Answers to Your Questions About Toxic Free Living

Odor in Cabinet

Question from Doris

Hi Debra,

We just bought a new home that has been renovated by the previous owner and the cabinets has a strong odor.

I have tried cleaning the cabinets with Murphy’s oil soap, water / vinegar without significant improvement.

These cabinets are at least 5 years old and are made in China. Is out gassing still a problem from cabinets after 5 years?

Is there anything else I can do to reduce the odor?

We live in FL and I noticed the odor is worse with higher humidity. Mold count inside the house is lower than outside and air ducts has been cleaned. Not sure what to do next.

Thank you.

Debra’s Answer

If you notice that the odor is stronger in warm weather then it is certainly outgassing, as heat increases outgassing.

The simplest thing to do would be to line the cabinet with heavy duty aluminum foil and use foil tape around the edges, or simply use the tape to completely cover the inside of the cabinet (which is more durable).

Aluminum foil blocks all gasses.

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Tests Find Lead in Stainless Steel Water Bottles

This morning I came across this post RAISING NATURAL KIDS: Lead in Stanless Steel Water Bottles which also referred to a post she had read at NATURAL BABY MAMA: Toxic levels of lead found in stainless steel water bottles.

Natural Baby Mama noted that many moms trying to find an alternative to plastic turn to stainless steel, thinking it is safe. When she found that some of her readers had found lead in their stainless steel water bottles, she and some of her readers decided to collectively test items they owned for lead. They hired Tamara Rubin, a lead-poisoning prevention advocate, to test some household items with an XRF. She is certified and approved to use these machines.

I want to be clear that the lead found in these water bottles didn’t come from the stainless steel. It came from paint, exposed lead solder and other points of exposed lead.

Each of the bottles where lead was found claimed to be “lead-free.” One was even certified nontoxic by MadeSafe.

The posts give the brands with exposed lead and the brands without exposed lead.

One of the bloggers then went on to give other references about heavy metals leaching from stainless steel. So while stainless steel doesn’t leach lead, it does leach nickel, chromium, and iron.

ARCHIVES OF ENVIRONMENTAL CONTAMINATION AND TOXICOLOGY: Stainless steel cookware as a significant source of nickel, chromium, and iron

BULLETIN OF ENVIRONMENTAL CONTAMINATION AND TOXICOLOGY: Leaching of heavy metals (Cr, Fe, and NI) from stainless steel utensils in food stimulants and food materials

You can also read more about stainless steel leaching heavy metals in my post Q&A: Stainless Steel Leaching Into Food and Beverages.

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Simple Tips to Protect Your Body From Being Eaten by Mosquitoes


Dealing with mosquitoes is a natural part of summer, especially here in Florida. West Nile Virus aside, they are simply annoying as well having an itchy bite.

In times past, some very natural strategies were employed for mosquito relief. When I visited Charleston, North Carolina a some summers ago, I learned that all the old houses had the bedrooms on the second floor because mosquitoes wouldn’t fly that high. In Africa, whole cities are built up mountain sides “above the mosquito line.”

If you can’t move your bedroom upstairs or move your house up a mountain, here are some easier—completely natural—-things you can do to protect your body from mosquitoes this summer.

1. Make Your Body Less Attractive to Mosquitoes

Mosquitoes are attracted to our bodies through the carbon dioxide (CO2) we exhale when we breathe. The production of CO2 production varies from body to body based on its metabolic rate; those bodies with high metabolism tend to burn more CO2 and are therefore more attractive to mosquitoes.

They also like diabetics.

But they are also attracted to lactic acid, which our bodies release after a workout or after eating salty and high-potassium foods, and fruity and floral fragrances found in perfumes and bodycare products, scented sunscreens, and fabric softeners and dryer sheets.

Mosquitoes prefer moist, cool bodies, wet from rain, perspiration or swimming.

And if you are wearing light-colored clothing, particularly yellow, a mosquito will zoom right in on you.

So, to make your body unattractive to mosquitoes:

• eat less salt
• use unscented products
• dry off your body
• avoid sweets
• wear dark colors

2. Use Natural Repellents

If you want to use a repellent on your skin, the simplest repellant is vinegar. I learned this from an Italian woman who got this piece of wisdom from her grandmother. And it works! Any type of vinegar will do. I use apple cider vinegar, but cheap distilled white vinegar will do. I put it into one of those oil-and-vinegar shaker bottles usually used for salad dressing and keep it on my nightstand all summer. Before going to sleep, I just sprinkle it on my face and arms–especially around my ears–which generally does the trick.

