Super Search

Submitted questions will be posted with my response by the following Tuesday or before.
Submitted comments will be moderated and approved within 24 hours.

Bad Smell

Question from Vangie

A friend of mine made me a coffee table out of an electrical pole, its beautiful but it smell very bad and as if its toxic from where I read about electric poles… can Zinsser Bull’s eye shellac  block the smell?


Lisa’s Answer

Shellac may block the smell but it will also contribute chemical off-gassing.  I would try a non-toxic sealer like AFM Safecoat, which is designed to seal in toxins.

Pressure Cooker

Question from Edy

I found this pressure cooker online supposedly toxic free.  Any thoughts?


Lisa’s Answer

The product looks to be non-toxic and they do independent testing for lead and cadmium.  I don’t have personal experience with it.

I have an Insta Pot but do not use it very often and never use it to cook acidic foods like tomato sauce.  Some people, particularly those with a nickel sensitivity, chose to avoid stainless steel.  Here is more on my thoughts on stainless steel.

Enameled Steel Tub

Question from Tami

Hi I am wondering if you know anything with the Kaldewei enameled steel, porcelain bathtubs. We are going to have our bathroom redone and I am looking for a non toxic tub to replace a fiberglass surround. Any advice would be appreciated.


Lisa’s Answer

I don’t have personal experience with the brand but it looks like a good option.

New Refrigerator

Question from Audrey

I may need to get a new refrigerator.  I called Needs in Syracuse and they said that the moso bags will not help with the outgassing/plastic smells in new refrigerator.  She had no suggestions except keeping the door open and putting an air cleaner in front of it.  Can you please post this question to see what mcs people have done to outgas the inside of a new refrigerator?  Thank you so much.


Lisa’s Answer

I have not yet researched the materials used in refrigerators but one reader with MCS reported that Summit refrigerators do not have an odor.  Have you considered buying a used refrigerator or a floor sample that has already off-gased?


Question from Sandy

I am looking for safe dinnerware sets that would be heavy metal free as possible that is affordable? Is there any brands I could check into that you would know of? I did check with corelle and they said it meets prop. 65 but I know no amount of heavy metals are safe. So just want to see what else may be out there that I dont know about.


Lisa’s Answer

Read more in this article: Is Ceramic Dishware Safe?


Question from Shirley

I read the comments from people hoping to find unscented or garbage bags without fragrance. Why did the makers of household products and trash bags start adding fragrance anyway? In most places a garbage can is provided or used for trash disposal. Where I live, we put our trash to the curb in bags, Paper is not an option due to our wet climate. I sympathize with the people who are sensitive to fragrances. I call the laundry aisle the “Aisle of Death”. How do those sensitive to the overly fragranced world we live in survive? Where can we find truly unscented Garbage Bags? Costco is not an option anymore. Neither is Walmart. I suggest calling Hefty & complaining.  Thanks for listening


Lisa’s Answer

Click here for a thread with readers offering several suggestions.  Readers, any other recommendations for unscented garbage bag?

Eczema and Furniture

Question from Bryan

I have very severe eczema and sensitivity to all things. I’ve noticed that i tend to break out badly whenever i touch a couch with my bare skin. Same goes for carpet, rugs and stretchy fabric.

I’ve heard that this is because of synthetic fabrics.

How on Earth can I find furniture with all natural fabrics? I’ve searched your site but couldn’t find anything regarding furniture.


Lisa’s Answer

There are more and more companies offering couches made with natural fabrics.  Here are some on Debra’s List.  I’m not sure what you are sensitive to, but I would also look out for treatments on the fabrics/rugs as well as chemicals inside your couch.    For example, a couch with a cotton fabric can be treated with stain resistant chemicals and is likely filled with polyurethane foam that can contain fire retardants, formaldehyde, benzene, and toluene.

The best option is to get a custom-made couch that uses only natural materials but this can be costly.  I recommend working with your doctor to find out what you are sensitive to so that you can avoid those specific irritants.

