The claim: Drinking borax can help with health problems, such as joint pain and kidney stones
A July 18 Facebook post (direct link, archived link) shows a TikTok video where a woman touts the supposed health benefits of ingesting borax, a household cleaner.
“I’ve been using it for probably over two months now, and I have seen a drastic reduction in my joint pain, not to mention it’s believed that it can help break down kidney stones,” the woman says in the video.
She also claims the substance can help with chronic fatigue, improve sleep and boost testosterone levels in men.
It was shared more than 400 times in nine days.
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Our rating: False
Borax can be harmful or even fatal if swallowed, and there’s no proof it has any health benefits, experts say. The FDA banned it as a food additive, and a popular maker of a detergent containing the substance warns people not to ingest it or use it as a personal care product or dietary supplement.
‘Your skin can actually fall off’
Experts say they have no evidence that borax can help people’s health problems – but plenty of proof that it can be harmful.
“It does cause human health harm when it’s exposed to the skin or when it’s swallowed,” said Dr. Kelly Johnson-Arbor, the interim executive director of the National Capital Poison Center in Washington. “But we don’t have any proven, beneficial effects of borax.”
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Borax is a chemical found in some household cleaners. It and boric acid – an ingredient in ant and roach killers – belong to a family of substances called borates, Johnson-Arbor said.
While boric acid is more toxic than its chemical cousin, researchers say 10 grams of borax in adults – and just 5 grams in children – can be fatal.
Ingesting either of them also may cause nausea, vomiting, stomach aches and bowel problems, Johnson-Arbor said. Applying it to the skin can cause irritation, peeling and redness so severe that it is called the “boiled lobster” rash, experts say.
“Your skin can actually fall off from that, so it can be really dangerous to mess with,” said Kaitlyn Brown, the clinical managing director of America’s Poison Centers.
Experts: Confusion between borax, boron
The FDA says it is illegal to include borax in food, and 20 Team Mule Borax – a leading brand of the cleaner that contains the chemical – instructs people not to use it outside its recommended purposes as a laundry booster or a multi-purpose cleaner. The company specifically says not to bathe in it, apply it to the skin or ingest it.
Brown says it’s likely some people confuse the borax chemical compound with boron, an element found in fruits and nuts. Borax is produced by combining boron with sodium, hydrogen and oxygen.
Boron can be found in some dietary supplements, and Johnson-Arbor says studies on animals and in labs hinted at a possible correlation with improved bone health.
But Johnson-Arbor says the few studies of boron’s effect on humans have been “very small” and “certainly not studies that could be used to make sweeping determinations that boron has any benefit on human health.”
And experts consistently say the results produced by studies in labs are not always the same as those observed in clinical trials in people.
The National Institutes of Health says boron is not an essential nutrient for people. It sets the daily maximum intake for adults at about 20 milligrams – the amount found in about 14 cups of prune juice, 25 peaches or 30 apples.
“We have very limited evidence about the effects of boron,” Johnson-Arbor said. “We don’t have a proven, recommended daily amount that is necessary for human life.”
USA TODAY reached out to both the user who shared the video and the TikTok user who initially posted it but did not immediately receive responses from either.
The Associated Press and PolitiFact also debunked the claim.
Our fact-check sources:
Dr. Kelly Johnson-Arbor, July 28, Phone interview with USA TODAY
Kaitlyn Brown, July 28, Phone interview with USA TODAY
Jill Michels, July 28, Phone interview with USA TODAY
FDA, Aug. 25, 2022, Food Additive Status List
National Institutes of Health, Jan. 15, 2021, Boron
National Institutes of Health, June 9, 2022, Boron
Healthline, June 19, Is Borax Toxic?
Journal of Trace Elements in Medicine and Biology, December 2020, Pivotal role of boron supplementation on bone health: A narrative review
Clinical Toxicology, March 12, 2009, “Boiled lobster” rash of acute boric acid toxicity
20 Mule Team Borax, accessed July 28, Safety Information
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Borax is toxic, not a substitute for boron | Fact check