Borax has been mined commercially in the U.S. since all the way back in the early 1800s. It’s a mineral – actually, a salt of boric acid – that comes in several forms, namely sodium borate, sodium tetraborate, and disodium tetraborate. The common forms differ in their crystal water content.
Second only in Mohs scale hardiness to pure diamonds, boron compounds were first believe to be used by the Babylonians and Egyptians. They’re still one of the most important chemical compounds in the world.
How is Borax Mined?
The United States is today the largest producer of borax compounds. It’s a natural evaporate found in dry lake beds from Turkey to Chile to Romania, though Boron, California is responsible for mining over half the world’s supply. It’s best collected using an open-mouth mining method since blasting, shoveling, and hauling are required.
What is Borax Used For?
Commercially, borax is most commonly used in cleaning applications. It’s long been an active ingredient in household laundry detergents and is used in everything from hand soap to outdoor furniture cleaner to toilet bowl sanitizer. Borax is inexpensive and readily available making it perfect for household applications.
Although borax has a reputation for its cleaning prowess, it’s good for dozens of other residential applications. It’s a powerful pest deterrent, a necessary trace mineral for gardens, and even an effective ingredient in many over-the-counter teeth whiteners.
Boron is also useful in glass and ceramics and is a critical component in Pyrex baking dishes. Its compounds are used to strengthen cellphone and LCD screens, keeping them from warping at high temperatures. Across the board, boron compounds are used in everything from fertilizers to batteries to cosmetics, and more.
Boron as a Chemical Agent
Sodium borate is an important buffer compound used in biochemical and chemical laboratories worldwide. Allowing for maintained pH levels, sodium borate is used in a variety of DNA and hemoglobin-related trials. Borax can also be used as a chemical water softening agent, as a flux for welding steel and iron, and as a food additive in a small number of countries.
Borax is one of the most widely used chemical compounds produce in the U.S. Though its heyday as a household mainstay may be over, it’s still a critical element in dozens of mass produced, widely heralded products from soap to screens worldwide.
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