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Borax vs. Baking Soda: 6 Key Differences & How to Choose

Borax and baking soda are often touted as all-purpose wonders, but what’s the difference? When should you use each? Is one more effective than the other?

In this comparison of borax vs. baking soda, I reveal their ingredients, uses, safety, performance, and more.


Use the links below to navigate the comparison:


Borax vs. Baking Soda: Comparison Chart

The chart below provides a quick side-by-side comparison of borax vs. baking soda. I cover their differences in much more detail throughout this article.

BoraxBaking Soda
CompositionSodium tetraborate; Na2B4O7; Found in dried lake bedsSodium bicarbonate; NaHCO3; Manufactured
How it WorksAlkaline (pH ~9); Neutralizes acidic stains; Generates hydrogen peroxide; Emulsifies oilsAlkaline (pH 8-9); Neutralizes odors; Softens water; Brightens fabrics
UsesLaundry booster; Insect repellent; Mold cleaner; Rust remover; Carpet cleaner; Water softener; Dishwasher aidLaundry booster; Kitchen cleaner; Personal care; Drain cleaner; Air freshener; Cooking (leavening agent; Skin care
How to UseAs a powder for pests; Pre-soak for laundry; Dissolve in warm water for cleaningDirectly in wash cycle; Dissolve in warm water for cleaning; Specific measurements in cooking
SafetyCan cause nausea, respiratory issues, rashes; Banned as a food additive; EWG F ratingSafe to consume in small amounts; EWG A rating; Can upset stomach and cause alkalosis in large amounts
Other ProductsFound in air fresheners, glass cleaners, laundry detergents (e.g., AirWick, Windex, Cheer, Gain, Tide)Present in laundry detergents, toothpaste, cat litter, deodorants, air filters
Key AdvantagesEffective against tough stains; Versatile cleaner; Emulsifies oils; Brightens and whitens laundrySafe for consumption; Neutralizes odors; Softens water; Gentle abrasive cleaner; Multi-purpose
Key DisadvantagesCan be toxic when ingested; Banned as a food additiveNot as effective as borax for tough stains; Cleans and deodorizes but it’s not a bleaching agent

Difference 1: Composition

Borax and baking soda are both white powdery substances, but their chemical compositions are quite different.

Borax is sodium tetraborate, a compound made up of the elements boron, sodium, and oxygen. Its chemical formula is Na2B4O7, and you might see it called sodium borate, sodium tetraborate, or disodium tetraborate.

This natural mineral is found in dried lake beds and other arid environments, particularly in Turkey and the United States.

20 Mule Team has become the most well-known brand of pure borax, but the mineral is an ingredient in multi-purpose cleaners, dishwasher detergents, and stain removers. Here’s a list of 19 products that contain borax.

Box of Borax

On the other hand, baking soda is sodium bicarbonate, with the chemical formula NaHCO3. It’s made up of sodium, hydrogen, carbon, and oxygen. Unlike borax, baking soda is manufactured rather than mined.

Box of Baking Soda
Box of Baking Soda

So, while both borax and baking soda contain sodium, their distinct elemental makeups give each compound unique properties and applications. More on this in a minute.

Difference 2: How It Works

Borax and baking soda take different approaches to cleaning laundry.

When you add borax to your laundry, it boosts the cleaning power. First, it’s alkaline — about 9 on the pH scale. When borax encounters acidic stains like tomato sauce or coffee, it neutralizes them, which makes lifting the stain out of your clothes easier for your detergent.

When dissolved in water, it generates hydrogen peroxide, a bleaching agent. So it doesn’t just clean; it also brightens your fabrics.

Here are some more benefits of using borax in your laundry:

  • Emulsifies Oils: It aids in breaking down and dispersing oily stains.
  • Prevents Dirt Redeposition: Borax charges particles so that dirt and fabric repel each other.
  • Optimizes pH Levels: It acts as a water softener, neutralizing minerals that can hamper cleaning.
  • Bleaching: The released hydrogen peroxide can lighten stains, making them easier to remove.

Baking soda may look like borax, but it behaves differently when used as a laundry booster. It’s also alkaline but to a lesser degree, with a pH level between 8 and 9. Unlike borax, baking soda doesn’t contain a bleaching agent. However, it can still brighten fabrics if paired with white vinegar or detergent.

