Borax softens water by undergoing a chemical reaction with calcium and magnesium ions (the molecules that cause water to be hard) which leads to them precipitating from the water.

The results are similar to those of a conventional ion exchange water softener as the calcium and magnesium ions are replaced with sodium ions. However, unlike with a water softener, the solid molecules of calcium and magnesium remain in the water, allowing them to build up in your washing machine and clothing.

Why Should You Use Borax As A Water Softener When Doing Your Laundry?

Doing your laundry and hard water is not a great combination, hard water will severely reduce the effectiveness of your detergents and can give your clothes washed-out colors and nasty smells.

By softening your water most of these effects can be prevented, we've listed some of the benefits of softening your laundry water below:

  • Less clothing wear and tear - When doing laundry with hard water the hard water molecules will gather in your clothing and crystalize. These crystals will cause a grayish color and make your clothing look old and worn out.

    More importantly, they can damage the fabric of your clothing over time thereby increasing wear and tear.

    As Borax removes these molecules from the water they cannot get into your clothing and wreak havoc, be sure not to rinse your clothing with hard water after your wash as this will negate the effects.

  • Less soap usage - Soap and detergents bind to calcium and magnesium molecules after which they are unable to clean. With softened water, all soap can actually clean your laundry.

  • No soap residue - As hard water molecules bind to soap and end up within the fabric of your clothes. Doing laundry in hard water can leave a soapy residue all over your clothing which is almost impossible to get rid of.

    As Borax removes the hard water molecules this soap residue will no longer be a problem and will ensure clean and fresh laundry.

  • Enhances whitening - Borax produces a small amount of hydrogen peroxide which has a similar effect on clothing as bleach, thereby enhancing the whitening power of your washing cycle.

How Much Borax Does It Take To Soften Water?

Generally, you will need around half a cup to three-quarters of a cup for a wash in a traditional top loader. For modern washing machines that use less water, between a quarter and half a cup should be enough.

Following these steps will ensure the best results when using Borax in your laundry.

  • Step 0. - (This step is optional) Soak laundry with stains in a Borax solution of one tablespoon per gallon of warm water, or half a cup of borax during a prewash cycle.

  • Step 1. - Add around half a cup depending on the load size, if it is the first time using it's better to be safe and start with less. As too much will prevent it from dissolving and could end up in your clothing which is hard to remove and can cause skin irritation.

  • Step 2. - Add your soap or detergent, be sure to add less than you are used to, around half to three-quarters of the usual amount should do.

    With too much soap your washing machine will be unable to fully rinse it out.

  • Step 3. - Perform your laundry.

  • Step 4. - Try to reduce the amount of rinsing as the rinse water will still contain hard water molecules which will get into your clothing. If possible turn off the rinse cycle on your washing machine.

  • Step 5. - Enjoy your fresh and clean clothes!

Is It Okay To Mix Borax And Vinegar?

While using Borax and vinegar at the same time will not harm your clothing, you really shouldn't. It will decrease the effectiveness of Borax and as Borax already prevents soap residue on your clothing vinegar is not necessary.

While Borax enhances the cleaning power by making the washing water more basic, vinegar is acidic and would thereby neutralize the water and thus the boosting power of Borax.

Most often vinegar is used during laundry to reduce the amount of soap residue that ends up on clothing. However because Borax removes the hard water molecules that normally cause the soap build-up adding vinegar is no longer needed.

What Are The Downsides Of Using Borax?

  • Scale build-up - As calcium and magnesium are precipitated from the water, scale build-up within your washing machine can still occur.

    This could introduce smells within your machine and clothing and in the longer term could reduce the efficiency of your machine or even cause it to break down.

  • Skin irritation - Because of the alkaline properties of Borax people with sensitive skin could suffer from skin irritations when using it as a laundry additive.

Is Borax Safe To Use?

Although Borax is a natural compound and has been used as a food additiveE285, over time this has been banned in most countries after being linked to liver cancer.

While the effects of using Borax might be contained to minor skin irritations. Signals that Borax could induce severe developmental and reproductive problems in pregnant women and with children have led to restrictions on usage and sales in Canada and the EU.

In the EU a Borax alternative is available under the name Borax Substitute.

Ingestion of Borax can even result in death, and thus should be stored safely and out of reach of children.

Alternative Laundry Additives For Hard Water

Although Borax works great as a water softener, with the limitations that come along with it and the concerns about the health impacts, it could be interesting to look at some alternatives on how to soften your water.

Using washing soda or Calgon can yield similar or even better results with fewer health risks or reduced costs.