Borax - What Does It Do?

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BrewerGeorge

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Not sure if this is the right place to ask, but I thought I'd give it a try...

I'm trying to find out what Borax does from a scientific standpoint - specifically in laundry. Web searches are ironically useless for this because there are SO many hits full of "wives tales" that the science is overwhelmed.

So what is it? Is it a surfactant? A water softener? A buffer to raise and hold pH high? All the homemade laundry cleanser sites say things like "deodorizes." How does it do that? Oxygen? Does it actually create peroxide, as some say, and if it does is it anywhere near as effective at that as sodium percarbonate? Other than it being cheaper, why not just use the Oxyclean?

And the Big Question: If I have resin-softened water, is there any point in using Borax at all?
 

DeeAnna

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It can act as a weak water softener -- basically exchanges its sodium ions for the hard water ions. More importantly, borax helps raise the pH of the wash water and helps to keep it alkaline. Lye soap won't work well if the laundry water has a pH close to neutral or acidic, so you want something like borax or washing soda to ensure the pH is alkaline. For that reason alone, I think it's a good idea to use one or the other in the wash water, even if the water is very soft.
 
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topofmurrayhill

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Not sure if this is the right place to ask, but I thought I'd give it a try...

I'm trying to find out what Borax does from a scientific standpoint - specifically in laundry. Web searches are ironically useless for this because there are SO many hits full of "wives tales" that the science is overwhelmed.

So what is it? Is it a surfactant? A water softener? A buffer to raise and hold pH high? All the homemade laundry cleanser sites say things like "deodorizes." How does it do that? Oxygen? Does it actually create peroxide, as some say, and if it does is it anywhere near as effective at that as sodium percarbonate? Other than it being cheaper, why not just use the Oxyclean?

And the Big Question: If I have resin-softened water, is there any point in using Borax at all?
All I have is clues, but maybe you can infer something from them.

There is a government product database that I hope to survey in more detail at some point, particularly if it's available in a form that's easier to work with than the Web interface. However, even looking at it more casually seemed to reveal a pattern in the laundry product ingredients...

Sodium carbonate is found in both dry and liquid laundry products. I presume it's there as detergent booster alkali to help clean and adjust the pH. When sodium carbonate is used, it seems to be the only alkali that's required. Sometimes sodium percarbonate is included as a non-chlorine bleach in the dry products.

Borax is normally found in the liquid products, but it's seldom the only alkali. The other is sometimes sodium carbonate but usually sodium hydroxide. I suppose they serve the same purpose, but the hydroxide is more cost effective for the liquid products. It's impractical for a dry product because the powder would be too caustic and hygroscopic and would just turn into sodium carbonate anyway.

I suspect the carbonate or hydroxide to be the main alkali boosters in these products, but the liquids seem more complex. They can contain borax in addition to the other alkali and often sodium citrate too. I don't really understand what's a cleaner, what's a buffer, what's a water softener, or whatever.
 
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BrewerGeorge

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Thanks for the answers. This is all in effort to help me win a disagreement with my wife. ;)

Here in the limestone fields of Indiana we have VERY hard water - typically running around 600 to 650 ppm Ca/Mg - so a resin-bed softener is all but required. Given how that ion-exchange process works, we end up with water between 1200 and 1300 ppm sodium carbonate/bicarbonate already dissolved into it as it runs through the pipes. (2:1 exchange rate between Na and Ca/Mg). So not only is our water "soft" as in being low in hardness, it is essentially "pre-loaded" with washing soda.

My position is that there is no need for us to add additional laundry boosters like washing soda or borax to our loads because of the initial condition of our water. Detergent or soap, along with enzymatic pretreaters and oxyclean as necessary, are all we need. My wife OTOH, having grown up without a water softener, thinks they are essential and especially loves to use borax because it "deodorizes." So I've been looking for evidence as to what borax actually does, and have hit the wall of tradition I described above.

We've had this disagreement for years and I "solved" it by just taking over laundry duties from her, and she typically leaves me alone to do it my way. ;) But recently she has a batch of new black clothes which have a stink of burnt rubber that won't go away. (According to Google, this is a thing having to do with some black dyes.) This has reignited the disagreement about how I'm doing it wrong and has her searching the Web to find out how to get rid of it. Some of this advice is astoundingly bad - like using vinegar and borax at the same time which I was able to talk her out of - but borax is a big player in the less ridiculous ones as well.

So a box of 20 Mule Team showed up in the laundry room yesterday. :problem: I've been married long enough that I'm going to stop fighting this battle and leave her to do what she wants - victory now would be Pyrrhic at best. But I still want to know the right answer, if only for me.

Thanks again for the information, Folks.
 

dibbles

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Brewer George, I've been married for nearly 42 years and our first argument was about the laundry (specifically the 'right' way to fold towels). DH will help out sometimes by doing the laundry. Since he does the laundry 'his' way and I do it 'my' way, I have a bag to keep separate the things I don't want him to wash/dry. Glad to hear I'm not the only one with marital laundry issues. Let her use the Borax, necessary or not.
 

BrewerGeorge

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Brewer George, I've been married for nearly 42 years and our first argument was about the laundry (specifically the 'right' way to fold towels). DH will help out sometimes by doing the laundry. Since he does the laundry 'his' way and I do it 'my' way, I have a bag to keep separate the things I don't want him to wash/dry. Glad to hear I'm not the only one with marital laundry issues. Let her use the Borax, necessary or not.
I get where you're coming from. I actually started doing the laundry more because I don't like the way she sorts :mrgreen: - the additives were just additional logs on that fire.

