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Holiday Gift Giving

I come from a family where the giving and receiving of gifts was a big part of Christmas. But as I have become more aware of the environment and what is really important in life, my ideas about what makes a gift great have changed.

I’ve put some of my thoughts in an article at ABOUT: Gift-Giving, but I’d like to hear from all of you. What are your suggestions for gifts that do good beyond the tangible gift itself? What is your favorite green gift you’ve given? And your favorite green gift you’ve received? Do you give gifts at all?

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mercury in energy-saving lightbulbs

Question from chris

It is my understanding that energy-saving fluorescent bulbs contain mercury, which concerns me. Are they safe to use? Or safer than regular bulbs? Do all bulbs contain mercury?

Debra’s Answer says all fluorescent and most high intensity discharge lamps (these include mercury vapor, metal halide (also HQI), high-pressure sodium, low-pressure sodium and xenon short-arc lamps). We don’t use high intensity discharge lamps at home, as they are designed to provide high levels of light over large areas, especially when energy efficiency and/or light intensity is desired (such as gymnasiums, large public areas, warehouses, roadways, parking lots, etc).

So fluorescent lamps are the only lamps we need to be concerned about as homeowners, in terms of mercury.

Here’s a link to everything you need to know about choosing and disposing of fluorescent lamps: The Lowdown on Mercury in Fluorescent Lamps.

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Cleaning Baby Clothes

Question from Michelle

I would like to know a safe way to get baby accident stains off clothes if they happen to leak? I am wondering about how one goes about removing stains off both white fabric and fabric with colour. I have tried hydrogen paroxide but it didn’t seem to do the trick. Do you advocate cloth diapers and if so I’d be interested in the cleaning of them?

Debra’s Answer

Not being a mother myself, I’m going to turn this question over to women with experience. Readers?

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Forest Stewardship Council-Certified Fence

Question from Cindy Dwyer

I live in the Miami area and am trying to locate a place where I can buy a shadow-box or similar style fence for my yard that is constructed of sustainably harvested wood and/or certified by the Forest Stewardship Council. Although Home Depot has a corporate policy to support this concept, no one in the Home Depot stores knows anything about it. I have also called a local lumber company but they don’t offer this type of fence material. I’m willing to pay more for a product that I KNOW is made from sustainably harvested wood, but have become frustrated trying to locate a company that sells it. Can anyone help? Thank you very much.

Debra’s Answer

The Forest Stewardship Council website has a page to help consumers locate FSC-certified products, but they only list manufacturers and say you have to ask your local retailers yourself.

So, readers, how are you finding FSC-certified products in your local areas? Are you having any success finding them?

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flooring questions

Question from Christine

We have a wall-to-wall carpet in our house that was installed about 10 years ago (we’ve been living here 3). We want to replace it, and have realized how bad wall-to-wall carpeting is. The other half of the floor is pergo. I don’t want to replace the pergo, and therefore it seems it makes most sense to replace the carpeting with more pergo and use non-toxic area rugs. My question is, is the pergo really bad? It has to be better than the wall-to-wall carpet, right? I just think it would look weird if I put a different wood-flooring on half of the house.

The other thing is, I am planning to pregnant soon, so I wanted to do this first. Should I wait a while (how long) after having the new pergo installed to have minimal toxins?

Thanks so much for your help.

Debra’s Answer

I don’t recommend Pergo flooring because I got their MSDS sheet and it says it outgasses formaldehyde. That said, I understand your design dilemma.

In response to another question about laminate floors, I contacted AFM Enterprises to see which of their sealants would be appropriate to use on a laminate floor. They said, “Safecoat Polyureseal BP over a sanded lamninate has been successfully done. Poly Bp is a good emissions controller.” I wanted to make sure that the sealant would stick to that laminate finish. Make sure to sand the laminate flooring first, taking care to contain the dust, which would be full of plastic particles. This may work on Pergo. I’d get a piece and try it before installing a whole floorful.

If you are going to do this, definately do it before your pregnancy. How long to wait? I don’t know how long it takes for Pergo to outgass, but regardless, you can speed up the process by applying heat. Just close the doors and windows and heat up the room, and much of the residual formaldehyde will just burn off. Heat it longer (like several days) to get more of the formaldehyde trapped in the wood to outgass.

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Best Organic Milk?

Question from Wesley Wettengel

My wife and I always buy organic milk and want to make sure what we are buying is not only best for us but also best for the cows, farmers, and the earth. We usually buy either Horizon or Organic Valley but our local store (Kroger’s) has their own brand called Naturally Preferred. Can you provide any additional info on these three brands that might make one better than the others?

