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Submitted questions will be posted with my response by the following Tuesday or before.
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Content of Metals

Here is a very interesting page that contains information on the content of various metals:

Metals Information — About Metals and Platings.

It tells, for example, what alloys are used to make various types of gold, sterling silver, brass, surgical stainless steel and other metals used in jewelry-making. It addresses allergies to these metals. It tells what plating is and where lead can be found in jewelry.

It’s a good basic resource for metals.

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Anodized Cookware in the Dishwasher

Question from Cathy

I just found out you’re not supposed to put anodized cookware in the dishwasher. We don’t do it it often but occasionally if my husband is cleaning up (rarely happens) the pans will go in the dishwasher. I can’t see any evidence of damage to the surface of these pans but want to know if they are possibly unsafe to use. I hope you can answer my question.

Debra’s Answer

My husband Larry is the dishwasher in our house, so I don’t have a lot of attention on what is safe to put in the dishwasher or not. But it seems that some cookware is dishwasher safe and some isn’t. I would follow the manufacturer’s advice on this.

At first I answered this question by saying putting your cookware in the dishwasher probably wouldn’t ruin it, but read the comments for the experiences of readers who DID ruin their anodized aluminum cookware by putting it in the diswasher.

New Flannel Sheets Smell Like Gasoline After Washing

Question from Erin

I recently purchased new flannel sheets for my children’s beds. My son has been sleeping (I washed it first) on it for the past two weeks and his asthma has been terrible. I was thinking it was from the outside air. However, I took their sheets off this morning and washed them again. When I took them out of the washer I noticed a very strong chemical smell, almost like gasoline. Is this possible? Would I be better off purchasing old second hand cotton sheets for my children to sleep on?

Thank you for any advice or information you might have.


Debra’s Answer

I’ve been sleeping on cotton flannel sheets for years. I’ve probably purchased at least two dozen sets of sheets from various places and they have all been completely odor-free. Except once. There was a pattern printed on the sheets that was with a kind of plastic-ish ink. It was laying on top of the fabric, not in the fabric. It was scratchy and smelly, so I just threw them away.

I don’t know why your sheets smell, but it is not typical. I wouldn’t decide against cotton flannel sheets based on that one experience.

You may be able to remove the odor by washing in baking soda or vinegar, or by hanging the sheets in the sun. If that doesn’t work, toss these and get new sheets.

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Nontoxic Luggage?

Question from Cheryl

I really need a new suitcase for my trips back east to visit family. I need something with some shape to it because I live out of the suitcase the whole trip as I visit various family members. I borrowed a popular commercial one for a recent trip and found that my clothes picked up the smell of the suitcase. Do you have any recommendations that do not have heavy outgassing ? I’m assuming that the tapestry/cloth suitcases could be okay but wanted to check with you first.

Debra’s Answer

I’ve been struggling with the luggage question for months.

I have a set of old leather luggage that I love–old style too, with belts in addition to latches. I’ve been using it for about twenty years and have taken it everywhere I’ve traveled. The belts and latches have all broken and been replaced, but now the spines are breaking and I really don’t think they will make it through another airplane trip, being tossed around as they do in airports.

Knowing I would be taking this trip to San Francisco this week, I’ve been looking for new luggage for months and running into the same problems. The synthetic luggage just STINKS! And I didn’t want to contaminate my clothing. Also, I wanted luggage with wheels this time around as I am tired of carrying it or strapping it to wheels.

I too wanted something with structure, which is why I wasn’t just getting the immediately obvious option: cotton canvas bags. Port Canvas has a wonderful selection of affordable, sturdy cotton canvas luggage, but it is soft.

I checked out the tapestry/cloth suitcases, but, alas, they too smelled because they are made from synthetic materials. Many years ago I purchased a linen and leather garment bag. I wish they still made these.

The most natural suitcases I could find were made by Hartmann. Made with leather and natural fibers, these do not smell at all, but they cost in the neighborhood of $800 a piece. I’m just not going to spend $800 on a piece of luggage that is going to get thrown around at the airport and anyone could pick up at baggage claim. That’s just a theft waiting to happen.

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Non-Toxic Mascara Recommendation?

Question from wt


i’m looking for a non-toxic mascara that WON’T MAKE MY LASHES DROOP. my lashes are relatively thin, and anything heavy will cause them to droop in a heartbeat. is there such a forumula?

would appreciate a recommendation.

thank you!

Debra’s Answer

My lashes are thick, so I’ve never experienced this. Readers…?

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Dishwashing soap

Question from S.L.

On your website under the section “At Home With Debra . . . How I Really Live” you say that you use an unscented liquid soap that you got as a bonus to clean your dishes and countertops. I’m wondering if you’ve run out of that original supply and if so, what do you use now?

Debra’s Answer

We’re still using the dish soap we got with our water softener. Some other products I have used in the past to wash my dishes include Dr. Bronner liquid soaps (now made from organically-grown ingredients) and a dishwashing liquid I got at Williams-Sonoma that they don’t carry any more, which was scented with kitchen fragrances, such as sweet basil and meyer lemon. When we run out of what we have, I’ll probably go back to Dr. Bronner.

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Need Help With Kitchen Reno!

Question from V. L.

I find myself overwhelmed with choices for an eco kitchen reno. It seems that either solid wood cabinetry or cabinet boxes made of strawboard with solid wood

fronts are the only eco options. I’ve tried re-covering used cabinets from the paper, but they are always in really bad shape.

