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768px-Borax crystals.jpgBorax structure.png
Systematic name Sodium tetraborate decahydrate
Other names sodium borate

sodium tetraborate
disodium tetraborate

Molecular formula Na2B4O7·10H2O or


Molar mass Molar mass::381.37 g/mol
Appearance white solid
CAS number [[CAS number::1330-43-4 (anhydrous)

1303-96-4 (decahydrate) ]]

Density and phase Density::1.73 g/cm³ (solid)
Solubility in water 60 g/L (20°C)
Melting point Melting point::741°C
Boiling point Boiling point::1575 °C
MSDS Material safety data sheet
NFPA 704

NFPA 704 svg.png

Flash point Non-flammable
R/S statement R: 62
S: 36/37
Related compounds
Other anions Sodium aluminate
Sodium gallate
Other cations Potassium tetraborate
Related compounds Boric acid
Sodium perborate
Except where noted otherwise, data are given for
materials in their standard state (at 25 °C, 100 kPa)
Disclaimer and references

Borax, or Sodium tetraborate decahydrate, is a mineral found in evaporated saline lakes. It is a member of the subclass of borates. First used long ago for mummy preservation, it now has numerous capabilities as a major human resource from household cleaning supplies to an element in rocket fuels. Though mostly seen in its white, chalky state, if found in its natural state it will have a more translucent appearance.


Borax is a white or clear mineral of the borate subclass classification. [1] The chalky white property is due to a chemical reaction through dehydration, and may contain a brown, yellow, or green tint. [2] It has a vitreous luster and a transparent to translucent appearance. When struck against another object or rubbed against a surface, it will produce a white streak. When tasted it is depicted as having a sweet alkaline taste. [3] Although it is not violently toxic, it may cause some reactions and irritate the skin. Any quantity of ingestion is not recommended; even a modicum amount is not beneficial to a human body’s health. [4] It is easily soluble in water and dissolves in other elements such as: copper, chromium, cobalt, iron, nickel, and uranium. It also has the ability to fuse at low temperatures. [5]

When borax is dehydrated from its natural state it becomes known as tincalconite. Once it is refined and broken down, the mineral will be mixed with water and a catalyst will be used to aid in its dissolving process. When the solution is mixed with sulfuric acid, boric acid will form. Boric acid is used for cleaning, preservation, solutions for eye irritations, and a mild antiseptic. [6]

The inner structure of borax is made up of chains bonding together. Interlocking together are BO2(OH) triangles and BO3(OH) tetrahedrons that bond with chains of sodium and water octahedrons. [7] It crystallizes in a monoclinic system, which is one of six crystal systems to be characterized by a single, two-fold symmetry axis or a single symmetry plane. Their crystals are clear to translucent, as well as their crystalline aggregates.[8]


Salt pools evaporating in Death Valley, California.

Borax is found in playa lakes and evaporated deposits. Playas are arid regions where the evaporation of water causes the formation of lakes to be sporadic throughout the year. They form from the runoff water coming down from the neighboring mountains during the rainy season, and dry up during the off season. This runoff water is found to be rich in boron and highly concentrated because of evaporation. It is when the concentration becomes increasingly high that the formations of borax and boron minerals take place. [9] Boron must combine with another substance because it cannot exist by itself; it will form boric acid and other inorganic salts, or borates. Borax is a form of hydrous sodium borate and a byproduct of borate deposit mining. When found in its natural state, borax has a water logged structure which gives off a translucent appearance. As the water evaporates and dehydrates, it will develop a white powder on its surface. [10] Boron salts are soluble compounds that are pumped up through mining, processed, and refined by a fractional crystallization process called ‘Troma process’. It then undergoes a process by dissolving crude excess material in hot water under pressure. As the insoluble impurities are washed off, the liquor crystallizes to form borax. Borax can also be formed through another process. Ulexite and colemanite must first form boric acid. The boric acid will then be mixed with a soda ash solution, from the colemanite. To do this the boiling mineral will be in a sodium carbonate solution for three hours, from there it must be filtered, and then it will crystallize into a crude borax structure. [11]

The major deposits are found in Trona, Boron, and Death Valley in California, U.S., and in the Andes Mountains in South America. [12] Borax is also found in the Ricardo formations in California. These formations are around 456 m thick on top of Saddleback lava and under conglomerate and alluvium that is 91 m thick. The Ricardo formations are made up of footwall shale, blue shale, and shale. The Kramer district in California holds the largest borax and kernite deposits in the world. The U.S.A. is accountable for 90-95% of all the borates the world produces. The other 5-10% comes from places such as Turkey, Italy, Tibet, Chile, Argentina, Bolivia, and USSR. [13]


The subclass of borates has qualities that allow them to function in a variety of ways in different appliances. Borax and boric acid are both used in many things such as: food preservation, detergents and soap, electroplating, fluxes, the glass industry, ceramic glasses, enamels, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, pesticides, refractories, and textiles. The number one consumer of these are the glass and porcelain businesses taking 50% of all production. The ratio of borax to glass-sand in a batch is 15-50:1000. Together they manufacture boro-silicate that is used in heat-resisting glass, glass fibers, optical, industrial, and other glass. It is a key component because of its low alkali content and as a flux. [14]

Borax alone is used in many different products such as: medicine, like boric powder, leather processing, adhesive manufacture, corrosion inhibition, fertilizers with a boron deficiency, ferrous wire manufactures, flame proofing, weed killers, and timber preservation. In the manufacturing of artificial gems it is used as a flux. These gems are given equal durability to diamonds, but gain a higher heat resistance because of cubic boron nitride, or borazon. It is also used in gold and silver refinement. During these current times, borax has the potential to become an additive to be used in rocket fuels. [15] In laboratories borax may be used as a buffer in chemical reactions because it is a non-reactive base, which will maintain stability in chemical solutions. [16] Since the early forties it was a major component in industrial applications. Borax is one of the most significant boron minerals out of a known 60 in industrial uses. The top four commercial borates are: borax (hydrated sodium borate), kernite (hydrated sodium borate), colemanite (hydrated calcium borate), and ulexite (hydrated sodium calcium borate). [17]


Borax was used to preserve mummies in Egypt.
20 Mule Team Wagon was one of the first major producers of borax.

The name ‘borax’ originates from the Persian word ‘burak’; this reference was used for both borax and borate salts in the Middle East. It was later picked up by the Romans, which was then implemented by the Middle English language. Back before its use was widespread for many different things, borax was mainly used in preserving food and mummies. In China, its main purpose was to be made for pottery glaze and cleaning material, of which it is still used today. In Medieval Europe, it was utilized as a flux in soldering which meant it would scour the metal before it would be welded together. [18]

Although the use of borax was exercised greatly in history, it wasn’t until 1872, that the actual borax mineral was discovered. The detection of cotton ball ulexite by Frances Marion Smith was what initiated the first major production of borax. This was found in the playa of Teel’s Marsh. By 1880, Death Valley also became a major cotton ball source. A significant business producer at the time was William Tell Coleman’s operation of Harmony borax works. His company would later become associated with the big name brand, 20 Mule Team Wagons. The excitement of borax soon came to a slow halt when the discovery of colemanite ended the Playa period. [19]

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