Answers to Your Questions About Toxic Free Living
For the past few weeks a lot of my time has been occupied with helping a consulting client furnish a nontoxic apartment for her son, who has multiple chemical sensitivities (MCS).
She asked me to help her choose furniture, bedding, and air and water filters. I gave her some choices, and she chose the ones she wanted.
She kindly gave permission for me to share some photos with you and also tell you about the products. It was an opportunity for me to experience first hand some of the products I have been recommending that I hadn’t seen in person, and I want to share that experience with you, too.
In general I learned that what a difference there can be in the quality of products made from the same materials. Unfinished furniture pieces had variations in design and workmanship, organic cotton sheets from different places had variations in thread count, color, feel and quality.
Choosing nontoxic materials is the first step. Then there are many other factors that affect the quality of the product and it’s performance above and beyond the materials being nontoxic.
Below are my observations and comments on the items we chose.
IKEA BED FRAME
Ikea has a number of bed frames that are made of solid wood. The only difference is style. All of them are solid wood (with the exception of a metal bar that runs down the middle of the frame to hold the wood slats) and a few miscellaneous parts that hold the frame together. There are no glues or adhesives. There is a light acrylic finish that had no odor even as we took the pieces out of the box. This is the second IKEA bed frame I’ve experienced and both were free of outgassing from toxic chemicals. They are also fairly inexpensive. This is a good choice for a budget bed frame. My one caveat is that it will take you a couple of hours to put it together and it really needs two people. TARVA queen bed frame $179.
I’ve been writing about the Happsy Mattress for some months now. Prior to their being available I saw samples of the materials, but even with everything I knew about it I wasn’t prepared for how truly remarkable and wonderful this mattress is.
First, it comes all rolled up in a very big box, wrapped in many layers of nontoxic polyethylene plastic.
While you are searching for how to get the mattress out, you find a little tab and a note that says “start here”. You pull the tab and find it it a little cutter that slides down the side of the mattress, opening the layers of plastic with ease, while the mattress is protected below by a piece of cardboard.
When you peel away the plastic the mattress springs to life like an inflatable life raft. With the familiar hiss, the Happsy mattress literally inhales air, and as it does so it unrolls itself until it is laying perfectly opened and inflated.
You do have to turn it over, but when you do, you see how very beautiful it is, with it’s lovely quilted color and different shades of organic cotton fabric on top and sides.
It had a slight odor of latex when first unwrapped, but that dissipated quickly.
Laying on it was heaven. If I didn’t already have a mattress I love I would buy a Happsy mattress immediately and sleep on it myself. Happsy Organic Mattresses queen $1199.
WHITE LOTUS HOME PILLOWS
My client purchased a bunch of pillows from in various sizes and softnesses. All were well-made and nontoxic. One of the pillows she bought was the pillow I sleep on, their kapok-filled pillow with invisible zipper that I still love after about two years of sleeping on it. The zipper allows you to add or subtract fill inside the pillow to meet your needs. White Lotus Home.
MAGNOLIA ORGANICS ORGANIC COTTON BLANKETS
These blankets are beautiful. Nice and thick and warm. They come in a big reusable cotton shoulder bag with a long strap. No plastic packaging. Magnolia Organics.
COYUCHI BED LINENS
Coyuchi really is the top of the line in organic bxdlinens. Very top quality. Coyuchi .
UNFINISHED WOOD DRESSER
My client purchased many pieces from a local unfinished furniture store. I’m not giving the name here because they don’t ship, but these items can be found at almost any local unfinished furniture store in your area. The pieces are solid wood, heavy, and very well crafted, like fine furniture.
COVERTABLE FUTON SOFA
This sofa is made from an organic cotton futon from White Lotus Home and covetable sofa frame from KD Frames. A convertible frame can be turned into a platform bed by lowering the back. The futon will be covered with an organic cotton cover.
I’ve visited the White Lotus Home workplace so the futon was excellent, as I expected.
The frame was unfinished Tulip Poplar, which is a great wood, but the frame was very difficult to put together and had poor instructions. Many of the pieces had rough ends that hadn’t been sanded.
This is my first experience with a convertible frame sofa and I would say that it needs a few big pillows to make the relative size of the back and seat more similar to a conventional sofa.
The total cost of a convertible sofa like this is around $1500-$1800, depending on the materials you choose for your futon.
UNFINISHED WOOD TV STAND AND CHAIRS
These came from the same local unfinished furniture store as the dressers mentioned above.The chairs are actually the very same chairs I have in my house. The pieces are solid wood, heavy, and very well crafted, like fine furniture.
