Submitted questions will be posted with my response by the following Tuesday or before.
Submitted comments will be moderated and approved within 24 hours.
Question from Caroline
My home is prone to ants; and this time , as well as regular foundation spraying with Termidor, and placing advion ant bait in heavily infested areas within the home 3 x over the past month, it has been over a month that the ants invade the master bath daily to the point of being unusable. Usual spraying of vinegar and water, sprinkling black pepper or cinnamon was to no avail. I had to call in a professional exterminator who is trying to work with me because of MCS.
I’m going to say something that may sound obvious, but have you tried filling the holes where they come into the house?
This has been my tried-and-true method for controlling ants for almost 40 years and it always works. I even did it when I lived in an apartment building in San Francisco. All the other units were sprayed for ants, but I wouldn’t let them in my unit and did this instead. Even with the spraying the other units had ants. Mine was the only one that did not.
All you need is a bottle of Elmer’s White Glue and a damp sponge.
Trace the line of incoming ants back to where they are coming into your house and make note of the spot. Then wipe up the ants with the sponge. Fill in the hole with Elmer’s Glue. Then go to the next entrance and do the same.
The ants will continue to find new ways to get in until you’ve sealed all the holes. Then you will never have an ant problem again.
Question from Cheryl
Do you have an opinion about a product called Homebiotic which you spray in your home to help eradicate toxic mold?
Thanks for your help.
According to their website, “Homebiotic contains only purified water and natural probiotic bacteria from healthy soil, which each have years of study and are completely safe for humans and pets.”
I don’t see anything toxic here.
Question from Melissa
Thank you for your wonderful website. I have noticed that certain small grocery stores in our area tend to have a very heavy cleaner/deodorant smell. We popped into one this evening for a quick carton of milk, and when I got in the car I realized that the carton had the odor of the store – and the odor even transferred to my hand after I carried it to the car. Is it possible that the chemicals permeated the milk carton and contaminated the milk, or are paper milk cartons sealed well enough to prevent that?
That’s a good question.
Polyethylene can block chemical gases—it is frequently recommended for wrapping mattresses, for example—however the thickness of the layer makes a difference. I’m thinking that the thickness of the coating on a milk carton is thinner than a sheet of plastic.
I can’t say for sure because I couldn’t find any tests on this. I don’t drink milk myself. When I did I purchased organic milk in glass bottles. That’s clearly the safest choice.
If you can taste the scent in the milk, don’t drink it. Since milk generally doesn’t taste like the surrounding environment, logic would tell me that the seal on the paper is both keeping milk in and keeping the environment out.
What can I recommend to a reader who has a new couch and is afraid of day-to-day stains and wants to avoid Scotchguard?
First, is it a new toxic-free couch?
If not, it’s already got some kind of stain repellant on it.
Scotchguard changed it’s formula, so it’s no longer as toxic as it once was.
If it’s a natural couch:
1. I would just put something on it like a blanket or throw to protect the sofa. That’s what I did.
2. AFM Safecoat makes a product called SafeChoice Carpet Lock-Out.
“This one-of-a-kind product is designed to perform two functions: to seal in the outgassing of harmful chemicals found in carpet fibers and to help repel dirt and stains.” You can also apply it to fabric as a stain protector. I’ve used this on carpet and it’s very effective.
It turned out that the sofa in question was a toxic couch, but I wanted to pass on this toxic-free fabric protection product.
Question from Arash
I’ve used your site as a great resource over the past few months and my first go-to. I thank you for all you do.
I couldn’t find an answer to this and if you have any info maybe others would find it helpful too.
I’ve found out that the previous owners of our new house had permethrin sprayed on all the floorboards, top side and bottom, and the stairs too.
This was done over 20 years ago, but I don’t know how much of it will have soaked right into the wood and maybe (on the upper floors) into the drywall of the floor below.
Having failed to find much info on whether it offgasses and to what extent, I decided to just assume it does still off gas.
Also, apparently the dust under the floorboards will have soaked up a lot of permethrin, so dust coming through ceiling light fittings and up through floorboards is definitely a problem even if off gassing is not.
I was just wondering if you had any advice on how best to address this.
I’m thinking maybe HDPE or LDPE sheeting all over the floorboards and taped around the perimeter of each room to seal it all in. Then new flooring on top. Marmoleum or solid wood would be healthiest but they can’t be floated so would have to be nailed into the floorboards thereby breaking the plastic seal. Or glued to plywood which has formaldehyde issues.
Also unsure how to address the dust/vapor movement through the ceiling light fittings… maybe fire proof lighting as that creates a bit more of a barrier but not a complete one.
