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Nontoxic Dishwasher Cleaner

Question from Bonnie

Hi Debra,

My parents are is their 80’s and can not smell anything. There was a strong cleaner smell in their kitchen – I found out it was cascade pod cleaners. Is there a nontoxic brand you know of?

Thank you.

Debra’s Answer

Readers, we’re not talking about dishwasher detergent here.

The question is about dishwasher cleaner. a product that removes limescale buildup, grease, and odors from your dishwasher.

I’m not aware of any nontoxic version of this product. And I haven’t had a dishwasher for more than 40 years, so I don’t have a solution from experience.

Readers. any recommendations?

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Harvard Study Shows Pesticides in Food Cut Sperm Count in Men by Half


From the study:

Total fruit and vegetable intake was unrelated to semen quality parameters.

High pesticide residue fruit and vegetable intake, however, was associated with poorer semen quality.

On average, men in highest quartile of high pesticide residue fruit and vegetable intake (≥1.5 servings/day) had 49% (95% confidence interval (CI): 31%, 63%) lower total sperm count and 32% (95% CI: 7%, 58%) lower percentage of morphologically normal sperm than men in the lowest quartile of intake (

Low-to-moderate pesticide residue fruit and vegetable intake was associated with a higher percentage of morphologically normal sperm (P, trend = 0.04).

Eating lots of fruits and vegetables are not a problem.

Eating a lot of fruits and vegetables with pesticides greatly reduce sperm counts.

LIVING MAXWELL: Why Organic Food is a MUST for Men — Pesticides Have Been Linked to Lower Sperm Count and Quality

HUMAN REPRODUCTION: Fruit and Vegetable Intake and Their Pesticide Residues in Relation to Semen Quality Among Men From a Fertility Clinic

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The First Affordable, Direct-to-Consumer Mattress Made With GOTS Certified Organic and Nontoxic Materials


Happsy Adult Mattresses   |   Happsy Crib Mattresses

I am very pleased to announce that Happsy mattresses are finally available for purchase.

In addition to the adult mattresses that I have been writing about here, Happsy also has a crib mattreses priced at $199. The Happsy crib mattresses are made from the same certified organic materials as the Happsy mattresses for adults. The crib mattresses are not waterproof, but  Happsy offers an optional waterproof organic mattress protector pad made of GOTS certified organic and approved nontoxic materials (also available in all adult mattress sizes).

I am making such a big deal about this because Happsy has now made organic mattresses of all sizes affordable for the entire family. In the world of toxic-free products, this is an historic event!


Original post 24 January 2017

There’s a new direct-to-consumer mattress coming to the marketplace that will be the first affordable mattress made with organic and nontoxic materials. Prices range from $749 for a twin to $1499 for a king.

This is a long-needed breakthrough for people who have been wanting a nontoxic mattress made from organic and other healthier materials at a lower price point. By selling direct to consumers online, Happsy makes mattresses made from organic and safer materials affordable for most individuals.

I’ve checked out the materials and I am happy to recommend these mattresses to you. 

Because I know many of you have been waiting for an affordable mattress made with organic and nontoxic materials, I wanted to let you know about them as soon as I could. They won’t be available for purchase until sometime in March (no, now April), but if you want to be among the first to get one, click here to add your name to the list.


To make their mattresses, Happsy uses cotton and wool that are certified organic by the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS).

Their latex is certified by the Global Organic Latex Standard (GOLS).

Because other materials are also needed to make a mattress, Happsy mattresses contain these nontoxic materials:

  • steel
  • polypropylene and polyester (in insignificant amounts)

Happsy combines these materials into their “organic comfort system.” This advanced hybrid system combines organic latex with individually encased coils. “There is no better material for comfort and pressure point relief than latex, and no better material for support and heat dissipation than individually encased coils.This combination is like a match made in heaven. It also provides isolation of movement so you can sleep undisturbed.”

No adhesives whatsoever are used to make the Happsy mattress, water-based or otherwise.

Happsy mattresses are completely free of polyurethane foam (including soybean foam blends), synthetic latex, flame retardant chemicals, chemical flame retardant barriers, perfluorinated compounds (PFCs), pesticide-treated fabrics and GMOs that are commonly found in mattresses.

Happsy mattresses are designed and manufactured in the U.S.A. with domestic and imported components.


