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Green Building Resources

Question from D. W.

Hello Debra,

Love your website.

We are about to start building a home, can you recommend a book or resource to try and build it as ‘green friendly’ or non-toxic as possible?


Debra’s Answer

Actually, I can recommend lots of resources. The Building page on Debra’s Bookstore lists many books on green building, and the Directories section of the Building page on Debra’s List has websites that list green building products and how to choose them.

The most consumer-friendly site for green building ideas and a good place to start is GreenHomeGuide.

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Floor Underlayment

Question from Leah

Is there any type of floor underlayment for wood or cork floors that is low or non-toxic? I have looked at cork underlayment, but it is expensive. Did you use any type of underlayment with your wood floors Debra? Thanks!

Have you had any experience with SOUND SOLUTIONS floor underlayment? We are considering this to go under new hardwood flooring. The packaging does not offer too much information but does say it is safe and is also a vapor barrier. We are concerned about what to put down first and feel that the traditional tar paper leaves a lot to be desired.

Having suffered from environmental illness, we appreciate the work you do frequently refer to your original book even though many things in there are outdated. THANKS!

Debra’s Answer

For those who are not familiar with “underlayment,” it is a material placed under flooring, primarily for sound control and to act as a thermal insulation barrier. I haven’t used it under any of the wood floors I have laid.

Readers, any suggestions?

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Are neoprene lunch boxes safe for my kids?

Question from Becca


There are some soft neoprene lunch boxes that lie flat (making them easy to store) for sale in our neighborhood and I’m not sure about wether they are “safe” or not to use for my children’s school lunch. They are in bright colors and I’m not sure about the dyes used on them. With all of the recent news about toxic lead in lunch boxes I want to make sure my kids lunches are safely stored for school time.

Can I safely use neoprene lunch boxes for my children? Do you know anything about neoprene or what it is? If it’s not safe, then are there other nontoxic options?

I really want to keep my little guys lunch food safe from toxic contamination. Please advise. Thank you so much.

Debra’s Answer

Neoprene was the first mass-produced synthetic rubber, made from petrochemicals. It’s chemical name is Styrene (as in Styrofoam) Butadiene Chloroprane Rubber Blend. It was developed and is manufactured by DuPont. It is used for a wide variety of applications, including wetsuits and hoses. It is considered to be “chemically inert”. The MSDS does list hydrocarbons under “hazardous decomposition products” but says only “not applicable” under health hazards data, so apparently there are no health hazards.

* more on neoprene…

* Neoprene MSDS

Personally, I probably wouldn’t use these lunchboxes for my kids, when there are other options available I know for sure to be safe. There are plain and decorated metal lunchboxes at

and see Lunch Bags on Debra’s List for cotton lunch bags.

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Space Bags

Question from Carol

My mom died of Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and she was a very healthy eater. I have to assume that she contracted this cancer from her environment. I am trying to become more conscious of the things I use in my home as a result.

My question has to do with plastics and storage. I have to store my clothes in my basement which is damp. Many items have already been ruined by mildew and moths. I store my things in closets or cardboard boxes. This is obviously not working. I want to use the Space Bags that I see on TV. I think they are made of nylon, not plastic, but I’m not sure. Do you recommend them?

I am interested in using space bags to store some winter items and clothes. Since becoming aware of all the chemical pollutants it occurred to me to look into what these bags are actually made of. It turns out they are made from bi-axial layers of polyethylene and nylon. From a past question I learned that nylon is one of the safer plastics but am not sure about the polyethylene or what the bi-axial layers actually do.

Is it safe to store items in these bags? Would you store your winter items in this product?

Any information you have on this would be great!


Debra’s Answer

Their website says that the Space Bags are made of “layers of nylon.” I don’t know if they also contain other materials. But let’s assume they are 100% nylon.

This is one of those situations where you need to make a trade-off. There are no renewable/biodegradable/natural materials that can be used to store clothing in a damp basement. They would all mold and disintegrate (that’s what nature has designed them to do.

If you really need to store your clothing in the basement, Space Bags are an excellent way to do so. Though nylon is made from petrochemicals and a nonbiodegradable plastic, nylon is not very toxic and the Space Bags can be reused and reused for decades.