Adding baking soda to your laundry helps in several ways:

  • Neutralizes Odors: It balances the pH levels of odorous substances, eliminating smells.
  • Softens Water: This allows you to use less detergent or bleach, enhancing their effectiveness.
  • Brightening: Though not a bleach, it can still enhance the brightness of your clothes.

The key takeaway is borax is more effective against tough, oily stains because of its stronger alkaline nature and ability to emulsify oils. But if you’re looking to simply freshen up a load of laundry, baking soda can get the job done.

Difference 3: Uses

Borax has been helping people get cleaner laundry for well over a century. It not only brightens and whitens but also acts as a powerful odor and stain remover. But laundry is just the beginning of its uses.

You can use borax as:

  • Insect Repellent/Killer: Works against roaches, ants, and bed bugs.
  • Mold and Mildew Cleaner: Excellent for bathroom tiles and damp basements.
  • Rust Remover: Useful for tools or kitchenware.
  • Carpet Cleaner: A sprinkle can help lift grime and odors.
  • Water Softener: It can optimize the pH levels in your home water supply.
  • Dishwasher Aid: Acts as a rinse agent to help remove residue.

And the list goes on, even including its role in homemade slime for kids. Always remember, borax is potent. Make sure to research how to use it in each application safely.

Baking soda is a staple for cooking, cleaning, and personal care. While it can tackle tough odors in your laundry, it has a wide range of other uses, too:

  • Kitchen Cleaning: Makes a great scrub when combined with lemon juice.
  • Personal Care: Acts as a mouthwash, teeth whitener, and deodorant.
  • Minor Drain Unclogger: It can handle slightly clogged drains.
  • Air Freshener: Neutralizes odors in fridges or basements.
  • Cooking and Baking: Acts as a leavening agent and can tenderize meat.
  • Skin Care: Relieves itch from sunburn and bug bites.

Unlike borax, baking soda is safe for internal and external use, extending its applications to food preparation and personal care.

Difference 4: How to Use

You can use borax and baking soda as a powder or diluted in water. But they differ in prep and use.

You can use borax in its dry form as a potent pest repellent; just sprinkle it around the problem areas.

For laundry, your best bet is to pre-soak your clothes. Mix a tablespoon of borax with a gallon of warm water, soak your clothes for 30 minutes, then proceed with your regular wash cycle. If you’re short on time, toss 1/2 cup directly into your washing machine and run the pre-soak cycle.

Need a multi-purpose cleaner? Dissolve ½ cup of borax into 12 ounces of warm water. Ensure the solution is well mixed without any residual clumps. Pour it into a 12-ounce spray bottle, and you’ve got a ready-to-use cleaner.

Baking soda is easy to use. In its powder form, add it directly to your wash cycle to soften water and deodorize clothes. But avoid adding it to the rinse cycle because it’ll stiffen your clothes.

If you need a milder cleanser, mix 4 tablespoons of baking soda with a quart of water. This solution can be used for a variety of cleaning purposes.

In cooking, you’ll find specific measurements for baking soda in your recipes. If using it as a meat tenderizer, 1 teaspoon of baking soda with 1/2 cup of water for every 12 ounces of meat will do the trick.

Sometimes, a more concentrated solution is needed. In these situations, combine 1 tablespoon of baking soda with just enough water to achieve a paste-like consistency. This paste acts as a gentle abrasive cleaner for stubborn stains.

Difference 5: Safety

Handle borax carefully. If ingested, it can cause nausea, vomiting, and, in extreme cases, kidney failure. And it’s not just a threat when swallowed. Inhaling borax dust can lead to respiratory issues, like inflammation of your lungs and air passages.

Even skin contact isn’t entirely risk-free, as it can result in rashes and has been linked to reproductive health issues in men. Because of these safety concerns, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) gave it an F rating. The FDA goes one step further by banning it as a direct food additive.

Alternatively, baking soda is much safer. It received an A rating from the EWG and is marked as GRAS — Generally Recognized as Safe — by the FDA.

In fact, it’s a common ingredient in many recipes. But don’t let the “safe” label make you complacent. In large amounts, baking soda can upset your stomach and throw off your body’s acid-base balance, leading to a condition known as alkalosis.

