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Uses of Borax

10/8/2012 12:56:29 PM | by Anonymous


Also known as sodium borate and sodium tetraborate, borax is a mineral and a salt of boric acid, having several applications from household products to industrial operations. Usually in the form of white powder that is made up of soft colorless crystals, it can also be tinged with brown yellow or green and also has the ability to dissolve easily in water. Having been known to humans for thousands of years, borax has a wide variety of uses. From being used in the manufacture of detergents and cosmetics, the mineral can also be used to make buffer solutions in chemistry and as a fire retardant. Also, the compound is used as a texturing agent in cooking and as a precursor to other compounds that are derived from it. A number of closely related minerals and chemical compounds that differ only based on their crystal water content can also be referred to as borax. Borax used for commercial sale is usually dehydrated partially.


It is believed that borax got its name from a Persian word ‘burah’ which was used to refer to potassium nitrate and another fluxing agent. Having been discovered in dry lake beds of Tibet, borax was imported to Arabia via Silk Road. It was then that Borax started to gain popularity and it came into common use in the late 19th century. Also, in other regions, there are evidences that borax was used in history for several applications. For example in Ancient Egypt, borax was used to preserve mummies. Also, it was used to make pottery glazes in China and worked as a cleaning agent in several places across Middle East and China. The use of borax was spreading all over the world and soon Europeans were using Borax as a flux in soldering. The applications of borax today are similar to that in the past, with the difference being that today it is heavily processed to make it as pure as possible. Borax is found to be naturally occurring in evaporite deposits in seasonal lakes that repeatedly evaporate. Overtime due to this repeated process, borax formed in these lakes. Aside from being naturally occurring, borax can also be produced synthetically from other boron compounds. The process used to refine borax is called crystallization.


Borax that occurs naturally has a high percentage of water as compared to synthetically generated borax. When the water in the substance evaporates, the mineral starts to become more white and crumbly. Dehydrating the substance would turn it into tincalconite. Borax has uses around the house, from being used to clean utensils and brightening laundry, to being used as a pesticide or insecticide. Antiseptics, fungicides and fire retardants make use of borax as the compound has properties that are vital for each of those products. Borax also has a non-reactive base which can keep chemical solutions stable, which is why the substance is also used in laboratories as a buffer for chemical reactions.


Borax is not violently toxic and a very high dose of the chemical is required to cause severe symptoms or death to a person. Although it is not acutely toxic, it can cause skin reactions if used inappropriately and it should not be ingested as it can cause harm to the body. If a person is constantly exposed to borax, he or she may experience respiratory and skin irritation. Ingestion of the chemical can cause vomiting, abdominal pain and diarrhea. Due to such symptoms which can be severe if the exposure levels to borax are high can pose to be life threatening and therefore care should be taken to avoid such situations. As borax can be used in eye wash solutions, they can pose to be toxic to infants if they are constantly exposed to the solution. This is because the solution has a slow elimination rate which can affect the child.

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