It’s not a surprise that chemicals are an important part of our lives, but it may be surprising to learn all the unknown ways that various chemicals impact your day. One chemical that this is particularly true of is Boric Acid. While borate salts was used by the ancient Greeks to preserve food, boric acid was officially discovered in 1702 by a man named Wilhelm Homberg when he mixed borax with water and let that evaporate, leaving crystals of dried boric acid.
What is Boric Acid used for?
The first discovered use of boric acid was as an antiseptic due to it being a mild acid that inhibited the growth of microorganisms. It is still used today as a mild antiseptic for burns and cuts, and is found in pharmaceutical products such as baby powder, medicated powder, eye wash, ear drops, and contact lens cleaner.
Dried boric acid is also commonly used as an insecticide as a safe household insect killer. It kills insects by poisoning their metabolism as well as abrading their exoskeleton and sticking to them, causing other insects who come in contact with it to be poisoned as well.
The largest use of boric acid is in the production of fiberglass to help reduce melting temperatures and increases strength and efficiency of the final fiberglass fibers. Boric acid is also used in the production of borosilicate glass for the same reason; the boric acid makes the glass resistant to temperature changes and acids. Borosilicate glass is used in cookware, scientific glassware, fluorescent tubes, fiber optics, LCD screens, and pharmaceuticals.
Boric acid has flame retardant properties for cellulose materials, so it is often added to furniture, mattresses, insulation, and paper based building products. Some plastics or textiles are also coated with boric acid to increase flame resistance.
While experimenting to find new ways to make rubber during WWII a chemist added boric acid to silicone oil. The resulting rubber like material did not find use in any military application, but did go on to become the best selling toy of Silly Putty.