Answers to Your Questions About Toxic Free Living

Study Confirms Benefits of Reducing the Amount of Chemicals you put on your Body

Many personal care products contain chemicals that disrupt the endocrine system, including phthalates, parabens, triclosan and oxybenzone.

A new study done on 100 Latina teens showed significant drops in levels of these chemicals in the body after teens stopped using the products for only three days.

Metabolites of diethyl phthalate, commonly used in fragrances, decreased 27 percent by the end of the trial period. Methyl and propyl parabens, used as preservatives in cosmetics, dropped 44 and 45 percent respectively. Both triclosan, found in antibacterial soaps and some brands of toothpaste, and benzophenone-3 (BP-3), found in some sunscreens under the name oxybenzone, fell 36 percent.

ENN: Study confirms benefits of reducing the amount of chemicals you put on your body

ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH PERSPECTIVES: Reducing Phthalate, Paraben, and Phenol Exposure from Personal Care Products in Adolescent Girls: Findings from the HERMOSA Intervention Study

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Can I Remove Glyphosate in my Garden?

Question from TA

Hi Debra,

Recently a yard worker sprayed something for weeds on my back patio. It turns out it was Round-up.

Any suggestions for mitigating damage, or is it just “what’s done is done”? It was a couple of weeks ago, so I suspect there’s really nothing to do about it now.

Debra’s Answer

Whenever any type of herbicide or pesticide is sprayed, the first thing to do is look up the “half-life,” which is the time required for half of the compound to dissipate or degrade.

Monsanto says the half-life of glyphosate varies, depending on conditions, which is true, ranging from as short as 2 days up to 141 days, with an average half-life of 32 days.

More interesting is the Environmental Fate of Glyphosate, published by the California Department of Pesticide Regulation. It describes how glyphosate can float through the air and damage plants outside of the zone where it was applied and is easily absorbed by soil.

In the soil environment, glyphosate is “resistant to chemical degradation, is stable to sunlight, is relatively nonleachables, and has a low tendency to runoff.” Yikes. It’s going to stay there a while.

I’ve had success in the past calling pesticide manufacturers and asking for the “cleanup” chemical that breaks down the pesticide. There might be one you can clean up with.

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Are there nontoxic products for “No sew”?

Question from Tara

Hi Debra,

Do you know of a safe “no sew” option for fabrics. They make the no-sew fusing strips, but I don’t think they’re particularly non-toxic, though they would be convenient and work well. But perhaps there is a safe one I don’t know about? And there are fabric glues…but same question: are they non-toxic?

Debra’s Answer

I haven’t sewn in years. I’m looking online and see a lot of products for this purpose, but no ingredients.

If anyone uses these products, could you offer some advice?

If anyone wants to submit some specific products, and call the manufacturer to find out what the adhesive and materials are, I can help determine if they are toxic or not.

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Treated Furniture from India

Question from Catherine Triplett

Hi Debra,

I first want to thank you for your resource over the years.

About fifteen years ago my parents returned from living in India, and with them came furniture they used when they were there, and they had given me a few items as well.

After my mom passed away my dad told me that a wicker dresser he had in his home (finished basement) had been treated for woodworms while living in India. His housekeeper bought some very strong smelling liquid in a medal can and applied it with a brush and then had to wash it down. My dad said the smell was so strong they had to keep it outside for a few days. I always felt there was a strange smell in his basement, and I am sure that is what it is.

My dad recently passed away and I was given a few old plates from the wall in his home, antique books, and framed artwork (print I think) as well as a very old dresser from the 1800’s.

I am not sure if the toxic dresser housed in his basement could have somehow affected these other pieces as they were probably moved together at some point when they purchased a new home shortly after returning from oversees. I have removed the items I know for a fact were in his flat in Madras, but I am not sure if I should have the other items are safe to display in my home.

I know this sounds complicated, but it is not easy to toss items that were in my parents home as easily as other items, but on the flip side, I have children and I want a safe home.

Debra’s Answer

It’s impossible for me to know what your father’s housekeeper used decades ago in another country, But from your description it sounds like some toxic substance. I don’t know anything about regulations in India, but it’s possible that a toxic substance banned here may be used there. I just don’t have the information.

If it were me, if there were any doubt, I would not have the items in my house if there were any question. I know it’s difficult to make this decision, but better safe than sorry, particularly when there is missing information.

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Jockey Cotton Panties Changed

Question from Audrey

Hi Debra,

I have been wearing Jockety for Her Panties since the 1980s maybe even before then. They are one hundred percent cotton.

In the past ten years the elance style has a terrible smell that is almost impossible to get rid of even after soaking in baking soda/vinegar and airing out. The other style that I get (Hi cut or French Cut) was always fine.

Just ordered more a few weeks ago and they smell even worse than the elance style ever did.

I called the company and they said other people have been complaining of the bad smell. She asked me where the ones that I just received were made and I checked and said Cambodia and she said that is why it smelled and I was given a credit.

But I still need panties and it is doubtful that I will ever be able to use the ones that I just received.

Can anyone recommend another brand (all cotton) that doesn’t have a horrendous smell (it seems like a chemical smell to me). Thank you.

Debra’s Answer

I’m so disappointed to hear this because Jockey Elance have been my favorites for years. Mine never had an odor and I love the covered elastic.

Here are some suggestions from me.

Decent Exposures

Life-Giving Linen

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Where Can I Buy “Uncontaminated” Paper Products

Question from Mary

Hi Debra,

Have you figured out a secret to getting paper products- paper towels, tp, kleenex-type stuff- scent-free?

