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Lemi Shine Detergent Booster

Question from Liz

We have very hard water and I am SO SICK of the scum that builds up on everything that goes into the dishwasher I’m ready to trash the beast and do dishes by hand. But there are three in our house and we always cook meals at home, so that would be quite a chore so I’m looking for a different solution.

A friend recommended adding Lemi Shine Dish Detergent Booster when running the dishwasher, but I can’t find much about its toxicity. The package says it’s “Natural, Safe, Biodegradable, Phosphate Free, Non-Toxic, Septic system safe” but who knows if that means anything?

Any thoughts on this product? Or is there another you would recommend for very hard water? I’ve been using Biokleen dishwasher detergent, but it really doesn’t work here.

Lisa’s Answer

The website lists citric acid and fragrance as ingredients.  Citric acid is not a concern.  Fragrance, as you probably know, can be a mix of many potentially harmful chemicals.  The website’s Q&A section claims that only a small fraction of the fragrance is synthetic and most is essential oils.  It doesn’t sound terrible but there may be non-toxic alternatives.  Readers, any recommendations?

Futon Pad To Stop Slipping

Question from Shannon

After Debra Lynn Dadd educated me to the flame retardants and toxic foam in my sofa I replaced it with a futon. I have a solid wood futon frame and wool mattress with an organic cotton cover. My only problem is that the mattress keeps slipping off.  Can you recommended a way to stop this? The Futon Shop has a product called futon stop slip. It is made of foam. Is this non toxic?

Lisa’s Answer

While the site doesn’t say what it is made of other than “foam” it is likely polyurethane foam which is not non-toxic.  I use a natural latex rug pad under my carpeting which might work and its not super expensive.  Check it out here.  I’d prefer that the latex was GOLS certified but I wasn’t able to find one with certification.

Finding Non-Toxic Dishwashers

Dishwashers are one of the more difficult purchases when planning your non-toxic home because they use many different materials and it’s difficult to get manufacturers or retail sellers to disclose those materials.  Many sales representatives simply don’t know what’s used to make their products.


When I purchased my dishwasher a few years ago I was focused on finding models that didn’t use PCV in the racks.  Recently, a new material of concern, bitumen, has been a popular topic in Toxic-Free Q&A.


Bitumen in Dishwashers


According to Wikipedia, bitumen, also known as asphalt, is a sticky, black, liquid or semi-solid form of petroleum.  It’s widely used in dishwashers as a sound-deadening insulation.  Some consumers complain of a tar smell from newly installed units.


But, just how dangerous is bitumen when used in these conditions?  Research on the toxicity of asphalt focuses on the fumes that workers are exposed to in the pavement and roofing industries.  It’s less clear how much it off-gasses once cured.  Miele, a manufacturer of high-end dishwashers, claims that the bitumen is fully encapsulated and will never emit any vapor or fumes of any kind.  The bottom line is more testing needs to be done to better understand the toxicity of bitumen in this application.


Some models use more bitumen than others depending on the type of tub.  Base on the information I received from 7 manufacturers, dishwashers with stainless steel tubs generally use bitumen in the insulation on all sides of the tub. Dishwashers with plastic tubs generally only use bitumen in the door panel or lid.  So, is it better to have less bitumen with a plastic tub or more bitumen with a stainless steel tub?  Again, it’s hard to say without better understanding just how dangerous bitumen is under each condition.


Here’s where it gets even trickier.  The one model I found that does not use bitumen uses other materials for sound-deadening insulation.  The GE model GDF630PSMSS uses an insulation blanket and insulation mastic.  The manufacturer was unable to tell me the materials used in those items but according to Wikipedia, among the commonly used materials in insulation blankets are PTFE laminates.  That’s right, PTFE, otherwise known as Teflon.  Mastics, like coatings and paints, have a range of VOC levels depending on the formula, so it is impossible to assess the toxicity without more information.


A further complicating factor is that it’s difficult to rely on information gathered from manufacturers.  Some models that readers posted as free of bitumen are ones that I found to contain bitumen, but with a lower amount than other models.   Again, I don’t believe this misleading information is intentional but more a lack of understanding by company employees.  Nonetheless, it’s hard to know exactly what you are getting.


Here’s how 7 dishwasher manufacturers reported their use of bitumen.

Bosch:  All models are made with bitumen.

Fisher & Paykel:  Sides are insulated with cotton fiber and bitumen is used on the top of the lid.

