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Silicone baking mats vs parchment paper

Question from S. T.

Why do you recommend silicone baking mats? Isn’t cooking parchment safer?

Debra’s Answer

Cooking parchment also called parchment paper, kitchen parchment, greaseproof paper and cooking paper is a sheet of paper impregnated with silicone, which makes the paper grease- and moisture-resistant as well as relatively heat-resistant. It is commonly used to eliminate the need to grease baking pans–allowing, for example, repeated batches of cookies to be baked without regreasing the pans–and it can also be folded to make moisture-proof packages in which foods can cooked or steamed.

Parchment is made with bleached white and unbleached brown paper. Since the bleached paper might contain toxic dioxin, it’s better to use the unbleached parchment paper if you use it.

Silicone baking sheets are a sheet of silicone that can be reused over and over again.

Silcone is safe to use for baking and cooking, whether impregnated in paper or in a sheet by itself. Silicones are made chemically by creating a “backbone” of silicon from common sand, the same stuff from which glass is made and oxygen molecules, a combination that does not occur in nature. Then various other synthetic molecules are added branching off of the main silicon-oxygen line to create hundreds of different silicones that range from liquids to rubbery solids. Though this is a completely manmade product, it is completely inert and will not transfer to foods (more at Q&A: Is silicone cookware safe?).

I use both silicone baking sheets and parchment paper. I use my silicone baking sheets to line pans whenever I bake something which might stick. They have saved much time, effort and water from clean-up, and are much safer overall than using baking pans with other non-stick surfaces. I use parchment paper now only when I want to specifically use the cooking technique of baking in parchment, as when I make a recipe such as Fruits Baked in Parchment, or as a substitute for waxed paper waxed paper is covered with paraffin, a petrochemical wax.

The advantage I see to using silicone baking sheets over parchment is that they can be reused up to 2000 times. Though the mats cost more than parchment paper, there is a great savings overall. A box of unbleached parchment paper costs $5 and a silicone baking sheet costs $20, but a box of unbleached parchment paper will cover only 32 baking sheets, and a silicone baking mat will cover 2000 baking sheets. It would cost $310 to buy enough parchment paper to replace one silicone baking mat.

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Clean Salad Spinner With Baking Soda

Question from J. B-G

I want to tell you how fantastic baking soda cleans up the salad spinner “cage”!

This salad spinner of mine has been in regular use for about 25 years; periodically it gets hand washed with warm soapy water and after being rinsed, put out in the California sun to be sanitized; but this winter it suddenly got grey looking, sort of like what can happen to laundry sometimes.

Upon closer inspection, I recognized the signs of encroaching mold. Out came the old toothbrush and on came the baking soda, just sprinkled lightly on the bottom at first. After I scrubbed that part inside and out, I rinsed it, then turned the cage on its side and dusted the inside all around before working with the toothbrush inside and out again.

After rinsing, the whole cage looked and sparkled like brand new!

Debra’s Answer

Thanks for your tip!

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Unscented Talcum Powder

Question from N.M.

I have MCS, and have been unable to find unscented, fragrance-free talcum powder Note the apparent redundancy, since many products that are labeled “unscented” actually contain fragrance, sometimes appearing in the Ingredients list only as a chemical name. I would like to find a source for a safe no mica talcum that has no added fragrance. Can you help?

Debra’s Answer

I could only find unscented talcum powder one place: Birch Hill Happenings. The owner says that it is “100% pure” to the best of her knowledge. It is imported from Australia.

Talc is considered safe enough to be used as an ingredient in nearly one thousand cosmetic and bodycare products. In the past, there has been some question about its safety. It is often stated that talc contains traces of asbestos, however, eighty-five samples of talcum powder studied from 15 countries found that the main detectable mineral impurities were chlorite, mica, carbonates, quartz, and feldspars. Purity varied from 47% to 93%, with powders from Germany and USA having the highest quality. Products from Chile, France, Andorra, Portugal and Colombia were the lowest.

Dr. Hauschka products website FAQ states:

Also, you can just purchase plain cornstarch or arrowroot powder and use that.

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Pesticide residues in fabrics

Question from P. G.

I have all three of your books, and thoroughly enjoy your newsletters! Thank you for all you do, and for sharing it all with us out here!

I am very committed to a healthy environment–organic beds, bedding, carpet, foods–just about everything. I spend a lot of money for it. However, for my clothing, I do purchase natural fiber cotton, linen, and silk clothing, but I don’t buy it organically. And there is my dilemma. I am aware of all the pesticide use on growing cotton, but does that residue REALLY end up transferring to our bodies when we wear it as clothing? Has any conclusive study or proof of this been made?

I understand the need to pre-wash new clothing of the residues from sizing and any other “new” fabric treatments before wearing (I wash my clothes with Whole Foods brand laundry detergent along with baking soda, and use vinegar in the rinse cycle), and appreciated your advice on avoiding non-wrinkle, stain-resistant clothing (which I now do–thanks!), but haven’t completely resolved this organic cotton clothing issue.

