Borax, also known as sodium borate, sodium tetraborate, or disodium tetraborate, is an important boron compound, a mineral, and a salt of boric acid. Powdered borax is white, consisting of soft colorless crystals that dissolve in water. A number of closely related minerals or chemical compounds that differ in their crystal water content are referred to as borax, and the word is usually used to refer to the octahydrate. Commercially sold borax is partially dehydrated.
Sodium tetraborate decahydrate
3D model (JSmol)
|E number||E285 (preservatives)|
|Na2B4O7·10H2O or Na2[B4O5(OH)4]·8H2O|
|Molar mass||201.22 (anhydrous)|
|Density||2.4 g/cm3 (anhydrous, solid)|
1.73 g/cm3 (decahydrate, solid)
|Melting point|| 743 °C (1,369 °F; 1,016 K) (anhydrous)|
75 °C (decahydrate, decomposes)
|Boiling point||1,575 °C (2,867 °F; 1,848 K) (anhydrous)|
|31.7 g/L (both)|
|−85.0·10−6 cm3/mol (anhydrous)|
Refractive index (nD)
|n1=1.447, n2=1.469, n3=1.472 (decahydrate)|
|Monoclinic, mS92, No. 15|
a = 1.1885 nm, b = 1.0654 nm, c = 1.2206 nm
α = 90°, β = 106.623°°, γ = 90°
Lattice volume (V)
Formula units (Z)
GHS hazard statements
GHS precautionary statements
|NFPA 704 (fire diamond)|
|NIOSH (US health exposure limits):|
|TWA 1 mg/m3 (anhydrous and pentahydrate)|
TWA 5 mg/m3 (decahydrate)
IDLH (Immediate danger)
|Boric acid, sodium perborate|
Except where otherwise noted, data are given for materials in their standard state (at 25 °C [77 °F], 100 kPa).
|(what is ?)|
Borax is a component of many detergents, cosmetics, and enamel glazes. It is used to make buffer solutions in biochemistry, as a fire retardant, as an anti-fungal compound, in the manufacture of fiberglass, as a flux in metallurgy, neutron-capture shields for radioactive sources, a texturing agent in cooking, as a cross-linking agent in Slime, as an alkali in photographic developers, as a precursor for other boron compounds, and along with its inverse, boric acid, is useful as an insecticide.
In artisanal gold mining, borax is sometimes used as part of a process (as a flux) meant to eliminate the need for toxic mercury in the gold extraction process, although it cannot directly replace mercury. Borax was reportedly used by gold miners in parts of the Philippines in the 1900s.
Borax was first discovered in dry lake beds in Tibet and was imported via the Silk Road to the Arabian Peninsula in the 8th century AD. Borax first came into common use in the late 19th century when Francis Marion Smith's Pacific Coast Borax Company began to market and popularize a large variety of applications under the 20 Mule Team Borax trademark, named for the method by which borax was originally hauled out of the California and Nevada deserts.
The term borax is often used for a number of closely related minerals or chemical compounds that differ in their crystal water content:
- anhydrous sodium tetraborate, Na2B4O7
- sodium tetraborate pentahydrate, Na2B4O7·5H2O
- sodium tetraborate decahydrate, Na2B4O7·10H2O or equivalently the octahydrate, Na2B4O5(OH)4·8H2O
From the chemical perspective, borax contains the [B4O5(OH)4]2− ion. In this structure, there are two four-coordinate boron centers and two three-coordinate boron centers.
Borax is also easily converted to boric acid and other borates, which have many applications. Its reaction with hydrochloric acid to form boric acid is:
- Na2B4O7·10H2O + 2 HCl → 4 B(OH)3 + 2 NaCl + 5H2O
The "decahydrate" is sufficiently stable to find use as a primary standard for acid base titrimetry.
When borax is added to a flame, it produces a yellow green color. Borax is not used for this purpose in fireworks due to the overwhelming yellow color of sodium. Boric acid is used to color methanol flames a transparent green.
