Answers to Your Questions About Toxic Free Living
Question from S.W.
I hear so much about polluted beaches. I was wondering if I should boil or somehow sanitize beach sand I bring home before I use it to soften up my feet.
All beaches are different in terms of their level of pollution. Here in Florida where I live, we have a lot of beaches. They test the water regularly and we get beach alerts if the local regulators find that pollutants go to levels high enough to cause illness.
I’m not particularly concerned about sand. It’s siting out in the hot sun all day. The sun is a natural disintectant.
I go to the beach all the time and walk on the sand and swim in the water. I’m not concerned about it at my local beach. Learn more about the specific area where you are collecting your sand. Certainly there are polluted beaches, but not all beaches are polluted.
Question from R. R.
I’ve recently found some cosmetic powders mostly made of cornstarch and iron oxides. Are iron oxides just as bad as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide? After reading about these ingredients in your e-book Debra’s Guide To Choosing Natural Sun Protection I’m wondering if iron oxides are just as bad.
Thanks! Thanks also for the e-book!!! It’s great info!!!
Iron oxides are used in almost 2,000 cosmetics products. I don’t know how they are processed, but they are naturally occurring minerals in Nature. I was once driving through the deserts in the Southwest and stopped to look at the colored rock by the side of the road. They had so many colors I could see how they could just be ground up to make cosmetics.
The Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep website says only that they are concerned that iron oxides have not been assessed for safety. I have not heard of any concerns about the health effects of iron oxides over the years.
Contrast this to the fact that the same source says titanium dioxide is a suspected human carcinogen and zinc oxide is known to be an immune system toxin and a respiratory toxicant, and may present risks to human reproduction and development based on limited data, and I would say iron oxides are much safer. I don’t see any reason to not use them.
Question from J. K.
I’ve had a whole house filter in my last 2 houses, and was all set to go with a whole house filter in my current house. But then it was pointed out to me by someone in the water filtration business that after the water has been filtered, the clean unchlorinated water then sits in pipes, water heater, etc., allowing all kinds of microbes to breed prior to being dispensed at the faucet. Even though he could have easily sold me a whole house filter on the spot, he recommended that I install point of use filters.
Although I can’t say that I noticed a problem with the whole house filter before, this is my first house in Florida ie. high heat and humidity all year.
Have you ever heard this issue addressed? What do you think?
Hmmmmm….you’re the first person who has brought this up. I haven’t noticed a problem. I’ve had a whole house filter for almost three years in Clearwater FL.
Let’s just look for a moment at how the water is distributed throughout a house. Basically you want it in the kitchen for drinking/cooking and in the bathroom for bathing. It’s a bonus that you can brush your teeth in clean water and in my case have better water for clothes washing, which makes the clothes softer and uses less soap and I don’t have to use a softener.
If you were to install point-of-use, you would probably have one in the kitchen and on the shower.
For tap water in my area chloramines and fluoride, I couldn’t get point-of-use filters that would remove both in both kitchen and shower. So I got a whole-house unit that removes both chloramines and fluoride while leaving the healthful natural minerals from Go Beyond Organic.
Question from Ed
In your 4 April 2006 newsletter you promote conventional cotton clothing…and I’m just wondering about your thoughts on conventional cotton versus organic cotton and hemp. I’m sure you know about conventional cotton…the pesticides…something like two-thirds of all pesticides used in the US are used on cotton…plus the amount of water used to grow cotton is just tremendous versus what is required for hemp.
I’m just curious about why you promote conventional cotton over organic cotton and hemp. My thought is maybe the info that I read about conventional cotton is overblown or incorrect…or maybe there’s another side to the story that I’ve not heard.
Your thoughts on this are greatly appreciated. Thank you.
I’m not promoting coventional cotton over organic cotton and hemp. I promote products that are as close to natural state as we can get. This would be organically grown natural fibers. Most of the links for textile products on Debra’s List are for organic natural fibers, with some conventional natural fibers, particularly for products that are hard or impossible to get organic at this time.
If I could just wave my magic wand and change the whole world well, I’m trying, but it sometimes takes time for results! everyone would wear organic natural fibers all the time. But that isn’t possible right at this moment, for a variety of reasons. And so I need to give “second best” alternatives as well.
