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I’m in the market for a non-toxic footstool for my husband. He has a chair that he uses in a quiet corner of our house and would like to be able to put his feet up. Since it’s not in a main room of our house, I’m not looking for investment-quality furniture but I would like it to look nice and be built to last.
I thought it might be interesting to show the steps I take and thought process I go through before I buy a new product for my home.
Identify a Trusted Source
A quick search of my go-to, non-toxic furniture makers, Medley and Cisco Brothers, confirmed my suspicion that all of their options would cost far more than I wanted to spend. So, I went to another favorite source; Etsy.
I really like buying from Etsy for many reasons. I like to support small businesses, particularly those that are women-owned, and handmade goods are generally environmentally-friendly. Most importantly, Etsy sells many products made with natural materials and the artisans are often willing to customize when materials are not optimal.
Eliminate Problematic Materials
I chose to steer away from stools with wooden legs because it eliminates the need to evaluate adhesives and stains, each of which are potentially toxic. I also chose to avoid leather because even vegetable-tanned leather can be processed with harmful chemicals. This led me to focus on stuffed cushions or poufs to serve as a footrest.
Evaluate the Materials
Most Etsy shops do a good job of identifying the materials used in each item. The more detail that the artisan provides, the more comfortable I feel that I can adequately assess the product. I look for natural fabrics and fills and then make note of questions I have for the artisan.
I assumed that many of the items I looked at have a zipper so that the cover can be washed, but most didn’t list this as a material. Though zippers are made of plastic, it is a minor exposure and I am not worried about it.
Look for Certifications
When purchasing fabric, it is optimal to find products certified by GOTS or Oeko-Tex. Read more about certifications here.
Contact the Producer
I always like to verify the materials with the artisan and confirm that there is nothing else used in the product.
For fabrics, it’s important to know what types of dyes are used and if they have any treatments, like stain resistance. This is often not specified in the description.
I also ask for verification of organic claims and certifications.
Finally, I ask about the ability to customize if there is a material that I would like to substitute for something less toxic.
I started by searching for organic poufs. Adding the word “organic” to the search helps to identify products that attempt to use more natural materials. It is a good filter but does not guarantee that the finished product is organic. I found dozens of options and narrowed down my choice to three items. Each have pros and cons.
- Crochet part: natural linen cord
- Filling bag: natural linen fabric
- Filling: Styrofoam beads.
- Linen is not beached, no dyes used, 100 % pure Baltic linen
- The fabric for both the inner and outer fabric is undyed linen.It’s not certified organic but flax (which is used to make linen) requires little to no pesticides and can be mechanically processed into linen fabric with few chemicals. Some cheaper linen can be processed with chemicals so I’ve reached out to the artisan to confirm that the linen is mechanically processed and to see if it has any certifications.
- I love that it is undyed because the dying process can be chemically intensive.
- Styrofoam beads are not something I would buy. Read more here about Styrofoam. I confirmed that it is possible to buy this unfilled. I would fill it with this GOTS certified organic cotton fill.
- Exterior: 100% organic wool
- Interior: Organic linen
- Stuffed with high quality polystyrene beads
- I love that the wool and linen are organic. I have asked for confirmation of organic certification and also inquired about the dyes. They look to be undyed but I want to be sure.
- Polystyrene is the same things as Styrofoam. Styrofoam is a trademarked brand name for polystyrene. I would not buy this. I have asked the artisan if I can buy the cover without any filling.
- Filling: 100% Organic GOTS Certified Cotton
- Insert Cover Fabric: 100% Cotton, lightweight
- Zip-Off Cover Fabric:
- Max Cotton (100% Cotton)
- Canal (60% cotton/40% polyester)
- Mimos (50 % Cotton/50% Polyester)
- Bella (67% Cotton/33% Linen)
- Velvet (65% cotton/35% Polyester)
- Water/ Stain repellent fabric (60% Cotton/40% Polyester)
- This is the only option I found that has a GOTS certified fill. This is ideal.
- The insert cover is 100% cotton. There is no information about dyes or certifications.
- The outer cover is available in many options, including synthetic fabrics and stain repellent treatments. This raises concerns about the 100% cotton fabric. Most cotton fabric is dyed and processed using harsh chemicals. It seems unlikely that this cotton is organic or certified.
- Interestingly, this option has the best fill but the most questionable outer fabric.
While I am still waiting to get some answers from the artisans, I am leaning toward option 2, assuming I can supply my fill and the wool and linen are undyed. If I can’t confirm the type of dye used on the wool, I will go with option 1 and use my own fill. Either will be non-toxic and will get the job done beautifully!
Question from Melissa
I’m having trouble finding PVC-free adhesive cord covers to cover my long ethernet cables in the house. Optimally they are like these ones, but PVC-free:
All of the plastic covers that I found were PVC. Would you consider a fabric cover? It would be safer to avoid the adhesive as well.
Etsy has many fabric cord covers including ones made from natural fibers. These are made from linen.
I have a magnetic strip on the back of my desk and I organize my wires with metal clips.
