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Borax crystals
Ball-and-stick model of the unit cell of borax decahydrate
IUPAC name
Other names
  • Borax decahydrate
  • Sodium borate decahydrate
  • Sodium tetraborate decahydrate
  • Sodium tetrahydroxy tetraborate hexahydrate
3D model (JSmol)
EC Number
E number E285 (preservatives)
RTECS number
  • VZ2275000
  • InChI=1S/B4O7.2Na.10H2O/c5-1-7-3-9-2(6)10-4(8-1)11-3;;;;;;;;;;;;/h;;;10*1H2/q-2;2*+1;;;;;;;;;;
  • InChI=1/B4O7.2Na.10H2O/c5-1-7-3-9-2(6)10-4(8-1)11-3;;;;;;;;;;;;/h;;;10*1H2/q-2;2*+1;;;;;;;;;;
  • [Na+].[Na+].O0B(O)O[B-]1(O)OB(O)O[B-]0(O)O1.O.O.O.O.O.O.O.O
Molar mass 381.36 g·mol−1
Appearance White or colorless crystalline solid
Density 1.73 g/cm3 (decahydrate, solid)[2]
Melting point 743 °C (1,369 °F; 1,016 K) (anhydrous)[2]
75 °C (decahydrate, decomposes)[2]
Boiling point 1,575 °C (2,867 °F; 1,848 K) (anhydrous)[2]
31.7 g/L [2]
−85.0·10−6 cm3/mol (anhydrous)[2]: p.4.135 
n1=1.447, n2=1.469, n3=1.472 (decahydrate)[2]: p.4.139 
Monoclinic, mS92, No. 15
a = 1.1885 nm, b = 1.0654 nm, c = 1.2206 nm
α = 90°, β = 106.623°°, γ = 90°
1.4810 nm3
S01AX07 (WHO)
GHS labelling:
GHS08: Health hazard
P201, P308+P313
NFPA 704 (fire diamond)
NIOSH (US health exposure limits):
PEL (Permissible)
REL (Recommended)
TWA 1 mg/m3 (anhydrous and pentahydrate)[4][5]
TWA 5 mg/m3 (decahydrate)[6]
IDLH (Immediate danger)
Related compounds
Other anions
Sodium aluminate
Other cations
Lithium tetraborate
Related compounds
Boric acid, sodium perborate
Except where otherwise noted, data are given for materials in their standard state (at 25 °C [77 °F], 100 kPa).

Borax (also referred to as sodium borate, tincal (/ˈtɪŋkəl/) and tincar (/ˈtɪŋkər/)) is a salt (ionic compound), a hydrated or anhydrous borate of sodium, with the chemical formula Na2H20B4O17 (also written as Na2B4O7·10H2O[1][a]).

It is a colorless crystalline solid that dissolves in water to make a basic solution.

It is commonly available in powder or granular form and has many industrial and household uses, including as a pesticide, as a metal soldering flux, as a component of glass, enamel, and pottery glazes, for tanning of skins and hides, for artificial aging of wood, as a preservative against wood fungus, and as a pharmaceutic alkalizer. In chemical laboratories, it is used as a buffering agent.[1][8]

The terms tincal and tincar refer to native borax, historically mined from dry lake beds in various parts of Asia.[9]


Borax was first discovered in dry lake beds in Tibet. Native tincal from Tibet, Persia, and other parts of Asia was traded via the Silk Road to the Arabian Peninsula in the 8th century AD.[9]

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.[10][11]


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, and from Arabic buraq (بورق) as mentioned for example in kitab al-tabikh of Ibn Sayyar al-Warraq.

The words tincal and tincar were adopted into English in the 17th century from Malay tingkal and from Urdu/Persian Arabic تنکارtinkār/tankār; thus the two forms in English. These all appear to be related to the Sanskrit टांकण ṭānkaṇa.[12][13]


The structure of borax according to X-ray crystallography.

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.

It is a proton conductor at temperatures above 21 °C. Conductivity is maximum along the b-axis.[14]

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 H3BO3 + 2 NaCl + 5 H2O

Borax is sufficiently stable to find use as a primary standard for acid-base titrimetry.[15]: p.316 

Molten borax dissolves many metal oxides to form glasses. This property is important for its uses in metallurgy and for the borax bead test of qualitative chemical analysis.

Borax is soluble in a variety of solvents; however, it is notably insoluble in ethanol.[1]

Solubility of borax in some solvents[16]
Organic solvent Temperature
°C (°F)
Borax % by weight
in saturated solution
Glycerol 98.5% 20 (68) 52.60
Glycerol 86.5% 20 (68) 47.19
Ethylene glycol 25 (77) 41.60
Diethylene glycol 25 (77) 18.60
Methanol 25 (77) 19.90
Aqueous ethanol 46.5% 15.5 (60) 2.48
Acetone 25 (77) 0.60
Ethyl acetate 25 (77) 0.14
Solubility of borax in water[16]
°C (°F)
Borax % by weight in saturated solution
0 (32) 1.99
5 (41) 2.46
10 (50) 3.09
15 (59) 3.79
20 (68) 4.70
25 (77) 5.80
30 (86) 7.20
35 (95) 9.02
40 (104) 11.22
45 (113) 14.21
50 (122) 17.91
55 (131) 23.22
60 (140) 30.32
65 (149) 33.89
70 (158) 36.94
75 (167) 40.18
80 (176) 44.31
85 (185) 48.52
90 (194) 53.18
95 (203) 58.94
100 (212) 65.63

