Ask Your Questions About Toxic Free Living
and Get Answers From Me and My Readers
I've been doing this Q&A blog for about ten years, so there are literally thousands of questions and answers here. If you've got a question, there's probably an answer, and if there isn't post a question of your own. It's free.
Question from Noel
Hi, I am working with Homelab, thanks for the referral.
How did you manage to get such low results????
It would be really interesting to hear how you were able to make your home air so clean.
First I want to say that HomeLab has updated their cell phone app that shows your air quality readings. Nate said many of the improvements came from me and my readers!
You can now see immediately a number next to the red, yellow and green buttons and the graphs now easily show your history across time. Yay! I love this!
But here’s something REALLY COOL.
The graphs now show the pollutant levels on the graphs as green (OK), yellow (caution) or red (dangerous). Before this change I saw I was getting spike but I didn’t realize they were in the danger zone.
You can also look at the exact time of the spike. Mine happen at dinnertime (when I am cooking) and around midnight (don’t know why). I can actually see now that cooking on my gas stove is pouring VOCs into my home and I really DO need to use the hood fan. Wow. I’m going to experiment with this.
I’m looking at my app right now and Noel’s screenshot from 8/15.
Particulates 6.88 6.5
VOCS 337 194
CO2 1218 701
Humidity 56 42
So our particulates are about the same. my VOCs are about 1/3 lower, my carbon dioxide is almost half, and humidity is just a little less.
Let’s start with the CO2. Carbon dioxide is measured as an indicator that ventilation systems are delivering the recommended minimum quantities of outside air to the building’s occupants. Since mine is in the “green” zone, my HVAC is giving the right amount of air exchanges. If your CO2 is too high, you wouldn’t be getting enough ventilation and levels of air pollutants would build up to higher concentrations in your home.
The area of indoor air quality I am most concerned about is VOCs.
I will say that my home has very low VOCs for these reasons:
- I have hardwood floors instead of carpet.
- I have very little plastic in my house.
- I have zero materials that emit formaldehyde (such as particleboard). All my wood is solid wood.
- My water is filtered, so no VOCs from running shower water.
- No toxic cleaning product or pesticides.
- Nothing scented—ever.
And all the other things I’m writing about all the time.
Now I just need to figure out those spikes and my graph will be green, green, green. [I think it’s combustion by-products from my gas stove, but haven’t had time to test this assumption. Note, however, it’s a spike, and pollutant levels go right down when I’m not doing whatever is causing it.]
If you want to sign up for HomeLab and get one of these affordable monitors, click here: HomeLab.
Question from Katie
Glad to be able to ask advice on nontoxic glue for a patch job. We had to remove several planks of engineered hardwood flooring in front of our back sliding door. We will be putting down new planks but I am concerned about fumes from the glue.(I will outgas the new planks…)
I read on your site that you recommend. Titebond II yellow glue for this. We are on a concrete slab.
Our handyman looked into it and thinks Titebond 771 would be better.
What would you recommend? I am very chemically sensitive.
Thank you for your help.
No, I wouldn’t recommend Titlebond 771.
Here is the SDS for Titebond II
Here is the SDS for Titebond 771
Notice that 771 says “: This material is considered hazardous by the OSHA Hazard Communication Standard (29 CFR 1910.1200).”
!! says “this material is not considered hazardous by the OSHA Hazard Communication Standard (29 CFR 1910.”
I am confident Titebond !! will do the job. I’ve used it to attach wood to concrete with no problem.
Last week I had an interesting experience on a private Facebook group I belong to.
A pregnant woman with a 1 1/2-year-old posted that she had just moved into here new house the day after renovations were done and she could still smell new paint, floor adhesive and lacquer. She was trying to “get these toxins out of the house FAST!”
Given that this is a private group and anyone can post on any subject, she got quite a few well-intended recommendations. They were not, however, the correct actions to take to remove volatile chemical gasses from her home.
Here are some of the suggestions (and my comment on them on the indent lines after each comment):
- I have a floor fan you can use.
- Do a wipe down with vinegar and water.
This will do nothing for paint fumes.
- Leave all windows open so fumes can vent out of the house. Can also put 2 or 3 box fans in windows on one side of house in open windows drawing air OUT of the house. This will pull in fresh air from the remaining open windows. You need to let the fumes escape from the walls and flooring, and then be vented out of the house. It may take some time.
Ventilation is always good, but in this case what is needed is to accelerate the release of the VOCs in the paints and adhesives.
