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Uses of Borates in Detergents & Cleaners


During the Egyptian era (1,500 B.C.), various vegetable and animal oils that included alkaline salts to form a soap material was used for skin and washing. These basic soaps were the laundry detergent for ancient times.

Detergents as we know them today came into their own at the beginning of the 20th Century and particularly during World War I when there was a shortage of soap.

These laundry cleaners were called synthetic detergents due to the fact that they contained no soap.  These detergents contained among others raw materials such as surfactants that were able to clean clothes much better than soap.  It was also a time when laundry machines began to be developed.

Household detergent use did not begin to expand until the 1930s and accelerated after World War II when detergent applications needed to expand from just cleaning finer fabrics to any type of textile fabrics.  It was not until the early 1950s that these synthetic detergents surpassed soap as a cleaning compound for fabric.  Since then, numerous changes to the formulations for both powdered and liquid detergents have produced very effective cleaning systems.

Borate use in the world of cleaning can be traced back to Death Valley Days and the emergence of 20 Mule Team Borax brand in the late 1880s and 90s.  This came about when Francis Marion Smith who owned Pacific Coast Borax Company distributed this borax brand across the country and abroad.  This brand found use in laundry care items and as a supplement for soap and later synthetic detergents.  From there the benefits of borates grew to numerous applications.

As innovative formulators look for alternative to replace higher priced organic compounds, inorganic borates in detergents have a well-established history of providing improved performance value for laundry detergent and cleaning compounds.

Borate Benefits

  • Active oxygen bleaching (Perborate)
  • Non oxygen bleaching – electrostatic repulsion
  • Enhanced surfactant performance
  • Enzyme stabilization
  • Improved alkaline buffering
  • Improved stain removal
  • Lipid (fats & oils) emulsifier action
  • Viscosity or rheology control
  • Water softening


Today’s detergent formulations, both solid and liquid, contain several additives. Some of the main components are builders, enzymes, surfactants and bleach compounds.  The uses of borates in detergents is well established.


These are typically water softeners that will remove hard water calcium ions by reacting with or precipitating out calcium.  Typical builders are sodium carbonate, soap and zeolites.  Another builder having very good cleaning action is Sodium triphosphate, but environmental concerns have limited its use. Borates have a mild builder function and can be considered in the following chemistries.

  • Pigment soil removal –  Borates provide repulsive forces in the wash water after the soil is removed from the fabric by creating negative charges on the soil particles, which helps to prevent re-deposition on fabric.
  • Water Hardness – Borates can solubilize some of the calcium ions in the wash water to remove the detrimental effects that calcium can have in the wash water by forming in-situ soluble calcium borates which actually improves cleaning action.
  • Alkaline Buffering – Borates provide a pH range of 9.0 – 10.5 in the wash water which is important for detergent builders.
  • Fats and Oil Removal – Borates provide an emulsification process due to the alkalinity they bring to the wash water and fabrics.  This can offer a saponification of the fats found on fabrics and provide subsequent breakdown of interfacial tensions by the alkaline hydrolysis of fatty acid esters.  This chemistry produces a soap type compound in-situ in the wash water providing further cleaning value.


The use of enzymes, {i.e. amylase (carbohydrate stains), protease (protein stains), lipase (fats & greases), etc.} provide cleaning value, particularly for liquid detergents, to remove these unwanted stains and discoloration.  However, they require some stabilization which borates bring to these formulations.


Surfactants are compounds that reduce the surface tension between two liquids or between a liquid and a solid.  Common surfactants use sodium dodecylbenzenesulfonate, an organic colorless salt.  Calcium from hard water sources has a great affinity for surfactants and prevents them from working properly in the wash water.  Borates provide a mild builder function by reacting with the calcium to form calcium borate as mentioned above.  With this chemistry surfactants are allowed to perform better.


Most bleach compounds today are oxidizers and take the form of Sodium carbonate and sodium perborate.  Other oxidizers include Sodium hypochlorite which is much more aggressive on clothes.  These bleach compounds target laundries whose spots containing chlorophylls, dyes, tannin and other pigments that can stain clothing.

Other additives include

Foam stabilizers, viscosity modifiers, corrosion inhibitors, antideposition agents, dye transfer inhibitors, optical brighteners, colorants, fabric softeners and perfumes all help to complete the total detergent package.

As high efficiency laundry machines reduce water requirements and detergents the trend today is toward higher concentrated liquid detergents.  Borates continue to be represented by major manufacturers globally, particularly in liquid detergents.

More Uses of Borates in Detergents & Cleaners

Borated Laundry Detergents

Borates offer value to both consumer and commercial laundry detergents formulations.  This includes powdered detergents either in its refined form as sodium borate (Borax 10 Mol & Etibor 48 – Borax 5 Mol) or as an additive in sodium perborate, used for its oxygen bleaching value. 

Borates (including boric acid) continue this value by offering enhanced enzyme stabilization that will allow enzymes in liquid detergents to remove stains.

Borated Cleaning Compounds

Many of the same borate benefits offered in laundry detergents can find value in general cleaning compounds.  Manufacturers offering cleaning compounds continue to require improved cleaning performance while keeping costs down.  Borates (Borax 10 Mol & Etibor 48 – Borax 5 Mol) including Boric acid, again bring value to these products used in bathrooms, kitchens and general cleaning applications. 

Specific areas include dishwashing detergents, hard surface cleaners, glass cleaners, liquid and powdered hand soaps, metal cleaning and in selected areas detergent bar soap applications where enzyme stabilization is required. 

Many of the benefits offered above can be found in these hard surface cleaners, both consumer plus industrial and institutional versions.

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