My assistant just got paper towels at Von’s and they smell awful- probably a detergent odor.

I’ll try setting them on my balcony and see if they air out. One sniff, and the odor stays in my nose and I can’t get rid of it.

Some stores are better than others, though I’m not sure any are 100% reliable.

Debra’s Answer

I buy mine at Costco and it’s never a problem. The paper products aren’t anywhere near the detergents and cleaning products.

Readers, suggestions?

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How to Get Information About Products

I want to post this story for two reasons.

One is to give you a glimpse of how I get whatever information there is about products and the other is to show how inadequate information is about products.

A woman contacted me today for a consultation regarding choosing a sofa for her teen’s bedroom.

She wrote to me:

Hi Debra,

I’ve noticed both Pottery BarnTeen and Ikea no longer treat the foam in their sofas with flame retardent chemicals.

Pottery Barn Teen also informed me that the fabrics are not treated with any chemicals and the sofas are not treated with any chemicals.

When looking for a more cost effective alternative to custom furniture is this a good option and is it safe?

Thank you! Look forward to your feedback!

I took a look at the Pottery Barn Teen website and didn’t see any information on materials at all.

I offered to call Pottery Barn Teen for her and she accepted. She said, “That would be great if you could call them. They usually don’t have the answers though.” I thought I could get some answers.

She told me the specific sofa she wanted and I called.

I called Customer Service and asked about the fabrics.

First I asked about the fiber. I asked if there were any natural fibers. All were synthetic except for one, a 100% cotton denim.

Then I asked about the finishes on the fabric. She put me on hold to connect me to the furniture department, which has a different database than customer service.

And here’s what I found out.

  • All the fabrics are synthetic except the washed denim, which is 100% cotton.
  • The woman in the furniture department also said “There are no chemicals on the fabric.”
  • BUT the fabric DOES have a Scotchguard finish on it. (Hmmmm. They don’t understand Scothguard IS a finish that emits the toxic chemical formaldehyde.)
  • The inside of the cushions are polyurethane foam WITH FIRE RETARDANT. No FR on the fabric, but it is on the foam.
  • No info on wood or finishes.

I couldn’t recommend this product. Incomplete information. But what I could find out was enough for me to reject it as toxic.

My client said, “Wow. That’s unbelievable. Company touts that no fire retardants on foam. Scotch guard not good either.”


It took about half an hour to get this information.

I’m not picking on Pottery Barn here. This morning I called West Elm about a finish on a bed frame another reader asked about and I couldn’t find out if the finish was water-based or oil-based. There is a BIG difference between the two in terms of outgassing toxic chemicals and the length of time they continue to outgas.

These companies and others need to give us sufficient information to evaluate the toxicity of their products.

Please note it’s been my experience that I have no problem getting all the information I want from businesses that are making toxic-free products. They know their materials and are proud of them.

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Is the Honest Company Actually Dishonest?

This past week Jessica Alba’s Honest Company has been in the news, after the Wall Street Journal tested their laundry detergent and found sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS).

This wouldn’t be so bad (Seventh Generation laundry detergent contains SLS), except for the fact that Alba specifically said that SLS was toxic and her products did not contain the ingredient.

Honest Company says there is no SLS in their product, yet the Wall Street Journal says there is.

People have been quick to assume that the company is being dishonest on one test from one source.

Sounds to me like there needs to be some random sampling done of bottles of detergent off store shelves, by an independent third party testing organization.

WALL STREET JOURNAL: Laundry Detergent From Jessica Alba’s Honest Co. Contains Ingredient It Pledged to Avoid

I just want to add that I’ve not ever recommended the Honest Company because there are less toxic products than theirs available. I took a new look at their ingredients this morning and their personal care products, for example,, contain many industrialized ingredients. Compare this to other companies that are offering products made from “whole” organic ingredients. And one step further, this morning I just added a new page for companies making body care products where the business is certified as an organic processor of organic ingredients.

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Dish Drying Rack at Ikea

Question from TA

Hi Debra,

I just came across this dish drying rack on Ikea’s website. comes in this darker color and in a silver color that is listed as nickel plated with clear lacquer. That seems more likely to be potentially toxic (what is the lacquer, etc), so I’m just looking at the darker colored one. The product description says “Steel, galvanized” — but this seems to pertain to the water-catching tray rather than the wire rack.

I clicked over to this related product, and it identifies the black wire part as steel with powder coating and the “shelf” (I’d call it a tray) as galvanized steel. That seems more accurate and appears to be the same as the dish rack.

Would you consider this powder-coated steel rack and galvanized tray to be safe?

On a side note, I also noticed on Ikea’s site that they have been in the process of using “more sustainable” cotton in their products. Not organic, but grown in ways that use less water, less chemical fertilizer, less pesticide. It seems like a good step, especially for those of us who can’t get organic everything.

Debra’s Answer

Powder-coated steel and galvanized steel are both materials I consider to be safe for their intended uses. Neither outgas toxic vapors into the air and they wouldn’t leave toxic residues on dishes. I wouldn’t eat it however, and it’s probably not designed for continuous skin contact.

That’s great that IKEA is moving in the direction of more sustainable cotton. Every step toward reducing toxics helps!

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Glyphosate in Sugar Cane Paper?

Question from Mary

Hi Debra,

There is paper made from sugar cane, but isn’t sugar cane one of the crops grown from GMO and so wouldn’t the paper have residues of glyphosphate?

Debra’s Answer

I love sugar cane paper and was just about to buy some.

“GMO sugar can exists but is not widely used.”

So while I can’t say there is no glyphosate contamination from the environment, it isn’t routinely used on sugar cane crops.

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