Submitted questions will be posted with my response by the following Tuesday or before.
Submitted comments will be moderated and approved within 24 hours.
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?
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.
Question from J. W.
Do you have a suggestion for safe, non-toxic everday dinnerware?
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.
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?
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.
Question from P. S.
What do you recommend for a water-based deck finish?
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.
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.
Question from P. S.
How can I clean stainless steel without toxic chemcials?
No need for a commercial cleaner. You can just use that old good-for-everything standby baking soda, mixed with water to make a paste.
Question from A. Z.
What kind of swimsuit do you wear when you swim in your chlorine-free pool? Are cotton swimsuits available, or swimsuits made from other natural fibers?
I have had cotton swimsuits in the past, but today I wear standard nylon swimsuits for a couple of reasons. One is because nylon is a more suitable fabric for the function of swimwear (it dries a lot faster than cotton and doesn’t mold) and the other is that cotton swimsuits are just really hard to find now.
I used to have a cotton swimsuit that I loved. It was a strapless tank made from woven fabric that was then gathered together with elastic thread to make it stretchy, then plain fabric straps were added. I had a thought that one could take two pieces of fabric and sew them together to make chennels through which you could put elastic, and then make a suit from that, but it was too complicated for my patience with sewing!
I also had an idea to make a swimsuit out of cotton/lycra “tube top” fabric. It comes in one piece so there are no seams. You can just cut it and make a strapless top that hugs your body. That didn’t work. Just wearing the fabric without swimming, it stretched out so much I couldn’t see that it would stand up to wearing it in the water.
I found some pictures of cotton swimsuits from the past that could be easily sewn. One was a kind of a loose jumpsuit with a belt with the legs cut to the length of very short shorts. Another was a loose tank top over bikini bottoms. But these are no longer available readymade as far as I could find. Kwik-Sew has a pattern for a modest two-piece swimsuit, designed to be made with cotton fabrics.
Light and Tight or Wet with Regret: Why Fabric Matters in a Swimsuit has this to say about cotton swimsuits:
I also for a time wore a cotton dance leotard as a swimsuit. You can get them from B. Coole. What I found with the one I had (not from B. Coole) was that over time the elastic stretched out and the fabric began to disintigrate (to the point where you could see right through it!). So this option is fine for a time, but you’ll need to replace these suits more often than nylon.
Question from R. G.
I was wondering if you know of a safe nontoxic garden hose, one that doesn’t leach any toxic chemicals or plasticizers into the water?
All garden hoses are made from either polyvinyl chloride “PVC” or “vinyl”, rubber, or a combination of the two.
Vinyl hoses are the least expensive but also the most toxic, both in use and in manufacture. A number of environmental groups have called even for the banning of PVC because of the environmental effects of its manufacture. And PVC can leach vinyl chloride, which is carcinogenic. How much vinyl chloride ends up in the water as it is rushing through a hose? I don’t know. Probably more leaches into the water sitting in the hose in the hot sun. For that reason, it’s probably a good idea to empty the hose after you turn off the faucet.
As far as I can tell, rubber garden hoses are made from natural rubber, the milky latex of the Hevea tree more about obtaining latex from the tree Though it starts out from a renewable plant resource, by the time it is processed it is anything but natural.
Many chemicals are added to natural latex to improve performance, making natural rubber latex suitable for use in the manufacture of rubber products. Chief among them are chemical accelerators used to speed up the manufacturing process, vulcanizing agents, reinforcing agents, filler, pigments, blowing agents and more some exact chemical names In terms of toxicity, the most dangerous health effect I found was skin allergy.
Whether or not the chemicals in natural rubber hoses leach into the product water and what their toxicity may be, I don’t know. Though rubber hose is heavier and more bulky, it is your best buy for durability. Sears says their Craftsman Rubber Hose is the last garden hose you will ever need to buy. Rubber hose is also more pliable and coils more easily in cold weather than vinyl hose.
Rubber hoses are easily available. In addition to Sears, both Lowe’s and The Home Depot carry rubber garden hoses, and most good nurseries will as well. Rubber hoses say “rubber” on the label. If no material is specified, it’s probably vinyl.
Question from P. T.
I know that ordinary table salt is nothing but sodium chloride. My problem is trying to settle on a company to buy Himalayan salt from. Every one of the companies that I have looked at claim that they are the “one and only”. And, on one site, they claim that if the salt is not red, then it is not the real Himalayan salt. Gosh, I thought the salt came in a variety of colors, depending on where the salt was mined from. Which company would you buy from?
First, let me say a few words about salt for readers who don’t yet know about different kinds of salt.
The salt that is in most salt shakers and used in most food processing is refined salt, containing pure sodium chloride and nothing else. Natural salt as it occurs in the Earth contains a broad spectrum of minerals. It is refined for industrial purposes, used in factories to make various products, and is also used industrially as a cheap food preservative. Refined salt has been associated with health problems such as water retention and high blood pressure.
Natural salt actually restores health to the body by providing needed minerals as well as sodium and chloride. Many functions in the body just won’t happen without sufficient salt. In ancient times, before salt was refined, natural salt was considered to be one of the most valuable substances on Earth, and essential to life.
Once you’ve made the leap from refined salt to natural, then the next choice is whether to choose sea salt or salt from the Earth. All salt originally was from the sea, but as the Earth changed over time, some of those evaporated seas are now underground in salt deposits. One area of such deposits is under the Himalayan Mountains.
Salt in the Earth is often mined by use of explosives and other devices that are less than eco-friendly. Mechanical mining can also change the energy matrix of the salt. Mining and processing by hand preserves the energetic quality of the salt.
I buy a brand of Himalayan salt called “The Original” Himalayan Crystal Salt. It comes from a deposit of salt from a sea that evaporated millions of years ago, from a time when the planet was a pristine ecosystem. Then when the Himalayan mountain range was formed, the degree of compression was so extreme that it created perfectly structured crystal grids within the salt, giving it a unique bio-energetic pattern. The salt is gently hand-mined, hand-selected, hand-crushed with stones, hand-washed, and sun dried, both to preserves the Himalayan ecosystem and retains the original bio-energetic qualities of the salt.
Question from R. R.
I’ve recently found some cosmetic powders mostly made of cornstarch and iron oxides. Are iron oxides just as bad as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide? After reading about these ingredients in your e-book Debra’s Guide To Choosing Natural Sun Protection I’m wondering if iron oxides are just as bad.
Thanks! Thanks also for the e-book!!! It’s great info!!!
Iron oxides are used in almost 2,000 cosmetics products. I don’t know how they are processed, but they are naturally occurring minerals in Nature. I was once driving through the deserts in the Southwest and stopped to look at the colored rock by the side of the road. They had so many colors I could see how they could just be ground up to make cosmetics.
The Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep website says only that they are concerned that iron oxides have not been assessed for safety. I have not heard of any concerns about the health effects of iron oxides over the years.
Contrast this to the fact that the same source says titanium dioxide is a suspected human carcinogen and zinc oxide is known to be an immune system toxin and a respiratory toxicant, and may present risks to human reproduction and development based on limited data, and I would say iron oxides are much safer. I don’t see any reason to not use them.
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?
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.