Borax, or sodium borate, is an alkaline mineral salt. It’s a naturally occurring element. But “natural” doesn’t mean “harmless”. Consider asbestos or mercury.

 A brief history of borax

Before 2000, borax was a common household item, a popular, effective cleaning product. It disinfects, whitens and fights mold and mildew. It also kills ants.

Many DIY cleaning recipes featured borax as an eco-friendlier option to petroleum-based ingredients in conventional cleaning products.

But the safety of borax (its salts and precursors) has been under review. Health Canada’s science-based screening assessment recommends minimizing exposure.

Six reasons to go borax-free:

  1. You want your home to be pesticide-free (borax kills ants).
  2. You can clean well with food-grade ingredients only — baking soda, salt, lemon, vinegar and hydrogen peroxide.
  3. You can use borax-free “green” cleaning recipes.
  4. You won’t risk poisoning your child or pet.
  5. You can clean risk-free while pregnant.
  6. Your kids can help make the cleaners and do the cleaning!

Simple “green” cleaning substitutes for borax

To disinfect:

  • Use food-grade hydrogen peroxide (three per cent) in a spray bottle. Spray on hard surfaces and wipe clean.
  • Rub half a lemon on a dirty cutting board, then wipe clean. (Add salt for extra cleaning power.) Place the other half in a bowl, microwave for one minute then use it to rub down the inside of your microwave. Let sit for a few minutes and wipe clean. Lemon juice is a mild antibacterial acid that bleaches and disinfectants. (Helps fight stains, too.)
  • Mix equal parts water and white vinegar in a spray bottle. It can tackle household bacteria such as salmonella, E. coli and other “gram-negative” bacteria.
  • Add essential oils such as lemon, lime, orange, grapefruit, tea tree, lemongrass, thyme, lavender, rosemary and eucalyptus to the concoctions above. They have antibacterial, antifungal and grease-cutting properties.

To whiten:

  • Try liquid or powdered oxygen bleach. Follow product instructions. Safe for cloth diapers!
  • Add baking soda (125 millilitres) into each laundry load.
  • Use washing soda (sodium carbonate). It’s more caustic and as a higher pH than baking soda.

To fight mould and mildew:

  • Clean with salt or use diluted white vinegar (50:50) carefully on tub and tile.