As much as it would be great for health and the environment to eliminate plastics entirely, it’s not practical to do so and still have our modern world. To eliminate plastics entirely would take an entire re-orientation of how we live.

I minimize the use of plastics whenever I can. Before I decide to use a plasitic, I ask myself, “Is there something else I can use?” and “Is there a greater good that comes from my using this plastic?” Obviously, I can do more good to help health and the environment by using a plastic computer to communicate than if I had just saved the impact of my one computer.

These are decisions we all need to make individually, depending on our need and circumstances.

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Question from Francesca

I am so conflicted about what to with our roach problem. Does anyone have any effective ways of getting rid of roaches? We are going crazy. We clean up completely, spotlessly everynight but still have a problem.. We are getting desparate and really don’t want to have to use a spray.. Help?

Debra’s Answer

See “Palmetto Bugs Teach Us a Valuable Lesson” in How I Control Household Pests. Also the Q&A Controlling Cockroaches, On Debra’s List see Bugs ‘R’ Done cockroach spray containing food-safe ingredients.

I’d love to hear ideas from others too…

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Heating Pads or Other Heat Sources for Relaxation and Pain Relief

Question from Robin

I experience muscle tension and pain in several areas of my body, and one of the treatments recommended to me is the apllication of heat.

I have a hot water bottle, but this doesn’t work well for neck or shoulder pain.

I’m looking at getting an electric heating pad so I can use it for pain relief while I’m lying down. What are the pros and cons of electric heating pads from a holistic health and environmental perspective? They’re made with an automatic shut-off feature nowadays, so I’m not terribly worried about fire hazards.

Any other options you can suggest?

Many thanks.

By the way, I love your Web site, and consult it regularly. The Green Living Q&A blog is a great idea, and I was pleasantly surprised by the direct nature and helpfulness of reader comments.

Debra’s Answer

Heating pads are generally made from synthetic plastic materials, and are full of electric wiring that generate electromagnetic fields (if anyone wants to comment more on the health effects of EMFs from heating pads, feel free). Heating pads also will not biodegrade at the end of their useful life.

Instead of using a heating pad, I recommend a natural heat pack. They have natural fiber covers and are filled with various natural materials. You heat them in the oven or microwave and then the heat transfers from the pack to your body when placed on the afflicted area. These are renewable and biodegradable, and have no electromagnetic fields. And because they are filled with small bits, they conform exactly to hug body parts with their warmth.

The first one that came to mind was the salt-filled sachet at Himalayan Living Salt. It’s a 100% cotton pouch filled with “The Original” Himalayan Crystal Salt, which gives the unique healing benefits of the salt as well as comforting heat.

Dreamcraft makes heat packs in several sizes and shapes from cotton or organically-grown cotton, filled with organically-grown flax seed, rice, millet, buckwheat hulls, and lavender. Each is custom made, so they are happy to make your pack to your specifications.

Natural Pack has heat packs in several different styles, filled with “a grain product.” has heat packs covered with cotton flannel and filled with flax seeds.

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Silestone countertops

Question from Kate

Is anyone worried about the antimicrobial product in silestone countertops? I’ve explored Papercrete, kieri (sp?) wood, concrete and am now looking at silestone. Anyone have any yeas or nays about it? Thanks, Kate

Debra’s Answer

The antimicrobial agent used in Silestone is Microban. They don’t say on their website exactly what the antibacterial agent is, but they comment that it “has a long history of safe use” and that it is “built-in during the manufacturing process and will not wash off or wear away,” which leads me to believe it may be silver, a traditional microbial agent.

In response to the question, “Has anyone ever gotten sick from using products with Microban antimicrobial protection?” they answer:

I’m not concerned about it offgassing.

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Shampoo with Sodium Lauryl Sulfate

Question from svw

Whats your opinion on the AFM Safechoice Shampoo for a person with MCS since it does contain Sodium Laureth Sulfate and MEA? Thanks Sandy

Debra’s Answer

The challenge for people with MCS is to find products that are both nontoxic and unscented. And the difficulty is compounded by the fact that each individual has their own sensitivities, so what’s perfect for one person with MCS may not be right for another.