Not to mention the stairs, I don’t know how practical it would be to seal them all in with LPDE / HDPE. And the under-stairs storage which houses the gas/elec meters etc can’t really be sealed using plastic so don’t know what to do there.
Any and all advice would be very gratefully received.
First, Marmoleum IS available floating and so are hardood floors so that IS an option if you want it.
And second, your Permethrin exposure is not particularly a problem.
Permethrin is widely used on clothing for protection from ticks. “Exposure risk of permethrin-treated clothing to toddlers is 27 times below the EPA’s Level of Concern (LOC).” Permethrin Fact Sheet.
Not only is Permethrin not particularly toxic, you have time on your side. Here is a great article about what happens to pesticides over time: NATIONAL PESTICIDE INFORMATION CENTER: Pesticide Half-life.
About Permethrin it specifically says:
Each pesticide can have many half-lives depending on conditions in the environment. For example, permethrin breaks down at different speeds in soil, in water, on plants, and in homes.
- In soil, the half-life of permethrin is about 40 days, ranging from 11-113 days.
- In the water column, the half-life of permethrin is 19-27 hours. If it sticks to sediment, it can last over a year.
- On plant surfaces, the half-life of permethrin ranges from 1-3 weeks, depending on the plant species.
- Indoors, the half-life of permethrin can be highly variable. It is expected to be over, or well over, 20 days.
Well over 20 days. You’ve had 20 years. It’s highly doubtful there would be any Permethrin left in your home at this time.
Question from Nikko
I am looking for baseboard, chair rail moulding (White). MDF is supposed to have formaldehyde in it …not sure if they have done without. What is the best to use with little to no off gassing?
I’ve purchased a fair amount of baseboard and crown moulding in my life and am about to purchase more.
I’ve always purchased wood moulding at places like Lowe’s and Home Depot.
Here’s a little summary of materials used to make moulding I borrowed from Lowes
- MDF (Medium Density Fiberboard) is a high-grade, composite material. Moulding products tend to come primed, making it easy to paint.
- Primed Finger Joint Products are available in Pine and Poplar wood. This engineered moulding is made by fitting smaller pieces together to create one long board. Finger Joint moulding looks best when painted.
- Poplar is a favored material by design professionals. The crisp grain lines and rich wood tones accept paint and stain, making it a perfect wood type for any room.
- Pine adds a distinct character to a room. The lines from the grain and occasional knots can create interest and texture.
- Fir offers two distinct grain patterns. Mixed Grain (MG) offers coarse, wide, and light to dark patterns. Vertical Grain (VG) has a more consistent and tighter grain pattern and less color variation. This wood should be stained to bring out its natural beauty.
- Oak moulding is typically milled from Red or White Oak, which are among the hardest and most durable wood species. Both have great grain appeal and are easy to sand, cut and finish. Your choice of stain color can really enhance the character of this material for a style that is all yours.
- Aspen is a light, soft wood that is typically used for more ornate moulding profiles. It has a straight grain and fine uniform texture.
- Polyurethane moulding is made from high-density polyurethane that won’t warp, rot or split. This product will create detailed patterns without the expense of wood. It’s lightweight for easy handling, saws like wood and comes preprimed and ready to paint.
- Polystyrene prefinished moulding is lightweight and simple to cut using conventional saws, making installation a one-person job. These mouldings can be installed with construction adhesive or finishing nails and are slightly flexible, making them perfect for walls that aren’t true. They’re also moisture resistant—an ideal solution for kitchens and bathrooms.
- PVC gives you the look of wood with moisture protection, inside or out. Strong and durable, PVC moulding is easy to cut and installs without chipping, splitting or cracking.
Of these, I would say yes to the woods poplar, pine, fir, oak, and aspen.
I would say no to MDF, finger joint, polystyrene, and PVC.
Polyurethane is not particularly toxic in this use, but it is a petroleum product, if you are avoiding petroleum.
You should be able to find actual solid wood moulding anywhere moulding is sold.
Question from Carissa
Thanks for your amazing website and I am long time reader. It has helped me make a few decisions.
I am in a huge quandary at the moment and am wondering if I can get your opinion. I admit I do suffer from OCD and one of my contamination obsession is lead and chemical stuff. It is a lot better, finding a balance is tough and even tougher with 2 kids below 3 (a pending newborn coming soon!).
We have a recently purchased a European made dryer from a famous brand (MIELE) and I noted the back of the dryer has 6 bolt like fittings that are made of brass. I know about lead leaching from brass items, especially keys, as it is used as a lubricant for machining brass and the lead concentrate on the surface for that reason.
