Answers to Your Questions About Toxic-Free Living

Densshield Tile Backer Board


Question from Janice

Hi Debra,

Does anyone have any information or experience with the Densshield tile backer board? My contractor wants to use this for our bath remodel around the shower walls. Can’t find any info online regarding odors or offgassing.

Any other moisture resistant options for tile backer boards?


Debra’s Answer

I’ve always used Hardibacker or Durock. These are cement boards.

The DensShield website says it’s the first backer board with a built-in moisture barrier, and it’s mold-resistant. Their product video reveals that the moisture barrier is an acrylic coating, and the gypsum core is “specially treated.”

So this tells me that this is NOT cement board, it’s a coated gypsum board. I don’t recommend other coated gypsum boards because they smell horrible and their coatings tend to fail.

I would tell him you want a CEMENT BOARD. That will give you a higher quality, as well as toxic-free installation.

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Are Squishies Toxic?

Question from Adrian

Hi Debra,

I was just wondering how safe you think the new kids craze of squishies are? My children really love them! I worked with polyurethane for years and wore air fed respirators but still have sensitivity to it. I can smell the isocyanate in the toys and it gives me an instant headache. What are your thoughts?

Debra’s Answer

Children should NOT be playing with squishes!

It’s interesting that you say you can smell the isocyanate. It’s supposed to completely react and not emit. I’ll look into this more. So just because of that I would say no.

But in addition I see they are SCENTED. So that would be another reason not to play with them or even have them in the house as a decoration.

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Tobys Nose Filters

Question from Bonnie Johnson

Hi Debra,

I was wondering if anyone had tried Toby’s nose filters. I have to use a mask when I go outside because of pollen etc and they are supposed to block it. Kind of like an air purifier in your nose. Debra have you looked at them? Wondering how toxic they are. Thanks

Debra’s Answer

I have no experience with this product. Readers, has anyone used them?

Their website states:

The nose units (and clip) are made of a soft, surgical-grade C-Flex plastic (SDS).

Their white basic particulate filter is made of cellulose and polyester.

Their “dual” white and black filter is made of activated carbon with a polyester backing, which does everything the white filter does, but it’s also effective in reducing odors.

They seem fine to me as far as materials go. I don’t know anything about their effectiveness.

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Kid’s Wagon

Question from Kristen

Hi Debra,

I am looking for a child’s wagon. There are softer foldable ones that seem toxic, but I am worried about glues/ paint/ finishes on wooden and metal wagons. One review for a wooden wagon said “you could smell it through the box.” Do you have any recommendations?

Debra’s Answer

Debra’s Answer:

Wagons come with all kinds of things these days that just add toxic materials.

Just get a plain old-fashioned Radio Flyer Classic Red Wagon or similar wagon that is all metal with a baked-on finished.

The only problem with this wagon may be the rubber tires on the wheels, but there is no getting around that. These should outgas fairly soon.

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Nontoxic Car Seat Covers


Question from Suzie

Hi Debra,

We purchased conversion van yr 2013 Have had the carpets steam cleaned without any fragrances in the van but still smelling some will try the non-toxic in Vairo clean over top…

However the seats are leather and of course treated… I haven’t even been able to ride in the van since we purchased it two years ago. We used sheepskin seat covers and our last fan to help hide the smell of the seats and had to wash them many times to get some of the odor Our. Any recommendations for nontoxic car seat sea covers ?

Appreciate any input thank you!

Debra’s Answer

Yes, actually.

I would make custom seat covers. And these are not as difficult as it sounds.

In fact, when I had my Fiat X 1/9 I took it to a auto upholsterer and had them make new custom seat covers from the cotton canvas I provided. And they were great.

But you could also have an auto upholsterer make COVERS for your seats that you would put over the existing covers.

Plain cotton canvas won’t block outgassing.

But you could put a layer of foil-backed polyethylene plastic that would block, or a layer of carbon felt that would adsorb emissions from the car interior.

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Mayo Clinic Healthy Living Study Doesn’t Mention Toxics


Question from Regina

Hi Debra,

Just wanted to send you this article about a new study from the Mayo Clinic. They found that less than 3 percent of Americans meet the basic qualifications for a “healthy lifestyle.”

The authors of the study defined a “healthy lifestyle” as one that met these four qualifications:

  • Moderate or vigorous exercise for at least 150 minutes a week
  • A diet score in the top 40 percent on the Healthy Eating Index
  • A body fat percentage under 20 percent (for men) or 30 percent (for women)
  • Not smoking

No mention of toxic exposures as a factor of health.

You’ve done extraordinary work that’s helped so many of us. And we still have a long way to go in reaching the masses.

THE ATLANTIC: Less Than 3 Percent of Americans Live a ‘Healthy Lifestyle’

Debra’s Answer

Yes, diet and exercise are the major keystones for what is considered a “healthy lifestyle.”

The problem is, you could follow the standard guidelines for food and exercise all you want and still not be healthy if you are not eliminating toxic chemicals from your home and work environment.

Eating the proper number of servings of foods with pesticides is not going to create health, and neither is exercising 150 minutes a week in a toxic gym.

Yes, we do need to exercise, outdoors in clean air.

Yes we do need to eat whole organic foods.

We do need to control body fat.

And we need to not smoke.

But there is so much more to a healthy lifestyle. And so many more people who need to be reached.

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The Indoor Generation

The other day a powerful video arrived in my inbox that I want to share with you.

This exceptionally well-done video makes a touching and powerful case for the problems of indoor air quality and how it affects health, yet does not address cleaning up toxics in the home environment at all.

