Borax is meant to wash clothes, but some people are finding other uses for this powdered cleaner. Back in 2018, teenagers were biting Tide Pods for clout online. This led to hundreds of adolescents getting poisoned and at least 10 deaths from eating these pouches of liquid. Now another laundry-inspired trend is taking shape on TikTok involving Borax to purportedly boost their health—with dangerous consequences.
One increasingly popular example includes adding a pinch of borax to a glass of drinking water. TikToker users claim it helps with managing joint pain and several health conditions, from kidney stones to erectile dysfunction. There is another video from an alleged doctor making the rounds on the social media platform advocating the use of borax for cleaning the vagina (his video has since been taken down). People have also been mixing the mineral compound with bathwater to detox the skin.
“Borax consumption can cause nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, skin rashes, and skin peeling. Long-term consumption can lead to seizures and anemia,” says Kelly Johnson-Arbor, a medical toxicologist and co-medical director at the National Capital Poison Center.
No matter what you read or watch on the internet, there is no reason to use borax for anything other than for washing your clothes. In fact, medical experts say many of the health claims may be coming from mix up between borax and the trace element boron.
Borax vs. boron
As an essential element for creating plant cell walls, boron appears in many of the fruits and vegetables we eat daily. According to the National Institute of Health, however, it’s not an essential nutrient because there is no clear understanding of how it helps human health. A few medical studies suggest boron supplements can treat osteoarthritis and reduce the risk for prostate and lung cancer.
“Boron may impact bone health, hormones, and brain function, but the exact relationship between boron and these health functions has not been fully determined,” Johnson-Arbor explains.
Boron is generally safe to eat: Some European countries use boron-containing compounds as food preservatives, but Johnson-Arbor says these doses are highly regulated to ensure they do not reach toxic levels.
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There is even less data supporting the use of boron-containing products like borax to improve health. “While some social media influencers state that medical professionals don’t recommend borax as a health supplement because of a desire to promote prescription drug products instead, this is not the case,” says Johnson-Arbor. “Rather, doctors don’t promote borax as a health supplement because it has no proven health benefits in humans, and it does have known toxic effects when consumed.”
For this reason, Borax products have a label warning against drug use or human consumption. Though it seems like manufacturers should update the warning to not putting borax inside the body at all.
Why Borax is toxic
Another dangerous use of Borax that’s making the rounds is using it for douching. No one should put Borax inside their vagina, says Jill Purdie, an OB-GYN and medical director at Pediatrix Medical Group in Atlanta. Not only is the powdered detergent toxic, but in general, douching with any product harms the “good” bacteria in the vaginal microbiome. “This actually increases the risk of infection and odor, including sexually transmitted infections if a woman is exposed,” Purdie adds.
The idea of Borax for douching likely comes from mixing it up with boric acid suppositories. While they sound similar in name, boric acid suppositories have a slightly different chemical formulation that can treat resistant yeast or recurrent bacterial infections in the vagina. “The suppositories are not something that are needed daily to maintain the vagina or ‘clean’ it,” explains Purdie. “They have to be used in a specific way and for a limited amount of time, and should only be used under the direction of a physician.”
When applied to the eyes of skin, borax can cause skin rashes, irritation, and peeling. There is also a risk of accidentally drinking the borax-containing water. Even when diluted in bathwater, Johnson-Arbor says the compound can cause pain or discomfort if it makes contact with human skin. There is no scientific evidence to support using Borax laundry products for drawing out toxins, losing weight, or acting as an antiparasitic agent.
If you or someone around you ingests borax, contact Poison Control immediately for expert advice. There are two ways to get local assistance from Poison Control: online at www.poison.org or by phone at 1-800-222-1222. Both options are free, confidential, and available 24/7.