Answers to Your Questions About Toxic Free Living

Affordable Nontoxic Carpet

Question from Richard

Hi Debra,

Thank’s for keeping up the great website.

I have a question about carpet. I’m planning on renting some space in a commercial building. The custom is to use carpeting in the hallways and office spaces. It’s understood that the area of the building under consideration needs and will get new carpet but myself and one other practitioner see people with MCS and suffer from it ourselves. Do you have some any rug manufacturers to recommend?

There is something called The Carpet and Rug Institute which has a certification program called CRI Green Label Plus that identifies low VOC products. Do you know much about the value of that certification? I am aware some programs don’t really raise the bar very high.

I know we could go to Green Building Supply for wool but we really can’t go quite that high end for this office rental situation.

Any suggestions you may have for carpeting that isn’t too pricey would be appreciated.

Debra’s Answer

You’re welcome!

I can’t recommend any of the carpets on the Carpet and Rug Institute list. I haven’t researched them recently or individually, but last time I looked there were none I wanted to look at in more detail. The problem with “low-emitting” standards is they are not “no-emitting.” My floors don’t emit anything.

I had your same situation many years ago where the only office available to rent in the small village where I lived had a very smelly carpet that I was not allowed to remove.

My solution was to use AFM Carpet Seal. IT COMPLETELY BLOCKED THE FUMES TO UNDETECTABLE. At least to my nose.

I worked in that office for a month every weekday, with no reactions. It was a life saver to have Carpet Seal.

That said, I would still get the least toxic carpet you can afford. I haven’t had carpets in my home for more than 30 years, but if I had no choice but to live or work somewhere with carpet, I would immediately order Carpet Seal.

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Lumber Liquidators

On Monday, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) announced that certain types of laminate flooring made by Lumber Liquidators have a greater risk of causing cancer or other health problems than previously thought.

I would just like to add two things.

One is that this is not all flooring made by Lumber Liquidators, only the laminate flooring.

And the other is this formaldehyde danger is not limited to Lumber Liquidator’s laminate flooring. It applies to ALL laminate flooring. I’ve been warning about this ever since laminate flooring first came out.

Please do not buy laminate flooring. Instead purchase solid wood refinished flooring, or unfinished solid wood flooring and apply your own least toxic finish.

CDC: Statement regarding Formaldehyde in Laminate Flooring Report

USA TODAY: Elevated cancer risk in Lumber Liquidators laminate flooring

NPR: CDC Says It Underestimated Cancer Risk From Lumber Liquidators Flooring

If you have purchased flooring from Lumber Liquidators, they are offering indoor air quality testing at no cost to qualifying customers. To see if you qualify, visit

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Is Air Pollution Making You Fat?

A new study—appearing in the March issue of the Journal of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) —found laboratory rats who breathed Beijing’s highly polluted air gained weight and experienced cardio-respiratory and metabolic dysfunctions after only three to eight weeks of exposure.

Compared to those exposed to filtered air, pregnant rats exposed to unfiltered Beijing air were significantly heavier at the end of pregnancy. At 8 wk old, the offspring prenatally and postnatally exposed to unfiltered air were significantly heavier than those exposed to filtered air. In both rat dams and their offspring, after continuous exposure to unfiltered air we observed pronounced histologic evidence for both perivascular and peribronchial inflammation in the lungs, increased tissue and systemic oxidative stress, dyslipidemia, and an enhanced proinflammatory status of epididymal fat.

The conclusion from the study: Chronic exposure to air pollution particles increases the risk of obesity and metabolic syndrome.

Now this was a study done on rats, however, I believe it holds true for humans as well. Many chemicals have already been associated with obesity. I haven’t yet checked, but it may be that many of them are found in air pollution.

LOS ANGELES TIMES: On the Ground I knew Beijing’s bad air was killing me slowly. But is it making me fat too?

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Question from Sally S

Hi Debra,

I have been all over the internet and dug through archives, but am having little results looking for luggage. It seems that even those touting ʻeco friendlyʻ are really a typical derailment of fact.