GE:  All models are made with bitumen with the exception of model #GDF630PSMSS which uses an insulation blanket and insulation mastic.

KitchenAid:  All have bitumen in some degree.  Models with stainless steel tubs use bitumen on all side. Models with plastic tubs only use bitumen in the door panel.

Maytag:  All have bitumen in some degree.  Models with stainless steel tubs use bitumen on all side.  Models with plastic tubs only use bitumen in the door panel.

Miele:  All models are made with bitumen, but it is fully encapsulated and will never emit any vapor or fumes of any kind.

Whirlpool:  All have bitumen in some degree.  Models with stainless steel tubs use bitumen on all side. Models with plastic tubs only use bitumen in the door panel.

Plastics in Dishwashers


This is actually some good news. Plastic components inside of new dishwashers, which can include tubs, racks, silverware baskets and spraying arms, are now being made with safer plastics.  PVC used to be a commonly used material in racks but fortunately, most are now made of nylon.  Plastic tubs, silverware baskets and spraying arms are usually made with polypropylene, which does not contain BPA or phthalates.  It’s worth verifying, before you purchase a specific model, that the parts are made with these safer plastics.


Let’s continue to gather information on dishwashers.  What has been your experience with new dishwasher purchases?  Are there detectable odors after installation and for how long?  Have you found a model that is free of bitumen?  Keep me posted!

Fragrance Free Shampoo and Conditioner

Question from Audrey

First Granny’s went out of business and now Magick Botanicals is out of business. Need fragrance free shampoo and conditioner.  Cannot tolerate odor of herbs or flower extracts – has to be totally fragrance free. Carters has olive oil shampoo, but after a while, the smell of the oil got to me and I had to stop using it. Any suggestions?

Lisa’s Answer

Debra’s List has a whole section of fragrance free body care products. These are usually not organic, but they qualify here because they have eliminated the very toxic synthetic fragrance. These products have no fragrance of any kind—synthetic or natural. NOTE: Some of these websites sell products with fragrance and without.

Untreated Towels

Question from Audrey

I used to get my towels from either LLBean or Blair Catalogs. They both now have their towels treated so it is fade resistant.  LLBean has organic towels but are very expensive.  Where can I buy bath towels the way they used to be – not treated for fade resistant.  Thank you.

Lisa’s Answer

There are many untreated towels available on Debra’s List.  Readers, please leave a comment if you have found other reasonably priced untreated towels.

CA Prop 65 warning of Cadmium

Question from Chris

I have a question about (another) CA Prop 65 warning.:
I’m finding a warning for Cadmium somewhere in a bathroom vanity I was about to buy.
I can only guess Cadmium is used in the white paint on this.
Since this an item subject to the most head/humidity in the house, is this particular warning one I should take seriously? Should I assume Cadmium in the paint will off-gas in these temperatures?

Lisa’s Answer

The concern about cadmium is not from off-gassing but from ingestion.  For example, the European Standard bans the use of cadmium in children’s toys for fear that they will be exposed if they chew on the toy or put it in their mouth.
The greatest sources of exposure for a consumer to cadmium are through food and cigarette smoke. Absorption through the skin is negligible.
If you recall, reports of cadmium in children’s jewelry caused alarm in recents years.  The reason for limits on children’s jewelry but not adults is the assumption that children are more likely to put things in their mouths.
I would consider this a low risk of exposure, but certainly try to find something without cadmium if possible.

Chemical Safety Regulations

In 2016, the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21stCentury Act was passed into law, updating the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) which was enacted in 1976.   Under TSCA, only a few hundred out of 85,000 chemicals approved for use were reviewed for safety.  Only 5 of those were banned.


The Lautenberg Chemical Safety Act was intended to bring much needed improvement to our chemical safety regulations.  It required 10 priority chemicals to be assessed immediately and by 2020 it requires 20 evaluations ongoing at any time.  In 2017, the EPA changed the rules to allow the agency to only look at a subset of a chemical’s uses when assessing its safety.  As a result, when the EPA evaluated the 10 priority chemicals it did not take into account the risks caused by the chemical’s presence in air, water or soil.


Here is the status of some of the most dangerous chemicals in use:


Chlorpyrifosis a pesticide used extensively in fruit and vegetable crops.  Research has shown that even a small amount can slow children’s brain development and it is toxic to farm workers.

