A few weeks ago, I kicked off my first “Back to basics” post — monthly features that celebrate old-school, natural household products — with Bon Ami 1886 Formula Cleaning Powder. This month, I’m looking at 20 Mule Team Borax, a multipurpose household cleaner and laundry additive that’s just a smidge younger than Bon Ami.

20 Mule Team Borax was established in 1891 and named after the 18-mule and 2-horse teams that hauled borax — a naturally occurring mineral composed of sodium, boron, oxygen and water — in giant wagons out of Death Valley and to the nearest railway spurs in the 1880s. 

It must be said that borax mining, like any other mining operation, scars Mother Nature, generates massive amounts of pollution, and displaces wildlife populations among other things. However, as pointed out by The Daily Green, major borax mining company Rio Tinto boasts a strong environmental stewardship track record.

Now that that caveat is out of the way, here’s how using 20 Mule Team Borax around the house is green: since the product consists of 99.5 percent pure, naturally occurring borax (sodium tetraborate decahydrate) there’s no synthetic, manmade chems involved at all … no bleach, fragrance, colors, or other additives make it into the box. But as low-toxicity as borax may be, it is still not nontoxic, so treat it like you would any other cleaning product and don't feed it to your cat or add half a box of it to your bath.

20 Mule Team Borax is renowned, like baking soda, for its versatility so a single box can go a long way. Most folks know it as a laundry additive that helps detergent do its thing and naturally softens hard water resulting in fresher, longer-lasting clothing. It’s also an effective multipurpose household cleaner that cleans and deodorizes various surfaces like carpets, bathroom tiles, kitchen countertops and more. It’s even good in drains and is used in arts and crafts projects like flowering preserving and candle making.  

20 Mule Team Borax is available at most major supermarkets, drugstores and home improvement stores (try the laundry section before the cleaning section) in 76-ounce boxes for under $10. For more info about the history of borax mining in Death Valley, check out this fascinating article

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