Borax is very soluble in ethylene glycol, moderately soluble in diethylene glycol and methanol, slightly soluble in acetone. It is poorly soluble in cold water, but its solubility increases significantly with temperature.
The English word borax is Latinized: the Middle English form was boras, from Old French boras, bourras. That may have been from medieval Latin baurach (another English spelling), borac(-/um/em), borax, along with Spanish borrax (> borraj) and Italian borrace, in the 9th century. Another name for borax is tincal, from Sanskrit.
The word tincal // "tinkle", or tincar // "tinker", refers to crude borax, before it is purified, as mined from lake deposits in Tibet, Persia, and other parts of Asia. The word was adopted in the 17th century from Malay tingkal and from Urdu/Persian/Arabic تنکار tinkār/tankār; thus the two forms in English. These all appear to be related to the Sanskrit टांकण ṭānkaṇa.
Naturally occurring borax (known by the trade name Rasorite–46 in the United States and many other countries) is refined by a process of recrystallization.
Borate ions (commonly supplied as boric acid) are used in biochemical and chemical laboratories to make buffers, e.g. for polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis of DNA and RNA, such as TBE buffer (borate buffered tris-hydroxymethylaminomethonium) or the newer SB buffer or BBS buffer (borate buffered saline) in coating procedures. Borate buffers (usually at pH 8) are also used as preferential equilibration solution in dimethyl pimelimidate (DMP) based crosslinking reactions.
Borax alone does not have a high affinity for the hardness cations, although it has been used for water-softening. Its chemical equation for water-softening is given below:
- Ca2+ (aq) + Na2B4O7 (aq) → Ca B4O7 (s)↓ + 2 Na+ (aq)
- Mg2+ (aq) + Na2B4O7 (aq) → Mg B4O7 (s)↓ + 2 Na+ (aq)
The sodium ions introduced do not make water ‘hard’. This method is suitable for removing both temporary and permanent types of hardness.
tungsten with zinc — making the tungsten soft-solderable.Borax is also a good flux for "pre-tinning"
Small-scale gold mining
A rubbery polymer sometimes called Slime, Flubber, 'gluep' or 'glurch' (or erroneously called Silly Putty, which is based on silicone polymers), can be made by cross-linking polyvinyl alcohol with borax. Making flubber from polyvinyl acetate-based glues, such as Elmer's Glue, and borax is a common elementary-science demonstration.
Borax, given the E number E285, is used as a food additive, but is banned in some countries, such as the United States, China, and Thailand. As a consequence, certain foods, such as caviar, produced for sale in the United States contain higher levels of salt to assist preservation. In addition to its use as a preservative, borax imparts a firm, rubbery texture to food. In China, borax (Chinese: 硼砂; pinyin: péng shā or Chinese: 月石; pinyin: yuè shí) has been found in foods including wheat and rice noodles named; lamian, shahe fen, kway teow, and chee cheong fun. In Indonesia, it is a common, but forbidden, additive to such foods as noodles, bakso (meatballs), and steamed rice. The country's Directorate of Consumer Protection warns of the risk of liver cancer with high consumption over a period of five to ten years.
- Ingredient in enamel glazes
- Component of glass, pottery, and ceramics
- Used as an additive in ceramic slips and glazes to improve fit on wet, greenware, and bisque
- Fire retardant
- Anti-fungal compound for cellulose insulation
- Moth proofing 10% solution for wool
- Pulverized for the prevention of stubborn pests (e.g. German cockroaches) in closets, pipe and cable inlets, wall panelling gaps, and inaccessible locations where ordinary pesticides are undesirable
- Precursor for sodium perborate monohydrate that is used in detergents, as well as for boric acid and other borates
- Tackifier ingredient in casein, starch and dextrin based adhesives
- Precursor for boric acid, a tackifier ingredient in polyvinyl acetate, polyvinyl alcohol based adhesives
- Fluoride detoxification
- To make indelible ink for dip pens by dissolving shellac into heated borax
- Curing agent for snake skins
- Curing agent for salmon eggs, for use in sport fishing for salmon
- Swimming pool buffering agent to control pH
- Neutron absorber, used in nuclear reactors and spent fuel pools to control reactivity and to shut down a nuclear chain reaction
- As a micronutrient fertilizer to correct boron-deficient soils.
