Boric acid was first registered in the US as an insecticide in 1948 for control of cockroaches, termites, fire ants, fleas, silverfish, and many other insects. The product is generally considered to be safe to use in household kitchens to control cockroaches and ants. It acts as a stomach poison affecting the insects' metabolism, and the dry powder is abrasive to the insects' exoskeletons. Boric acid also has the reputation as "the gift that keeps on killing" in that roaches that cross over lightly dusted areas do not die immediately, but that the effect is like shards of glass cutting them apart. This often allows a roach to go back to the nest where it soon dies. Cockroaches, being cannibalistic, eat others killed by contact or consumption of boric acid, consuming the powder trapped in the dead roach and killing them, too.
In combination with its use as an insecticide, boric acid also prevents and destroys existing wet and dry rot in timbers. It can be used in combination with an ethylene glycol carrier to treat external wood against fungal and insect attack. It is possible to buy borate-impregnated rods for insertion into wood via drill holes where dampness and moisture is known to collect and sit. It is available in a gel form and injectable paste form for treating rot affected wood without the need to replace the timber. Concentrates of borate-based treatments can be used to prevent slime, mycelium, and algae growth, even in marine environments.
Boric acid is added to salt in the curing of cattle hides, calfskins, and sheepskins. This helps to control bacterial development, and helps to control insects.
Distribution between boric acid and borate ion versus pH assuming pKa = 9.0 (e.g. salt-water swimming pool)
Boric acid predominates in solution below pH 9
Buffer capacity of the boric acid - borate system versus pH assuming pKa = 9.0 (e.g. salt-water swimming pool)
Boric acid buffers against rising pH in swimming pools
Boric acid in equilibrium with its conjugate base the borate ion is widely used (in the concentration range 50 - 100 ppm boron equivalents) as a primary or adjunct pH buffer system in swimming pools. Boric acid is a weak acid, with pKa (the pH at which buffering is strongest because the free acid and borate ion are in equal concentrations) of 9.24 in pure water at 25 °C. But apparent pKa is substantially lower in swimming pool or ocean waters because of interactions with various other molecules in solution. It will be around 9.0 in a salt-water pool. No matter which form of soluble boron is added, within the acceptable range of pH and boron concentration for swimming pools, boric acid is the predominant form in aqueous solution, as shown in the accompanying figure. The boric acid - borate system can be useful as a primary buffer system (substituting for the bicarbonate system with pKa1 = 6.0 and pKa2 = 9.4 under typical salt-water pool conditions) in pools with salt-water chlorine generators that tend to show upward drift in pH from a working range of pH 7.5 - 8.2. Buffer capacity is greater against rising pH (towards the pKa around 9.0), as illustrated in the accompanying graph. The use of boric acid in this concentration range does not allow any reduction in free HOCl concentration needed for pool sanitation, but it may add marginally to the photo-protective effects of cyanuric acid and confer other benefits through anti-corrosive activity or perceived water softness, depending on overall pool solute composition.