Borate has been used in Asia as a cleaning agent, antiseptic and welding flux since ancient times. It was introduced to Europeans when Marco Polo brought it back from Asia in the 13th century.
Today, about half the world's supply of borate is mined from Death Valley National Park. The area's first borax plant, Harmony Borax Works, opened in the early 1880s and was the main attraction of the newly opened national park.
At the height of production, 40 men processed 3 tons of borax per day, which was hauled out of Death Valley by mule teams, which remain a symbol of the borax industry today.
Cleaning and Personal Care
Borate is a cleaning agent, often used in laundry and general house cleaning. Many recipes for homemade laundry and cleaning solutions call for the use of borax as a more natural alternative to commercial cleaning products.
Borate is also found in some cosmetics and may be listed in the ingredients as borax or boric acid.
Borate is also an insecticide, mainly used for termites, ants, cockroaches, wood-rot fungi and powderpost beetles. Apply it as a liquid to wood to protect it from wood-eating pests, or as a powder.
When used as a powder, insects ingest it when feeding or when grooming after traveling through the powder. Borate insecticides are considered much less toxic than synthetic pesticides.
While borate is a trace mineral used by both plants and animals, high levels of borate are toxic to plants, so care should be taken to avoid introducing significant amounts to soil. Borate is generally considered nontoxic to humans and animals.
However, the Environmental Working Group warns that it is a short-term irritant to skin and eyes and that chronic exposure to high doses may disrupt hormones, affecting the reproductive system.