As you know, there are many steps to sustainability. It’s a gradient scale. Best would be completely organic. Worst would be complely synthetic.
On Debra’s List I use a rating system of nontoxic, natural, and earthwise. Earthwise in clothing is organic, better dyes, unbleached, etc. Natural is standard natural fibers. I don’t actually use the nontoxic rating for textiles.
Right now organic natural fiber clothing is in limited supply, expensive, and in my case, not available in my size.
The main benefit of organic is environmental. Of course, those poisons affect our own health too, but this is an indirect exposure. It’s not harmful to health to my knowledge to wear conventionally grown cotton, although I may change my mind about that soon based on new things I am learning about the subtle effects of synthetics.
Question from J. L.
I just bought a water filter and I’m not sure I bought the right one. What should I be looking for in a water filter?
This is a big question. There is a whole chapter on choosing water filters in Home Safe Home, and I’m also in the process of writing a how-to guide for the website.
Here’s a simple place to start.
Most water filter advertisements say they remove a whole long list of pollutants. But what is more important to know is what pollutants do you want to remove from your water?
The first thing to look at are two key pollutants: chlorine and fluoride.
In the past, the standard disinfectant was chlorine, but it is fast being replaced by chloramine. Chlorine combines with the natural organic matter in water such as dead leave and humus in soil, silt, and mud, to forms trihalomethanes, or THMs, the most common of which is chloroform. According to the EPA, trihalomethanes were present in virtually all chlorinated water supplies in the United States.
So chlorine is now being replaced by chloramines. If your water is not yet treated with chloramines, it probably soon will be. Chloramine is
Question from J.G.
I’ve been looking for flannel sheets but noticed that many are imported. Not real clear on this issue, so do I need to be concerned about the type of dye that is used in any imported fabric? Which would mean only made in U.S. cotton or organic would be safe. Thanks for any info.
I’ve been sleeping on flannel sheets for over twenty years and have never noticed an ill effect from the dyes.
If a dye is “colorfast” — that is, that it stays in the fabric without coming out during use or washing, it is staying within the fabric. If, for example, you wore a red shirt, and ended up with red armpits, some of the dye may be absorbed through your skin and into your bloodstream. I am not aware of any reason to be concerned about dyes that are colorfast.
Question from P. C.
With the holiday season approaching and trying to live non-toxic for the first time, how do you feel about live christmas trees? And if they are OK, how to decorate them?
Personally, I just decorate my tree with white lights and put a metal gold star on the top. It’s very simple, but always magical for me.
That’s the short answer. But there are many details to consider about the health and environmental effects of a Christmas tree.
A good place to start is with my Christmas Trees excerpt from the new revised edition of Home Safe Home. It discusses the basic health issues and gives some suggestions on how to enjoy an “allergy-free” Christmas tree.
Then you need to decide what type of tree you want. Choosing a Tree outlines the environmental benefits and harm of the different options. Fresh Cut Trees and Living Trees have more details on these two choices. Make Your Own Recycled Tree tells how you can make a “tree” by recycling scrap evergreen boughs.
I’ve got lots of suggestions for nontoxic and earthwise Tree Ornaments and instructions for decorating my favorite holiday tree–a Tree of Life.
And finally, How To Recycle Your Holiday Tree and, if you’re interested The History of Holiday Trees celebrating the season with evergreens is a lot older than Christmas!.
Question from S. H.
Thanks for all the great and helpful information you provide!
Some years ago, you recommended sodium hexametaphosphate for general household use. If you still recommend it, can you tell me where I can purchase it?
Thanks so very much!
I no longer recommend sodium hexametaphosphate. Many years ago I was recommending it because at the time there were no alternatives to chlorine bleach. There’s nothing wrong with using it, but it is hard to find, difficult to purchase, and today there are a number of chlorine-free bleach products–sold even in supermarkets.
The new oxygen-based cleaners work even better than sodium hexametaphosphate. OxiClean! is available on-line and is sold in many stores. Natural Choices Home Safe Products has a full line of cleaning products based on the power of oxygen bleach that contain a higher percentage of active ingredients than the brand-name products.
Oxygen bleaches work by releasing oxygen. Hydrogen peroxide is the active ingredient. Either it is used as an ingredient, or it is released as the product of the reaction of another ingredient when combined with water.
