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.

Removing Hard Water Stains

Question from sheila

I have very hard water that stains everything. Presently we use different toxic chemicals to clean the rust stains from our bathroom toilets and showers. Do you have any recommendations for cleaning the orange hard water stains from rust and maganese in our water.

Debra’s Answer

There used to be a page compiled by somebody named Loretta that has lots of ways to use baking soda, borax, soap, lemon juice, vinegar, and other natural substances to clean around the home. The website hosting that page no longer exists.

She suggests “Apply full-strength vinegar or lemon juice and let stand until spot disappears, rinse. Repeat if necessary.”

Readers, your suggestions?

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Removing Fragrance From Houses

Question from Aimee

I am enjoying your newsletter and your website with all of the valuable information. I really appreciate it.

I have a question regarding the synthetic fragrances that are in laundry detergents (as in Tide, etc) and in fabric softener sheets as well as in plugins like Glade and Wick and those awful ‘candles’ that turn liquid when burning….we are househunting and the last two houses that we really love are full of the smell from the above products. Is it possible to remove that smell? Both houses are vacant and both have carpeting in them. Do synthetic fragrances only get into fabrics such as carpet, or, do they also get into wood (as in wood cabinets and door frames, etc) and even into paint?

Thank you,


Debra’s Answer

Lets see how others have handled this problem. Readers?

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Beet Sugar

Question from KJR

Recently I was at a health food shop that sold various freshly-made muffins and cookies. Many of them were made with beet sugar. I assumed that these must be a natural sweetener that I missed among the many I use. But I don’t see it here or anywhere else as being anything except an alternative to refined white sugar. Why is the health food store using it?

Thanks for your time!

Debra’s Answer

I don’t know why they are using beet sugar. Here’s what I can tell you about it.

I haven’t included beet sugar on my list of natural sweeteners because I haven’t seen unrefined beet sugar commercially available to home cooks. I did once find some red beet crystals that are simply dehydrated juice of the red beet. Though it was very sweet, it also tasted like dried beets, and it was $25 for one cup, so I didn’t think that was practical.

Beet sugar is made from sugar beets. Sugar beets have been cultivated for thousands of years in one form or another as a vegetable. It was also thought to be a cure for nose and troat ailments and for constipation. But it was not used for sugar, as it’s concentration of sugar was not very high and it was difficult to extract.

Then in 1747, a German chemist, Andreus Marggraf, extacted the sugar from sugar beets using brandy and discovered the sugar in the beet was the same as the sugar in sugar cane. The first factory to make sugar from sugar beets was built in 1799 but it failed because the sugar content was too low.

During the Napolenonic Wars of the early 1800s, an English blockade prevented import of sugar cane to France. Napoleon tuned to sugar beets to satisfy the sweet tooth of his countrymen. He allocated land and money for the farming of sugar beets and the building of sugar mills and refineries. French agriculturists managed to raised the sugar from 7.5% to 17%. By 1814, small factories were operating in France, Belgian Germany, and Austria.

Beet sugar is considered to be of inferior quality to cane sugar. This is why “pure cane sugar” is used in advertising. Where cane sugar is available, it is preferred over beet.

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Engineered wood and veneer

Question from Maggie

Hi! I am considering buying a media stand from Crate&Barrel and they say it is made of solid wood, engineered wood and veneer. Can you please tell me what engineered wood is and what chemicals might be found in it and in the veneer? Thank you!

Debra’s Answer

First, “solid wood” is a piece of wood that has been cut all in one piece from a branch or trunk of a tree.

“Engineered wood” is a piece of wood that has been made from smaller pieces of wood glued together with adhesives. The pieces of wood can be wood strands, particles, fibers, or veneers or even whole small trees. Particleboard and plywood are both engineered woods.

Engineered wood products do have some environmental advantages. They are made from the same hardwoods and softwoods used to manufacture lumber, so sawmill scraps, wood with defects, and other wood waste can be used. (Engineered cellulosic products are also now made from other “waste” materials such as rye straw, wheat straw, hemp stalks, or sugar cane residue–these contain similar cellulosic material, but from vegetable fibers rather than wood.)

Though these products conserve resources by use the wood efficiently, they are more expensive to produce than solid lumber in terms of time, money, and energy.

There is also a concern about the toxicity of the adhesives used, which can release formaldehyde. The types of adhesives used are:

“Veneer” is a paper-thin layer of wood that is cut from a single log, by “peeling” the log from the outside in. It’s like if you took a carrot and peeled it with a vegetable peeler by going around and around the carrot, rather than lengthwise. This good-looking piece is glued on to engineered wood to make it look nice on the outside. For example, go to a home improvement store and ask for “furniture grade plywood”. You’ll see the layers of engineered wood, but on the outside, there is a very pretty layer that has a pretty wood grain. That’s the veneer.

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Somersweet by Suzanne Somers

Question from KJR

I love all your information about natural sweeteners. I wonder if you have come across Suzanne Somers’ Somersweet. It is made from predominantly oligofructose. Any thoughts?

Debra’s Answer

Oligofructose (also called Fructooligosaccharide, FOS) is a subgroup of inulin, a blend of fructose polymers found widely distributed in nature.

Inulin is not digested in the small intestine, so not metabolized to produce energy, thus they have a reduced caloric value. They do not lead to a rise in serum glucose or stimulate insulin secretion.

