We were shocked recently to read a veterinarian’s DIY “all natural” solution to kill fleas in a home. She recommend sprinkling borax on couches, carpet, chairs, and anywhere there was a flea problem. What caused this educated professional to give such very bad advice? Sloppy research. The internet is full of really bad advice, especially when it comes to “harmless home remedies.” Borax does not kill fleas. Sprinkling borax willy-nilly around a house is not harmless, particular if one has pets or small children. Ready for a well researched answer to the borax question? Read on.
First, let’s use words carefully: Boron is a naturally occurring element that is mined and processed into-
–Borax (sodium tetraborate decahydrate), a water soluble laundry booster, and
–Boric Acid, an ingredient in pest control products
Borax and boric acid come from the same element, but have different properties.
Second, the words “naturally occurring” apply equally to boron as to uranium and asbestos–other naturally occurring elements. “All Natural” and “Naturally Occurring” do not mean non-toxic. While boron is in a totally different toxicity class than asbestos and uranium, the comparison is made to help you avoid the trap of unscrupulous marketeers who use the phrase “all natural” as a synonym for “good or healthful.”
The Facts About Borax
Borax powder has low toxicity to humans. It is in fact, a really good laundry booster and does a fabulous job of cleaning sinks and tubs. Many of our staff regularly use borax powder diluted in water as recommended by the manufacturer and listed on the box: as a laundry booster and general cleansing agent. While low in toxicity to humans, borax powder should not be inhaled, ingested, or left in contact with the skin or eyes. According to the CDC, borax exposure may cause irritation of the skin, eyes and respiratory tract, and nose bleeds and breathing difficulty. Ingestion of borax powder is associated with nausea, abdominal pain, and diarrhea. The International Chemical Safety Card for borax specifically recommends preventing the dispersion of borax dust and that pregnant women especially should avoid exposure.
Knowing this, why would anyone think that sprinkling borax powder around the house is a good idea? No one should breathe this stuff! Yet, that’s exactly what pets will do when snuffling around a borax dusted house. Children may also accidentally inhale borax powder and become ill. The only organisms that borax powder won’t bother are insects. Borax powder will not dehydrate insects, nor will insects willingly eat borax powder–that’s plain silly.
Keep borax powder, where it belongs…in the laundry room. Use it as directed, always diluted with water or made into a paste.
More Facts, Less Confusion about Boric Acid
Recall when we said to use words carefully? Many of the misconceptions about borax as an insecticide come from the fact that both borax and boric acid are derived from the same element, boron. However these chemicals have different properties. Boric acid and sodium borate salts are active ingredients in pesticides. They are harmful to pests and are ingredients in many baits and other pest control products. In baits, boric acid is combined with other ingredients that insects find tasty. Boric acid acts as a stomach poison and may also have some toxic effects on the nervous system of insects. In addition to being stomach poisons, most borate salts are also abrasive to insect exoskeletons.
The boric acid technical fact sheet from the National Pesticide Information Center states:
Acute ingestion of boric acid or borate salts in humans has rarely led to severe toxicity. Commonly reported symptoms include nausea, vomiting (often with blue-green coloration), abdominal pain and diarrhea (which may contain blood or have a blue-green color). Other less commonly reported symptoms include headaches, lethargy, weakness, restlessness, tremors, unconsciousness, respiratory depression, kidney failure, shock and death.
In other words, don’t eat products containing boric acid and keep them out of reach of children and pets. Boric acid is categorized as having low toxicity to humans, but it can still make you sick. Always follow the label when using products containing boric acid or any other pesticide. Remember, if a product isn’t toxic, it won’t kill pests! So if you want to kill fleas, ants, cockroaches or other pests you will need toxic products. Use as directed to protect yourself and your family.
Cockroach feeding on bait containing boric acid
It was difficult to film a cockroach feeding on bait containing boric acid because Thrasher Termite & Pest Control technicians applied the bait in an area inaccessible to children and pets… and cameras!