Here’s a comment on the safety of SLS from Annie Berthold-Bond, my long-time friend and author of Home Enlightenment. I agree with her assessment.

If you have MCS and have used this shampoo, tell us how you like it.

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Space heaters

Question from Nina M.

I’m looking for advice about which space heaters, if any, don’t outgas when you first use them or outgas for long? Also, has anyone had any trouble with a Delonghi radiator heater outgassing?

Do you know which space heaters are the most energy efficient?

Thanks very much,


Debra’s Answer

We had this space heater question before at Space Heater Recommendations (remember to use the SEARCH button at the top of the right hand column to search this blog). So you can read my answer there about outgassing and the DeLonghi radiator. If you have a space heater you are happy with, please write in and tell us about it, as it’s getting to be that time of year where heat is needed.

Regarding energy efficiency, electricity-powered space heaters are not considered very efficient in terms of heating a whole room or home, in comparison to other methods of heating, however, if all you want to do is warm your feet or just one room, using space heaters can save money over heating the whole house if all you want to heat is a spot.

I couldn’t find a compiled list of the energy efficiency of brands of space heaters (though if someone knows of one, click on POST YOUR COMMENT below and I’ll approve it) but Missouri Department of Natural Resources: Residential Energy Efficiency has some suggestions on comparing space heaters for energy costs.

Meta-Efficient has a page about the most efficient ways to heat your home with a few space heaters (including a wall heater that looks a bit like a burning fireplace…

Econo-heat Electric Panel Heater is very efficient (2-3 cents an hour to run) and costs less than $100. They say it has a bit of an odor when you first turn it on, but it dissipates within 24 hours. I have no experience with this product, but it looks interesting and is comparatively inexpensive to run.

I can’t pass up this opportunity to remind everyone that you can save a lot on your heating bills by warming your body instead of the air around you. It takes a lot more energy to warm the air in a room than it does to warm your body. Many body warmers need no energy at all!

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One of my most frequently asked questions is “Do you know about Melaleuca products and what do you think of them?”

This is a broad question because the Melalueca company sells several different catagories of products: dietary supplements, cleaning products, and bodycare products.

When I am evaluating companies and websites, I look for specific information on the products. Either the website gives general information about ingredients and standards (such as, for example, a website selling many styles of jewelry made from the same limited number of materials), or they list ingredients of specific products. For some products, such as cleaning products, copies of MSDS sheets are included on the website.

The Melaleuca website has neither materials descriptions, ingredients lists, or MSDS sheets, so I can’t evaluate the products from the informaition made available on the website. As far as I can tell, these products would probably fall into the “natural” catagory on Debra’s List, but I emphasize probably because I have no ingredients lists or MSDS sheets to look at.

A few years ago I was provided with ingredients lists for the cleaning products available at that time. Those lists indicated that those products contained some petrochemical ingredients that are on the list of ingredients I don’t recommend. I no longer have those lists and couldn’t begin to tell you what those ingredients were.

If anyone has or can obtain ingredients lists for the current products, I am happy to look at them and give my opinion.

It’s important to keep in mind that in the marketplace there are not “good” products and “bad” products, but a whole spectrum of products that range from horribly toxic to the most pure of the pure. And there is a corresponding spectrum of consumers that fit with these various products. What I am looking for are the those products that are outstanding in their healthfulness and environmental sustainability. But there are many other products, while they may not be the purest, are much better than the worst toxic products from the supermarket. The question here really is where do Melaleuca products fit in the spectrum?

I’ve had many conversations with manufacturers of products. One thing that comes up over and over is “Yes, we could make a product that is greener, but we have to make a product that is affordable and for which there is a market.” So every product is a balance between what is possible and what will sell, and also what can be produced. A smaller company can make, for example, handmade batches of soap with organic ingredients containing herbs biodynamically grown in the field next to the barn where they make the soap. A company like Melaleuca, because of the volume they do, just can’t provide that type of product. So they produce what they can produce at the price that their customer will pay.

I can say with confidence that Melaleuca products are better than toxic supermarket products, but beyond that, I need ingredient lists and Material Safety Data Sheets.

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