  • In 2016, the EPA recommended to ban the chemical.
  • In 2019, the EPA decided to keep it on market sighting insufficient data.


Asbestosis banned by most other industrialized nations.  It is a known carcinogen.

  • In 2017, the EPA refused to finalize the proposed ban claiming the science is unresolved.
  • In 2019, the EPA chose to restrict rather than ban the chemical.


Trichloroethylene (TCE)is used as a degreaser and is used as an ingredient in adhesives, paint removers and spot removers.  The EPA concluded that it causes cancer and other serious health effects.

  • In 2016, the EPA proposed a ban for use as an aerosol spray degreaser and dry-cleaning spot treatment. This was the first EPA proposed ban in 25 years.
  • In 2017, the EPA proposed to indefinitely delay the ban.


Methylene Chlorideis used in paint stripping.  It is a likely carcinogen and has been linked to more than 50 deaths.

  • In 2016, the EPA proposed a ban for use as a paint stripper.
  • In 2017, the EPA proposed to indefinitely delay the ban.
  • In 2018, the EPA banned the chemical for use in consumer products but allows for its continued use in commercial products.


N-Methylpyrrolidone (NMP) is used as a paint stripper.  It can cause birth defects and reproductive issues.

  • In 2016, the EPA prosed a ban or restrictions for use in paint strippers.
  • In 2017, the EPA proposed to indefinitely delay the ban.



The EPA has not made progress banning harmful chemicals under the new TSCA law but it has been very quick to approve new chemicals, reviewing over 2000 and approving over half of them. Please consider supporting organizations like Environmental Working Group (EWG) which is a non-profit, non-partisan organization dedicated to protecting human health and the environment.

Styrofoam in Hydroponics

Question from TL

Hi, I have seen styrofoam float used widely in hydroponic farming. Agree hydroponic is pesticide free, but does styrofoam has similar”food grade” like PU foam MDI or is styrofoam used in hydroponic farming safe at all? Thank you.

Lisa’s Answer

There are two primary forms of polystyrene; solid and foam.  Polystyrene foam is either EPS (expanded polystyrene) or XPS (extruded polystyrene).  Styrofoam is a brand name for EPS and is used for products like foam drinking cups. XPS is a denser foam and is used for insulation as well as in food packaging, such as meat trays.   A product used for flotation would be foam polystyrene and could be either EPS or XPS.  Both are considered food grade.
But, back to your questions: are they safe?
According to, The FDA as well as the European Commission/European Food Safety Authority consider polystyrene safe for use in contact with food.  However, the EPA consider styrene, which is a primary component of polystyrene, a probable human carcinogen.  The reason for the discrepancy is that the FDA considers the migration of styrene form polystyrene products into food and beverages to be significantly below FDA guidelines.

So, you need to make the call for yourself.  Personally, I don’t want to risk leaching of a probable carcinogen into my food.  It is possible to uses polyurethane floats in hydroponics however, according to 365aquaponics, polyurethane is sometimes “improved” for better insulation by adding isocyanurates, which are hazardous chemicals.  Its’ also worth noting that some XPS foam board is Greenguard certified.  Don’t let this fool you; Greenguard does not test for leaching into food or water so it says nothing about the safety of eating food grown in this meduim.

I don’t mean to give hydroponics a bad rap.  There are materials used in conventional farming that also cause concern.  It highlights the lack of transparency in food production as a whole.  If you are growing your own food or buying from small, local producers it makes sense to understand the materials used in the process.

Hydration Bladders

Question from Pedro

Hello, I recently started looking for hydration backpacks and I am finding that the bladders are made from either TPU or PEVA.  Which one is less toxic? Are there better options? Help! I just want to keep my kids safe. Thank you.

Lisa’s Answer

If you plan to use them infrequently either is fine.  Both TPU and PEVA have very low toxicity.  However, as they are still made with petrochemicals, you might not want to drink out of them on a regular basis.  Unfortunately, I have looked for non-plastic bladders for my family and not found any.

ATC Trailers

Question from Kelly

Has anyone with MCS tried the ATC (Aluminum Trailer company)?  It can be ordered with all aluminum interior.  This option is impossible to find used and it seems I will need to order a new one.  I have severe MCS, Athsma, COPD, and allergies (allergic to wood so can’t do the toxic free trailers).  I cannot find any reviews on them for MCS on the ACT and am concerned with how long it will take to off gas.

Lisa’s Answer

Readers, does anyone have experience with this company?


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