Unlike other direct-to-consumer mattress companies, Happsy doesn’t agree that “one size fits all.” Some people prefer firmer and other people prefer plusher.

Their mattress is on the firmer side—“medium firm.”

Then they have a pillowtop add-on for those who want the mattress to be more plush.

If you know that you prefer plusher, also buy the pillowtop along with the mattress (around $200, depending on size).

If you’re not sure, buy just the mattress, and you can always buy the pillowtop if you decide you need it.


TWIN $749
TWIN XL $799
FULL $999
QUEEN $1199
KING $1499
CAL KING $1499


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Lead-free Pottery Bowls

Question from Julia

Hi Debra,

I have been making these delicious bowls with rice, veggies, etc. I want to get pasta like bowls that are lead free. What do you suggest?

Debra’s Answer

Yes I understand, I have been making “bowls” too and I love them so much that practically every meal I eat is in a bowl!

A couple of months ago I went shopping at Crate & Barrel and found some oversize bowls that I love and use for almost every meal.

And then I found some smaller bowls I had stashed away from Pier One. I had purchased these almost 15 years ago, so I doubt they still sell the same bowls, but they probably have something similar.

My rule of thumb has been to assume white bowls are safe and to check colored dinnerware with LeadCheck swabs. These are not considered as reliable as other forms of testing, but they are affordable and available. You can get them at any Home Depot or online.

LeadCheck swabs are simple to use. You just rub the end of the swab against the bowl for thirty seconds and if there is lead the swab will show red. If no lead, the swab will remain white. These swabs now come in packs of 2 for about $10, so it’s more affordable to do these tests than in the past.

I used LeadCheck swabs to test two bowls that I have on my shelf and eat from every day. As I thought, they both tested negative for lead.

This bowl from Pier 1 is a salad or soup sized porcelain bowl. Here is a similar one from Pier 1 Imports and they come in several sizes.  Note this one is made in China but still tests negative for lead. This larger porcelain bowl from Crate & Barrel is a serving bowl. It’s called Essential Serving Bowl. It was in stock at my local Crate and Barrel store. This also comes in several sizes. Note this one is made in Indonesia and also tests negative for lead.

I’ve become fond of putting my food in big white bowls and am actually retiring a lot of my dinnerware because I just don’t use it. White bowls are very simple and easily hold everything I eat.

I suggest purchasing white bowls and LeadCheck swabs and then bring the bowls home and test them immediately. If the swabs turn red, return the bowls and buy other bowls until you find bowls that test negative.

Here’s an article from the Chicago Tribune from 2007, when they gathered 20+ pieces of colorful dinnerware from local stores and had them tested for lead. None showed significant amounts of lead.

Many years ago I did a LeadCheck swab test on a colorful painted dinner plate for a TV show in Washington DC. And the swab did turn red right on cue. So I’ve seen the swabs test positive and negative. Mostly negative.

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How Do I Know if There is Something Toxic In Replacement Windows Before I Buy?

Over the years on this blog the question of safe windows has been posted a number of times, and yet there have been practically no comments.

This week there was a new question, so I’m making it a new question and invite any of you reading this to share your experiences with purchasing windows for new construction or replacement.

It was a comment on the post Toxic Windows , which describes the reader’s experience finding out how toxic her new windows are by reading the MSDS after she had the windows installed.

In the 11 years since this last question re:safe windows was posted, is there any new information? We need new windows and aluminum seems the safest choice. However, how is one to really know if there is something toxic in them? By the time they are installed, it’s too late. Please, anyone, help! Thanks.

The question was how to really know if there is something toxic in windows before you install them.

The answer is to contact the manufacturer and ask.

First you want to ask them for the Safety Data Sheet. And you also want to ask them for a complete list of materials.

There are only five major materials used to make windows:

  • Vinyl
  • Wood
  • Fiberglass
  • Aluminum
  • Steel

All have some toxic components to them except for aluminum and steel.

In my house I have old wood windows from 1940 and aluminum windows from the 1960s. In other houses I have replaced windows with old wood windows from salvage yards that did not have any chemical odors.

Here’s a really good summary of window choices written by a woman with MCS who built a tiny house: MY CHEMICAL-FREE HOUSE: Non-Toxic Windows and Window Coverings.

Readers, if you have purchased some windows, please comment below with your experience.

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Is Real Salt Radioactive?

Question from Kathleen S.