I ordered some swatches of organic fabrics to purchase to sew (I used to sew all my clothes) and may consider that. The prices of the fabric are very reasonable. But then I just wonder: is it really a valid concern????

Debra’s Answer

I’ve already partially answered this question in Q&A: Conventional vs Organic Cotton Clothing, but I wanted to specifically answer the question “Has any conclusive study or proof of this been made?”

My experience wearing non-organic cotton clothing is that I don’t feel any residues of pesticides present. But that’s not a scientific test.

So I asked Home Environmental Consultant and Certified Bau-Biologist Mary Cordaro to comment on this, because she has experience with product testing done by laboratories in Germany that are far more sophisticated than the laboratories we have available here in the USA. Mary said, “German fabric tests on conventional cotton fabric have shown that, unlike cotton batting, pesticides are not usually present in cotton fabric. The fabric milling and production process removes the pesticides.”

I’m not concerned about health effects from pesticide residues in cotton fabrics (though they are present in cotton batting, so it would be important to get organic cotton in a mattress or pillows). We all should be concerned about the pesticides from the growing of cotton making their way into the environment (which then come back to us in soil, air, and water). But as I said before, at this time there just isn’t enough organic cotton for all of us to wear it 100% of the time. At the same time, we should each take every opportunity available to us to purchase organic cotton to support the continued growth of the industry.

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Sodium Laureth Sulfate

Question from J. P.

Can you tell me about Sodium Laureth Sulfate? I know labels often say it is “derived from coconut”, but is it really a natural ingredient?

Debra’s Answer

To answer your question, here is an excerpt from my book Home Safe Home about natural ingredients bold added.

Sodium Laureth Sulfate is also produced via ethoxylation. Ethoxylated surfactants may be contaminated with carcinogenic 1,4- Dioxane dioxin, as a by-product of the manufacturing process. Carcinogens are considered cause for concern even at very low levels.

I’m not going to comment on whether or not one should or shouldn’t use products containing Sodium Laureth Sulfate. There is a lot of controversy about this which you can read by typing “Sodium Laureth Sulfate” into any seach engine.

My only point here is that even though Sodium Laureth Sulfate is “derived from coconut oil”, it’s not what I would consider to be natural in the sense that it is in the state in which it occurs in nature.

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Liver and Kidney Detox

Question from B. K.

Do you have any special natural remedies to detox the body……the liver and kidneys??? I think sometimes feeling fatigue all leads to a good cleansing of the liver….getting it to be strong and flushing out all the toxins! Thanks!

Debra’s Answer

I’ve used the Kidney Rejuvenator and Liver Rejuvenator products from Peter Gillham’s Natural Vitality and they were very effective.

I started taking them after I read an article by Peter Gillham called “The Body’s Filter” (this is not posted on their website, but I think they would send you a copy if you asked). It tells how our bodies have specific organs whose purpose is to purify the blood and organs to keep toxins of all kinds from building up in the body and causing disease.

The kidneys, among other functions, are one of the main organs that filter toxins out of our blood. But I suspect that for most of us, our kidneys are not doing their job. Kidneys can be damaged by poor diet, stress, and chemical expsosure, reducing their efficiency. When our kidneys are damaged, they can’t filter out the chemicals we are exposed to and they build up in our bodies. So one of the best things we can do to help our bodies withstand the chemicals we are exposed to is to have strong, well-functioning kidneys. The kidneys and liver work together to remove toxic chemicals from the body, so both need to be supported.

When I read this, it was like a light bulb went off in my head. Of course! If we want our bodies to better tolerate the chemicals in our environment, we should strengthen those functions in our bodies that process them. So I started taking Kidney Rejuvenator and Liver Rejuvenator and they made a big difference in my body. My husband took them too and they helped him. They are completely natural, made of a blend of herbs (not organically grown).

There may be other similar products on the market. I know these worked for me. And other vitamins I have taken from them were effective too.

Both kidneys and liver process toxins and need to be cleansed for good health. I definately think you are on the right track with this.

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Green Bathtubs

Question from C. H.

I am looking for an airjet tub that would be safe. One company [name deleted] said that their urethane tubs are the only green product around. My HVAC guy says that 100% acrylic tubs are inert. However, as far as I can see, the acrylic tubs have a fiberglass and resin shell which is where the problem mostly lies. Any info?

Also, do you know how to construct a tiled bathtub where the bathtub itself is made of tile?

Debra’s Answer

I contacted the company that is making the claim that their urethane bathtub is “green.” Here’s what I found out.

Acrylic-lined tubs have a shell of fiberglass. So it’s fiberglass on the outside and acrylic on the inside.

The toxic element in fiberglass is polyester resin. Polyester resin has a styrene carrier which outgasses VOCs.

This company replaces the polyester resin in the fiberglass with urethane, which does not outgas, so there are zero VOCs. That’s the green claim–that it has zero VOCs.