If it is made of recycled materials, I question what was in the previous encarnation. Nylon has been treated with chemicals. Handles made of ʻtprʻ? Some claim ʻecoʻ and yet state pvc dividers.

They stink! They cause hands to react, rashes and blisters, my husband has to wear gloves when traveling.

I need to replace my old bags and am in need of something for mobility, in other words I am no longer able to perform pack mule duties. I have seen abs, polycarbonate, polyester, nylon, and many with ʻCA Prop 65 warningʻ. (The top rated Travel Pro)

The leather bags come from China and everything is suspect. Buying used is just as risky, pesticides and cleaners or such.

Any guidance or suggestions will be greatly appreciated. Thank you.

Debra’s Answer

I totally understand, and this is not an easy question to answer.

Some years ago I was traveling a lot and my old suitcases were in tatters. I wanted to get the least toxic luggage I could find and I did.

It was made by a company called Sand & Storm . I just looked them up and they are still in business. They are very well made of cotton and leather (no odor) and are extremely durable. Not inexpensive, but I had some extra money at the time and decided to make an investment. I’m sure they will last for the rest of my life. They have already lasted 10 years and are like new.

They used to make luxury safari tents. Now they make safari-grade bags. In Kenya. From Tanzanian 18oz all-cotton canvas (very soft and lined with even softer cotton), hand-selected leather hides, and solid brass fittings. I have two duffle bags and an overnight bag. All with strong comfortable straps so I can toss them over my shoulder.

I found mine at Bloomingdale’s in New York and fell in love instantly. If you want this luggage, I think you’ll need to contact them in Kenya and see if they can ship it to you.

So now the best I can do is to recommend cotton duffle bags, such as those sold at Port Canvas.

Try searching on “cotton luggage,” “linen luggage, and “hemp luggage.”. There were a lot of results, such as this one from Pottery Barn.

strollerTrouble is that these companies are not dedicated to being nontoxic, so I don’t know what the finishes are, etc. Sometimes they are lined with nylon.

Now about the wheels, there ARE some cotton duffle bags with wheels such as this one at Orvis. Again, I don’t know how this might be contaminated, but the materials are pretty good. At least better than conventional luggage.

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Bamboo Charcoal “Air Fresheners”

Question from Elizabeth

Hi Debra,

I have been reading a lot about Bamboo Charcoal “air fresheners” lately.

The products supposedly remove odors, moisture, viruses, VOCs,etc.

A 200 gram bag is supposed to be good for a 90 square foot area.

I am interested however I am not clear as to how a linen bag of charcoal is supposed to clean the air in a room just by placed in the room. I don’t see how the product would have the appropriate air circulation to meet it’s claims.

Do you have any experience or information on these products?

Debra’s Answer

I don’t have any experience with these products, however, there is just no way mechanically that a bag of any kind of charcoal can remove pollutants in the air anywhere close to what an air purifier can remove.

For real all filtration, see the Air Purifier page of Debra’s List.

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Mouth Guard Material

Question from Janelle

Hi Debra,

My husband and I have recently become more concerned about all the plastic in our environment.

We are particularly concerned about the night guard that his dentist has him wear because he grinds his teeth at night. I’m wondering about the safety of the night guard.

I tried calling the office that they made it in, but they haven’t done any tests for leaching, he just assured me it was safe.

I did some research and it’s made from: Powder Component: Modified Ethyl Methacrylate Polymer Liquid Component: Modified Ethyl Methacrylate Monomer. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find information on if these substances are safe when mixed into plastic.

The company that makes the mouth guards is Astron and the material is called clearsplint.

Any help you can give me with this is much appreciated.

Thank you.

Debra’s Answer

It sounds to me like you mix the powder and liquid together to make the ClearSplint material. It isn’t added to plastic, it is the plastic.

The MSDS lists both of these materials as hazardous as well as ClearSplint itself.

What I don’t know is if they become less toxic when combined, or more toxic. Not enough data is available for this.

Regardless, it seems that ALL plastics leach to one degree or another. I wouldn’t let my child use this without having more evidence of safety than someone on the phone saying it’s safe.