Hi Debra,

My understanding of Real Salt is that it was mined in an area where nuclear testing had been done. My chiropractor said she would never use it, but recommend Celtic Salt. I read that Himalayan salt has problems too. So it seems very difficult to find any thing safe.

Debra’s Answer

I’ve done extensive research on salt and came to the conclusion that safest salts are those that come from underground sources. These are ancient sea beds that are not contaminated with modern pollution. So that would be Real Salt and The Original Himalayan Salt.

While I ate Celtic Salt for many years, I no longer eat any salts that come from the sea due to extensive pollution of sea water. Celtic Salt and some other salts are harvested from pristine areas and so are better than other sea salts, but underground salts are protected from modern pollution.

Here’s a response from Real Salt about your radiation question. Please share it with your chiropractor. “Nuclear tests were done in Nevada (not Utah) in the 1950’s, but it in terms of nuclear protection (time, distance, shielding), there is no possible contamination of our Real Salt.”

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Antimicrobials in Polyurethane Foam Used in Mattresses and Upholstered Furniture

Often when I am researching one chemical or product I will get clues about other chemicals in products.

And so it was that I came across a mention of “antimicrobials in polyurethane foam” and so of course I had to go find out which antimicrobials are used in polyurethane foam.

And it took me about two minutes to find this:

It’s the antimicrobial used in polyurethane foams. And they specifically boast they are “a proud supporter of CertiPUR-USA“.

It’s “US EPA registered, BPD compliant and Oeko-Tex listed,”

US EPA registered means it’s a registered pesticide. Here’s their EPA Registration

UItra-Fresh*DM-50, as received in its concentrated form, is a potentially dangerous material and should be handled with the care and common sense that be accorded to all biologically active • ( Ultra-Fresh”‘DM-50 – IDS Page 4 of4 March 1998 chemicals. Ultra-Fresb*DM-50 is corrosive to eyes and exposure.can cause skin irritation. May be fatal if swallowed. DQ not get in eyes, on skin, ~r on clothing. Wear goggles or faces shield and rubber gloves when handling. Avoid contamination offood. Treated effluent should not be discharged where it will drain into lakes, streams, ponds, or public water.

This is stamped ACCEPTED by the EPA, but nowhere does it say what the chemical is!

BPD compliant means it meets the requirements of the Biocidal Products Directive (BPD) which is a European Union directive regarding the placing of biocidal products on the market.

Oeko-Tex listed. It actually is Oeko-Tex listed, right here on this page:
OEKO-TEX Products with Biological Activity

It’s part of a group of active chemical products “which have been inspected by independent toxicologists and assessed as harmless to human health when used as indicated and intended. The safety assessments are based on information, test reports, recipes etc. which have been provided by the manufacturer for the product in question. The test reports taken into consideration for this assessment have been drawn up by accredited toxicological and/or dermatological institutes.”

The active chemicals products approved on the OEKO-TEX® list are in line with the latest European regulations, specifically with the Article 95 list of Biocidal Products Regulation No. 528.

In addition to Products with Biological Activity, other active chemical products are fiber materials with flame retardant properties and a list of accepted polymers without assessment which includes polyvinyl chloride.

I’m not sure this standard means anything at all. If all they are doing is certifying the materials meet government standards, then all products obeying the law would qualify. This isn’t the same standard as their Standard 100 for textiles.

Here’s a specification sheet for the antimicrobial that gives this warning:

Ultra-Fresh* Antimicrobial Additive is flammable. Keep away from heat, sparks and open flame. Use with adequate ventilation. May cause eye and skin irritation. Do not breathe vapour or spray. Wear suitable protective clothing such as gloves and eye and face protection,

And here is the MSDS

The MSDS reports a chemical in the Chemical Family Isothiazolinone and the listed ingredient is
2-N-Octyl-4-isothiazolin-3-one. And it turns out to be an antimicrobial that has very widespread use in a lot of consumer products. One of them being mildewcide in latex paint.

There is much concern about allergic contact dermatitis with this chemicals. Here is a summary of scientific studies about 2-N-Octyl-4-isothiazolin-3-one

Another Isothiazolinone, called Methylisothiazolinone (MIT) is known to be allergenic and cytotoxic, which has brought it to the attention of the European Union There the rate of people allergic to it is skyrocketing.

Here’s the Ultra-fresh entry the the Pesticide Action Network Pesticide Database.