- Preservative in taxidermy
- To color fires with a green tint
- Was traditionally used to coat dry-cured meats such as hams to improve the appearance and discourage flies.
- For stopping car radiator and engine block leaks
- Used by blacksmiths in forge welding
- Used as a woodworm treatment (diluted in water)
Borax, sodium tetraborate decahydrate, according to one study, is not acutely toxic. Its LD50 (median lethal dose) score is tested at 2.66 g/kg in rats, meaning that a significant dose of the chemical is needed to cause severe symptoms or death. The lethal dose is not necessarily the same for humans. On pesticide information websites it is listed as a non-lethal compound and of no hazardous concerns.
Borax has been in use as an insecticide in the United States with various restrictions since 1946. All restrictions were removed in February 1986 due to the low toxicity of borax, as reported in two EPA documents relating to boric acid and borax.
Although it cited inconclusive data, a re-evaluation in 2006 by the EPA still found that "There were no signs of toxicity observed during the study and no evidence of cytotoxicity to the target organ." In the reevaluation, a study of toxicity due to overexposure was checked and the findings were that "The residential handler inhalation risks due to boric acid and its sodium salts as active ingredients are not a risk concern and do not exceed the level of concern..." but that there could be some risk of irritation to children inhaling it if used as a powder for cleaning rugs.
Overexposure to borax dust can cause respiratory irritation, while no skin irritation is known to exist due to external borax exposure. Ingestion may cause gastrointestinal distress including nausea, persistent vomiting, abdominal pain, and diarrhea. Effects on the vascular system and human brain include headaches and lethargy, but are less frequent. In severe cases, a "beefy" red rash affecting the palms, soles, buttocks and scrotum has occurred.
The Indonesian Directorate of Consumer Protection warns of the risk of liver cancer with high consumption of borax over a period of 5–10 years.
Risk to fertility and pregnancy
Borax was added to the Substance of Very High Concern (SVHC) candidate list on December 16, 2010. The SVHC candidate list is part of the EU Regulations on the Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals 2006 (REACH), and the addition was based on the revised classification of borax as toxic for reproduction category 1B under the CLP Regulations. Substances and mixtures imported into the EU which contain borax are now required to be labelled with the warnings "May damage fertility" and "May damage the unborn child". It was proposed for addition to REACH Annex XIV by the ECHA on July 1, 2015. If this recommendation is approved, all imports and uses of borax in the EU will have to be authorized by the ECHA.
Review of the boron toxicity (as boric acid and borates) published 2012 in Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health concluded: "It clearly appears that human B [boron] exposures, even in the highest exposed cohorts, are too low to reach the blood (and target tissue) concentrations that would be required to exert adverse effects on reproductive functions."
A draft risk assessment released by Health Canada in July 2016 has found that overexposure to boric acid has the potential to cause developmental and reproductive health effects. Since people are already exposed to boric acid naturally through their diets and water, Health Canada advised that exposure from other sources should be reduced as much as possible, especially for children and pregnant women. The concern is not with any one product, but rather multiple exposures from a variety of sources. With this in mind, the department also announced that registrations for certain pesticides that contain boric acid, which are commonly used in homes, will have their registrations cancelled and be phased out of the marketplace. As well, new, more protective label directions are being introduced for other boric acid pesticides that continue to be registered in Canada (for example, enclosed bait stations and spot treatments using gel formulations).
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|Look up borax in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.|
|Wikisource has the text of the 1879 American Cyclopædia article Borax.|