Boron in Cleaners and Detergents


Borates (in many forms) are used to produce household or industrial cleaners, laundry detergents, and hand soaps. Borates or perborates can clean metals, glass, sinks, bathtubs, toilets, floors, and machinery. The choice of borate depends on the type, composition, and quality of the final product. Borates’ unique properties provide numerous benefits:

  • Enhance stain removal and bleaching
  • Stabilize enzymes
  • Inhibit dye transfer
  • Provide alkaline buffering
  • Control viscosity
  • Emulsify waxes and oils
  • Soften water
  • Boost surfactant performance
  • Act as a biostat, helping control bacteria and fungi (EPA registration required)
U.S. Borax offers a number of products for industrial cleaning compounds, including:
  • Borax decahydrate: Available in a range of screen sizes (for dry blending) or may be used in solution
  • Neobor®: A concentrated borax pentahydrate that is convenient to handle and store
  • 20 Mule Team® sodium metaborate (available in 4 mol and 8 mol): A strong alkali, suitable for higher alkalinity cleaners such as metal cleaners. It also provides a high concentration of borate and is readily soluble in water.
  • Optibor®: Very mild boric acids for specific formulations

Borate metal cleaners

After various metal-working operations, metal surfaces must be cleaned. For example, parts from machining operations are cleaned to remove metal fines, residual cutting oil, and dirt. Similarly, the surface of sheet metal (obtained from rolling operations) is cleaned after the final reduction and before the application of slushing oils or coating oils.

Borates offer pH control and contribute to enhanced removal of oils and soils. Their mild or moderate abrasive properties, water-softening capabilities, and anti-corrosive qualities make them excellent choices for cleaning metal surfaces. Ferritic particles, oxides, and corrosion products are likely to form on stainless steel that has had previous contact with organic materials, dilute salt solutions, or food products. This can be effectively treated with Optibor, which helps to remove corrosion and restore passivation.

Borate or perborate cleaning solutions have been found effective in removing lubricant deposits, inhibiting tarnish and corrosion, and on a variety of metal surfaces and items:

  • Containers used in the foodstuff industry, which can be made of tin-plated ferrous metals

  • Steel sheets and aluminum workpieces and alloys

  • Silver and silver plating

  • Metal parts in dental appliances
  • ​Carbon steel
  • Copper
  • Aluminum
  • Tin cans

Sodium borates: Hard-surface cleaners

Aqueous-based alkaline cleaners containing sodium borates (among other components) are used to remove oil, grease, rust, scale, and other particulate from hard surfaces in the industrial and institutional market: Primarily hospitals, schools, and restaurants. An all-purpose liquid detergent for this market is made from borax decahydrate (or Neobor borax pentahydrate), surfactant, alkyl aryl sulfonic acid, tetrapotassium pyrophosphate, sodium hydroxide, and water.

Sodium borates for cleaners

Equipment in the food and beverage industry is in constant contact with water, such as soakers, conveyor chains, spray nozzles, pasteurizers, and sterilizers. Rust and corrosion necessitate closer maintenance checks, frequent repairs, and a shorter equipment life—all of which drives up costs. Due to potentially harmful effects, strong alkalis are prohibited.

Fortunately, borates is a solution. Borates’ resistance to change over a concentration range of 0.1% to 5.0%, in terms of its alkali strength, makes it less caustic and more suitable for beverage applications. The ability of borates in solution to maintain a constant pH over a wide concentration make them an excellent buffering and anticorrosive agent.

Manufacturers are continually improving hard surface cleaners . For example, a slow-dissolving cleaning block, based on a gelled or solidified borate suspension, can soften water (preventing limescale), deodorize, and remove or inhibit stain build-up in toilets. Other industrial products include:

  • The presence of small amounts of boron can help to control microbial growth (EPA registration required)
  • A composition specifically designed to remove urine from soiled fibers or sand contains perborates and other peroxide salts coated with a water-soluble synthetic glue, organic acids, builder salts, and surfactant
  • A cleaning and bleaching product for flush toilets consists of two solid blocks, one comprising neutral salt, detergents, dye, and perfume and the other containing neutral salt, detergents, and perborates
  • Tablets with perborates, a chemiluminescent compound, and a halogen source give a strong blue light with every flush
Products such as these can be manufactured either from an aqueous borate suspension converted into a hydrogel polymer, or by preparing and cooling a molten borate-in-polyethylene glycol suspension.

In addition, paper, fabric, or foam can be impregnated with perborates and other compositions to create cleaning pads for glass, skin, and dentures. An effective perborate-based cleaner exists for circulatory bathtubs; another is a foaming cleaner formulated with perborates, a metal ion or other decomposition catalyst, builders, and a surfactant. From cleaning and corrosion protection to scouring agents and cleansers to remove carbonized residues from PTFE-coated cookware, perborates—in combination with other ingredients—are highly effective.

Boric acid: Glass and other materials

Glass-cleaning compositions containing boric acid and other ingredients are particularly adapted for use in cleaning windshields and other glass surfaces that are exposed to the external environmental during the operation of motor vehicles, especially in low temperatures. Another glass-cleaning compound containing Neobor has been developed especially for use in cold water. Other glass cleaning formulations contain borax decahydrate, Neobor, and non-borate ingredients.

Several industrial drain cleaners are also based on perborates, combined with other ingredients.

Boric acid in glass cleaners

Dishwashing detergents

Traditional dishwashing detergents are largely based on sodium metasilicate and sodium tripolyphosphate and contain chlorine-releasing chemicals, such as sodium dichloroisocyanurate, to remove stains and kill bacteria, saponify fat and grease, suspend detached soil and prevent its reposition, prevent corrosion of the internal parts of the washing machine, and soften water.