- Place bowls of baking soda with lemon squeezed on top (leave the lemons in the bowl too) around the house.
Baking soda does remove odors, but not specifically paint fumes.
- Take big bowls full of ammonia and place them in every room, shut the door, it absorbs the smells.
This may remove odors, but ammonia itself is a toxic chemical and will not remove toxic gasses.
- Buy an air purifier from Target for around $100.
Air filters sold at Target and other such stores do NOT remove paint fumes and other VOCs. They are designed to remove particles such as dust and pollen, which are larger than chemical gasses.
- There are a number of plants that remove toxins from the air , floors etc and then give you fresh air. You can google the list. I believe there are about 12 different ones you can choose from.
Plants are not adequate to handle the toxic chemical gasses in this home. You would need hundreds of plants. I did the math once on this to see if I could recommend this instead of air filters. Not in a situation like this. A 9×12-foot room with an 8-foot ceiling is 864 cubic fee, so you would need 72 plants to duplicate the results from Wolverton labs—a virtual jungle!
Here’s what to do in a situation like this:
- Get yourself and your family out of the house. Find somewhere else to stay until you have handled the toxic exposure.
- Close the windows and “bake” the house. Follow the instructions at QA: Intructions to “Bake Out Toxic Fumes
- Get an air filter that removes toxic gasses. The best air filter I know of for removing toxic fumes from an area fast is the EnviroKlenz Mobile Unit.
Of course it’s always best to paint with a zero-VOC paint to begin with.
Last week I finally changed my HVAC filter and it made so much difference that I had to tell you about this.
Just to be clear, an HVAC filter removes dust and other particles from the air. It has nothing to do with removing toxic gasses (for toxic gasses you need something like the EnviroKlenz HVAC filter. The purpose of the particle filter is to remove particles so they don’t clog up the HVAC.
HVAC particle filters are designed to last for three months, and then you need to change them. I was one month overdue because I can’t climb up there and change it myself. I need to get someone else to do it.
When we took the filter out, it had a lot of dust buildup all over it.
What was amazing to me was how much BETTER the air conditioning worked after the filter was changed!
I leave my A/C on 72 degrees. With the new filter, it was way too cold. I now have my A/C set to 74 degrees and am entirely comfortable. A new filter made that much difference.
I’ll save more than the cost of the filter this month on my power bill, and create fewer air pollution emissions from the generation of electricity to keep the air cool.
Now I want to give you a tip too about choosing a dust filter for your HVAC.
I chose a Honeywell Allergy Plus Air Filter, which I purchased at my local Home Depot.
All HVAC filters have a rating that tells you how much they will filer from the air.
Here is the rating from the filter I purchased. I like this label because it clearly shows that as you move up the ratings the filter removes more volume of particles and more different types of particles.
I bought a 7 because it removes more than 4, and they didn’t have any 9 or 10s on the shelf.
What you want to look for is a MERV rating or an FPR. The difference is:
- MERV is a universal industry rating
- FPR is a made up rating by the manufacturer.
- MERV 8 is considered the best choice to protect your HVAC without spending more money than you need to. FPR 7-9 is equivalent to MERV 8.
If you think ahead, you can order a box of four filters online and save money. And you’ll be good for a year.
Filters are supposed to last 90 days, but not every day is the same. If you’re not running your HVAC, you don’t need to change the filter. Check it every 90 days. If it’s grey, change it. If it’s still white, let it go a little longer.
But changing your filter at the right time DOES make a difference in your power bill and pollution. So pay attention and change your filter when it needs to be changed.
Question from Carol
I’ve been using melamine for dinner plates, but I worry that they’re toxic. I have a 2 1/2 year old daughter. I need a lightweight plate because I have RSI and some disc trouble. What would you recommend? I couldn’t find anything through Google search.
I think what you want is enamelware. It’s steel with a baked-on enamel coating, which is basically glass. It’s the dinnerware you take camping, but now it’s in a lot of stylish colors and patterns.
You can also just search on your favorite search engine for “enamel dinnerware.”
Some people are concerned about heavy metals in enamel. So before you buy, contact the manufacturer and ask if there are heavy metals in the enamel. You can check for yourself with a Lead Check kit.
From West Elm
Question from Patricia
I continue to reference your website as the go to place for info on MCS safe products. Thank you!
I was wondering if you had ever heard of these allergen – free Pure Rooms? They use a multiple step process to clean and purify hotel rooms for people with allergies. There is also an air purifier in each room.
