We wanted to take a moment to proactively address the grade we received on EWG for our Natural Laundry Detergent and Natural Stain Remover. The reason the grades are poor is due to one ingredient, Borax (sodium borate). Yes, the same ingredient used in the 20 Mule Team Borax Detergent Booster that has been on the market since 1890. Please allow us to clarify.
First, the use of borax in our products represents less than 1% of the formula. This is something which EWG does not take into account. They treat the overall rating as if the ingredients are distributed at equal portions. There are only 19 ingredients in our formula which is why it is weighed down by the borax listing. They do not weigh the scores by concentration of each ingredient due to trade secret reasons. If they did this, the scores would be much different. We’ve offered to provide our confidential formula for review and consideration while grading. They declined our offer.
Second, the data which EWG uses to rate borax is the same as the data they use for boric acid. These are two completely different compounds with different Chemical Abstract Services Registry Numbers (CAS #). By definition, they are two separate substances. However, EWG chooses to lump them into one listing. You may be able to find two listings but our inquiries show that they pull from the same data for both listings. Borax is the basic mineral that is mined from the ground and it is then refined through heavy processing and reacted with an acid to create boric acid. Borax (what we use) is intended for use in laundry cleaners, soaps, and other topical cleaners. It is not designed or labeled to be used as a pesticide. Boric acid can be toxic if ingested and is primarily used as a pesticide and insecticide. Here is an excellent resource on the differences between the two compounds which was written by a person with a PhD in Chemistry.
Third, the two products which contain borax are not used on skin. They are both laundry products with dispensing mechanisms that allow you to never touch the solution. They are also completely rinsed away from clothing in the rinse cycle leaving no residual formula behind.
Fourth, our SDS (formerly called MSDS: Material Safety Data Sheet) supports a low overall risk to your health (Scale of 0 (no hazard) – 4 (high hazard), ours is a 1 or 2). This SDS is prepared by our chemists and serves as a crucial document to identify any product hazards. This document DOES evaluate the ingredients at the exact concentrations used in the final formula. The SDS for borax in 100% concentration specifically gives the same hazard rating of “1” which is the same as that for table salt.
There are potential health risks involved in using nearly any ingredient, natural or not. The way in which an ingredient is used and the purpose it serves in a formula are factors that are not considered in the EWG Database score. For instance, most of the research that we have found regarding the human toxicity of borax/boric acid applies to ingesting large amounts of the powder, and the exact amount is only estimated, not known. This would be an impossible feat to replicate with our liquid laundry detergent and stain remover (remember, less than 1% of borax in the formula by volume and not in powder form). Furthermore, the bulk of their research is based on animal testing, with cruel trials stretching out over time in highly unlikely dosages and types of exposure. Additionally, these studies included the use of boric acid. Again, this is not the same thing as borax.
In our formula, borax is not used as a cleaning agent. It is used as a stabilizer for the enzymes. The enzymes are the superstars of our laundry products and the reason they remove stains and odors so well. The enzymes have favorable ratings on EWG. However, the enzymes need to remain stable in the formula. In layman’s terms, the borax helps to extend the overall shelf life of the product.
Given the EWG score of “F” for borax, any laundry detergent which contains enzymes requires borax or boric acid to stabilize them. The only other natural option is Formic Acid. On paper, the hazard data is arguably worse for that ingredient. It is also less effective at stabilizing enzymes which means it would require more by volume. Therefore, any laundry detergent, stain remover, or cleaner which contains enzymes will get a “D” or “F” score on EWG simply because of the presence of borax, boric acid, or formic acid.
According to About.com Laundry Expert, Mary Marlowe, the concentration of enzymes has a direct effect on how well the laundry product will perform. To break that down, a laundry product without enzymes is inferior at cleaning and stain removal. Any laundry product with enzymes is more effective and will contain borax, boric acid, or formic acid.
If you take a look at the other ingredients by clicking on the EWG link for the respective product, you will see they are mostly A’s and B’s with a couple of C’s. We feel the products would rate at a “B” if measured correctly (by concentration of each ingredient with context for how it is used). In this case, it is best to refer to the SDS for the specific product. This can be supplied upon request.
We hope that this information provides clarity and eases your concern. If you have any questions, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.