There are also repellents made from fragrant essential oils, which are sold at many natural food stores and online. Most contain oil of citronella and/or oil of peppermint as the active ingredient. The U.S. Centers for Disease Prevention and Control recommend oil of lemon eucalyptus as an effective mosquito repellent.

Mosquitoes also hate the smell of garlic. Eat raw garlic or crush a clove and rub it on your skin.

Other good repellants include:

• clove essential oil
• vanilla extract
• citronella essential oil or live plants
• any kind of mint essential oils or live plants
• rosemary essential oil or live plants
• lemongrass
• marigolds
• Cuban oregano
• eucalyptus

You can grow many of these plants in your garden or in pots on a patio or balcony. I always have mint in my garden and I’m going to plant more.

3. Put Up a Barrier

The simplest barrier is to simply cover your skin with clothing. Long pants and shirts with sleeves offer good protection.

Be sure to put screens on your windows and doors and make sure they are in good repair. Open and close doors quickly so insects don’t come inside.

And there is always the traditional mosquito netting. Larry and I don’t have one on our bed here in Florida, but we did when we lived in California. I always felt safe and protected under the net. You can get 100% cotton mosquito netting by the yard at and make your own mosquito net.

4. Natural Treatments for Mosquito Bites

If, after all the prevention, you still get bitten, here are some natural ways to relieve the itch.

• Make a paste of water and baking soda and put it on your bites.
• Apply salt water made with natural salt–the water will evaporate and the soothing salt will stay on your skin.
• Rub raw garlic over the bites.
• Apply aloe vera to the bites, in gel form or straight from the plant.

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New Study Shows Phthalate Exposure in Early Life Can Affect Girl’s Thyroid Health Later On


A new study shows that early life exposure to phthalates is linked to lower thyroid function in young girls.

Researchers found that exposure to a common group of phthalates was associated with lower levels of active thyroid function in 3-year-old girls.

Study author Pam Facts-Litvak, a professor of epidemiology at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health said, “I think the message to consumers is be careful of the products they use. Depressed thyroid hormones are associated in many studies with feelings of depression, anxiety and behavior problems in children as well as metabolic issues later in life.”

Researchers did not find the same conntection between phthalates exposure and lower thyroid function among boys.

TIME: How Household Chemicals Can Hurt Young Girls’ Health

ENVIRONMENT INTERNATIONAL: Phthalates and thyroid function in preschool age children: Sex specific associations

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Natural Sunscreen 2017



Every year about this time everyone writes about sunscreen, so I I write a new post about sunscreen, so I do too.

sun-protection-coverFirst, please read Debra’s Guide to Choosing Natural Sun Protection. Though I wrote it some years ago, it still has the best advice I can give on this subject: don’t wear sunscreen, and don’t wear sunglasses. But there other things you can do that are very effective. I’ve been living in Florida for sixteen summers and I’ve never had a sunburn.

Every year I also take a look at EWG’s Guide to Sunscreens. There is a lot of good information here about what’s wrong with sunscreens, but I just don’t agree with many of their recommendations.

I suggest listening to a show I did on Toxic Free Talk Radio called Things Your Should Know About Sunscreen, But Probably Don’t. My guest was Michael J. Russ, President of Oceana Naturals, author of Sun Care Decoded, and authorized US distributor for MelanSol 100% natural sunscreen. Still titanium dioxide, but the rest of the ingredients are 100% natural. If you want to use a lotion, this is the most natural I’ve found.

If you don’t want to use lotion, see  Q&A: Natural Sun Protection Without Lotion.

Even Dr Oz says don’t use sunscreen.

And now, scientists warn that wearing sunscreen is “not a reliable way to prevent getting skin cancer.”

Read my guide for sun protection that is both safe and effective.

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Turapur Water Pitcher

Question from Elaine

Hi Debra,

I fell for an online infomercial for a water filter Turapur. Though I don’t know if it does all it claims to do, I will say that the taste of my tap water has improved beyond words.

Do you know this product?

