Q&A: Is borax safe?

  • August 5, 2011 10:48 am

Hi Alexandra,
What’s your thoughts on Borax?  The name makes it sound scary…

Thanks for the question.  What are you thinking of using borax for?  In Planet Home, we do suggest using it for specific tasks (excerpted below), but the Environmental Working Group has damning opinion of it and links it to hormone disruption.  I use it only when I have to, which has so far been once in the last decade or so–for unwelcome guests. Otherwise I try to avoid it. If it can kill roaches, I don’t really need that residue in my sheets.
Hope this helps.


You can find Borax (sodium borate, a naturally occurring mineral composed of sodium, boron, oxygen, and water) in the detergent aisle of most grocery stores.  Add 1/2 cup of Borax to your regular detergent (liquid or powder) to give it an extra boost.  Borax will help to improve the cleaning power, whiten, and remove stains and odors.  You can also soak clothes in water with Borax (1 tablespoon per gallon of water) before washing.  When using on delicates, add 1/4 cup to your regular detergent instead.  Exposure to Borax can be harmful in high amounts, so avoid inhalation and ingestion.


If, come spring, your living room has more bugs than you’d like to see, convince them to leave in a nontoxic fashion.  Pesticides have no place in the home.  For a natural ant killer, mix 1 part Borax and 3 parts sugar (granulated or powdered) with enough water to give the mixture a soup consistency.  Pour the mixture into one of more containers with lids.  Punch eight to ten holes in the lid(s) big enough for ants to access and place containers in infested areas.  Caution: keep out of reach of children and pets.  Borax is harmful when ingested.

What You Don’t Know: Energy, Water, And Laundry

  • July 27, 2011 8:55 am

How often do you think about the environmental impact of your dirty clothes?  Believe it or not, about 90 percent of the energy used associated with doing laundry is just making water hot!  The other stuff like making detergents and the actual energy used by the machines accounts for only 10 percent. Fascinating, no?

When you reach for the hot water button on your washer, it’s hard to conjure up the image of a coal-fired power plant and the pollution it creates, but try to connect those dots. Picture greenhouse gases and the mercury residue in our waterways and seafood.  Although we may be home alone washing doormats, jeans, and rags, our actions always ripple out and affect the world beyond our walls.  Washing in cold will reduce that impact and minimize your dirty laundry’s footprint.  Here’s a little  excerpt from Planet Home about cold water washing:

By using cold water, you will also reduce your indoor air pollution: heating water blasts volatile chemicals, including chlorine in municipal water, into your breathing space.  If you’re using heavily fragranced conventional synthetic detergents, all of those vapors are also released when heated.  Cold water is truly all you need to clean, and some natural detergents are specially formulated to remove soils and stains in it.  Cold also prevents stains from setting, colors from bleeding and fading, and wools and silks from shrinking.

No one needs scalding water; you just wind up cooling it with cold – a big waste of energy.  Set your furnace lower – 125 degrees fahrenheit will suffice – and you’ll use less hot water when you choose warm on your washer.  If you have a choice, an on-demand or tankless water heater is best, followed by a high-efficiency gas version.  With electric, the heater itself is efficient, but the production and transmission of energy is not.

Another great way to save energy and reduce your carbon footprint is to air dry–outdoors or inside.  Using natural elements–sun and air–makes sense for so many reasons:

-It’s gentler on your clothes, provided you don’t leave them in the sun for too long (your colors will fade).

-It’s extremely environmentally friendly–dryers use 10 to 15 percent of domestic energy in the United States.

-Sunshine is great at killing bacteria, fungus, and mold–no chemical disinfectants needed!

-Indoor racks can help humidify dry indoor spaces, a big bonus come winter in my apartment.

Unfathomably, many municipalities and condo or co-op associations have banned laundry lines. If you’d like to sign a petition allowing line-drying where you live, go to www.right2dry.org.