I use the dryer all the time to dry our babies’ clothes which will contact these brass bolts. And then babies will obviously chew on their clothes. I can’t test the bolts as they are embedded to the machine’s drum.
We also have new vinyl trims on our floor which tested at 300ppm lead. I cannot remove them without spending thousands of dollars replacing flooring. Our house is cleaned frequently.
I am wondering if these two scenarios will be something to be concerned about? I can’t do anything about the vinyl trims except for making sure I wipe over them weekly with water (chemicals will degrade the vinyl). I can sell the dryer but it will be at a huge financial loss. Just hoping for some advice on how to deal with these two situations with limited finances. Thank you so much!
I understand your situation and concern.
We live in a world where it is impossible to reduce our total exposure from all sources to zero by using source reduction. While the first action to take is always remove toxic exposures at the source, when that is impossible, there is something else to do: detox.
I highly recommend that you take a product called PureBody Liquid Zeolite. It gently removes lead and other heavy metals from your body. Your babies can take it too. There are many zeolite products on the market. This is the only one I use and recommend.
Taking liquid zeolite puts my mind at ease, knowing that I am doing something to help my body eliminate the lead and other heavy metals that I can’t avoid. These heavy metals stay in our bodies and accumulate because our bodies can’t eliminate them on their own. It’s easy, affordable, tasteless and good protection.
Question from SM
I found this no-VOC engineered wood flooring, and I wonder if it is what they advertise: because they UV-cure the acrylic, there is no offgassing. I wonder if this could be similar to a Safe Coat on the floors:
If not, are you aware of any truly VOC free engineered wood products?
Thanks so much!
Well this is an interesting flooring.
In general, I don’t recommend engineered floorings because they are made from strips of wood glued together.
But the flooring is made from hardwoods over a birch core, manufactured without formaldehyde glues or solvents, and has a UV-cured acrylic layer.
Clearly they have an intent to have this flooring be good for Indoor Air Quality.
Actually these floorings are made by a hardwood flooring company that looks pretty amazing on their website: revelwoods.com
I tried to call them to get more information, but there was only a machine.
I would look into these flooring more closely before making a decision. but so far, so good.
Choosing and Using Dryer Balls as an Alternative to Toxic Scented Liquid Fabric Softener or Dryer Sheets
Question from JC
I’d like to begin using dryer balls to reduce static cling in our clothing. I’m guessing they are al not created equal. Can you point me in the right direction as to what to look for, brand recommendations, how many to use per load?
Thanks for helping keep the laundry process clean!
First, I’m sure many of my readers are applauding you for wanting to stop using toxic scented liquid fabric softeners and dryer sheets.
Before I respond about dryer balls, I first want to tell you about static cling.
Static cling is the result of synthetic fabrics, such as polyester, nylon, and acrylic. These fabrics are made from petroleum, and running them through the dryer creates static cling.
Natural fibers do not create static cling. So if you are wearing natural fibers (as I do), there is no need to do anything to reduce or eliminate static cling because natural fibers don’t produce static cling.
There are many wool dryer balls available today. I just searched on “organic wool dryer balls” and there are plenty to choose from, so I would opt for organic rather than natural wool.
How many to use per load? It depends on the size of the load. For small loads, use 2 to 4. For large loads, use 6.
But my best recommendation is to simply switch to wearing only natural fiber clothing. Not only are natural fibers more comfortable and better for your health, there is no fabric softener needed.
NOTE TO THOSE WHO ARE AFFECTED BY NEIGHBORS’ SCENTED FABRIC SOFTENER: Try offering them some wool dryer balls. Don’t suggest they find and purchase some, GIVE them some dryer balls as a gift and ask them to use them. They just might like this alternative and it will save them money.
Question from Dawn
Does anyone know about Ikea stuff? They claim some of their things are non voc etc. Does anyone have any actual experience though with buying anything new from them?
Irina: I did research on ikea before, and they officially used to claim (I haven’t checked for a while) and I read from other non toxic connoisseurs that IKEA has some of the highest standards for testing their products for toxicity and exceeding the set standards as well as not using flame retardants on their furniture. It was confirmed back then that their white basic dishes do not have lead or other heavy metals. The quality and durability of their furniture specifically is still often questionable though that’s my 2 cents.
Nancy: I have many pieces from Ikea. Solid wood and steel items are fine. And easy to put together….
Louise: On Debra’s suggestion, I got a lovely IKEA non-irritating green polypropylene (sp?) fake Christmas Tree in November. Love it so much am keeping it up year round, decorating each season with seasonal fun!