IKEA WOOD TABLES
For the dining table and a desk my client purchase two pine tables from Ikea. Like the bed frame, the tables have a light acrylic finish that had no odor even as we took the pieces out of the box. Very easy to put together in less than an hour. INGO pine tables $69
My client ordered drinking water and shower filters from Pure Effect Advanced Filtration on my recommendation. These are the water filters I use in my own home.
I learned a valuable lesson: make sure you can install the the water filter before you order it.
In our case, she had ordered an undersink filter that requires an auxillary faucet. But there was no hole in the countertop and this is a rental. So we had to return it. The countertop model is the correct choice here.
And in one of the bathrooms the showerhead was the “rain shower” type that come straight down from the ceiling. The shower filter leaked with this type of showerhead, so we’re going to have to get creative with the plumbing to install it. Pure Effect Advanced Filtration
My client also ordered two EnviroKlenz Mobile Units for her 1400 square foot apartment.
While I used a mobile unit in my home for a short period as a test before recommending it, I had never experienced it in action in a situation where it was really needed. I had that opportunity in this apartment.
When I walked in, I was hit in the face with a strong odor of cleaning product. Larry smelled it too. So we turned on the mobile units full blast and in about two minutes the odor was completely gone. It really showed me how well these units work. Low speeds for every day, and then when you need a pollutant to be removed fast, the high speeds will clear the air quickly. I was very impressed. EnviroKlenz Mobile Unit Air Purifier
Cherry Garcia tested zero for glyphosate
Last week an The New York Times published an interesting article about glyphosate in ice cream. Specifically Ben & Jerry’s in the title, but others as well.
So should we all stop eating ice cream?
Here are the important points for consumers who want to eat ice cream.
The Organic Consumers Association tested 11 samples of Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream and found trace amounts of glyphosate in 10 of the samples. I was happy to see that my favorite flavor—Cherry Garcia (which I haven’t eaten in years)—was the one flavor that had zero.
So why do the others have glyphosate? The conclusion was that the glyphosate isn’t from the ice cream, but from the flavor additions. You can see in the chart that there is a wide difference in the amount of glyphosate between flavors.
The Organic Consumers Association also tested four brands of organic vanilla ice cream: Alden’s, Three Twins, Julie’s and the Whole Foods Market brand 365. The lab found trace amounts of glyphosate comparable to Ben & Jerry’s Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough in the Whole Foods 365 sample, but none in the others.
So some brands of organic vanilla test the same as Ben & Jerry’s Cherry Garcia.
I rarely eat ice cream because I try to keep my intake of sugar and fat down and ice cream is loaded with both.
Regardless of tests, logic tells me that organic ice cream is going to contain fewer toxic chemicals overall, and it’s a better choice.
When I eat ice cream (rarely) I make my own at home. That way I can choose organic cream, my preferred organic sweetener, and any other ingredients.
Question from Mai
I was wondering if you have any information about POM plastic (polyoxymethylene )? Most of the food processors I’ve found that come with a glass work bowl have POM plastic on the blade unit.
It’s a plastic of the thermoplastic type. It is sold as a small plastic pellet which is then melted at high temperatures to then be molded into plastic parts.
“When this product is heated to high temperatures in order to produce a molded or extruded part, small amounts of formaldehyde gas is given off. The release of formaldehyde during the manufacture of parts made from Ultraform® POM is the primary concern…”
“Plastic parts made from Ultraform® POM…do not present a risk from exposure to formaldehyde, since the parts are no longer heated to high enough temperatures to produce formaldehyde.”
I’m not concerned about this on the blade unit of a food processor.
Sperm counts in men from industrialized countries have dropped by more than 50 percent in less than 40 years
Could exposure to chemicals be impairing our ability reproduce as a species
Researchers from a study done at Hebrew University-Hadassah Braun School of Public Health and Community Medicine in Jerusalem announced last week that sperm counts in men from America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand showed a 52.4 percent decline in sperm concentration and a 59.3 percent decline in total sperm count among North American, European, Australian and New Zealand men. And the rate of decline is not slowing.
This analysis did not look into reasons for the decline, but noted that falling sperm counts have previously been linked to various factors such as exposure to certain chemicals and pesticides, smoking, stress and obesity.
No significant decline was seen in South America, Asia and Africa, but researchers noted that far fewer studies have been done in these regions.