Granted it was made by Velux, a manufacturer of skylights and roof windows. They are promoting the use of openable skylights and roof windows as the solution to get more light indoors and provide ventilation to eliminate the toxic build-up indoors.

How great it would be if they had used this opportunity to give a really good resource list for solving indoor air quality through source reduction. They do give some links on their resource page, but only to energy and green building organizations, that typically don’t address toxics, yet their opening statement is “Indoor air can be five times more polluted than outside air.”

Despite the omission of reducing toxics at the source, it’s encouraging to see that a major mainstream company like Velux is using indoor air pollution as a problem to draw the general public into using their products as a solution. This is an indicator that indoor air quality is being recognized as a problem that the public in general know about and are concerned about. I’m fairly certain they would not have invested the resources into this campaign without doing market research to verify the general public would respond. So this is a very good indicator of awareness of toxics issues moving into the mainstream.

And it’s always good to have anyone and everyone promoting the issue. This video is so well done it should inspire people to be concerned about indoor air quality and seek more information. Hopefully it will be well-distributed.

Thanks, Velux, for making this.

VELUX USA: The Indoor Generation

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Clean Air at Home

This is the outdoor air I have at my home where I currently live. I’m just a bit more inland


A reader wrote to me this week with some questions about purchasing an EnviroKlenz Mobile Unit. She had some questions about my personal experience using the filter in my home.

I replied, “I actually don’t own an air filter at all. I live in a place with VERY clean air. If I were to purchase an air filter, it would be an EnviroKlenz.”

She was surprised and asked, “I’m just curious- how are you able to have a home with such clean air?”

I replied, “I specifically create homes with nontoxic materials so I don’t need to filter.”

“At the moment I am living with my mother-in-law to help her stay at home and not go to a nursing home. Her house was built 25 years ago so there are no outgassing materials here. Plus I live in the “marine zone” of the Pacific Ocean, which means I live close enough to the coast where the outdoor air is as if I were standing on the beach.”

“That’s how I do it.”

But I will also say that after going through the firestorm last fall, which spread smoke throughout the entire San Francisco Bay Area for a week, I’m considering getting an air filter. Not for everyday, but for emergencies.

Also, chemical smells (and odors like skunks) do occasionally wander over to me on a breeze and I’d like to be able to close up my room and run a filter when that occurs.

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Non-Toxic Playmat


Question from Daphna Rubin

Hi Debra,

We bought a Creamhaus (which we love) however, there’s no fence or playpen available that will fit the size of the mat. My husband even reached out to Creamhaus. We need to buy a new mat. Would you please recommend another non-toxic playmat.

Thanks so much!

Debra’s Answer

Well you are in luck today.

I just found an outstanding review of playmats, along with half a dozen recommendations for paymats that do not contain PVC or EVA foam (that outgassed formaldehyde)

MOMMY TO MAX: Best Non-Toxic Play Mats for Baby Updated 2018

But you asked for one with a fence or playpen.

This is a product I have no experience with, but looking at photos it seems like fences are some kind of plastic (not mentioned in product descriptions)? And aren’t playpens made from plastic too?

Readers, what do you recommend?

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Laminate (low-emission rating) Flooring OK?

Question from Hal

Hi Debra,

We’re considering laminate flooring but are also concerned about formaldehyde.

However, “Quick-Step Impressive Ultra” by Pergo quotes an emission value of “less than 0.01 ppm” in their datasheet and is Nordic Swan ecolabelled here in the Scandinavian countries. This is vastly less than the E1 standard of “less than 0.1 ppm” and I hope should make a difference.

I know you don’t recommend laminate in general, but as this seems to be our best alternative for flooring, would you consider it “safe”, or should we rule it out in your opinion?

I’ve also read that having certain plants and airing regularly will help.

Debra’s Answer

One of the difficulties in choosing toxic-free products is determining exactly what is a toxic exposure.

Chemicals, such as formaldehyde, have an inherent toxicity that has been established by the field of toxicology.

But there’s another factor in real life and that is the ability of the person exposed to tolerate the level of exposure. Put a healthy adult man, an adult woman, a senior, a baby, and a person with MCS in a room with this flooring and each of their bodies will respond differently.

It’s difficult for me to make a general recommendation in a situation like this which is borderline.

So here’s what I’ll say.

I wouldn’t put it in my house. I know from personal experience that formaldehyde is one of the major chemicals that make otherwise healthy people into people who are sensitive to all petrochemicals. I’ve seen this over and over. So I just wouldn’t go there. That’s why. It’s just on my personal NO list in big red letters.

Formaldehyde also causes cancer.

And regardless of what studies say, the leading edge of medicine is now acknowledging that you can do all the studies you want, but it all comes down to the individual body and it’s own unique characteristics and environment.

A few nights ago I realized something, after 40 years in this field. I realized that we know some products are outright poisons. But instead of banning them, our society put warning labels on them and established poison control centers to help people who are poisoned. And then we found out that some products—like cigarettes—cause cancer and other illnesses after many years of use. Again, warning labels.

And now there are certifications that say oh it’s OK to use these products because they are “low-emissions.” NO. Low-emissions means there ARE emissions. Emissions can build up in a space into high concentrations.

For me, personally, I will go to any trouble and any cost to have a formaldehyde-free floor. But that’s my choice and priority.

You may decide it’s OK to have a floor that has less formaldehyde. It’s certainly better than a floor with high formaldehyde emissions.

I’ll get off my soapbox now.

About the plants, it actually requires quite a number of plants to do much good.

It’s always better to reduce emissions at the source, rather than relying on plants or even air filters to do the job of removing pollutants from the air pm a regular basis. I’m not saying don’t use filters or plants, I’m saying that it’s more effective to reduce pollutants at the source if you have the option to do that.

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