Debra’s Answer

I imagine that it did make the water taste better, but it’s not doing much to remove pollutants.

Here’s how I can tell.

* It’s a pitcher, and typically pitchers don’t contain enough filter media to remove sufficient amounts of pollutants from the water.

* It’s selling point with regards to pollutants is that it “purifies water from bad odor and taste.” It doesn’t say that it removes any specific pollutants. In fact, it doesn’t state pollutant removal anywhere on the page.

* What they are really selling is the fact that they are adding hydrogen to your water, which supposedly makes your body feel better. They talk at length about the benefits of hydrogen to your body. It seems that this hydrogen is added by passing the water through a filter that has ” magnesium, tourmaline and infrared ceramics.”

I read every single word on the page. No mention of removing any chemical pollutants. No mention of how many gallons it filters. No mention of needing to replace the filter cartridge or how much that costs.

If you are interested in purchasing a filter that really does the job, I recommend PureEffect Advanced Filtration. These filters remove all the major pollutants and then some, as well as naturally adjust the water to be the degree of alkaline of water found in nature. These filters cost more that the $39 Turapure, but they actually purify and rejuvenate the water.


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Xtrema vs Visions Cookware

Question from Sue

Hi Debra,

I have very recently discovered the grim reality of stainless steel.

I have been doing a lot of reading and shopping. not sure how i found you but i am grateful!

I noticed that you recommend and use both visions and xtrema. the price difference is definitely a consideration for me.

I have found some used visions sets and single pieces on ebay . i have also seen the xtrema website and they have some nice sets which are on sale right now for mother’s day.

Ok here are my questions:

  1. are the xtrema/vision ware items very fragile?
  2. do you recommend one vs. the other? or are both good?
  3. does the vision ware age well? ie do scratches effect the food?

I am leaning toward the xtrema but i am totally open to the vision ware.

It is funny how learning about one thing changes everything! the whole thing started when i “saw” my super cheap, “stainless steel” tea kettle. it totally freaked me out!! haha! i am so ready to get rid of all the stainless steel in the house but first i must replace it.

Thank you so much for doing what you do. i am super excited to learn more from you.

Debra’s Answer

I use both Xtrema and Visions.

Xtrema is made of very fine ceramic.

Visions is made of glass. Visions is no longer being manufactured, but many pieces are available used at flea markets and online. Visions at

I have 3 Visions pots that I’ve been using for 30+ years. I have about half a dozen pieces of Xtrema that I’ve been using since they’ve been available, I think about 10 years. I’ve never broken either of them.

I have a lot of glassware and pottery. These are not fragile in the sense of a fragile glass that would break if you tipped it over. They are both very “heavy duty”. That said, I once chipped my large X pot while washing it. I have a ceramic floor and I would imaging both might break if I dropped them on the floor, but that has never happened.

Both Xtrema and Visions are very good, each in their own way.

My Visions pots have aged very well. They are glass through and through so no problem with scratches.

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Latex: Synthetic, Natural, Organic—Dunlop and Talalay

Question from Donna

Hi Debra,

I own three Savvy Rest mattresses (twin, full, and king) all made from Talalay latex as I prefer how that feels. You mention that Talalay is petroleum-based. Is that correct? Savvy Rest lists both Talalay and Dunlop as natural latex. Yikes! I’m pretty worried now that I have petroleum based latex in three very expensive beds.

Debra’s Answer

I did say that Talalay latex is petroleum-based. When you asked this question, I went back and took another look at latex and want to be more specific.

Latex foam used in mattresses can be confusing, so I’m going to sort it all out clearly here.

There are a lot of details about how latex is made, but in this post I am just going to focus on types of latex, what they are and how they are labeled.

There are two parts to understanding latex
1. the source of the latex
2. the process used to turn the latex into foam

Sources of Latex

The raw material to make latex foam for mattresses and furniture are are
1. crude oil
2. sap of the rubber tree Heaven brasilliensis

Latex made from petroleum is called “synthetic”. The most common type of synthetic latex is SBR (styrene-butadiene rubber). Yes, styrene like Styrofoam cups, which leach styrene into beverages. Synthetic latex as a stronger odor than natural latex and usually does not mean emissions standards of testing organizations such as Oeko-Tex and Greenguard.