Question from Jonathan
I’ve just discovered your page. It is WONDERFUL. My wife and I are attempting to slowly but surely reduce our toxic levels at home (particularly plastics!) for ourselves and our children, and your site is going to help us a lot for sure!
My latest mission is watch straps! I’ve come to realise that it is not so easy to find something toxin free! And if a watch wearer, we are in contact with the strap ALL day!
I guess that’s where the problem originates! They are on all day, so have to resist wear and tear, sweat and other liquids, sun and heat. So they mostly are build tough, and that means:
Plastic straps: are… plastic. And the non-solid “woven fabric” straps like NATO straps are often either nylon or Cordura based or some other plastic.
Leather. But leather straps will all surely be chromium based leather. Rawhide wouldn’t be flexible enough etc. And leather is just awful in so many ways. Btw you may have already seen it but here’s a great post on leather: How Leather Is Slowly Killing the People and Places That Make It
So I searched for “vegan leather” straps. These seem to be pure plastic or PU coated leather. Sigh…
Then I heard about cork watch straps! Made from real cork! I don’t know much about cork. But I don’t trust that cork could withstand much movement or wear, could it? So I would bet the cork is bound with melamine or PU or something to stop it falling apart. Particularly cus watch straps are so thin! Also, I have no idea about the ethics or processes of cork manufacturing.
Any thoughts? Could this be the answer?
What about canvas? What is canvas? I see some canvas straps that are backed with leather anyhow. But a pure canvas strap? Is that possible? I’m thinking about canvas like what paintings are on. They’re not plastic these days surely? Linen or something?
Any other ideas? The more I look, the less hope I find! Product listings are SO vague and retailers and manufacturers alike! I need help Debra! Help!
I stopped wearing a watch many years ago for all the reasons you state.
But I still needed to know what time it was.
There are watches you can carry without a strap, such as watches on necklaces, pocket watches, travel clocks you can put in a pocket or purse and probably more I’m not aware of.
Today the time is on your cell phone (if you carry one) so there’s not much need for a watch.
You didn’t mention metal watch bands, but they often cause rashes.
Readers, any success with finding a nontoxic watch band?
I can’t tell you who wrote this because the person who sent it to me didn’t know, but I felt it was worth passing along.
Inspired by Michael Pollan’s Food Rules, here is a short list of guidelines for choosing products—any product.
I couldn’t have said it better myself.
ELEVEN RULES FOR CHOOSING PRODUCTS
- If it is cheap, it probably has hidden costs.
- If it starts as a toxic input (like ethylene glycol in the manufacture of polyester), you probably don’t want it in your house or office.
- Use materials made from substances you can imagine in their raw or natural state.
- Use carbohydrate-based materials (i.e., natural fibers) when you can.
- Just because almost anything can kill you doesn’t mean fabrics should.
- Pay more, use less.
- Consult your nose – if it stinks, don’t use it.
- If they can’t tell you what’s in it, you probably don’t want to live with it. (Note: this is not just the fibers used to weave the fabric – did the processing use specific chemicals, like heavy metals in the dyestuff, or are there any finishes on the fabric?)
- Avoid materials that are pretending to be something they are not (like polyester mimicking linen).
- Question materials that make health claims.
- Regard space-age materials with skepticism.
Instructions at Instructables
Question from Holly
Thanks so much for helping me become such a conscious consumer. Your work and advice is really appreciated!
I am on the hunt for a great cooler that will keep our stuff cold for a couple of days. After lots of research of the likes of Pelican, Yeti, and Bison, I came to realize that the stuff that keeps the ice frozen for so long is polyurethane foam insulation! This worried me, but THEN I found out that’s what is in our fridges.
Is this safe? The coolers are listed as having polypropylene shells (I am assuming that is the same plastic used for fridges) – does polypropelyne do a good job of containing VOCs within the walls of the cooler or fridge?
Also, Pelican soft coolers are made with double-coated 840D TPU; Yeti soft coolers are made of ColdCell™ foam insulation with EVA foam bottom – what are your thoughts on this regarding being so close to food etc.?
I’d love your input on this because I have done exhaustive research and can’t seem to find out anything!
First of all, polyurethane foam isn’t a problem in coolers and refrigerators because it’s enclosed. As long as it’s sealed up inside something else, the fumes won’t get through.
The polypropylene shell is also fine. Polypropylene is one of the least toxic plastics. It’s used to make food storage containers. So I’m not really worried about that.