Eleanor: Does IKEA use fire retardant chemicals in their furniture? I know several companies have stopped using fire retardants.
Kathie: Take a look at Ikea Hemnes furniture. Solid pine. I have several pieces of the Hemnes. It might work for you.
Karen: I also have the Hemnes pieces and they are fine.
Marni: Same here.
Debra Lynn Dadd: Yes I have purchased things from IKEA for my own use and recommended them to clients but only some pieces are suitable and those are made with solid wood and they have a very light acrylic finish on them that has no odor. But then there are other pieces that are made from synthetic fabrics and particleboard so you have to read that the descriptions carefully. I want time I had the thought of going through IKEA and choosing all the furniture that I thought was acceptable. Would anybody like me to do that?
Melissa: Yes, I would greatly appreciate you recommending which pieces to purchase. Im on a limited budget and need a new couch, headboard, and dressers. Ikea fits my budget and my state of mind!!
Dottie: Debra Lynn Dadd, that would be great!
First, here is Ikea’s Chemicals & Substances fact sheet.
Read it and you will see:
- no BPA in anything, not even the cash register recipts
- no brominated flame retardants. “We never add any chemical flame retardants to our products if not required to do so by national legislation. To avoid adding chemical flame retardants, we strive to use materials with inherent flame retardant properties instead, such as natural wool.”
- no PVC
- no phthalates in children’s products and food containers
- formaldehyde is “substantially reduced” but not completely eliminated
- no fluorinated (water-repellant) chemicals in shower curtains, umbrellas and ponchos
- no chrome in leather
- no “CMR” substances—may cause cancer, mutation or are toxic to reproduction.
- ban on lead, cadmium and mercury content
- ban on the use of azodyes in textiles and leather
And they invite customers to contact them if there are any questions.
Now, all that said, it’s been my experience that I have to read the labels CAREFULLY and understand materials to make sure I don’t buy a product that I consider to be toxic.
A great thing about IKEA is that they very clearly disclose all their materials on their website and on labels, so if you understand materials, you can figure out what’s toxic and what’s not. And this is why I am working so hard on Zero Toxics, so you have a place to look up materials and find out if they are toxic.
[Just as an aside one of the things I am running into is that manufacturers seem to be more willing to disclose materials now but they are less willing to explain what those materials are and their toxicity. That’s another reason why Zero Toxics is needed].
Someone mentioned HEMNES above, so I will use that as an example.
Down below the product (you may need to scroll, there is a row of tabs)
Click on “Materials and Environment”
You’ll see that the frame is made from solid pine. Perfect. It has an acrylic lacquer finish. They have used this finish for years. I have purchased pieces with this finish with no problem. I’ve recommended it to clients and have had no complaints. It is made from petroleum, so if you need to stay away from materials made from petroleum, do not purchase any products from IKEA with this finish.
But then you get to the storage boxes, which are made from particleboard which ARE outgassing formaldehyde because IKEA has not banned formaldehyde.
MANY of their furniture pieces are made with particleboard.
So in this case, if you are OK with finish, you could purchase the frame, but not the store boxes, and I would consider that to be fine. I have, in fact, purchased an IKEA bed frame with no problem. And have purchased them for clients too.
You also need to watch out for stain, which may have VOCs.
I can’t possibly go through every product at IKEA and look at each one.
Many of the products I’ve purchased in the past are no longer available.
Here is one of my favorite products: SNIGLAR CRIB
Look at this product description: solid beech, solid beech, solid beech. And nothing else. Unfinished. They say the fabric is nylon but don’t say the filling on the mattress, Hmmmm. In any case, I would buy this crib and put a Naturepedic crib mattress in it and be perfectly happy.
In addition to the bed frame, I’ve also purchased a down comforter, cotton curtains, a kitchen island, glass food storage containers with silicon lids, water bottles, rods on which to hang kitchen accessories, shower curtains, my favorite linen dish towels, and various other items.
I just have to say that I have been shopping at IKEA for many years and have always loved it because I could get solid wood furniture and other natural materials, they have clean simple design, and great prices. But the last time I went there about six months ago I was very disappointed. The amount of natural materials used has decreased greatly and I noticed prices have gone up. That doesn’t mean you can’t find natural materials and bargains, but it is no longer the IKEA I once knew and loved.
Larry and I are actually going to be going to IKEA to look for things for our motorhome tiny house within the next month, so when I’m there I’ll take a look around and see what I can find and will add those items here.
If you have any products you are considering, post them here and I will translate for you.