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.

Is sodium meta bisulphite safe?

Question from Nancy

Unable to find any information on what this ingredient is. Or whether it is safe? Also does it contain gluten? It is in the canned coconut milk I use and it is the only canned coconut I have found that does not contain guar gum.

Any help will be appreciated. Thanks.


Debra’s Answer

Sodium meta bisulphite is part of a family of sulfur-based sulfites, widely used as a preservative in processed foods and beverages. Sulfur occurs in natural as a mineral and is the source of “rotten egg” smell. Perhaps the most familiar use of sulphites is as a preservative for dried fruit–it makes the difference between the fruit being moist and colorful, or dried and shriveled.

Some people are very allergic to sulphites, and for this reason, the presence of sulphites in foods and beverages is noted on the label. Sulfites may cause gastro-intestional irritation with nausea and vomiting. Inhaling sulphites has been associated with tightness in the chest, shortness of breath, sore throat, and asthma. Skin and eye contact may cause mild irritation. These symptoms are for sulphites in their concentrated form in an industrial setting. Unless you are allergic to sulphites, it is unlikely that you would have these symptoms from the small amounts used as presevatives.

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Neutralizing a toxic apartment

Question from Stephanie

Hi. I just moved to a new apartment in a new city. Since I’ve gotten here I’ve had debilitating headaches everyday. Before we moved in, the landlords cleaned the apartment, including the carpeting (1/2 the apartment is carpeted) with strong chemicals and deoderizers. Though the smell has mostly gone away, I suspect that the chemicals they used are responsible for my headaches.

I know so little about creating a healthy home environment, since this is all new to me, and I have very little money, so I am wondering what I can do about my present situation, given that I’m here in this apartment now, and moving out is not a realistic option at this point in time.

I am switching to non-toxic cleaners, but I am wondering if there is anything I can do about the chemicals they’ve already used? Will recleaning the rugs and closets with non-toxic products, like baking soda, get rid of the chemicals? Would investing in an air purifier help? Is there something else I can do to get rid of the chemicals and neutralize the environment?

Thank you!!

Debra’s Answer

There are several things you can do right away that won’t cost much money.

First, simply open the windows. It’s probably still pretty cold in Pennsylvania, but it will start to warm up soon. Invest in a small fan that can pull indoor air out the window, or, better yet, get two fans and set up some cross-ventilation. This is assuming the outdoor air quality is pretty good, and you are not on a busy street or something like that.

If you are in a place where the outdoor air quality is worse, you may need to get an air filter. See Debra’s List: Air FIlters.

As a rule, natural cleaning products don’t remove chemicals. Other chemicals remove chemicals. However, you can probably remove some of the residual carpet chemicals by using a steam cleaning machine such as a Rug Doctor, sold in many supermarkets.

Heat is always a good way to “bake out” chemicals. Just turn up your heat as high as it goes, with windows and doors closed, and leave for the day. Then open the windows and air out. Repeat as needed. Be sure to remove plants and pets.

Readers, any other suggetions?

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Nontoxic products for washing and waxing cars

Question from Lea


I was wondering if there are any good nontoxic products available for washing and waxing my car.

Thanks in advance for your help!

Debra’s Answer

Well, we take our cars to be washed at a self-service car wash. We use whatever comes out of the high-pressure wand and I haven’t noticed it is particularly toxic.

National Wildlife Federation: Greening the Car Wash recommends this as the best option if the only place you can wash your car is on pavement. The used water must be treated before it goes back into the environment.

In her book Better Basics for the Home, Annie Berthold-Bond recommends washing the car with 1/4 cup liquid detergent (natural, of course) mixed into 1 gallon warm water. This book has a whole section on make-it-yourself car care products, including antifreeze, windshield cleaner, vinyl smell reducer, bug remover, creme polish, and more.

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Benefits of Having “No Shoes” Policy

Question from Mark

Please tell me the environmental health benefits (if any) of having a “no shoes” policy in the house.

Debra’s Answer

When we walk around out in the world, we step into all kinds of things: bacteria, pesticdes, asphalt, etc. If we walk across a lawn, for example, it is likely to have been sprayed with herbicides and pesticides.

All of these things stick to the soles of our shoes and we can track them into the house, bringing toxic exposures from the outside indoors.

The purpose of shoes are to protect the feet outdoors. Indoors, I always go barefoot or wear slippers or socks. I only put my shoes on to go outdoors. I think it’s healthier to not have feet confined.

Another benefit of not wearing shoes indoors is that floors stay cleaner. This saves on cleaning effort and chemicals that may be used to clean floors.

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Response to Costco Lamb

Question from Lisa


I just wanted to write in response to the post regarding Costco’s lamb. I called Costco and asked about the beef and other meat. I was told they follow regular FDA rules (which signals a red flag to me) and their suppliers do use antibiotics, etc. unless specifically specified on the package label. The gentleman I spoke with didn’t know much other than what he could find in his employee notes but recommended I ask the butcher on site. It would be great if the person who bought the lamb would let me know if the label said it was grass fed in Australia or if she found the information out another way.

Thank you!


