only in a vehicle.

8. Bathroom cleaner

There are tons of DIY bathroom cleaner recipes out there, but none can top this one in my humble opinion!

  • 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!


Do not use this cleaner on natural stone. Vinegar is an acid and can eat away at stone and marble surfaces overtime. Stone tiles, travertine, granite, marble, or anything in that family should not have vinegar as a cleaner.

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 also hard surfaces, too. And while absorbing the offending odor, it helps neutralize the odor too.

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.

12. Pest control

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

13. Nuke fleas

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 a hour or two and then vacuum up.

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  1. Sue says:

    I too had gritty dishes a while back with my dishwasher. It turned out the solder point for the heating element had burnt out on my Bosh dishwasher. It seems Bosh dishwashers are prone to this. My son also experienced this with his Bosh. If you have this brand of dishwasher and start getting grit on dishes after washing focus on whether your dishes are warm after washing, your heat element may not be working due to a solder point burning out.

  2. Oma June says:

    Kill fleas by spreading Borax on carpets and brushing it in! Borax is the main ingredient in FleaBusters! Vacuum it later. Google it!

  3. Lisa says:

    Can you tell us how to know the difference between Borax and washing powder? I have two air-tight containers, one of each, which are unlabeled (silly me), and after we moved, now I don’t know which is which… help!

    • Mary says:

      Borax and Washing Soda do look a lot alike, but there is one distinct difference that might possibly help you figure this out: Washing Soda tends to get very “clumpy” and eventully hardens, once exposed to air. If the containers is not airtight, you may be able to tell the difference that way. They have different smells, if you want to get your nose that close to them … but I can’t describe that in words! I’d go with the clumping test. I have an elderly opened box of washing soda that is hard as a brick. I would need a chisel and hammer to get any of it out of the box. Makes me wonder why I still have it! (In case of emergency?)

      • Julie says:

        When my washing soda turned hard, I broke it into chunks, put a chunk in a heavy duty recycled frozen food bag then hit it with a hammer and rolling pin. Trying to smash or roll it back into powder. Hope that helps!

  4. Rita says:

    I would wonder if the powdered form of borax would be safe for pets in their bed or on their bodies as they can breathe in the powder just as we could.

    • Mary says:

      Sprinkle those beds with borax, allow to sit for awhile, then vacuum it up. And maybe shake those beds out, outdoors to remove all of it. That would be safe. I wouldn’t want them to sleep on borax, however. Same with you … your mattress 🙂

  5. Katie French says:

    Mary, Thanks so much for the tip on the Berkey replacement filters. You just saved me $36 on an item that I was going to buy anyway!!! That’s a dinner date out for my hubby and I. You rock!

    • Mary says:

      Oh that is awesome! Berekey is a wonderful company that makes the finest water filters. AND made in the USA … right here in Colorado. As you might imagine, I come across the most amazing “flash” deals becasue everyone sends them to me. But when they’re good for ony a few days, I feel torn about how to let my tribe know (ha, love that term because it is so true … all of you are my tribe). I may continue to tack them on as I did here, with clear mention of when they expire.

  6. Gina Stevens says:

    Mary, another Mary asked the difference between Borax and Washing Soda. I would love an explanation when to use one instead of the other. Right now, I’m soaking a white throw rug in Borax and laundry detergent.

    And, like another post on this blog, I, too, don’t run the dishwasher daily. If I didn’t rinse the dishes, I’d get a mold and food rot issue. Thanks for your continued help. Air hugs!!

    • Mary says:

      Watch for a follow up post on washing soda vs. borax! As for your dishwasher .. you are using it for the purpose it was created. You’re using your dishwasher as a “sanitizer.” A dishwasher is used to wash dishes … daily. It uses very little energy—electricity and water. If you prefer to wash dishes by hand and then set them in the dishwasher to drain and to be sanitized later, forget the dishwasher detergent. If you are putting dirty dishes in the dishwasher and then letting them sit there for days (yikes!)… that’s just wrong. I’ve written a lot about this … use the search bar at top right on any page on this site and type in “dishwasher.” Then stop rinsing. Scrape off chunks fo food, put them in the dishwasher and run the thing once a day. Full or not. Now your dishwasher detergent will work the way it was meant to work and you won’t be calling the repairman! Can you tell I’m passionate about this subject? 🙂

  7. Genie says:

    Mary, I live alone and only fill up my dishwasher to run it once a week. If I don’t rinse the dishes, will it get yolk stains off after a week of drying on the plates? Genie

    • Mary says:

      Genie. See above response to Gina. Why do you need a dishwasher? If it is only to sanitize, then don’t add any detergent. Just run it on Sanitize. If you don’t want to wash dishes by hand, run it once a day. Routinely. With the right amount of dirty dishes. The detergent needs the acid of food remains (not chunks!) in order to work properly and give you great results.

  8. mary says:

    Can you please explain the differences between borax and washing soda. I have both but an not sure how to determine which one to use since it seems washing soda can be used for more than just laundry.

  9. NJ says:

    I’ve been using Borax to clean my stainless steel sink ever since I once discovered how well it cleans it….and it stays much cleaner longer than using scouring powder.

  10. Brenda says:

    I need to clean mildew from some poolside loungers. Can I use a borax solution and lightly scrub?? What happens if the rinse gets into the pool? What might be better? It is a community pool.

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