I have MCS and have been able to tolerate some of these rooms. I think the ones I was able to tolerate better were in hotels that hadn’t been remodeled recently.
Unfortunately, the number of Pure Rooms available at any hotels is dwindling. I’m guessing that the cost of maintaining the rooms and / or lack of bookings due to price is resulting in their demise. This is disappointing as these rooms were the only way I could get away for a little vacation.
Do you consider these Pure Rooms MCS safe due to the process used to purify? It seems that the Pure Rooms need more publicity and feedback so people will book them and then hotels could offer more of them.
Pat in Cleveland
Well…not much information on their website.
I don’t see anything about what they do to make the rooms PURE.
Buried in a blog post I found this description of the air purifier:
Each PURE Room is treated according to a patented 7-step purification process and features an air-purifier powerful enough to be classified by the FDA as a Class II medical-grade device. Scientifically proven to eliminate and protect against 98-100% of viruses, bacteria and other harmful irritants, this technology provides superior air-quality and a more rejuvenating environment during recovery.
No mention is made of removing toxic gasses or heavy metals. Sounds like it basically and allergen filter, not a toxics filter.
I think it’s a great idea to have PURE rooms, but I’d like to see them have a toxic-free criteria.
And these rooms should be widely promoted so hotels will have more and more of them.
Oh here, I finally found a link to the PURE PROCESS on the page where you book a room:
Nothing refreshes a room like PURE. Our patented, 7-step purification process treats every surface, including the air, removing up to 99% of pollutants so you can breathe easy, and rest peacefully. PURE’s leading air-purification system protects you from airborne irritants, and eliminates odors at the source, leaving your room smelling fresh and clean. PURE’s unique, hypoallergenic mattress and pillow encasements provide soft, breathable coverings to protect you even further. Carpets, upholstery and all surfaces are deep cleaned and specially treated. Our rigorous maintenance is performed regularly to keep PURE Room’s certified allergy-friendly. When you stay in a PURE Room, you are free to live without boundaries, confident you have the freshest air quality in the hotel industry.
PURE’S Patented, 7-Step Purification Process
- Deep Clean Air-Handling Unit. Deep Clean Air-Handling Unit. A PURE heating and air conditioning unit along with air clean filters results in healthier air circulating throughout the room. Coils are deep cleaned and disinfected using PURE’s advanced treatment. And finally, an enzyme-based drip-pan tablet is in place to ensure maximum protection and minimum allergy at home or in partner hotels.
- PURE Tea Tree Oil Cartridge. Tea tree oil is a natural substance known for its antimicrobial and disinfectant properties. A cartridge of this tea tree oil is installed in the air-handling unit to maintain sanitized conditions.
- Carpet and Upholstery Cleaning. Our patented PURE clean solution is used to maximize the removal of dirt, bacteria and mold from all soft surfaces that traditional cleaners leave behind.
- One Time Shock Treatment. This advanced shock treatment destroys nearly all of the mold and bacteria in every nook and cranny of the room, removing any lingering odors caused by these and other contaminants, including but not limited to cigar or cigarette smoke, pets, or other unpleasant sources. The result is a fresh, crisp, environment.
- PURE Shield. This bacteriostatic barrier is applied to all room surfaces to repel microorganisms that cause illness and discomfort, and prevent their growth. Our advanced shield process makes it nearly impossible for bacteria viruses to survive in a PURE environment.
- Air Purification System. PURE’s air purifier is 24-hour defense against airborne irritants. Listed by the FDA as a Class II Medical Device, PURE’s state-of-the-art system is proven to kill 98% to 100% of bacteria and viruses.
- Allergy-Friendly Bedding. PURE’s personal protection continues. Aside from air clean filters, PURE uses only micro-fiber, mono-filament mattress and pillow encasements for lesser risks of allergy at home.
So…nothing about toxics. Bedding is synthetic. It’s all about bacteria and viruses and allergens.
But it may be better than most hotel rooms. I don’t know. I’ve never stayed in one.
Question from Sue
I found a Zen style nightstand I love at Room and Board. It’s walnut veneer over plywood and MDF (argh) so I called them to inquire. They told me all of their products have 0 VOC’s by the time they leave the warehouse, meet California standards, and many are Greengard certified (but they don’t spend the $ to test all of their products for that, they test mostly the kid stuff). They use all non-toxic glues. Do you think it’s safe?
You are telling me that it’s made from materials that usually are red flags for me, but Room & Board seems to be aware of the outgassing issues and say they don’t exist.
So I would proceed with caution, bring it home, and be prepared to return it if you find it does outgas after all.
