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The History Behind Borax


Borax was first discovered in dry lake beds in Tibet, and according to legend, imported to Babylon more than 4,000 years ago. In the 8th century CE (or AD), Arab traders imported borax from Tibet via the Silk Road where goldsmiths used it as a soldering agent and to refine precious metals and ores.


Explorer Marco Polo brought borax back with him from Mongolia, where it was used for centuries in the manufacture of stain-resistant porcelain glazes.


In the 15th century borax was widely imported to Europe for glassmaking. It was used 300 years before that in China to help glass endure extreme temperatures without cracking. It was also used in glazing and ceramics. However, the price was far too high for general use. In the 19th century, new borate deposits were found in Italy, Turkey, and towards the end of the 19th century, the Americas. This is when borates became available and affordable enough for general use.


(Heritage photography is provided courtesy of Rio Tinto Minerals)