If you’re deciding between borax and baking soda, you’ve got to factor in safety, especially if you have children or pets in your home. Baking soda wins hands down for being user-friendly and safe for most applications, including cooking and cleaning.

While effective for specific cleaning tasks, borax comes with a long list of safety concerns. So, whenever you’re using borax, make sure to read and follow all safety guidelines.

Difference 6: Other Products

Borax is an ingredient in many everyday products. It can be listed as sodium borate, sodium tetraborate, or disodium tetraborate. If you scan the ingredients list and see any of those borate compounds, the product contains borax.

It’s in the formulas of some of the most popular air fresheners, glass cleaners, and laundry detergents, including AirWick, Windex, Cheer, Gain, and Tide.

Baking soda is not just that orange box in your fridge that keeps odors at bay. This powder makes its way into a host of other items.

Laundry detergents, dryer sheets, and scent boosters often contain baking soda. But it doesn’t stop in the laundry room. Ever thought about what’s in your toothpaste? That’s right: baking soda. The same goes for certain types of cat litter, deodorants, and air filters.

Why should you care about this? Understanding the scope of these ingredients can help you make informed decisions.

If you’re avoiding borax due to its safety concerns, you’ll also need to scrutinize other household items. Likewise, if you’re a fan of baking soda’s mildness, you might lean towards products that incorporate it.

Similarities Between Borax and Baking Soda

While borax and baking soda have several distinct differences, they also share many similarities.

Powder Form

Borax and baking soda come in a convenient water-soluble powder form, making them easy to store, measure, and apply. Need a paste for more abrasive cleaning? Mix them with a bit of water. Want a spray solution? Dilute them in a larger amount of water. You can customize the concentration to fit the task at hand.

Multi-Purpose

Both are versatile. Whether boosting your laundry’s cleaning power, scouring grimy surfaces, or keeping your home smelling fresh, you can rely on either of these products.

Alkaline

Another point of commonality is their alkaline nature. That means they’re excellent at neutralizing acidic odors and stains. Got a smelly fridge or a wine spill on the carpet? Borax or baking soda can tackle the issue by balancing the acidity, leaving behind a cleaner, fresher surface.

Easy Accessibility

Both products are readily available. You’ll find borax and baking soda at local grocery stores, big box retailers like Walmart, or discount stores like Dollar Tree and Family Dollar. And both are available on Amazon (borax, Baking Soda).

Bottom Line: Should You Buy Borax or Baking Soda?

Now that you know the differences and similarities between borax and baking soda, it’s time to decide which is right for your home.

Before I give you my recommendation, let’s quickly recap:

  • Composition: Borax is a mineral used for cleaning and repelling insects, while baking soda is a compound ideal for baking and cleaning.
  • How it Works: In laundry, borax’s alkaline nature makes it a powerful stain fighter and bleaching agent, while baking soda is gentler but also effective at cleaning and deodorizing.
  • Uses: Borax is versatile for external uses like laundry and insect control, while baking soda has a range of applications, including food preparation and personal care.
  • How to Use: Borax often needs pre-mixing, while you can use baking soda directly from the box in several situations.
  • Safety: Borax gets an F rating from the EWG and poses greater health risks than baking soda, which has an A rating and is edible in small amounts.

Bottom line — borax and baking soda are both highly effective multi-purpose household cleaners and laundry boosters. But for more household uses, I recommend baking soda. It’s much safer, and you can use it for a range of tasks, from cleaning and cooking to reducing odors and relieving an itch.

While effective, borax’s potent formula comes with more safety risks. So, unless you need a bleaching agent or insect repellent, baking soda is the better option.

Both products are available on Amazon (borax, Baking Soda), where you can compare prices and learn more.

Andrew Palermo Founder of Prudent Reviews

Andrew Palermo - About the Author

Andrew is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Prudent Reviews. He began his career in marketing, managing campaigns for dozens of Fortune 500 brands. In 2018, Andrew founded Prudent Reviews and has since reviewed 600+ products. When he’s not testing the latest cookware, kitchen knives, and appliances, he’s spending time with his family, cooking, and doing house projects. Connect with Andrew via emailLinkedIn, or the Prudent Reviews YouTube channel.

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