Synthetic latex is often mixed with natural latex and marketed as “blended.” But it’s not half and half. Usually blended latex is mostly synthetic with a small amount of natural latex.

Natural latex is made from the sap of the rubber tree. The sap is “tapped” from rubber trees much in the way maple syrup is tapped from maple trees.

There are two types of natural latex:
1. natural latex
2. organic latex

While both come from the rubber tree, natural latex may have various chemicals used in the growing or processing of the sap, which are mostly unknown.

Organic latex sap is certified to usual organic standards.

So there are basically three raw materials:
1. synthetic SBR latex
2. natural latex sap
3. organic latex sap

Processes to Turn Latex into Foam

There are two basic processes
1. Dunlop
2. Talalay

Dunlop was the original process used to make latex and is simpler than Talalay.

Read a comparison of Dunlop and Talalay here

From the viewpoint of choosing the least toxic latex, these processing methods don’t seem to make much difference. The most important aspect of choosing a nontoxic latex is the raw material.

In the marketplace you’ll find:
* synthetic latex made with Dunlop or Talalay.
* natural latex mostly Dunlop, with some Talalay
* organic latex is all Dunlop at this time (but that may change as more organic latex becomes available)

If it’s organic, it’s Dunlop. But if it’s Dunlop, it could be synthetic, natural or organic.

What to Look For

The bottom line here really is if you want the most natural and nontoxic latex, choose organic.

Organic latex is certified by the Global Organic Latex Standard (GOLS).

The Original Question

Now to answer the original question: “You said Talalay is petroleum-based. Is that correct? Savvy Rest lists both Talalay and Dunlop as natural latex.”

It turns out I was both right and wrong in saying Talalay is petroleum-based. Some Talalay latex foam is petroleum-based and some is natural latex. But today, Talalay is never organic.

So what about Savvy Rest? Here’s what I found on their website today:

True natural latex, without synthetic latex or fillers blended in, is simply natural foam rubber. We offer two different types of natural latex: Dunlop and Talalay. Dunlop, named after the method in which it’s manufactured, is the denser, more supportive of the two. Talalay, also named after its manufacturing process, offers softness and gentle pressure-relief. (Learn more about Dunlop and Talalay here.)
Our natural Dunlop latex is certified organic in two ways. The rubber tree plantations are certified organic according to USDA standards, and its processing is certified organic to the Global Organic Latex Standard (GOLS).

So I would presume from this that your Talalay latex is natural, but not organic. And clearly not synthetic.

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CONSUMER REPORTS: Organic Mattress Labels You Can Trust

Consumer Reports has a great review of the certification labels used on organic mattresses. I was thinking I wanted to write a report like this, and then found this one.

According to their research only two certification meet their qualifications:

  • Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS)
  • Global Organic Latex Standard (GOLS)

I agree. These are the certifications to look for in an organic mattress.

Here is what each of these certifications mean:

GOTS requires that at least 95 percent of the materials in the mattress be certified organic, and it prohibits outright the use of certain substances even for the other 5 percent, such as chemical flame retardants and polyurethane, the chief ingredient of memory foam.

GOLS ensures that a mattress with latex is made of organic latex, with restrictions on the other 5 percent of the mattress’s components. Natural-latex mattresses may have both the GOTS and GOLS labels.

[CORRECTION:I need to correct Consumer Reports here. GOTS does not require that at least 95% of the total materials in the mattress be certified organic. GOTS recognizes that other materials in addition to fibers are needed to make mattresses. GOTS divides the materials into two “piles”—one is the certified organic fiber and the other is the other materials needed to make the mattress. The 95% applies to the pile of fibers only. The requirement is that 95% of the fiber used in mattresses must be certified organic.]

In addition, GOTS does allow polyurethane as part of the mattress’s componets, in the 5% that is not organic fibers. This is clearly and specifically stated in the GOTS Standard 5.0, Section This is specifically allowed as an “accessory” material that provides needed funcitionality, in this case waterproofing.]

Their review also explains the meaning of other certifications in simple terms.

They point out that Oeko-Tex Standard 100 doesn’t ensure that the fiber used in the mattress is produced organic all, but only sets limits for emissions of a list of harmful chemicals.

And they also explain why five other certifications you might see on a mattress have limited value.

CONSUMER REPORTS: Organic Mattress Labels You Can Trust

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