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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.

repairman and female homeowever looking into dishwasher

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 in a box and in a white paill

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.

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The Frugal Fix for Dingy Gray Laundry

If you’re sick and tired of perfectly functional household linens or clothing items ending up in the rag bag simply because they turned a dingy shade of gray when you expected your white laundry to come out brilliantly white, help is on the way.

Help! My White Laundry is Coming Out Dingy Gray

Dingy gray is usually a sign of a build-up of too much detergent that is not getting rinsed away completely in the rinse cycle.

If you have well water or hard water that contains unusually high amounts of iron, that could also be contributing to this problem.

The frugal fix

Here’s a frugal way to fix and also prevent this problem of white and light-colored items like sheets, shirts, and towels taking on an ugly shade of pale gray.

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How to Get Rid of The Dreaded Toilet Bowl Ring

It’s not the most elegant question I get, but certainly one of the most common. “I’ve tried everything I can think of, but that stubborn, ugly toilet bowl ring won’t go away!” Or ” … It goes away, but just keeps coming back!”

 

Pristing restroom with white toilet and toilet brush

 

Toilet bowls develop discolorations for many reasons that have nothing to do with the quality of the housekeeping. Basically, the dreaded toilet bowel ring is the result of hard water conditions together with water standing in a toilet that sees a lot of use.

While there are lots of commercial products out there that promise to remove hard water stains in the toilet, ordinary household pantry items you have already can be just as effective to rid your toilet of the dreaded toilet bowl ring without harsh chemicals.

What are those stains, anyway?

Toilet bowl stains that look like rust are likely due to mineral deposits and hard water. Green, orange or black streaks or rings may be mold. A bacteria called Serratia marcescens shows up as pink. Knowing what is causing the ring makes it easier for you to choose the best method for getting rid of it.

Under most conditions, regular weekly cleaning prevents heavy stain buildup and reduces the appearance of any existing stains so the bowl can look pristine and white again.

And when none of that works? Don’t worry, I have the mother of all solutions for that too, in a bit. But let’s start with the easiest.

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What’s Up with the Clumps of Crystals in My Laundry Detergent?!

Several times over the past years, I have wished with all my heart I could call Mr. Migaki, my favorite teacher of all time who sparked curiosity and the love of science in my fifth-grade self. I needed to ask him about minerals and crystals and why something called borax can be powdery soft one day and hard as a rock the next.

 

Dear Mary: Your Everyday Cheapskate column is one of the few emails I receive that I open and read every day, without fail. Both your product recommendations and your recipes are wonderful.

I also use your homemade laundry detergent recipe, and it works well to clean our clothes, but I have a question about it. The last batch I made went into two clean gallon containers, and as I was pouring the last out of the first container, I got a lot of white crystallized lumps at the bottom. So I strained the contents of the second container into another jug and got a lot of the same white crystalized lumps from it. So:

1. Did I do something wrong? The previous several batches were fine and lump-free, and I followed the same recipe with the same ingredients. (I know you probably can’t answer this, but maybe other readers have reported the same phenomenon?)

2. Do you know what these lumps are?

3. Is the strained liquid going to be an effective cleaning agent? Where I live in Southern California we’re still under drought water-usage rules. I don’t want to waste a couple washer loads of water with useless detergent if I don’t have to. Your thoughts would be greatly appreciated! Pat  Read more