Safe Finish for a Table

Question from Stacey

I am trying to find a safe kitchen table. Is a table with a lacquer, or water-based polyurethane finish safe? Is one safer/preferable over the other?


Lisa’s Answer

It really depends on the specific product used.  Some lacquers are now water-based.  You might consider buying a floor model that has already off-gassed.

Tips for Non-Toxic Holiday Gatherings

Photo by Mel Poole on Unsplash

One of the best things about the holidays is gathering together with family and friends for special meals and gift-giving.  Unfortunately, all of that cooking and decorating can add to indoor air pollution and toxic exposures.  Here are some easy tips to keep your gathering safe and healthy.


Avoid Candles and Scented Décor

Candles made of paraffin wax can emit benzene, toluene and other dangerous chemicals.  They also emit particulate matter that can get deep into your lungs.  Fragrance from scented candles and scented décor usually contain phthalates which are released into the air and can be inhaled or absorbed by the skin.


Ventilate While Cooking

Cooking is a major source of poor indoor air quality.  Proper ventilation is critical, particularly if you are cooking with gas.  If you don’t have a range hood that vents to the outside, open your windows while cooking.  If your range hood doesn’t extend over your front burners, make sure to cook on your back burners.  Also, clean up any food particles on the burners because as they burn, they can release toxic by-products into the air.


Skip the Fire

Wood smoke can emit particulate matter as well as harmful chemicals including formaldehyde, and benzene. Studies show that up to 70% of the smoke released from the chimney re-enters your home.  If you just can’t do without a fire, engineered logs, such as Duraflame, have been shown in third-party studies to burn cleaner than natural wood.


Skip the Gift Wrap

Some papers can be treated with inks, dyes and other chemicals.  Additionally, some foil and colored gift wraps can contain lead.  If you really want to wrap your gifts, IKEA has strict limits for lead and offers several unbleached wrapping paper styles. You could also try reusable fabric gift bags, which are better for the environment.


Choose Untreated Tablecloths

Wrinkle-free tablecloths can release formaldehyde and water-repellent cloths can contain perfluorinated chemicals, like Teflon.  Choose an untreated, natural material like cotton or linen.


Ask Guests to Leave Their Shoes at the Door

Shoes can track in toxins from the outdoors including coal-tar from driveway sealers, pesticides, and bacteria.  Keep a basket of slippers or socks at the door for guests to use.


Use Lead-Free Holiday Plates and Serving Pieces

Look for lead-free labels on holiday plates and serving pieces and don’t eat off of products labelled “Not for food use” or “For decorative use only”.


Be safe and enjoy the holidays!

Non-Toxic Furniture Store for Sofa

Question from Janine

I have been a long time “client/customer” of Debra’s. She has guided me through many projects and purchases.
I am trying to find information on stores that carry California compliant Sofas. Such as, Crate and Barrel. I do not want a custom sofa. I saw on your site a list of stores that were compliant and for some reason I cannot find that page again no matter how many times i try.
Please advise.
Again, my question is, where can I purchase a sofa that is safe and non-toxic and is polyester/acrylic safe? I am not chemical sensitive, I just want a clean, non-toxic home environment for my family.


Lisa’s Answer

I am not aware of Debra ever doing a list of stores that just meet California’s guidelines because they do not ensure that a sofa is non-toxic.
Are you referring to the 2014 revision to California standards that allows manufacturers to stop using flame retardants?  If so, EWG has a list of companies that do not use flame retardants in their sofas.  Here is that list.  A sofa without fame retardants is certainly safer that one with flame retardants but please understand that this does not mean that there are not other harmful chemicals used in these sofas.  Most, if not all of them use polyurethane foam which, even when it does not contain flame retardants, can contain formaldehyde, benzene, toluene and other harmful chemicals.  The fabric could be treated with perfluorinated chemicals for stain proofing.  The wood components of the frame could contain formaldehyde, though if there is a California (CARB Phase 2) certification the levels will minimized.  CARB only addresses the the wood components and it does not restrict VOCs from stains or paint on the wood.
I wish there was an easy, affordable place to buy a truly non-toxic sofa but I am not aware of one.


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