Debra’s Answer

First, I’m always inclined to purchase the most local food products that are available. When I lived in California, I used to buy all my milk and cream from Straus Family Creamery, It’s a picturesque dairy farm overlooking Tomales Bay, with a clean breeze right off the Pacific Ocean. I visited the farm. I met the family and the cows. I understood their dedication to organic agriculture and what they were doing. They were part of the rural community in which I lived. All their milk and cream came in glass bottles, and I could get “cream-top” milk and shake it up myself.

We don’t have anything like that here in Florida. We have our choice of the national brands Horizon or Organic Valley.

I’ve always been partial to Organic Valley myself. I just think the milk tastes better. I used to have both brands listed on Debra’s List, but I took down Horizon because the Organic Consumers Association called for a boycott (type “organic consumers association horizon” in your favorite search engine for more info on this).

Another thing I like about Organic Valley is that it is the only organic brand to be solely owned and operated by organic farmers. As farmer-owners, they pay themselves a stable, equitable and sustainable price for their milk. Some of their common practices include humane treatment of animals (access to the outdoors, fresh air, pure water, sunshine and exercise), rotational grazing, pasturing animals, and Integrated Pest Management (IPM).

One thing to keep in mind about store brands is that the stores are doing what is called “private label,” which means that another manufacturer is putting the store brand on their own product. The store doesn’t actually produce the product. So, for example, the store brand coffee might actually be a top brand, but it is sold at a lower price because it doesn’t have the brand name. Your Naturally Preferred milk might come from local organic dairies, but it’s just as possible that it comes from Horizon. I would contact Kroger’s and find out where the milk comes from and anything you can about the growing practices.

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Need an organic cleanser safe for granite and my parrot

Question from sandra

I have new “Blue Pearl” granite counters. I am desperate to find an organic way to clean and sanitize granite because I have a parrot. Parrots can die immediately or become very ill due to exposure to fumes common in many ordinary household chemicals. Bleach, ammonia, solvents, Teflon, spray air fresheners, Febreeze, incense and burning candles are just a few of the common things that can cause instant death for a parrot.

My problem is that granite counters apparently can be damaged by acids, so a citrus based cleaner won’t work either. Parrot owners often use a vinegar and water solution is for cleansing and sanitizing, but I’m not sure if this is safe for granite.

Can anyone help me?



Debra’s Answer

I don’t have granite countertops, so need some help with this one. Readers?

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Which bakeware is safe?

Question from DHines

Do you know which bakeware, such as muffin pans and cake pans are the safest to use? Also where do you buy these pans? I previously was using non-stick but the coating starting peeling off so I threw it away. I was worried about the safety of silicon and every pan I saw at Walmart and Meijer were non-stick. I now know non-stick is harmful. Do they still sell pans that are metal but don’t have teflon?

Thanks. I read your newsletters and am very grateful for your helpful information.

Debra’s Answer

You’re right to not use bakeware with no-stick finishes. You can still find aluminum/steel bakeware without nonstick finishes. Professional bakeware does not have no-stick finish, and can be purchased at better cookware stores such as Williams-Sonoma and Sur La Table. These stores also sell bakeware WITH no-stick finishes, so read product descriptions carefully. Kitchen Fantasy has shiny stainless steel bakeware without no-stick finish.

Pyrex bakeware can be used for many items. It is completely nontoxic and made from abundant natural minerals. They have cake pans, pie pans and various casseole dishes, but no muffin tins or baking sheets.

Cast iron bakeware is also a good choice. They do have specialty baking pans, such as muffin pans, biscuit pans, and cornstick pans.

More about bakeware at:

* AT HOME WITH DEBRA: My New Cookware
* Q&A: Is Silicone Cookware Safe?
* Q&A: Offgassing from Silicon Bakeware
* Silicone baking mats vs parchment paper
* Is Tin Bakeware Safe?

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Clean a wicker basket?

Question from Susana

I just got a wicker basket I’m planing to use it for potatoes and onions, and I would like to know if there is any way that it can be cleaned , to get rid of the dirt from the store and besides you know after a lot of people puting their hands on it is there any way that we can disinfect it?:D

Thank you very much.

Debra’s Answer

Both vinegar and tea tree oil act as disinfectants. Hot water and steam will also kill some bacteria. I’ve never cleaned a wicker basket, but I would probably hold it over a steaming pot of water, or wipe it down with a very hot damp cloth.

Readers? Any ideas?

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Is there any safe way to clean velvet?

Question from Susana


I have a living room set the material is like velvet, light ivory color, when the guys from the furniture company moved my set to the inside of the house, thay stained te furniture leaving grime spots on the sofa and love seat arms. Since the color of the furniture is very light you can really see the dirty spots. Please can you tell me what can I use to get rid of the spots without damaging my brand new furniture?:( I will really appeciate you help

Thank you very much.

Debra’s Answer

I don’t have any experience cleaning velvet. Readers?

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