Further, are granite or soapstone the best environmental options for countertops, and doesn’t it depend on the granite’s source?

My kitchen is falling apart and I’m afraid to take one step forward!

Thanks for any help you can offer, and I really love your newsletter.

Debra’s Answer

There ARE are lot of choices for eco kitchens, more even than you list.

Building page of Debra’s List has a great article that outlines all the possibilities for countertops, and gives some resources. The best environmental option isn’t necessarily granite or soapstone–I once redid my entire kitchen with salvage gray marble slabs at $5 a square foot. Eco-options for countertops include tiles made from various recycled materials, too.

Both your choices for cabinetry sound fine. There are more options–such as metal cabinets, but wood is much more aesthetic. Consider having cabinets custom-built. I know that sounds expensive, but I had a local cabinetmaker build all the cabinets in my California kitchen with solid wood and my choice of finish, and the total cost installed was less than if I had purchased particleboard cabinets from Home Depot. So check around.

There are no single products that are “the best” choice for everyone. In a personal one-on-one phone consultation, I can help you choose the kitchen reno products that are right for you.

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Safety of Rubbing Alcohol

Question from D. M.

I came across a recipe for a homemade shower cleaner using equal parts water, vinegar, rubbing alcohol and a couple drops of liquid dish detergent. Is rubbing alcohol a non toxic ingredient to use for cleaning?

Thanks for your reply and I am looking forward to receiving your e-newsletter as I’m always looking for non toxic ways to take care of our home and ourselves. I make some cleaning and body care products myself. Any that I have to buy I get from the health store and I check those ingredient labels!!

Thanks also for what you do to help educate people and make the environment cleaner and greener.

Debra’s Answer

I don’t consider rubbing alcohol to be a nontoxic ingredient to use for cleaning. The chemical name for rubbing alchol is isopropyl alcohol. The Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) for isopropyl alcohol says “No significant effects beyond minor irritation are expected” for skin exposure, but if some accidentally gets splashed in the eye it can cause “Severe irritation and discomfort” and “Reversible and/or irreversible corneal damage may occur”.

From inhalation, “Respiratory tract irritation and/or headaches possible. Significant systemic toxic effects are likely following repeated exposure to high concentrations.”

I’m concerned about using isopropyl especially as a shower cleaner, as a shower is a small area with little ventilation. Therefore you would have a greater chance of inhaling a higher concentration of the alcohol.

I think your recipe would work without the rubbing alcohol. If you have problems with soap scum buildup, your water is probably too hard. Rather than using a toxic chemical, you could get a salt-free water conditioner from Go Beyond Organic.

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Nontoxic Lice Shampoo

This product was sent to me by a reader.

Lice R Gone ¨ is an enzyme based product that “has such low toxicity it is essentially harmless to people, pets, wildlife and crops…is completely biodegradable upon application…has no residual contamination…and is quick acting and totally effective against head lice and their nits.” It contains Purified water, anionic / nonionic surfactant blend, glycerin, enzymes, and peppermint oil.

FDA (GRAS) – Generally Regarded As Safe.

Order online at

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Types of Wood Flooring

Question from R. W.

We want to replace carpeting in our daughter’s bedroom. She is chemically sensitive and so we were comparing prefinished wood flooring with laminate wood flooring. At our local Lowe’s store we saw Bruce wood floor and a Pergo laminate. Is the laminate more toxic than the wood ? We hope to use a kind that needs neither gluing or nailing. The laminate is thicker for about the same price. Would it be more toxic?

We have also found an engineered hardwood Bruce flooring that does not require nailing or gluing. Since it is engineered, does that present any outgassing problems? Also if it requires laying foam underneath, would that present a challenge to the chemically sensitive since it would be sealed under the flooring?

Debra’s Answer

I went down to my local Lowe’s and looked at all of these floorings.

First, let’s just clear up what all these different types of flooring are.

Solid wood flooring is one piece of wood top to bottom. Generally it is nailed to a wood subfloor. Most prefinished solid wood flooring I’ve seen has been nontoxic–the finish is applied at the factory and baked on.

Engineered flooring is made up of layers of wood stacked and glued under heat and pressure. It can be installed over most subfloors. The Bruce engineered flooring 6626 I examined at Lowe’s just smelled like wood to me. It did not seem especially toxic. Some engineered floors require plastic foam installed underneath. I wasn’t able to find out what type of plastic is used to make the foam underlayment. While it didn’t seem particularly toxic in the store, I’ve had experiences in the past where people purchased flooring thinking it was safe from a small sample, only to find that a roomful or a houseful was pretty toxic. As always, my best advice is to avoid plastics whenever possible, particularly when other safer products are available.

A floating floor is not attached to the floor, except around the edges. It does not require glue, however, glue is not a problem if you choose a nontoxic type, such as yellow woodworker’s glue.

Laminate flooring is made up of various layers of material laminated together. There’s a good illustration of what laminate flooring is made up of on the Armstrong website. Basically, laminate flooring is high-density fiberboard, covered by an “image layer” that makes it look like wood, topped with a protective layer of plastic. It is an inexpensive, easy-care alternative to wood and waxing that can be installed over any subfloor. It won’t last as long as wood we are still walking on the original oak floors installed in our home over 65 years ago and the finish feels like plastic. It’s basically a fake wood floor. The one MSDS sheet I looked at showed that brand of laminate flooring emitted formaldehyde fumes, so all in all, I don’t recommend laminate flooring. That said, a friend of mine recently installed a laminate floor all through her living room and it didn’t smell horrible.

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