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.

Is Silicone Inherently Antibacterial?

Question from Jennifer

Hi Debra,

Does anyone know if silicone touted as antibacterial and antimicrobial is that way because it is naturally a deterrent or if it is treated with a chemical? And if treated with a chemical to be antibacterial, is it inert in silicone in the final product?

I can’t find any information online about it at all for non medical products. For example I’m looking at buying a silicone dish drying mat because the cloth ones just get moldy fast and they all seem to say they are antimicrobial, but I can’t determine why, if it is a natural byproduct of being silicone or if treated like so many things are now.

If my dishes that eat off of will be touching I was wondering if I should be concerned. Thanks!

Debra’s Answer

Antibacterials is a big subject and antibacterials can range in toxic effect from silver having virtually no health effects to triclosan, which is known to be an endocrine disruptor and cause skin and breast cancer, among other health effects. There is even now an antimicrobial made from peppermint oil, so whenever you see the word “antimicrobial,” you need to find out the specific antimicrobial that has been used.

Antibacterials may be widely used and not on the label, for they can be used to prevent the deterioration of plastics, for example, which would not be on the label because it’s not a selling point for consumers. Again, the antimicrobial may be perfectly harmless or have health effects.

With regards to your question as to whether silicone is inherently antibacterial or whether a chemical is added, I would say from looking at online search results that silicone is NOT inherently antibacterial because additives exist to make silicone antibacterial for specific uses.

Would the antibacterial leach from the silicone? Well, depending on what form the antibacterial comes in, it would likely bind to the silicone and not be released. But again, we don’t know the antibacterial or the form it is in, or its toxicity.

I’m using my best logic here, based on my understanding, not on tests.

I always apply the Precautionary Principle, which is, when in doubt, don’t use it.

This is another example of why there needs to be improved labeling that reveals what all the materials are.

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Ant Invasion in Home


 

Question from Caroline

Hi Debra,

My home is prone to ants; and this time , as well as regular foundation spraying with Termidor, and placing advion ant bait in heavily infested areas within the home 3 x over the past month, it has been over a month that the ants invade the master bath daily to the point of being unusable. Usual spraying of vinegar and water, sprinkling black pepper or cinnamon was to no avail. I had to call in a professional exterminator who is trying to work with me because of MCS.

Debra’s Answer

I’m going to say something that may sound obvious, but have you tried filling the holes where they come into the house?

This has been my tried-and-true method for controlling ants for almost 40 years and it always works. I even did it when I lived in an apartment building in San Francisco. All the other units were sprayed for ants, but I wouldn’t let them in my unit and did this instead. Even with the spraying the other units had ants. Mine was the only one that did not.

All you need is a bottle of Elmer’s White Glue and a damp sponge.

Trace the line of incoming ants back to where they are coming into your house and make note of the spot. Then wipe up the ants with the sponge. Fill in the hole with Elmer’s Glue. Then go to the next entrance and do the same.

The ants will continue to find new ways to get in until you’ve sealed all the holes. Then you will never have an ant problem again.

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Is Homebiotic Mold Remover Safe to Use?


 

Question from Cheryl

Hi Debra,

Do you have an opinion about a product called Homebiotic which you spray in your home to help eradicate toxic mold?

Thanks for your help.

Debra’s Answer

According to their website, “Homebiotic contains only purified water and natural probiotic bacteria from healthy soil, which each have years of study and are completely safe for humans and pets.”

I don’t see anything toxic here.

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Do Toxic Chemicals Permeate Milk Cartons?


 

Question from Melissa

Hi Debra,

Thank you for your wonderful website. I have noticed that certain small grocery stores in our area tend to have a very heavy cleaner/deodorant smell. We popped into one this evening for a quick carton of milk, and when I got in the car I realized that the carton had the odor of the store – and the odor even transferred to my hand after I carried it to the car. Is it possible that the chemicals permeated the milk carton and contaminated the milk, or are paper milk cartons sealed well enough to prevent that?

Debra’s Answer

That’s a good question.