Now you asked if polypropylene would block VOCs. Great question. Here’s an interesting paper called Guidance on the Use of Plastic Membranes as VOC Vapor Barriers. But in a cooler you’re talking about a thick piece of plastic, not a membrane. That think piece would certainly block the VOCs.
Again, with refrigerators, the plastic would be thick enough to block VOCs. Here are the plastics used on the inside of your refrigerator:
Tough, impact- and corrosion-resistant plastics such as ABS, high impact polystyrene and polypropylene are used to create molded interior panels and door liners that help maximize usable space. Molded-in color means there is no paint or coating to peel over time. These panels are also moisture resistant, which helps them repel spills and stains. For clear drawers and compartment doors, polystyrene, polycarbonate and acrylic are the resins of choice, with durable polycarbonate often chosen for frequently used doors and compartments.
Thanks for asking this question. I didn’t know polycarbonate was used to make those crisper drawers. That’s the plastic with BPA.
TPU and EVA are both pretty nontoxic plastics. I’m not concerned about them.
As long and we’re on the subject, here are some links for insulating bags.
Here is a link to one similar to one I use and love. It has no outgassing. It’s a foil-lined cloth bag I purchased at my local natural food store.
You could use several inside each other for more insulation.
Also look at this cooler bag:
And here’s an article about how to keep your food cool without electricity:
Readers, what do you use to keep your food cold?
Question from Marcella
I need your assistance to find affordable organic toxic free clothing but for Plus Size Women. If possible, I prefer a local store in my area where I can go to try them on. I live in Carson, CA in the Los Angeles County near San Pedro which is the Port of Los Angeles. If not, then online is the next best thing. In general, I wear size 1X in tops and 14W or 16W for pants/shorts.
I just want to be able to find clothing that is stylish yet within my budget so I do not break my bank account. I am not looking for clothes that makes one look like a hoochie mama or an old lady before my time. When it comes to clothes, I am very conservative yet fashionable.
I do not know if you have seen/read the link below on the internet. This lady hit it right on the nose when it came to shopping for organic plus size clothing for women. She understands my frustration completely.
As a plus size woman myself, I agree this blogger has hit it right on the nose. And I found another such post at
I am fortunate that my work-at-home lifestyle allows me to wear cotton tank tops and cotton capri pants most of the year here in Florida. I’ll admit that I have a drawer of neutral color pants and a drawer of colorful tank tops and my fashion choice go as far as pulling a pair of pants out of one drawer and a top out of the other and I’m dressed for the day.
But I do love fashion and used to be quite fashionable before I gave up all the synthetic fabrics to go natural.
I’ve been able to find cotton clothing in my size, and linen clothing too, just at department stores and even at places like TJMaxx and Ross Dress for Less. But it’s getting more and more difficult. I’m thinking about making my clothes or hiring someone to make them or even designing and selling my own line of clothing.
The blog mentioned by the reader lists some websites that have plus clothing. I went through the list and unfortunately I could only agree with three: Eileen Fisher ($$$ and sold only at fine department stores), Rawganique (already on Debra’s List) and Gaia Conceptions (which I’m adding to Debra’s List right now).
Check out the Clothing page on Debra’s List. You can search the page for “plus” and find the listings that have plus sizes. I’ve added a few new post for plus size natural fiber clothing that I found today.
And please let me know any plus size websites you find that you like so I can add them.
Just a comment…as I am looking though a number of websites on these “natural fiber plus size” lists, I’m seeing that what they think are natural fibers and I think are natural fibers are two different things. I think natural fibers are cotton, linen, silk, wool and other “whole” fibers. They think natural fibers are tercel, rayon, and other manufacurered items, or natural fibers mixed with spandex, polyester and other synthetics. So be sure to find the actual fabric content and check it out. Don’t assume “natural” is actually natural on clothing sites.
Batting made from hemp
Question from Therese
Super big thanks for all your good, thorough research and reporting.
Do you have any info about hemp beds? Conventionally made beds with foam give me headaches and I’m very sensitive/allergic to organic cotton fibers. (skin was on fire after lying down on organic cotton beds in showroom)
My instincts are telling me hemp could be a good option but I need good info in order to proceed.
Like this? www.earthsake.com/store/HempMattress.html
100% Hemp inside and out.
Question from Marcia
I am living with three chronic illneses. One being severe scoliosis and it’s hard to breathe. Must have real wooden blades. Please help find economic one.
Readers, do any of you know of actual wood blades for ceiling fans?
All the “wood” blades I found were fake.
Marcia if you can’t find them ready made, ask a handyman to make some for you. That shouldn’t be expensive.