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Purple Mattress

Question from Evan

Hi Debra,

My wife and I are in the market for a new mattress and finding a non-toxic bed is important.

I had previously been convinced that the IntelliBed (which you have previously discussed) was the mattress that we would eventually purchase, but that we would have to save up for a while because a king approaches $5k.

However, I recently came across a new mattress fresh off a kickstarted campaign called Purple (website:

This seems pretty similar to the IntelliBed (inventors are from the same town), and dramatically cheaper.

However, I wonder whether some of the price difference comes from less quality materials. I read that IntelliBed uses a non-toxic polyurethane, and I know that Purple also uses polyurethane, just not sure if it also non-toxic. Their website references non-toxic food grade materials and I believe it is Certi-Pur, its just not clear exactly how much these labels should be trusted. Many thanks in advance!

Debra’s Answer

Let me first say that my viewpoint is that the FIRST thing one needs to look at are the materials and then whatever other benefits there are.

Purple doesn’t seem to have a nontoxic viewpoint or background.

Yes there is a Certipur-US logo on the site, so the polyurethane foam is probably Certipur (click on this link to see why I don’t trust Certipur).

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Saffiano Leather Handbag

Question from Stacey

Hi Debra,

I am searching for a new leather handbag and wonder about the different leathers.

First, I wonder if a “quilted” leather bag contains a synthetic batting to make the quilted appearance.

I also discovered a type of leather called “saffiano leather” which is a textured leather with some sort of coating (not sure, but from what I have read, it is most often a wax). This saffiano leather is supposedly more durable, but I wonder if it is as safe to use as a regular leather.

Thanks so much!

Debra’s Answer

I think it’s highly likely that any padding used in an off-the-shelf handbag would be synthetic.

About the Saffiano leather…First, it’s leather, which has many toxic chemicals to begin with, and second a wax is added, probably paraffin. That’s just more petrochemicals.

Look on the Bags page of Debra’s List. I’ve been adding websites that use less toxic materials. Perhaps you can find something there.

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Least toxic treatment to remove mycotoxins?

Question from Jennifer

Hi Debra,

I appreciate your work in the world so very much! I seem to remember a while back you addressed the benefits of fogging to remove mycotoxins. It was about the benefits of fogging with a formaldehyde gas mixture that did not leave any residue in the space treated.

I can’t seem to find any info on that at this point. Can you direct me to where I might find out more about this and/or share your thoughts about this technique for reclaiming spaces affected by these invisible toxins?

Debra’s Answer

I don’t recall addressing this and mold isn’t my field of expertise.

Readers, any information on this?

Here is a very simple and clear article about mycotoxins, what they are, how to remove them from indoor air.

What I can tell you about formaldehyde is that it DOES evaporate completely in a very short period of time. I remember in grade school a teacher left an open bottle of formaldehyde sitting on a counter and the whole bottle evaporated within an hour. The only reason formaldehyde is a long-term problem in particleboard and permanent press finishes is that it is bonded to resins to make it time release. But free formaldehyde evaporates very quickly.

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Lunchbox Containers

Question from TM

Hi Debra,

I was using a stainless steel lunchbox containers for my young kid, however, I read stainless steel may leach, although I’m not sure if only when heated?

Glass is not an option right now as he is too young and can break.

Would you go with these made of polypropylene #5 plastic instead of stainless steel? Thanks so much!!

Debra’s Answer

All lunchbox container materials leach something to some degree, so the question is, would you rather be eating plastic or metals? Even, glass, we are now finding, leaches lead and other metals.

There’s a lot more we need to know before I can make a definitive recommendation between these materials. For the moment all I can say is in my kitchen stainless steel is gone except for one pot, but I still have some polypropylene. It’s one of the least toxic plastics.

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Q&A RESTORATION PROJECT While moving the Q&A to the new site, I lost all the category tags, so there are no categories here yet. However, you can use the search function at the right end of the navigation menu at the top of the page to search the Q&A for what you are looking for.