Question from Dianne
Do you know if Villeroy and Boch fine china and bone china is safe to use or has too much lead content?
I don’t know off hand.
But instead of me finding out, I’ll tell you how to find out so you can check any china you want to.
1. Go to the manufacturer’s website: www.villeroy-boch.com
2. Look for the “Contact Us” link which is usually in the top navigation bar or in the footer: www.villeroy-boch.com/shop/contacts/
3. Often there is a phone number you can call for Customer Service, but not on this site. They have only a contact form. Fill it out and ask your question. They may or may not respond.
Ask them if their china is lead free. Some china companies have a statement. This one does not.
Look in the product descriptions for “lead-free” or a State of California Proposition 65 warning label.
If there is a Proposition 65 label, there is lead in the glaze. If not, or if it says “lead-free” that means there is no lead added. But there is often lead in the materials that is naturally occurring.
See the Dinnerware page on Debra’s List for the dinnerware I recommend.
YOU CAN’T ESCAPE LEAD. THAT’S WHY I DETOX FOR LEAD EVERY DAY.
Lead is in many products we use every day and even in the outdoor air. We can’t escape it. So it’s likely that your body has built up a store of lead and possibly other heavy metals that could be affecting your health.
Once lead and other heavy metals enter your body, it is very difficult for your body to remove them.
That’s why I take PureBody Liquid Zeolite every day. This natural mineral is uniquely suited to remove heavy metals. Tiny bits of negatively-charged zeolite act like little magnets to attract positively-charged particles—which include 99.9% of heavy metals, radiation, and organic chemicals–so they can be removed from your body via your kidneys. It’s simple, effective, and affordable.
Question from Sicili
Will you please tell me what type of towels you use in the kitchen and bathroom? Like for doing dishes, taking baths and drying off. Do you use non organic 100% cotton towels of different colors or do you stick to GOTS certified ? I am just curious because I am trying to figure out what to do as far as my wash cloths and such and I greatly value your opinion. Thank you so much for your time Debra.
If I had all the money needed to buy everything in the world I want, I would choose GOTS certified organic natural fibers for everything.
The reality is that I buy what I can afford, which is 100% natural fibers, without finishes. This type of textile uses chemicals in growing and processing, but there is little, if any, exposure at the user end.
For my dishes, I now use 100% linen towels because they absorb water sooo much better than cotton. Just a wipe and dishes are completely dry. They cost about twice as much as cotton, but they are also more durable. I bought a few at IKEA. They were $3.99. VARDAGEN. They are not sold online but they probably have them at your local IKEA store. I used to use just non-organic cotton towels of various colors.
I also have some linen dish towels on the Kitchen Linens page of Debra’s List.
My bath towels are currently 100% cotton terry cloth that I bought at Bed Bath & Beyond about ten years ago. They are blue. But I have my eye on buying some linen bath towels because, as I said above, they are so absorbent, and get softer and softer with every wash.
I have some linen bath towels on the Bath Linens page of Debra’s List.
Wal-Mart Responds to Consumer Demands by Requiring Manufacturers to Remove Some Toxic Chemicals from Products Sold at Their Stores
In 2013, Wal-Mart asked it’s suppliers to reduce certain toxic chemicals from personal care, cleaning, and beauty products and promote alternatives. The program affects about 90,000 items from 700 manufacturers.
Last week, Wal-Mart announced the chemicals on the list and reported that to date its suppliers have removed 95 percent of the chemicals on the list, by volume weight, from products sold in U.S. Was-Mart stores covered by the policy.
The eight chemicals being reduced by Wal-Mart are:
- Diethyl phthalate
- Nonylphenol exthoxylates
- Dibutyl phthalate
Brian Yarbrough, an analyst at Edward Jones & Co. said, “The retailer’s move makes sense. Customers are seeking more information about the substances in the products they buy. This is just the natural evolution of consumers today. From Wal-Mart’s standpoint, it’s kind of the way they need to be moving.”
So, see…our purchase of nontoxic products IS making a difference. The mass market is clearly moving in the direction of less toxic products.
This list of chemicals is interesting. It’s not the list I would have chosen, but it’s a step in the right direction. This list has chemicals that vary widely in toxicity. Toluene, for example, is tremendously more toxic than propylparaben.
I’m happy to see the reduction, but this doesn’t make Wal-Mart a place where all products are safe. I wish they would identify their nontoxic products with shelf-talkers to make it easy for consumers to find them.
This is progress!