Here it’s considered a “bad actor” product and says the active ingredient is Thiabendazole, which they identify as a carcinogen and a developmental or reproductive toxin.

Antimicrobials are designed to kill very tiny organisms. How can this be safe for humans? Our bodies are full of microorganisms.

What we know now is that there are antimicrobials in polyurethane foam and their safety is questionable.

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Thoughts on Earth Day 2017

PHOTO CREDIT: Smoke Stacks Upper Ohio River by Gerry Ellis


I first became aware of the “environment” in 1987. How that occurred is a whole story in itself, but
the result was that suddenly I became aware that the products I used every day not only could affect my health, but they could also affect the environment. And I began to explore this idea in a small newsletter printed on recycled paper called The Earthwise Consumer.

This was three years before “green” exploded in 1990 with the 20th anniversary of Earth Day and a little runaway bestselling book called 50 Simple Things You Can Do to Save the Earth. I happened to be there the day it was released. My booth was right next to theirs at some expo.

I wrote about both the health and environmental effects of consumer products for some years. The New York Times even called me “The Queen of Green.” But I came to a point where push came to shove and I decided I couldn’t consider everything. And I chose to go back to my roots and specialize in toxics. Because the green movement seemed not to be interested in toxics and health (green, after all, is about the environment), and someone needed to do this.

But more importantly, from my viewpoint, toxics is the most important environmental issue there is.

The whole environmental movement started because Rachel Carson wrote Silent Spring, which is about the poisoning of the environment by pesticides. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was founded to protect the environment (not people) from toxics.

But our government doesn’t have a People Protection Agency (so I have to at least identify the toxic chemicals, find out where they are in consumer products, find the products that are free of these toxic chemicals, and make this known to the world so people who want to protect themselves and their loved ones from toxic exposures can have a choice).

If you’ve ever taken an airplane flight you have heard the stewardess say, “Put on your own oxygen mask first,” and then help others. Because without helping yourself and being healthy and able, you cannot help others.

And so for me, I decided to help get all the people of the world healthy first. Then we can help the environment. But as it turns out, every time each one of us makes the decision to not use a toxic product to help our own health, it also helps the environment.

On Easter morning I was thinking about what to write today, and I thought about a problem I’ve had for a number of years. The problem is how do I describe what I am working for without describing it as a negative. “Toxic-free” starts with the problem of toxics and says. “No. No toxics.” OK. A world without toxics.” What is that? What does it look like? What are we reaching for?

In the time it took for me to write this question in my journal, I had the answer.

Though I have a lot of attention on removing toxics from our homes and the marketplace of consumer products, that’s not what I’m really doing.

In my own mind and heart, I am aware of what I call “the world of Nature.” also known as “the environment.” For me, it’s a living, breathing, amazing ecosystem that once was pristine and now has been polluted by human activities.

So when I think of ‘toxic free” it’s a picture of our living planet, which includes all life processes and species, including us homo sapiens, without all the pollution. It’s a picture of us all belonging to this incredible system of life and supporting it with our actions instead of harming it. That’s what I’m reaching for. That’s what I’m imagining. That’s what I want in my heart of hearts.

The first step in healing from a poisoning is “remove the poison.” When we live toxic free, what we’re restoring is life. Our own human lives and life as a whole.


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Sustainable Fashion?


An article from the UK newspaper The Guardian last week reported on a partnership between the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) , the world’s largest conservation organization, and an London-based fashion community AwaytoMars to create “the world’s first 100% sustainable clothing line.”

The clothes will be made of a “newly designed” cotton fibre called Infinifed Fiber “that can be recycled an infinite number of times and which won’t, in theory, wear out.”

I couldn’t find more than that one page about this fiber, and no photos whatsoever, so I’m not sure if this is real or theoretical.

But I do know something about recycling paper, which is a similar process since it is recycling a natural cellulose material. You can’t infinitely recycle the same paper. You use a little material every time you recycle it. You have to keep adding new paper to mix with the old paper. Here’s a whole article about Why cotton is so difficult to recycle—and how clothing retailers hope to change that.

And I know something about making new fibers from cellulose. This is done every day. It’s called “rayon.” And you can’t recycle cellulose into fiber without a lot of chemicals. (Here’s another company also attempting to do this: Evrnu.

But here’s the bigger problem with this: it’s not sustainability.