FOS is primarily sold as a proniotic enhancer, as it is an ideal substrate for beneficial intestinal bacteria and can stimulate its activity by several hundred percent.

It is derived from a plant source (usually chicory or a sucrose such as cane or beet sugar).

A couple of years ago I looked into using FOS as a a sweetener, so I bought a bottle of “100% pure FOS”. I gave up on it because it really is not very sweet and it would be expensive to use as a sweetener ($12 for 1/2 cup). So I strongly suspect that there is something else in SomerSweet. I wasn’t able to get the ingredients off her website and there was no phone number. So if you have the rest of the list of ingredients, please send them to me. I need to look at those too.

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female hygiene after baby delivery

Question from KD

Hi Debra, I am about to deliver again… my second baby. Last time, I had some post-partum issues and this time I’d like to avoid the regular over the counter products like pre-moistened pads and so on as much as possible. They are medicated and full of parabens and stuff. Would you be able to point me in the right direction in terms of what I can get to deal with these post-partum issues?

Thank you very much in advance,

Debra’s Answer

I don’t have personal experience giving birth, but most of the websites on the Babies & Kids page of Debra’s List are run by mothers who have taken the natural path.

Try contacting them and asking your questions. They may have just the products you need for sale on their website.

Natural moms, your recommendations?

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Removing perfume from used clothing purchases

Question from Mary

I like to shop in used clothing stores. However, many of the clothes have left-over scents in the fabric from perfume, cologne, and deoderant. I recently discovered that if I soaked clothes in 20% vinegar, 80% water for at least three days, this removed the perfume in most cases. I wash the item in cold water after soaking and usually hang it to dry.

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How do I find the major toxins in my home?

Question from JP

I bought my conventional home 3+ years ago and I am slowly greening it as I can afford to replace things. My dad recently mentioned that when he house sits for me or visits, after a few days he notices that he starts to not feel well. He could not discribe any symptoms other than not feeling well. My dad normally has robust health, so this really got my attention. For me, I feel alright but certainly not great.

How do I begin to find the major sources of toxins in my home? My home is about 15 years old and uses propane for the furnace and hot water. I plan to get rid of the propane within the next year or so. Propane is a great concern for me, though I can not tell you why other than something about it doesn’t feel right. I keep my furnace maintained and I have a propane detector and a CO2 detector. I use natural cleaning products, eat orgainc whenever possible.

So where do I start?r
Thank you,


Debra’s Answer

Read my book Home Safe Home, which outlines all the major (and many minor) exposures to toxic chemicals in the home and tells how to eliminate them.

Also, the Toxics page of Debra’s Bookstore has many books by other authors that identify toxic chemicals and their health effects.

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“Rice” Paper for Shoji Screens?

Question from Rima

My husband recently made shoji screens for our dining room. What we used for the “rice paper” was a synthetic product called “syn skin” that a local company that makes high-end shojis uses for all its screens. But when we received the product from TAP Plastics, it reeked of chemicals so badly, we had to leave it outside for at least a week before we were even willing to handle it. For future shoji projects, can you recommend a nontoxic rice paper, and where to get it? Thanks.

Debra’s Answer has natural rice paper from China as well as a lot of interesting information on the history and production of rice paper, and instructions for making your own (if you are so inclined). Acorn Planet has a lot more information about rice paper and sells a number of different types and grades made in China. They also carry various Asian art supplies. carries paper and hardware for making shoji screens. They carry the authentic mulberry paper used in Japan.

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Trying to Find a Juicer

Question from alyssia

i have been researching juicers and i’m concerned about the plastics used in them. i considered a stainless steel manual juicer, but the affordable ones won’t handle all of the things i would like to be able to juice. i’ve narrowed it down to a champion juicer (the parts are made out of stainless steel and nylon) and an omega 8003/8005 juicer (the auger is made out of food grade melamine and i don’t know what the rest is made out of). do you think these would be healthy choices? i really don’t want to defeat the purpose of drinking fresh juices by using a juicer that is going to leach toxic substances.

thanks so much!

Debra’s Answer

Not all plastics leach. The plastics used in juicers are very hard and do not emit plasticizers. Either of these juicers would be fine.

However, the latest recommendations are not to juice, but to puree whole fruits and vegetables with water to make a drink that contains much more nutrition and also the fiber. The book Green for Life by Victoria Boutenko explains this in detail, along with recipes. While I don’t follow a strictly raw food diet, she makes some good points about why we all need to eat and drink more greens. I’ve been drinking a blended drink of cucumber, celery, and apple most mornings and definately have noticed a benefit.

In At Home With Debra : My Vitamins, I wrote about a Chinese doctor who treats cancer, heart disease and diabetes with simple, readily available foods. The healing part of these foods is the phytochemicals, which are contiained in the fibers of the foods. So you need to chew each bite 40 times (or put the foods into a very high-powered blender) to release the phytochemicals. He recommends a 2-horsepower blender (Vitamix) or preferably a 3-horsepower blender (Blend-Tec) to can masticate the skins, seeds, and stems, to make the phytochemicals readily absorbable. Home blenders typically have motors less than 1 horsepower, but it’s better to use these low-power blenders than nothing.

The containers on both blenders are polycarbonate, but these are very hard plastics and there is a minimal amount of contact time with the food. The benefits of the blended drinks far outweigh exposure to any toxic chemicals that may be present.

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