However, the fiberglass is on the outside of the tub, which usually is completely sealed against a wall or within a tile surround. So whatever VOCs do outgas probably are not going into the room once the tub is installed.

Still I am concerned about the acrylic liner being a plastic and that none of these materials are renewable or biodegradable. Certainly I would call this a less toxic tub, but I would still stay away from any plastic tubs. A standard porcelain tub would still come out ahead.

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Safe Dinnerware

Question from J. W.

Do you have a suggestion for safe, non-toxic everday dinnerware?

Debra’s Answer

Personally, I stay away from plastic dishware of any kind. I have an assorted collection of dishware and glassware that includes clear glass, handmade pottery, recycled glass, and an old set of Wedgewood china that was given to me as a gift.

Aside from plastic–which is obviously identifiable–the most important thing to watch out for is the lead used in glazes. And it’s not just brightly colored dishware from other countries that is a problem–most major manufacturers of dinnerware sold in department stores and home-decorating shops still use lead glazes, without labeling them as such. The federal government prohibits the sale of dinnerware that releases lead in amounts greater than 2,000 ppb which prevents direct cases of lead poisoning, but the state of California requires warning labels on any dishware that releases lead in amounts greater than 224 ppb, to protect against long-term health risks.

I like to purchase dishware from local potters. Many now use lead-free glazes and you can ask them directly if lead-free glaze was used.

The other option is to test a sample of the dishware with a home lead-testing swabs. That way you know for sure.

I’ve listed some links to websites with safe dinnerware on Debra’s List.

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Sealing Toxic Particleboard Furniture

Question from P. N.

I have a crazy situation. I put a $500.00 deposit down on some furniture I love, but found out it’s wood veneer over fiber-board. I’ve been agonizing for a week whether to have it delivered or if I should lose my deposit, or at least some of it. My chiropractor muscle-tested me weak on formaldahyde, so it wouldn’t be a great thing, but it was on sale for a really good price, it looks great, it’s what I need, but I don’t want to get sick and I don’t want to feel hypocritical.

I found this stuff called Safe Coat which is supposed to stop most of the out-gassing but my friend says it will just slow it. Do you have any advice?

Debra’s Answer

About your furniture, I’ve used the product you mentioned. The exact product is called Safecoat Safe Seal, which is specifically designed to block formaldehyde emissions from particleboard. Not all Safecoat brand products have this ability, so be sure to get this specific product.

My experience using this product was similar to yours. Many years ago, I purchased an inexpensive dining table to use for a desk that I thought was all solid wood. When I got it home and started putting it together, I found that one essential piece on the underside was particleboard. I really needed a desk and this was the only wood table I had found that I could afford. But the smell of formaldehyde was clearly present.

So I got some Safecoat Safe Seal and completely sealed that one piece of particleboard. There was no more odor of formaldehyde and I was able to work at that desk with no reaction.

Your friend is partially right. My best recommendation is to use solid wood. The sealant will block enough formaldehyde fumes to form an effective barrier, but the particleboard beneath it will continue to outgas behind the barrier of the sealant. Over time, it may need to be reapplied. Multiple coats would give you a more complete seal. I think I applied two or three coats it was twenty years ago!.

Now, about whether you should follow through with the purchase for the reasons you stated…Even if it looks great, it’s what you need and you would lose your deposit, I wouldn’t go through with such a purchase if I knew it would harm my health. If it does affect your health, it will cost much more than your deposit to recover your health, and you will need to get rid of it anyway.

I once had a situation where I was working in a doctor’s office who treated patients who were chemically sensitive. He moved into a new office and needed to put down new flooring. I chose a flooring for him that was nontoxic, but his wife, who had an eye for decorating, wanted a different floor–one she chose for style, not safety. Well, being a good husband, he followed his wife’s advice and installed 2000 square feet of vinyl flooring. The following week he had to rip it out and install the flooring I recommended because none of his patients could come in the office! So it’s better to do it right the first time.

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Water-based Deck Finish

Question from P. S.

What do you recommend for a water-based deck finish?

Debra’s Answer

There are two types of deck finish: oil-based, which penetrates the wood, and water-based, which lies on top. This article from This Old House explains the difference and why you might want to choose one over the other based on performance.

Oil-based finishes are more toxic to apply, so I don’t recommend them.

In searching for a water-based finish, I found that not all are alike. Water-based finishes do contain fewer volatile organic chemicals VOC, but some still contain glycol, a fairly toxic solvent.

Fortuantely I was able to find two water-based acrylic wood finishes with NO hazardous ingredients listed on the Material Safety Data Sheet MSDS.

Wolman Extreme Acrylic Wood Finish can be purchased in retail stores wherever Wolman products are sold. AFM Safecoat DynoSeal needs to be ordered online.

I haven’t used either of these products, but they are the best I could find based on their ingredient data. If anyone has any personal experience using these products, send me an email and I will post your comments.

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