Since hydrogen peroxide is the active ingredient in all these products, you could also just use drugstore-variety hydrogen peroxide as a laundry bleach. Dilute it in a pint of water before adding it to your laundry, so you don’t get white spots on your clothes. Experiment with different concentrations in different amounts to find the level of whitening you need.
Oxygen bleaches often contain sodium carbonate peroxide also called sodium percarbonate, sodium peroxide, or sodium perborate, all of which are made by reacting molecules with hydrogen peroxide. When these the hydrogen peroxide is released. Naturally-occuring borax also releases hydrogen peroxide into the water.
Like chlorine bleach, hydrogen peroxide does have an antiseptic action. It is commonly used as a topical antiseptic in dilute solutions, and as a water purifier in stronger solutions.
Question from S.W.
Our newly constructed home is almost done! Is there anything I should do before I move my family in beyond a thorough natural cleaning?
I’m assuming you used only nontoxic, natural, and otherwise environmentally-friendly materials, but even so, these may emit residual odors and vapors until they are completely cured.
To speed up the curing process, you can do what is commonly called a “bake-out”. In, my experience, it has been a cure-all for many toxic homes, as it bakes off the volatile gasses that are present in materials and finishes and cures the materials into an inert form.
The procedure I recommend in my book Home Safe Home is this:
Baking can take from one to five days. I’ve never needed to do it longer than five days.
One client told me that she had previously baked her house, and got very sick afterwards. But as I listened to her story, I discovered that she hadn’t aired it out. Of course she got sick. After baking, all the toxic substances that were in the materials were then in the air of her home.
Baking out, according to the instructions I’ve given, has been, in my experience, a safe and effective procedure. I have been using and recommending this process for over twenty years with no personal ill effects that I could identify, and no complaints from my clients when done as directed.
Question from R. W.
We want to replace carpeting in our daughter’s bedroom. She is chemically sensitive and so we were comparing prefinished wood flooring with laminate wood flooring. At our local Lowe’s store we saw Bruce wood floor and a Pergo laminate. Is the laminate more toxic than the wood ? We hope to use a kind that needs neither gluing or nailing. The laminate is thicker for about the same price. Would it be more toxic?
We have also found an engineered hardwood Bruce flooring that does not require nailing or gluing. Since it is engineered, does that present any outgassing problems? Also if it requires laying foam underneath, would that present a challenge to the chemically sensitive since it would be sealed under the flooring?
I went down to my local Lowe’s and looked at all of these floorings.
First, let’s just clear up what all these different types of flooring are.
Solid wood flooring is one piece of wood top to bottom. Generally it is nailed to a wood subfloor. Most prefinished solid wood flooring I’ve seen has been nontoxic–the finish is applied at the factory and baked on.
Engineered flooring is made up of layers of wood stacked and glued under heat and pressure. It can be installed over most subfloors. The Bruce engineered flooring 6626 I examined at Lowe’s just smelled like wood to me. It did not seem especially toxic. Some engineered floors require plastic foam installed underneath. I wasn’t able to find out what type of plastic is used to make the foam underlayment. While it didn’t seem particularly toxic in the store, I’ve had experiences in the past where people purchased flooring thinking it was safe from a small sample, only to find that a roomful or a houseful was pretty toxic. As always, my best advice is to avoid plastics whenever possible, particularly when other safer products are available.
A floating floor is not attached to the floor, except around the edges. It does not require glue, however, glue is not a problem if you choose a nontoxic type, such as yellow woodworker’s glue.
Laminate flooring is made up of various layers of material laminated together. There’s a good illustration of what laminate flooring is made up of on the Armstrong website. Basically, laminate flooring is high-density fiberboard, covered by an “image layer” that makes it look like wood, topped with a protective layer of plastic. It is an inexpensive, easy-care alternative to wood and waxing that can be installed over any subfloor. It won’t last as long as wood we are still walking on the original oak floors installed in our home over 65 years ago and the finish feels like plastic. It’s basically a fake wood floor. The one MSDS sheet I looked at showed that brand of laminate flooring emitted formaldehyde fumes, so all in all, I don’t recommend laminate flooring. That said, a friend of mine recently installed a laminate floor all through her living room and it didn’t smell horrible.