Question from Theresa
I have pieces of Tupperware that are now 30 years old in my kitchen. I’d like to make use of it, but am wary of old plastics. Is there any health threat from it? What about 20-year-old Rubbermaid storage containers?
BPA has been used in plastic since the 1940’s. Once plastic containers are scratched, they are more likely to leach chemicals. I would replace them with glass containers.
Question from Andi
I got a new modem in early November and was concerned that it would produce smelly fumes. I was pleasantly surprised – it was fine. But now, just over two months later, when I am near it, it smells very strong from the fumes. Maybe I am just more sensitive right now – under a lot of stress. I do shut it off at night. Is there anything I can do about this? Cannot cover it with aluminum foil due to it heats up.
You are not alone. Many have written in with this problem. Read the thread here. Try to place the modem as far from your bedroom as possible and keep the area well ventilated. Its great that you shut it off at night. Make sure it’s not near a vent or any other heat source. In the thread you will see some more intensive solutions like building a sealed box around it and venting it to the outside. Additionally, there are suggestions for modems that have been better tolerated by sensitive individuals.
Question from Roger
I try to buy organic or natural bedding but it can be expensive and I am not from the United States. For pillows I can’t use down/feather and want to avoid synthetic but all natural options are very expensive or have other issues (Kapok is very flammable). If I buy a pillow with a 100% cotton cover AND 100% polyester fill and the pillow is OEKO-TEX certified, does that mean the cover only is certified or both the cover and filling/batting is certified? Thank you so much.
Good question. It depends how it is worded; either is possible. It’s best to call the manufacturer to check. You should ask if the finished product is certified or just the cover. Unlike GOTS certification, Oeko-Tex does certify synthetic fabrics as well as natural fibers. If it is the whole pillow that is certified it is a good, more affordable solution to a GOTS certified pillow. Even thought the polyester fill is not ideal, at least you know that the chemicals used in the processing of the product are relatively safe.
Question from Adriana
I would like to know if there’s a wood and wood alternative cutting boards available that are toxic free; ie, they contain no formaldehyde, no mineral oil or any other toxin. I’m looking for individual cutting boards for veggies, fruits and meats. However, everything out there seems contain some type of toxin.
Urthware is my favorite brand. They are made with solid wood, no adhesives, and treated with organic oils and wax (no mineral oil!). Even the feet are made from natural rubber. They are sturdy and beautiful.
Question from Fran
I have chemical sensitivities and chlorine is one of my triggers. I just ordered filters (from Igor) for my kitchen sink, bathroom sink, and shower. Because Pure Effect does not have a whole house system anymore, I am also wondering about my laundry. What is your opinion of putting several teaspoons of sodium ascorbate into my washing machine with my detergent?
Sodium Ascorbate will neutralize chlorine. I am not a chemist so I don’t know for sure, but it is a neutral PH so I don’t think it will have a negative impact on your washer. Readers, any additional thoughts?
Last week I wrote about toxins in clothing. The thought of finding non-toxic clothing when there is so little transparency can be overwhelming. Fortunately, there are many companies selling chemical-free clothing. Here’s how to find them.
There are dozens of companies profiled on Debra’s List that sell women’s clothing, men’s clothing and baby & kid’s clothing. A good way to start the process of detoxing your closet is to focus on pajamas, undergarments and basics like tee shirts and jeans. Here are some good sources to get you started.
Invest in a couple of pairs of GOTS certified organic pajamas. This way, you will spend roughly one third of your day in chemical-free clothing. It’s a good start.
All of Coyuchi’s pajamas (and all of their other clothing) are GOTS certified organic cotton. Their products are expensive but they are the highest quality and will last for years. These are the most comfortable pajamas I have ever owned.
Try to wear GOTS certified undergarments so at least the clothing that touches your skin is free of chemicals.
You can’t go wrong with this brand. “Super soft organic cotton. No toxic dyes. No toxic pesticides. No sweatshops. No child labor.” All of their products are GOTS certified. Great for underwear and socks.
Maggie’s Organics is a great source for socks. All of their products are GOTS certified organic cotton or wool. Some of the socks have a small percentage of synthetic fabric for elasticity which is allowed under GOTS rules. They have athletic socks which can be hard to find. Maggie’s also has a full line of clothing and accessories.
This company specifically provides clothing for people with skin contact allergies to latex and other common allergens. While not certified by GOTS or Oeko-tex, they use organic cotton and are very transparent about the chemicals used in the process. They focus primarily on undergarments and socks, but also have basic pants and tops for loungewear. “All of our products are made from natural and chemical free 100% combed cotton material. Our elasticized garments are made from a newly developed material that is both latex-free and spandex-free. Our Cottonique fabric is…PH balanced to conform with the body’s natural acidic level and is totally free of dyes, bleach and textile chemicals commonly used in other apparel.”
Clothing basics like tee shirts and leggings that can fit often into your rotation will help you build a non-toxic wardrobe.
Pact sells more than underwear. They have a full collection of clothing for women, men, babies and children.