According to How A Milk Carton is Made , “Milk containers are made from paperboard coated with a waterproof plastic, generally polyethylene.

Polyethylene can block chemical gases—it is frequently recommended for wrapping mattresses, for example—however the thickness of the layer makes a difference. I’m thinking that the thickness of the coating on a milk carton is thinner than a sheet of plastic.

I can’t say for sure because I couldn’t find any tests on this. I don’t drink milk myself. When I did I purchased organic milk in glass bottles. That’s clearly the safest choice.

If you can taste the scent in the milk, don’t drink it. Since milk generally doesn’t taste like the surrounding environment, logic would tell me that the seal on the paper is both keeping milk in and keeping the environment out.

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Toxic free stain repellant for a couch?


 
I received this question from a friend of mine who publishes a magazine:

What can I recommend to a reader who has a new couch and is afraid of day-to-day stains and wants to avoid Scotchguard?

I replied:

First, is it a new toxic-free couch?

If not, it’s already got some kind of stain repellant on it.

Scotchguard changed it’s formula, so it’s no longer as toxic as it once was.

If it’s a natural couch:

1. I would just put something on it like a blanket or throw to protect the sofa. That’s what I did.

2. AFM Safecoat makes a product called SafeChoice Carpet Lock-Out.

“This one-of-a-kind product is designed to perform two functions: to seal in the outgassing of harmful chemicals found in carpet fibers and to help repel dirt and stains.” You can also apply it to fabric as a stain protector. I’ve used this on carpet and it’s very effective.

It turned out that the sofa in question was a toxic couch, but I wanted to pass on this toxic-free fabric protection product.

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Permethrin Remediation?


 

Question from Arash

Hi Debra,

I’ve used your site as a great resource over the past few months and my first go-to. I thank you for all you do.

I couldn’t find an answer to this and if you have any info maybe others would find it helpful too.

I’ve found out that the previous owners of our new house had permethrin sprayed on all the floorboards, top side and bottom, and the stairs too.

This was done over 20 years ago, but I don’t know how much of it will have soaked right into the wood and maybe (on the upper floors) into the drywall of the floor below.

Having failed to find much info on whether it offgasses and to what extent, I decided to just assume it does still off gas.

Also, apparently the dust under the floorboards will have soaked up a lot of permethrin, so dust coming through ceiling light fittings and up through floorboards is definitely a problem even if off gassing is not.

I was just wondering if you had any advice on how best to address this.

I’m thinking maybe HDPE or LDPE sheeting all over the floorboards and taped around the perimeter of each room to seal it all in. Then new flooring on top. Marmoleum or solid wood would be healthiest but they can’t be floated so would have to be nailed into the floorboards thereby breaking the plastic seal. Or glued to plywood which has formaldehyde issues.

Also unsure how to address the dust/vapor movement through the ceiling light fittings… maybe fire proof lighting as that creates a bit more of a barrier but not a complete one.

Not to mention the stairs, I don’t know how practical it would be to seal them all in with LPDE / HDPE. And the under-stairs storage which houses the gas/elec meters etc can’t really be sealed using plastic so don’t know what to do there.

Any and all advice would be very gratefully received.

Thanks Debra.

Debra’s Answer

First, Marmoleum IS available floating and so are hardood floors so that IS an option if you want it.

And second, your Permethrin exposure is not particularly a problem.

Permethrin is widely used on clothing for protection from ticks. “Exposure risk of permethrin-treated clothing to toddlers is 27 times below the EPA’s Level of Concern (LOC).” Permethrin Fact Sheet.

Not only is Permethrin not particularly toxic, you have time on your side. Here is a great article about what happens to pesticides over time: NATIONAL PESTICIDE INFORMATION CENTER: Pesticide Half-life.

About Permethrin it specifically says:

Each pesticide can have many half-lives depending on conditions in the environment. For example, permethrin breaks down at different speeds in soil, in water, on plants, and in homes.

