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20 Mule Team Borax

A Common "Green" Cleaner That Really Isn't That Safe

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Box of 20 Mule Team Borax

20 Mule Team Borax

Photo © Karen Peltier

The Bottom Line

20 Mule Team Borax has been popular for many years as a laundry booster and general household cleaner. It has also been considered to be an essential part of green cleaning by many. It definitely works, but it may not be as safe — and therefore as green — as you may think. Read on for the details.

Pros

  • Effectiveness: Cleans, deodorizes, and boosts laundry detergent very well
  • Packaging: Recyclable cardboard
  • Price: Reasonable
  • Scent: Scent-free
  • Other: MSDS available on website

Cons

  • Certifications: None
  • Company transparency: Ingredients are not fully disclosed
  • Environmental Friendliness: Potential enviromental impacts
  • Safety: Safety and health concerns
  • Size: Only one size available

Description

  • Type: Laundry Additive & General Household Cleaner
  • Size: 4 lbs. 12 oz. (76 oz.); 2.15 kg
  • Cost: $10
  • Ingredients: 99.5% borax, trace minerals

Company Background

The Dial Corporation, which is owned by Henkel, makes 20 Mule Team Borax. According to the product website, the company has sustainability programs in place to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, energy and water usage, and even waste disposal. In addition, the company is involved in programs to protect rare plants and vulnerable species, such as the Desert Tortoise. So it definitely appears to be a company practicing socially conscious and sustainable business practices. Check out the product website for more information about promotions, community involvement, etc.

Product Effectiveness

This product has many laundry and household uses. It definitely boosts your laundry detergent (only 1/2 cup is needed per load) and aids in stain removal, too. In addition, it is an effective deodorizer and all-purpose cleaner that can be used to clean your bathroom tile and toilet, for example. It's also suggested for cleaning dishes and your refrigerator, but I didn't want to test it out in that way due to borax's health and safety concerns.

Health & Safety

This product contains 100% natural ingredients. 99.5% of it is borax and the remaining part is trace minerals. What minerals would be my question? Unfortunately, those aren't revealed on the product box or the company website.

Borax is not non-toxic. It can have acute short-term and long-term health effects as noted in the article, "Is Borax a Good Green Cleaning Ingredient?" Also, because this product is almost all sodium tetraborate decahydrate, I would take its health and safety effects into serious consideration before using it on a regular basis. To avoid any borax residue from remaining on surfaces, I suggest rinsing well when using the product.

The label cautions to avoid eye contact and not to take the product internally. In addition, it states to keep it out of the reach of children. First-aid procedures for the eyes include flushing them with water for 15 minutes and contacting a doctor if irritation persists. If accidentally ingested, rinsing the mouth, drinking a large glass of milk or water, and contacting a physician immediately is recommended; vomiting is not suggested. The MSDS is available on the Henkel Consumer Goods Library web page.

Environmental Notes

According to the EPA, boric acid and its sodium salts are common in the environment. As noted in this 1993 EPA document, the EPA stated its concern is minimal with regard to impacts on birds, fish, and wildlife, because boric acid's use is fairly limited, it has low toxicity, and it naturally occurs in the environment; however, it also noted that boric acid and its related salts may harm endangered plant species, but stated more studies are needed to draw firm conclusions. In a more recent 2012 document by the National Pesticide Information Center, some studies have shown that high concentrations of borax can harm certain aquatic life, such as frogs and toads.

Misc. Notes

This product is safe for septic systems.

Final Thoughts

This product definitely works and is multi-purpose, but due to its health and safety concerns and potential environmental impacts, I wouldn't recommend it as a main part of your green cleaning routine. There are better, safer alternatives out there that work just as well as borax does.

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