Coyuchi has recently expanded their clothing line and now sells tees, sweaters, cotton pants and shorts.
Sustainable Clothing Websites
The websites donegood.co, which is based in the U.S., and goodonyou.eco, which is based in Australia, feature brands that do good for people and the planet. Be careful, though. Not all brands or items are entirely free of harmful chemicals. Fortunately, most of the featured companies are transparent about their materials and manufacturing processes so it is easier to find non-toxic options. Many of the brands are GOTS certified.
Clothing can be one of the most challenging areas to navigate for people trying to live a non-toxic lifestyle. Over 8000 chemicals are used in the production of clothing but the U.S. does not have a regulatory agency dedicated to overseeing textile production. There is little transparency in the industry, but fortunately, some companies are beginning to restrict the use of the most hazardous chemicals.
What are the Most Concerning Chemicals Used in Clothing?
Formaldehyde: Used to keep clothes wrinkle or shrink-free, and as a preservative for colorfastness and to prevent mildew, particularly when shipped overseas. Avoid clothing labeled wrinkle-free, iron-free, permanent press, or stain resistant. Washing will remove some, but not all of the chemicals.
Azo Dyes: These are the most common types of dye used for clothing. They release aromatic amines, a chemical linked to cancer.
PFCs: Polyfluorinated chemicals are used for waterproofing and stain-resistance.
Heavy Metals: Lead, cadmium and mercury are used in dyes and for leather tanning.
Flame Retardants: Brominated and chlorinated flame retardants are still sometimes used in children’s clothing.
Other chemicals of concern include phthalates, ammonia, chlorine bleach, and high-VOC solvents.
What Types of Materials are Best?
GOTS-Certified Organic Cotton or Wool:
Choosing clothing based on fabric alone is not enough to avoid chemicals. Even organic cotton can be processed and treated with hazardous chemicals. GOTS, The Global Organic Textile Standard, restricts the chemicals used throughout the manufacturing process. The Oeko-Tex Standard 100 certification also restricts chemicals used in the manufacturing process and covers both organic and non-organic fabrics.
Use with Caution:
Tencel is made from eucalyptus trees which are sustainable and ethically grown. The chemicals used to process the fiber are petroleum-based but generally less toxic than those used to process cotton.
Flax requires little to no pesticides and can be mechanically processed into linen fabric with few chemicals. A cheaper alternative that is becoming more common, however, is chemically processed linen.
While much of the pesticides from growing cotton are washed off during processing, even small exposures to pesticides have been linked to adverse health effects. The processing of cotton is chemical-intensive, including steps to bleach, scour, dye and finish the fabric.
Rayon is made by a chemical-intensive process that converts wood pulp into fiber.
Polyester is derived from petroleum but the process to dye it uses fewer chemicals than cotton because it retains the dye better.
Faux or vegan leather is often made with PVC. The main ingredient in PVC, vinyl chloride is a carcinogen. PVC also contains phthalates.
There are hundreds of chemicals used in the tanning of leather. Most leather is tanned using the toxic metal, chromium.
Unfortunately, there is not a simple, affordable way to build an entire wardrobe of non-toxic clothing. Here are some helpful tips to minimize your chemical exposure.
- Wash before wearing.
While you can’t wash out all of the chemicals, washing new clothing will help to remove residual finishing treatments.
- Invest in GOTS certified pajamas.
This is a great way to ensure that you will be free of toxins for the 8 or so hours of your day that you are asleep. Make sure your sheets and bedding are also GOTS certified.
- Wear GOTS certified undergarments.
It’s important that the garments closest to your skin are free of harmful chemicals. Fortunately, there are an increasing number of options available.
- Buy from retailers with transparent chemical management policies.
Check out Green America’s scorecard of major U.S. apparel retailers. (Target, The North Face, Nike, and the Gap get a thumbs up for chemical management.)
- Buy vintage clothing.
Clothing that has been washed for a period of years is more likely to have fewer chemicals. This may not be an option for people who are sensitive to fragrance.
- Buy Less.
This one’s simple. Less clothes = less chemicals.
Green America 2019, Toxic Textiles, January 2020, https://www.greenamerica.org/sites/default/files/2019-07/GA_TextilesReport_Final_0.pdf.
Stockholm University 2015, Toxins remain in your clothes, ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, January 2020. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/10/151023084508.htm>.
GAO 2010, Formaldehyde in Textiles, January2020, <https://www.gao.gov/assets/310/308673.pdf
Question from Sue
I read through the recommendations for space heaters on this site. I did further research, and though the suggestions are low-offgassing, they are not low-emf. I have severe electrical sensitivities (as well as severe chemical sensitivities). I had a Lakewood oil-filled radiator heater with 2 prongs which died, and then I found a Lakewood oil-filled radiator with 3 prongs on the cord, and it was much more emf-safe for me (than the 2-prong one). I bought them both USED, so they were off-gassed. The 3-prong one just died. I have been unable to find a 3-prong replacement by any brand. I am willing to try any type of space heater, as long as it is both low-emf and low-offgassing.
Readers, any suggestions?