 

  • In soil, the half-life of permethrin is about 40 days, ranging from 11-113 days.
  • In the water column, the half-life of permethrin is 19-27 hours. If it sticks to sediment, it can last over a year.
  • On plant surfaces, the half-life of permethrin ranges from 1-3 weeks, depending on the plant species.
  • Indoors, the half-life of permethrin can be highly variable. It is expected to be over, or well over, 20 days.

Well over 20 days. You’ve had 20 years. It’s highly doubtful there would be any Permethrin left in your home at this time.

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Toxic-Free Moulding


 

Question from Nikko

Hi Debra,

I am looking for baseboard, chair rail moulding (White). MDF is supposed to have formaldehyde in it …not sure if they have done without. What is the best to use with little to no off gassing?

Thanks.

Debra’s Answer

I’ve purchased a fair amount of baseboard and crown moulding in my life and am about to purchase more.

I’ve always purchased wood moulding at places like Lowe’s and Home Depot.

Here’s a little summary of materials used to make moulding I borrowed from Lowes

  • MDF (Medium Density Fiberboard) is a high-grade, composite material. Moulding products tend to come primed, making it easy to paint.
  • Primed Finger Joint Products are available in Pine and Poplar wood. This engineered moulding is made by fitting smaller pieces together to create one long board. Finger Joint moulding looks best when painted.
  • Poplar is a favored material by design professionals. The crisp grain lines and rich wood tones accept paint and stain, making it a perfect wood type for any room.
  • Pine adds a distinct character to a room. The lines from the grain and occasional knots can create interest and texture.
  • Fir offers two distinct grain patterns. Mixed Grain (MG) offers coarse, wide, and light to dark patterns. Vertical Grain (VG) has a more consistent and tighter grain pattern and less color variation. This wood should be stained to bring out its natural beauty.
  • Oak moulding is typically milled from Red or White Oak, which are among the hardest and most durable wood species. Both have great grain appeal and are easy to sand, cut and finish. Your choice of stain color can really enhance the character of this material for a style that is all yours.
  • Aspen is a light, soft wood that is typically used for more ornate moulding profiles. It has a straight grain and fine uniform texture.
  • Polyurethane moulding is made from high-density polyurethane that won’t warp, rot or split. This product will create detailed patterns without the expense of wood. It’s lightweight for easy handling, saws like wood and comes preprimed and ready to paint.
  • Polystyrene prefinished moulding is lightweight and simple to cut using conventional saws, making installation a one-person job. These mouldings can be installed with construction adhesive or finishing nails and are slightly flexible, making them perfect for walls that aren’t true. They’re also moisture resistant—an ideal solution for kitchens and bathrooms.
  • PVC gives you the look of wood with moisture protection, inside or out. Strong and durable, PVC moulding is easy to cut and installs without chipping, splitting or cracking.

Of these, I would say yes to the woods poplar, pine, fir, oak, and aspen.

I would say no to MDF, finger joint, polystyrene, and PVC.

Polyurethane is not particularly toxic in this use, but it is a petroleum product, if you are avoiding petroleum.

You should be able to find actual solid wood moulding anywhere moulding is sold.

Lead exposure everyday item- Tumble DRYER


 

Question from Carissa

Hi Debra,

Thanks for your amazing website and I am long time reader. It has helped me make a few decisions.

I am in a huge quandary at the moment and am wondering if I can get your opinion. I admit I do suffer from OCD and one of my contamination obsession is lead and chemical stuff. It is a lot better, finding a balance is tough and even tougher with 2 kids below 3 (a pending newborn coming soon!).

We have a recently purchased a European made dryer from a famous brand (MIELE) and I noted the back of the dryer has 6 bolt like fittings that are made of brass. I know about lead leaching from brass items, especially keys, as it is used as a lubricant for machining brass and the lead concentrate on the surface for that reason.

I use the dryer all the time to dry our babies’ clothes which will contact these brass bolts. And then babies will obviously chew on their clothes. I can’t test the bolts as they are embedded to the machine’s drum.

