Until recently, borax was a common sight in the UK. It was a popular household cleaning agent, a food additive and a recommended ingredient in children’s “silly putty” recipes.
However, this is no longer the case.
Since 2010, borax has been effectively banned in the UK. Today, borax is reserved for industrial and research purposes only – it’s not available to the general public and its use at home is strongly discouraged.
Instead, there are a variety of borax alternatives (substitutes) available to British consumers which mimic the appearance, texture and properties of borax.
Why Is Borax Illegal In The UK?
Borax is illegal to sell in the UK – it is no longer available to the general public in the UK, the EU, America and an increasing number of other countries globally.
On the 18th of June 2010, borax was classified as a “substance of very high concern (SVHC)” by the European Chemicals Agency. This was prompted by studies that suggested the chemical may be toxic to reproductive health.
The presumed “safe limit” for boron exposure in adults is 10 mg of boron per day, although this amount can still harm unborn children. However, borax’s risk to human health was deemed too high by lawmakers and it has remained a banned substance since 2010.
Many people associate the term borax with “20 Mule Team Borax”, a popular brand of household cleaning powder founded in 1883. The product’s name refers to the teams of mules and horses that carried borax away from Californian mines.
Consuming, inhaling or absorbing borax via the skin can lead to death; common symptoms of borax and boric acid poisoning are nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea.
Is Borax The Same As Soda Crystals?
Soda crystals and borax are soft, white powders; they have similar properties but are not the same substance. Soda crystals are generally considered less harmful to human health.
“Soda crystals” is the common name for sodium carbonate, a relatively safe and multipurpose household chemical. Borax is a brand name for sodium borate.
Although non-toxic, soda crystals can still be harmful to human health. They can cause skin irritation, breathing irritation and potentially fatal complications if used improperly.
Is Borax Bad For The Environment?
Borax is a naturally-occurring compound that can slowly form at the bottom of some lakes and hot springs. It’s also created synthetically, by processing borate minerals with industrial chemicals.
However, this doesn’t mean that borax is safe for most environments. It is a strong alkaline chemical that can negatively affect plants and wildlife.
If borax isn’t disposed of correctly, it may also enter waterways, further damaging the environment. Borax is toxic to both animals and humans; it is still occasionally used as a weed killer and insecticide.
Borax has been harvested from dry lake beds since at least the 8th century AD. Today, the majority of the world’s borax supply comes from Turkey and the American state of California; these regions possess an abundance of natural borax deposits.
What Are The Borax Substitutes In The UK?
The following products are suggested as replacements for borax. They’re all readily available in the UK. White vinegar, baking soda and bicarbonate of soda are inexpensive and relatively safe cleaning agents – they’re not as strong as borax, but can still produce similar results.
- White Vinegar
- Bicarbonate of Soda
- Hydrogen Peroxide
- Borax Substitute (Sodium Sesquicarbonate)
Sodium sesquicarbonate is the most similar, legal alternative to borax in the UK. It is a mixture of two salts (sodium carbonate and sodium bicarbonate). When combined, they mimic the appearance and properties of real borax.
Sodium sesquicarbonate can be purchased from various online stores including eBay and Amazon as well as some UK supermarkets.
The leading British brand of borax substitute is produced by Dri Pak under the name “Borax Substitute”. It’s sold in a distinctive all-green box containing 500g of powdered sodium sesquicarbonate.