The term borax properly refers to the so-called "decahydrate" Na2B4O7·10H2O, but that name is not consistent with its structure. It is actually octahydrate. The anion is not tetraborate [B4O7]2− but tetrahydroxy tetraborate [B4O5(OH)4]2−,[14] so the more correct formula should be Na2B4O5(OH)4·8H2O. However, the term may be applied also to the related compounds. Borax "pentahydrate" has the formula Na2B4O7·5H2O, which is actually a trihydrate Na2B4O5(OH)4·3H2O. It is a colorless solid with a density of 1.880 kg/m3 that crystallizes from water solutions above 60.8 °C in the rhombohedral crystal system. It occurs naturally as the mineral tinkhanite.[17] It can be obtained by heating the decahydrate above 61 °C.[18] Borax "dihydrate" has the formula Na2B4O7·2H2O, which is actually anhydrous, with the correct formula Na2B4O5(OH)4. It can be obtained by heating the "decahydrate" or "pentahydrate" to above 116-120 °C. [18] Anhydrous borax is sodium tetraborate proper, with formula Na2B4O7. It can be obtained by heating any hydrate to 300 °C.[18] It has one amorphous (glassy) form and three crystalline forms – α, β, and γ, with melting points of 1015, 993 and 936 K respectively. α-Na2B4O7 is the stable form.[18]

Natural sources[edit]

Borax "cottonball"

Borax occurs naturally in evaporite deposits produced by the repeated evaporation of seasonal lakes. The most commercially important deposits are found in: Turkey; Boron, California; and Searles Lake, California. Also, borax has been found at many other locations in the Southwestern United States, the Atacama desert in Chile, newly discovered deposits in Bolivia, and in Tibet and Romania. Borax can also be produced synthetically from other boron compounds.[19]

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.[20]

Traction steam engine hauling borax, Death Valley National Park, California, 1904


Borax-based laundry detergent

Borax is used in pest control solutions because it is toxic to ants. Because it is slow-acting, worker ants will carry the borax to their nests and poison the rest of the colony.[21]

Borax is used in various household laundry and cleaning products,[22][23] including the 20 Mule Team Borax laundry booster, Boraxo powdered hand soap, and some tooth bleaching formulas.[24][25]

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)[26][27] 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 solutions in dimethyl pimelimidate (DMP) based crosslinking reactions.[citation needed]

Borax as a source of borate has been used to take advantage of the co-complexing ability of borate with other agents in water to form complex ions with various substances. Borate and a suitable polymer bed are used to chromatograph non-glycated hemoglobin differentially from glycated hemoglobin (chiefly HbA1c), which is an indicator of long-term hyperglycemia in diabetes mellitus.

Borax alone does not have a high affinity for hardness cations, although it has been used for water-softening. Its chemical equation for water-softening is given below:

Ca2+(aq) + Na2B4O7(aq) → CaB4O7(s)↓ + 2 Na+(aq)
Mg2+(aq) + Na2B4O7(aq) → MgB4O7(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.

A mixture of borax and ammonium chloride is used as a flux when welding iron and steel. It lowers the melting point of the unwanted iron oxide (scale), allowing it to run off. Borax is also mixed with water as a flux when soldering jewelry metals such as gold or silver, where it allows the molten solder to wet the metal and flow evenly into the joint.[citation needed] Borax is also a good flux for "pre-tinning" tungsten with zinc, making the tungsten soft-solderable.[28] Borax is often used as a flux for forge welding.[29]

Old steam tractor and borax wagons, Death Valley National Park

In artisanal gold mining, borax is sometimes used as part of a process known as the borax method (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.[30][31] There is evidence that, in addition to reducing the environmental impact, this method achieves better gold recovery for suitable ores and is less expensive. This borax method is used in northern Luzon in the Philippines, but miners have been reluctant to adopt it elsewhere for reasons that are not well understood.[32] The method has also been promoted in Bolivia[33] and Tanzania.[34]

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.[35][36]

Borax, given the E number E285, is used as a food additive but this use is banned in some countries, such as Australia, China, Thailand and the United States.[37] As a consequence, certain foods, such as caviar, produced for sale in the United States contain higher levels of salt to assist preservation.[38] 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 (Chinese: 拉面; pinyin: lāmiàn), shahe fen (Chinese: 沙河粉; pinyin: shāhéfěn), char kway teow (Chinese: 粿條; pinyin: guǒ tiáo), and chee cheong fun (Chinese: 肠粉; pinyin: chángfěn)[clarification needed][39] In Indonesia, it is a common, but forbidden,[40] additive to such foods as noodles, bakso (meatballs), and steamed rice. When consumed with boric acid, numerous studies have demonstrated a negative[clarification needed] association between borax and various types of cancers.[41] Boric acid and borax are low in toxicity for acute oral exposures, at approximately the same acute toxicity as salt. The average dose for asymptomatic ingestion cases, which accounts for 88% of all ingestions, is around 0.9 grams. However, the range of reported asymptomatic doses is wide, from 0.01 to 88.8 g.[42]

Rio Tinto borax mine pit, Boron, California

Other uses include:


According to one study, borax 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.[61][62]

EPA has determined that, because they are of low toxicity and occur naturally, boric acid and its sodium salts should be exempted from the requirement of a tolerance (maximum residue limit) for all raw agricultural commodities.[61]

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."[63] 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. [64]

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.[58]

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".[65] It was proposed for addition to REACH Annex XIV by the ECHA on July 1, 2015.[66] If this recommendation is approved, all imports and uses of borax in the EU will have to be authorized by the ECHA.[needs update]

A review of the boron toxicity (as boric acid and borates) published in 2012 in the 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."[67] 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 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).[68]


  1. ^ It is also written as Na2B4O7·10H2O, which shows that it is a decahydrated tetraborate

See also[edit]


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