What’s in Your Cleaning Products? The Dish on Borax and Phosphates

At Greenapple House Cleaning, we talk a lot about how harmful many of the ingredients in everyday household cleaners, soaps, and detergents are. In this series of posts, we are going to discuss specific ingredients, how they work, and what makes them dangerous to you and your family when they are used in your home.

Ingredient Profile: Borax

Borax is a mineral that can be produced synthetically, but it is also found naturally in the earth, mined in lake beds in dry desert areas like Nevada and California. It was first discovered in the 1880s, and was found to be a cheap cleaner that could be mined in large enough quantities for it to be a common household item. It’s generally sold as a dry power, most often white, that dissolves in water. In detergents and home cleaning products, it’s used as an enzyme stabilizer and booster. It’s also often added to personal care products, like texturizers and whiteners, and can even be used as a poison to get rid of weeds, fungus, and insects.

What’s the Problem?

Because Borax is a natural mineral, many individuals think that is a green product that is safe to use. The problem is, it isn’t safe and it isn’t sustainable. Green cleaning involves using products that don’t harm the earth; Borax may come from the ground, but once it’s gone, it’s gone. There’s no replacing it.

Borax can also effect individuals in the long term and short term health-wise. In the short term, Borax dust exposure can lead to skin irritation, respiratory problems, nausea, abdominal pain, vomiting, and diarhhea. It can also cause lethargy and headaches. Severe poisoning can lead to renal failure, respiratory depression, and unconsciousness.

Studies have shown that using Borax chronically can lead to a lower sperm count, reduction of fertility and ovulation, and hormonal problems. Unborn children can also be affected in terms of birth weight and skeletal development.

All products that contain Borax in Canada are restricted, and every product must be labeled that it contains ingredients that are not appropriate for damaged or broken skin. Imported products must warn users of the safety concerns to unborn children and fertility as well.

Ingredient Profile: Phosphates

Phosphates are a form of phosphorus, which have been used in home cleaning products, detergents, and soaps for years because of their cleaning abilities. This ingredient improves a detergent’s cleaning power, acting as a ‘builder,’ to minimize soap scum and dirt. This need for this ingredient is important, especially in areas where hard water containing magnesium and calcium is present.

What’s the Problem?

While phosphates are excellent at removing dirt from soiled clothing, their performance shouldn’t overshadow the harmful effect they have on rivers, streams, lakes, and other fresh water. When phosphates are washed down drainpipes, they enter our waterways. When this happens, they act as a fertilizer to algae, causing overgrowth to develop and killing off the water’s oxygen supply. This destroys the habitat and kills fish and other organisms. It also makes the waters smell bad and become green and cloudy.

Because of these harmful effects, phosphates are now banned from being used in laundry detergents in Canada, the European Union, Japan, and many US states.

At Greenapple House Cleaning, we know how dangerous some of those everyday home cleaning products and detergents can be. That’s why we make it our job to keep you informed about the ingredients that may be harming your family. If you’ve decided it’s time to make a switch, call us today. We’ll be be happy to give your home the green cleaning it needs.


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