I will certainly "let" her do it her way, and by "let" I mean I'll just stop complaining about it, of course.
 

dibbles

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I will certainly "let" her do it her way, and by "let" I mean I'll just stop complaining about it, of course.
Exactly. Sometimes there is just no meeting of the minds, and it's usually something so trivial that WHY CAN'T THE OTHER PERSON JUST UNDERSTAND THAT I"M RIGHT!!!!
 

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I'm spoiled, and I know just how good I've got it. DH does pretty much all of the laundry, and he does it his way. Since he's more particular than I am, that's just fine with me. I make the laundry mix when he says his supply is getting low, I add fragrance that he likes, and we're both happy campers.

Not only that, he's not a picky eater, he loves my cooking, and he does almost all of the grocery shopping. Only peeve I have about his grocery shopping is when he brings home a box cake mix. (I'm a from-scratch kinda girl.) Rather than complain, I remember how so very good he treats me, and I just smile sweetly and say, "Aww, thank you, sweetie!" (The Iowa wife's equivalent of "bless your heart")

I learned in my first marriage to let go of many of my expectations about how things SHOULD and OUGHT and MUST be done and be more open and flexible about life. Not being so rigid has made life a lot easier with DH, my second spouse. DH is way more of a keeper than the first one ever was, so that's good! :)
 

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I don't wear black clothing, but I have encountered a burned rubber smell to some laundry items on occasions and observed that they were synthetic fabrics that had been dried at too high a temp, or double-dried (drying an already dry load after a bout of forgetfulness). Could that have been the, black dye or not at your house?
 

BrewerGeorge

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I don't wear black clothing, but I have encountered a burned rubber smell to some laundry items on occasions and observed that they were synthetic fabrics that had been dried at too high a temp, or double-dried (drying an already dry load after a bout of forgetfulness). Could that have been the, black dye or not at your house?
While I have observed the same thing, that's been ruled out in this case. One pair of pants in particular smelled that way when they were brand-new and that smell has survived 3 cycles so far. My wife has never even worn them. If you Google 'black clothes smell' you'll see people talking about the phenomenon.

Not to mention I have a new washer/dryer (less than 2 months) and a separate duct exhaust fan.
 

DeeAnna

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Ew. Makes me glad I look awful in black. :)
 

lenarenee

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Ew. Makes me glad I look awful in black. :)
Black is a very stark color and it just doesn't work with many people's complexions. I look great in black - people think I'm Italian! But I detest wearing black and just feel awful in it - even shoes. Good thing I don't have an office job!
 

lenarenee

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While I have observed the same thing, that's been ruled out in this case. One pair of pants in particular smelled that way when they were brand-new and that smell has survived 3 cycles so far. My wife has never even worn them. If you Google 'black clothes smell' you'll see people talking about the phenomenon.

Not to mention I have a new washer/dryer (less than 2 months) and a separate duct exhaust fan.
Well there you have it. :roll: I'll send you a little extra patience to deal with losing control of the laundry.
 

tigersister

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In my experience, borax is a good deodorizer. I've used borax to deodorize my husband's and daughter's stinky gym shoes and my car when it developed a musty smell. It's great on pet odors too (keep pets away from it). However, I realize that is anecdotal.

Now I, too, am curious as to how it works.
 

Saipan

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I use Borax as a flux when I'm forge welding pieces of steel together while doing one of my other hobbies.
 

TeresaT

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I get where you're coming from. I actually started doing the laundry more because I don't like the way she sorts :mrgreen: - the additives were just additional logs on that fire.

I will certainly "let" her do it her way, and by "let" I mean I'll just stop complaining about it, of course.
You would hate the way I do laundry. I "sort" between sheets, towels, work cloths, and non-work cloths. I do not give a crap about colors, fabrics or anything else. If I wear it to work, it goes on a gentle cycle. If I don't wear it to work it goes on a regular cycle. If it's a towel, it gets hot water and no softener. If it's a sheet, it gets hot water and two rinses. I put borax and washing soda and oxyclean in every load and vinegar in every rinse. (It's good to live alone. I also get to drink out of the carton if I want to.)
 

shunt2011

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I have darks, whites and his work clothes (greasy).
 

Saipan

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You would hate the way I do laundry. I "sort" between sheets, towels, work cloths, and non-work cloths. I do not give a crap about colors, fabrics or anything else. If I wear it to work, it goes on a gentle cycle. If I don't wear it to work it goes on a regular cycle. If it's a towel, it gets hot water and no softener. If it's a sheet, it gets hot water and two rinses. I put borax and washing soda and oxyclean in every load and vinegar in every rinse. (It's good to live alone. I also get to drink out of the carton if I want to.)
What does the vinegar do?
 

BrewerGeorge

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You would hate the way I do laundry. I "sort" between sheets, towels, work cloths, and non-work cloths. I do not give a crap about colors, fabrics or anything else. If I wear it to work, it goes on a gentle cycle. If I don't wear it to work it goes on a regular cycle. If it's a towel, it gets hot water and no softener. If it's a sheet, it gets hot water and two rinses. I put borax and washing soda and oxyclean in every load and vinegar in every rinse. (It's good to live alone. I also get to drink out of the carton if I want to.)
Yep, that's a no-go for me. :D

I sort whites, khaki/gray, lightweight darks, jeans/heavyweight darks, reds, bright colors, green/beige towels (upstairs bath), red/purple towels (downstairs bath), and sheets. All of those, every week. :p Sometimes in winter, darks have enough require splitting again. Sounds like a lot, but it's really only about 6 hours of laundry, and that's 95% unattended time. Anyway with five people's laundry I'd need six or seven loads just by volume alone, so there's no real reason not to sort them for the added benefit of keeping colors true.
 

LisaAnne

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I wear black everyday, something must be black and on occasion I go Johnny Cash. I love how black and cotton feels. Never ever wear patterns or pastels. Except pajama bottoms the brighter and busier they are the better. But that is too much information

I've never noticed the smell.
 
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