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Submitted questions will be posted with my response by the following Tuesday or before.
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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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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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Fabric Dyes

Question from SVE

Dear Debra,

Just found this website with information about fabric dyes:

Since I’m chemically sensitive, I found it interesting to read. Could you please clarify the subject of textile dyes – petrochemical, low-impact, Foxfibre, natural, organic, vegetable, etc.? It would be difficult to find enough all-organic clothing and most are quite expensive.

Debra’s Answer

First let me say that I read the article at this link and I agree with most of what she is saying. It would be great to live in a world as pure as Diane would like. I certainly do my best to find the purest fibers available and put them on Debra’s List. I would love it if everyone could wear clothing made from fibers grown organically and dyed with beautiful natural dyes.

I admire and appreciate Diane’s constant vigilance for the purest products available and certainly support the move in that direction, but while we are moving there, we all still need to wear clothes. Diane seems to want everyone to take a quantum leap into perfect sustainability–I’m a little more practical in acknowledging the need for transition, both on the manufacturing end and in the marketplace. And so I’m willing to look at and offer more choices.

The vast vast vast majority of dyes used on natural fiber textiles are synthetic dyes made from petrochemicals. Like any other petrochemical product, the mining of petrochemicals, their refining and waste pollute our land, air, and water with toxic chemicals, which eventually end up in our bodies. I personally don’t find it toxic to my own body to wear fibers with synthetic dyes, but I know people who do react. I don’t consider synthetic dyes to be high on the toxicity list for direct contact in clothing, but we do need to remember that their manufacture is causing environmental pollution, which eventually does come around to us.

Low-impact dyes are made from petrochemicals. They are not natural, but claim to have less of an impact on the environment. Why do they dye organically-grown fibers with synthetic dyes? In a way, it doesn’t make sense to put these synthetic dyes on organically grown fibers after they have been so careful with the fibers. But here’s the thing. Consumers want colors. And if these dyes are applied, the organic fiber clothing will sell more, thereby supporting the growth of the organic fiber industry.

Foxfibe is wonderful, wonderful, wonderful. It is cotton grown in it’s various natural colors. That cotton grew in colors other than white was discovered in 1982, While trying to breed insect resistance into cotton plants, Sally Fox noticed that occasionally a cotton plant produced a green or brown cotton, just as occasionally a flock of sheep has a few black lambs. The colors deepen with age rather than fade, as dyed fabrics do. Most of the natural-colored cotton is organically grown. There is now a spectrum of greens and browns available and the colors can also be modified according to how they are washed. I have a sweater that was knitted by hand from Foxfibre and I cherish it. It is my favorite sweater–large and warm and soft. It uses brown and white cotton to make a tweed, with a plain brown collar and cuffs.

Natural and vegetable dyes are made from plants. Some plants leave a stain on fabrics, like beet juice, for example. For millenia, the only dyes were dyes from plants and also from some animals and insects. Red was from a beetle. They produce very beautiful colors. You can get naturally dyed fabrics from artisans and also many imported rugs have vegetable dyes (such as these Tibetan Rugs). But they require so much plant material to make the dye, that we probably couldn’t grow enough to clothe all the people of the world today, nor would most be able to afford the cost. Also, even though the dyestuff is natural and may be organically grown, most colors require toxic mordants to fix the color to the fabric. So it isn’t really nontoxic either.

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batting in sofa

Question from ib

I purchased a cotton sofa with foam batting wrapped in down; is this safe? If not will a cotton slip cover prevent the off gassing. I looked up afm safe choice capret lock out, but it says it’s only for carpets. I emailed them to find out if this product can be used on my sofa. I haven’t heard a response yet.

Your web site is a life saver.

Thank you

Debra’s Answer

AFM SafeChoice Lock Out is the correect AFM product to apply to upholstery fabric, even thoough it says it is for carpets. I asked AFM myself and this is what they told me.

The sofa you describe…it’s important to keep in mind that there are four general catagories of products:
1. completely or mostly organic, recycled, or otherwise earthwise.
2. 100% natural, being made of renewable materials, but not organically grown.
3. part natural and part synthetic (this could range from a small percentage natural to a small percentage synthetic.
4. completly synthetic, made from petrochemicals.

For myself, I choose only products in catagories #1 and #2, or from #3 and #4 only if they are nontoxic.

Is your foam batting made from petrochemicals or latex? And if latex, it it 100% natural or partially synthetic?