However, the corrosive nature of sodium silicates and chlorine-release agents, as well as a desire to reduce phosphates due to environmental concerns, have prompted the development of new formulations for powder and liquid automatic dishwashing detergents. These newer products are more efficient in stain removal at lower temperatures than previous versions. Borates and perborates, aside from having an extended shelf life, are increasingly used in such automatic dishwashing detergent compositions for the following reasons:

  • Perborates function as alternative bleaching agents to chlorine-releasing compounds
  • Borates are china-glaze protectors
  • Borates provide moderate alkaline buffering
  • Perborates have a biocidal property (EPA registration required)
  • Borates are known to have many cleaning functions

Alkaline buffering for dish washing detergents

In the past, the main functions of borates in automatic dishwashing detergents were peroxy bleaching, glaze protection, and to a lesser extent anti-caking. Whereas the use of perborates has flourished under the new system of enzymatic automatic dishwashing detergents, the use of boric acid and 20 Mule Team Borax boric oxide as glaze protectors and anti-caking agents has not.

Borates in detergents: Cleaning clothes for more than a century

For 150 years, borates have been used in a variety of household and industrial laundry detergent formulations. The vast majority of clothes throughout the world are still washed by hand. New trials on laundry soap bars demonstrate that borates significantly improve cleaning action and reduce dirt redeposition—leading to brighter, cleaner clothes. In powdered detergent, borates can be directly incorporated to boost cleaning power, or they can be added as sodium perborate for bleaching action. Borates are also used in liquid detergents: Enzymes for stain removal need to be stabilized in liquids, and borates have proven exceptionally effective for this purpose.

Their value depends on the formulation in which they are involved, but pH control, emulsification of oils, soft abrasive qualities, and viscosity control (when combined with polyhydroxy materials) are all central qualities.

Borates in laundry detergents

Soil removal and prevention of redeposition

The alkaline detergent liquors that borates produce help to remove and emulsify fatty soils. But borates and perborates also inhibit particulate soil deposition, thanks to their specific influence on surface charge beyond that created by pH alone.

As an alkaline buffer and pH control

High alkalinity in wash water improves detergency and helps the cleaning process. Borates are excellent pH buffers (pH 9.1 to 9.3, their natural pH). Perborates are more alkaline (pH 10.4 for 1.0% solution) and also have excellent buffering capacity (pH 9 to 10).

Excellent bleaching

In detergency, bleaching can be understood as the process of whitening, lightening, and brightening fabrics by chemical means. Unlike hydrogen peroxide and chlorine, which are effective bleaches but cannot be incorporated directly into washing powders, perborates have excellent bleaching capabilities and are very stable in detergent powders. As an oxidizing bleach, they are effective yet gentle to clothes—and aid in overall detergency. A rapidly dissolving version, perborate monohydrate, is especially useful in cool or short wash cycles.

Water softening and improved surfactant performance

Reducing calcium and other metals helps to improve water hardness and enables detergents to function well. Borates and perborates accomplish this task by acting as builders—components that form soluble complexes with calcium ions, removing calcium’s unwanted effect without leaving harsh-feeling deposits on fabrics.

U.S. Borax has not sold consumer borate products since 1988. For questions about the consumer laundry product, contact:

Call 1.800.457.8739

Borates for personal care and other uses

Borates or perborates work in many personal care products:

  • Cosmetic creams
  • Skin lotions
  • Hair shampoos, dyes, and gels
  • Bath salts
  • Eye drops
  • Denture cleaners
  • Hand-washing powders, pastes, and soaps

20 Mule Team Borax Products

These 20 Mule Team Borax products are developed for use in the manufacture of cleaners and detergents.

Borax Decahydrate

From detergents to dyes to adhesives, this mild alkaline salt does it all, particularly excelling as a buffering and fluxing agent. Learn More

Boric Oxide

Pure anhydrous form is ideal where boric acid is required without metals. A powerful tool in the production of specialty glasses, ceramics, enamels, and fluxes. Learn More


This hard, glassy, granular product is excellent when forming flux or glass, where it helps to increase yield and reduce energy consumption. Learn More


With lower transportation, handling, and storage costs, this concentrated sodium borate is used in glass, fiberglass, cleaning products, and flame retardants. Learn More


Polybor earns its spot in industrial cleaning compounds, fire retardants, and the manufacture of water-treatment chemicals. Learn More

Potassium Tetraborate

An excellent buffering agent, potassium tetraborate can lower the pH of strong alkalis and is also used in welding, soldering, and brazing fluxes. Learn More

Sodium Metaborate

Provides increased viscosity, quicker tack, and better fluidity in starch and dextrin adhesives. Helps stabilize hydrogen peroxide solutions and neutralize acidic oxidation by-products in textile processing. Learn More

More About Borates in Cleaners and Detergents

The Many, Many Uses of Borax for Laundry
Over the last 125 years, borates have played a big part in helping people get their laundry cleaner. Learn More
Neobor: A Borate for Improving Modern Living
Manufacturers across myriad industries rely on cost-effective 20 Mule Team Borax Neobor. Some of the most important applications are the least n... Learn More
Clean Up with Boron
Think 20 Mule Team Borax™ detergent booster is just for clothes? Think again. Learn More

U.S. Borax, part of Rio Tinto, is a global leader in the supply and science of borates—naturally-occurring minerals containing boron and other elements. We are 1,000 people serving 650 customers with more than 1,800 delivery locations globally. We supply around 30% of the world’s need for refined borates from our world-class mine in Boron, California, about 100 miles northeast of Los Angeles.  Learn more about Rio Tinto.

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