We also have new vinyl trims on our floor which tested at 300ppm lead. I cannot remove them without spending thousands of dollars replacing flooring. Our house is cleaned frequently.

I am wondering if these two scenarios will be something to be concerned about? I can’t do anything about the vinyl trims except for making sure I wipe over them weekly with water (chemicals will degrade the vinyl). I can sell the dryer but it will be at a huge financial loss. Just hoping for some advice on how to deal with these two situations with limited finances. Thank you so much!

Debra’s Answer

I understand your situation and concern.

We live in a world where it is impossible to reduce our total exposure from all sources to zero by using source reduction. While the first action to take is always remove toxic exposures at the source, when that is impossible, there is something else to do: detox.

I highly recommend that you take a product called PureBody Liquid Zeolite. It gently removes lead and other heavy metals from your body. Your babies can take it too. There are many zeolite products on the market. This is the only one I use and recommend.

Taking liquid zeolite puts my mind at ease, knowing that I am doing something to help my body eliminate the lead and other heavy metals that I can’t avoid. These heavy metals stay in our bodies and accumulate because our bodies can’t eliminate them on their own. It’s easy, affordable, tasteless and good protection.

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Is This No-VOC Engineered Wood Flooring?


 

Question from SM

Hi Debra,

I found this no-VOC engineered wood flooring, and I wonder if it is what they advertise: because they UV-cure the acrylic, there is no offgassing. I wonder if this could be similar to a Safe Coat on the floors:

https://www.eddiebauerfloors.com/about-our-floors

If not, are you aware of any truly VOC free engineered wood products?

Thanks so much!

Debra’s Answer

Well this is an interesting flooring.

In general, I don’t recommend engineered floorings because they are made from strips of wood glued together.

But the flooring is made from hardwoods over a birch core, manufactured without formaldehyde glues or solvents, and has a UV-cured acrylic layer.

Clearly they have an intent to have this flooring be good for Indoor Air Quality.

Actually these floorings are made by a hardwood flooring company that looks pretty amazing on their website: revelwoods.com

I tried to call them to get more information, but there was only a machine.

I would look into these flooring more closely before making a decision. but so far, so good.

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Choosing and Using Dryer Balls as an Alternative to Toxic Scented Liquid Fabric Softener or Dryer Sheets


 

Question from JC

Hi Debra,

I’d like to begin using dryer balls to reduce static cling in our clothing. I’m guessing they are al not created equal. Can you point me in the right direction as to what to look for, brand recommendations, how many to use per load?

Thanks for helping keep the laundry process clean!

Debra’s Answer

First, I’m sure many of my readers are applauding you for wanting to stop using toxic scented liquid fabric softeners and dryer sheets.

Before I respond about dryer balls, I first want to tell you about static cling.

Static cling is the result of synthetic fabrics, such as polyester, nylon, and acrylic. These fabrics are made from petroleum, and running them through the dryer creates static cling.

Natural fibers do not create static cling. So if you are wearing natural fibers (as I do), there is no need to do anything to reduce or eliminate static cling because natural fibers don’t produce static cling.

There are many wool dryer balls available today. I just searched on “organic wool dryer balls” and there are plenty to choose from, so I would opt for organic rather than natural wool.

How many to use per load? It depends on the size of the load. For small loads, use 2 to 4. For large loads, use 6.

But my best recommendation is to simply switch to wearing only natural fiber clothing. Not only are natural fibers more comfortable and better for your health, there is no fabric softener needed.

NOTE TO THOSE WHO ARE AFFECTED BY NEIGHBORS’ SCENTED FABRIC SOFTENER: Try offering them some wool dryer balls. Don’t suggest they find and purchase some, GIVE them some dryer balls as a gift and ask them to use them. They just might like this alternative and it will save them money.

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ARE TOXIC PRODUCTS HIDDEN IN YOUR HOME?

Toxic Products Don’t Always Have Warning Labels. Find Out About 3 Hidden Toxic Products That You Can Remove From Your Home Right Now.