Debra’s Answer

When I wrote about the grass-fed lamb sold at Costco in my 10 April 2007 newsletter, I had gotten that tip from Dr. Mercola‘s book Total Health Program. He said he eats this lamb personally and he had checked it out.

I’m not sure here if the situation has changed since Dr. Mercola made this recommendation or if he knows something the butcher doesn’t.

Would check this out with Dr. Mercola, but his website has never responded to emails I have sent him…

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Stinky NEW Wool Rug – what gives?

Question from Lisa J.

Hi Debra,

Recently found your site and thought I’d solicit your advice. I purchased an all wool rug from Company C in December, 2006. After the first 6 weeks or so, I noticed a strong “weird” odor coming from the rug. I thought it was just the new wool rug smell. Well, was I wrong! The smell continued to grow stronger to the point I thought I was crazy. I finally contacted the company and asked some questions. Apparently, the rug was made in India, but it is all wool. The customer service rep instructed me to let the rug sit outside in the sun back side up for a whole day if possible to finish “curing” it. What the heck? Is there anything I can do to make the smell go away? We have all wood floors and tile in the house and no bad smell in any of the other rooms. Company C wants to charge ME $200 to ship the stinky thing back to them. Please note, we have no children in the house, only 2 adults, so I know nothing has been split on this rug.

Your advice, please.

Thanks for your great site and keep up the good work!

Lisa J.

Debra’s Answer

I once had an experience with a natural fiber rug made in India that had a strong odor when I purchased it. I thought I would be able to remove the odor and use the rug, but I was never able to do so.

Even though the rug was all natural materials, I suspect that when rugs are shipped in from other countries, chemicals–including pesticides–may be applied during transit. It may be these chemicals that are causing the odor.

My policy since has been to purchase rugs only in person and not via mail order, so I can be sure there is no odor before I purchase it. Or purchase from a place that is accustomed to dealing with people with chemical sensitivities and so can determine that the rug really is odor-free.

Sorry, I have no suggestions for removing the odor.

Readers, any suggestions?

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Cleaning Clogged Drains

Question from Ellie Gioumousis

I remember reading a suggestion to use a mix of baking soda, borax and vinegar to clear slow running drains. I also recall reading that borax is toxic and not to use it.

Could yu comment on this please?

Thank you

Debra’s Answer

The formula to clear clogged drains is baking soda and vinegar. When you mix the two, it fizzes and foams up, thereby pushing the clog through the pipe. If you want to try this, pour some baking soda down the drain, followed by an equal amount of vinegar.

My experience has been that this doesn’t work on heavily clogged sinks and certainly doesn’t work with a sink full of standing water, but it’s a good maintenance thing to do periodically to clear the pipes before they build up to a clog.

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Vinegar in laundry

Question from Darci Franklin

Ii was wondering if I can use vinegar in my laundry instead of bleach to disinfect. If so, how do I go about this?

Debra’s Answer

Yes! An article on the Reader’s Digest website RD Living says, “A single cup of vinegar will kill off any bacteria that may be present in your wash load, especially if it includes cloth diapers and the like.”

Here are more websites with lots of tips on using vinegar in the laundry:

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Pain Free

Question from CVD

Dear Debra,

About 5 years ago I my feet were in such pain, I could hardly walk. One day I was to go shopping in the mall with my daughters, and I had to tell them to go ahead and I would sit in the book store and look at books. I love looking at the natural health books.

Well, that day I found the Pain Free book you mentioned in your March 20 news letter, and saw that it actually talked about sore feet. I started the exercises that day, and it has literally changed my life.

I did the foot exercises first, and noticed that many of my other pains were going away. I come from a family with a lot of arthritis, and I was taking glucosamine , but have quit taking it, and I have never felt better.

I am 57 years old, and I walk better than I did when I was 30, and I do not take anything for pain any more. If I get a new pain I just do the exercise for that particular pain.

I recommend the book to everyone I know that is in pain. I also have read all the books that Pete Egoscue has written. I especially like Pain Free for Women. Now I usually do the maintenance exercises which only take about 20 minutes a day.

Debra’s Answer

And my husband is still walking without his cane after starting the exercises. Over the weekend, he walked for five hours with me without his cane. That’s pretty incredible for him!

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Looking for help with a few recipes for natural products you make at home

Question from DEBORAH HOLDEN

I wonder if anyone could tell me where I can buy pure Castile soap powder? I’m trying to make laundry soap to give as gifts to friends but I can only find liquid and my recipe calls for powder.

Also, I’m looking for a recipe for dishwasher powder, deodorant and toothpaste I can make. I have a recipe but am looking for others that may be better. I’ve been trying to stop using chemicals in my home for a few years now and I’m doing well.

The dishwasher powder recipe I have left the glasses with white on them, so I’ve had to use 7 generation. I did hear that if you get white on your glasses you need to increase the water temperature in the dishwasher. I’m not able to do that with young children still at home.

The toothpaste recipe I have is OK but not good enough yet to switch the children to it. Any ideas?

As for the deodorant, my recipe is a citrus spray and I would like to experiment with another recipe.

Debra’s Answer

Here are a couple of sources for the powdered castile soap: A World of Plenty and

Readers, any suggestions for the recipes?

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