Sustainability is about sustaining the life systems of planet Earth.

It’s about using the renewable resources that have been designed by Nature, in amounts that can be sustained by the system. Organic cotton is a perfect example of sustainability. You grow the cotton organically, and theoretically you could put that cotton right back into the field at the end of it’s useful life and it would regenerate the soil. That’s what a tree does. It pulls from the environment to make leaves, then drops it’s leaves back into the environment to restore the environment.

We should be supporting organic agriculture, not inventing new manmade processes.

Sustainability is also about not poisoning the system with toxic chemicals. Every time each one of us make a toxic-free choice, we are not only protecting our own health, we are also helping the environment.

THE GUARDIAN: Fashion in new bid to be truly sustainable

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BPA-Free Cans & Disaster Foods

Question from Mary

Hi Debra,

I would like to order some canned beans to have on hand for disaster purposes. These say the can is bpa free but how do I know if it’s bps which I read is even more toxic. (Or in case of disaster, do I care?) I have some powdered beans but that would require boiling water.

Because of dental issues I am limited as to what I can eat, but what do environmentally sensitive people do re: disaster foods?

Vitacost Certified Organic Black Beans – Non-GMO and Gluten Free

Debra’s Answer

We’ve got two questions here.

What’s in BPA-Free Cans?

First, how do you know if a “BPA-free” can is BPS or not?

You ask them.

So I went to the VitaCost website and asked their customer service chat “If your can linings aren’t BPA, what are they instead?”

The chat representative couldn’t answer that (and there was no information on their website) so she sent my question up to a higher authority, who did answer my question within two hours. Here’s their response:

Now this does tell you it’s not BPS. But what about this modified acrylic and polyester?

I searched further and found a detailed report on this very subject called BPA: Buyer Beware.

Researchers found five major coating types are being used in can linings. In addition to the BPA-based epoxy, there are four “BPA-free” alternatives:

  • acrylic resins, many contain polystyrene, made from the styrene monomer, a possible human carcinogen. 39% of cans tested had a polystyrene-acrylic combination
  • polyvinyl chloride (PVC) copolymers, made from vinyl chloride, a known carcinogen. 18% of private label foods and 36% of national brands
  • oleoresin
  • polyester resins

Multiple formulations of these chemicals are used to make can linings and “there is no way to determine the specific chemicals used or how they are produced.” I would just add this points to one of the major problems with “free” labeling. It may be free of one chemical, but may contain others. This is why I look at what materials are actually being used (to the degree I can get the information), rather that the list of what’s not.

So I’m thinking the “modified acrylic” used in your black bean cans is modified with styrene.

And I’m thinking that polyester resins are used mainly for lids and not for can linings.

As food packaging is the larger source of exposure to BPA (BPA easily migrates from food packaging into food and drink), the best way to reduce your exposure to this hormone disruptor is simply do not eat or drink packaged foods and beverages. Within days BPA will leave your body completely.

BPA: Buyer Beware—Toxic BPA and regrettable substitutes found in the linings of canned food
This report, compiled by an alliance of toxics organizations, identified and analyzed the interior linings and lids of nearly 200 canned foods.

EWG’S BPA Bombshell
An easily searchable database of approximately 16,000 processed food and drink items packaged in materials that may contain BPA.

Disaster Foods

As for disaster foods, last year I wrote a post on my Toxic Free Kitchen blog called My Idea of 72-hour Emergency Food in which I outlined how I would put together a 72-hour emergency food supply to suit my own preferences. There were no cans.

I’ve never actually been in such an emergency myself but some years back after hurricane Charlie I volunteered to do disaster relief and my job was to hand out emergency meals. They were just sandwiches and cookies and apples and chips in a box with a bottle of water. If any of these people had emergency rations on hand, they were, literally, blown away. Their homes were gone, along with all their possessions.

So just think about what your disaster might be and plan accordingly.

Now if you are considering long-term emergency food supply in case our food supply collapses, that’s a different question altogether. I’d start planting and saving seeds and keeping chickens.

Last night Larry and I went to see the film The Zookeeper’s Wife, which was about a woman who hid Jews from the Nazis in her zoo during World War II. In the end, everyone had nothing. No amount of planning and being prepared can stand up to mass bombing.

And if you are ever in that situation, dear reader, I think the greatest good would be to eat any can of beans you can get your hands on, even if they contain BPA.

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