Either way, if it is off gassing, a cotton slipcover will NOT block off gassing. You need a barrier to block the molecules that are off gassing and they will pass right through the holes between the weave of the cotton (I know it looks tight to our eyes, but a molecule can float right through with ease.

If you need something to block, I would go with the Lock Out. Everyone else, remember my best recommendation would be a 100% natural sofa (see Debra’s List :: Interior Decorating :: Furniture).

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Wool Blankets

Question from Denise

It’s cold here in Chicago and I want to buy a wool blanket for my daughter’s bed. But she is so sensitive, I want to make sure it’s pure. What do you recommend?

Debra’s Answer

I recommend that you order one online from a website that is dedicated to natural bedding. If you purchase a wool blanket from a regular retail store, it may have chemical mothproofing on it and that may not be on the label.

Here are some choices from websites on Debra’s List:

The Natural Sleep Store — natural-color blankets made from certified organic wool, “processed using the most sustainable methods commercially available.”

Dax Stores — Pure virgin Merino wool blankets from Australia. “These wonderful natural wool blankets are very soft and do not feel itchy like inferior grade wool blankets.”

Shepherd’s Dream — natural color woven wool blanket.

Readers? Your suggestions for wool blankets?

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Petroleum Distillates and Petrochemicals

Question from Lynn

Hi Debra,

What is the difference between petroleum distillates, and petrochemicals? Is one more toxic than the other?

Lynn, Michigan

Debra’s Answer

Petrochemicals are any chemicals made from coal tar or crude oil.

Petroleum distillates are petrochemicals that have been distilled in a refinery and then usually processed further and purified in some manner. There are many different types with completely opposite characteristics and uses.

Distillation is the basic process used to separate and purify the components of crude oil. Crude oil is a complex mixture of hydrocarbons with impurities like sulfur, nitrogen and small amounts of metal. During distillation, the oil is heated in a large closed vesse called a still. The lighter components boil off first and rise to a higher point inside a tower above the still. The heavier components boil off at higher temperatures and condense back into liquids more quickly. These products are captured on trays at each level and pass out of the tower. The lighter and more volatile products are used in gasoline or as solvents, the next heavier might be used as diesel or stove oil and the next as lubricants, and so on.

Though all petrochemical products start as a distillate of petroleum, not all petrochemical products fall into the classification of “petroleum distillates.” Specifically, petroleum distillates include mineral spirits, kerosene, white spirits, naphtha, and Stoddard solvent. These products may contain trace amounts of benzene and other aromatic hydrocarbons such as toluene and xylene which have similar toxic effects.

Any product that contains a petroleum distillate in its formula must be labeled with the phrase “contains petroleum distillates” regardless of the actual distillate used. This is so doctors and emergency medical personnel will know how best to treat those who might accidentally drink the product. If a product contains petroleum distillates, the medical personnel may elect not to induce vomiting.

According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission:

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Question from Leah

We recently visited Chicago and went to the IKEA store there. Based on what I have read about this company, the store seemed like a dream. The prices were incredibly low and they had tons of furniture amd things to choose from. This is what I read on

“IKEA : This furniture and housewares chain boasts an environmental policy that prohibits the use of PVC, formaldehyde-based glues, brominated flame retardants, and other toxins, and supports the use of environmentally friendly, sustainable and recycled materials”

When I looked at IKEA’s website several months ago, I couldn’t find this information and I am wondering if ALL their products fall under this environmental policy. For example, the sell all kinds of mattresses. How do they not use flame retardents with conventional mattresses? Any idea? We are mainly looking for bunkbeds for our children and have considered purchasing at least the frame from Ikea since their prices are so low. Thanks!

Debra’s Answer

This is a good question. I actually love IKEA for their style and low prices. You can get things like cotton curtains and real wood desk accessories very inexpensively, but as to whether or not the wood is sustainably harvested or the glue doesn’t contain formaldehyde, well, it’s not labeled to indicate that.

I’ve read IKEA’s environmental policy too, in several places, but haven’t listed them on Debra’s List because when I visited the website, I didn’t find the policy there.

Also, when visiting the store and online, I found there were many products that I felt didn’t meet this policy, and no indication of which products did.

I think they need better labeling.

You asked specifically about flame retardants. The policy doesn’t say “no flame retardants”. It says “no brominated flame retardants”. They are using flame retardants, just not brominated ones.

I just looked at one of their mattresses. Under “product description” it says:

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