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 Echo
II have vinyl peel and stick flooring in three rooms in my house. They are about 3-4 years old. I want to remove or cover them all as I have small children. Do I need to remove it completely and then cover it? If I cover it with ceramic tile or organic wool carpeting will the toxic voc’s or contaminates still seep through? One of the floors is in my son’s room so I want it to be completely safe.
I would remove it because vinyl is one of the most toxic plastics and is likely to have formaldehyde. Ceramic tile will create more of a barrier that carpet. It will probably block some of the fumes but I am not aware of any concrete data that will tell you how much it would block. As you very aptly point out, it is for your young child’s bedroom so all the more reason to take the safest route.
Question from Rita
I have asthma and mild copd & shopping forr a 10×10 ktchen floor, probably LVP . Gotnew bedroom carpet 2 years ago and jwas told no
formaldehyde & it’s been fine. Saw not that deep water cleaning which Im scheduling very
soon is the best. The luxury vinyl ;planks are
afordable. I just read all on your web site that
laminate flooring & vinyl not good. I guess I can ask maufacturer at Smartcore, Lowe’s carries this.
Cali LVP is the only brand of vinyl flooring I recommend. Andy Pace, from The Green Design Center, has tested many vinyl flooring products that claim to be free of formaldehyde and found that they still emit this dangerous chemical. Cali is the exception and the only one he sells.
Question from Sarah
Hi, I am shopping for flooring to do my whole house upstairs and down. Kids rooms as well. I am very sensitive to fumes. We saw an affordable flooring we liked today but it’s an engineered vinyl 😑 Dynamix Is the company. What to do? Hardwood is so pricey and not durable with 3 children . I feel stuck. Any tips?
Cali LVP is the only brand of vinyl flooring I recommend. Andy Pace, from The Green Design Center, has tested many vinyl flooring products that claim to be free of formaldehyde and found that they still emit this dangerous chemical. Cali is the exception and the only one he sells.
Question from Michayla
Hi there! I’m pregnant and we’re wanting to purchase our mattress asap since it will take a month or so to get here once we do. We are looking at the OMI Rossa mattress which is GOLS and greenguard certified. It does have coils and latex. I know Debra has recommended oMI before, but want to make sure these two things are still okay to use. Thank you.
Is this a crib mattress or one for you?
My top recommendation for mattresses is Naturpedic. They have a GOTS-certified factory which ensures that no harmful chemicals are used at any stage of production. For adults, they have a GOLS certified latex mattress without coils, if that is your preference.
OMi is also a very good, safe mattress.
Question from Luuk
I am getting an induction stove. What, other than cast iron, pots do you recommend?
There are stainless steel pots that are made of 430 grade stainless steel which can be used on induction stoves. The brands made with this steel are noted in my cookware guide.
You can also use carbon steel.
Question from Janet
Is anything being done about the VOC’s from Laundry? When my neighbor does their laundry I get sharp pains in my head, the pressure in my ears is worse than it is on a bad airplane ride. All this research is out there why isn’t anything being done about it?
There are non-profit organization like the Environmental Working Group that work continuously to lobby for better government regulations of chemicals including those found in household cleaning supplies. While they are not focused specifically on individual sensitivities to fragrance in products they do work to minimize the use of harmful substances.
Question from Liz
I am not supposed to wear a face mask due to a serious medical condition, but my doctor won’t let me in the office without one (not to mention the grocery store). Have you found any masks made with safe material that are easy to breath in? I’ve heard surgical masks are the easiest to breath in (though not designed for protection from viruses) but I’ve read that even some of those are made with toxic materials, plus they used to be restricted to medical professionals. A friend suggested a face shield since they are easier to breath in, but I imagine the plastic in those is toxic.
If you have any research on this, I’d much appreciate hearing it!
Question from Pia
are coffee pods safe to use?
also what is the safest coffee maker ?
Most pods are made of plastic and heating plastic increases leaching of chemicals. You can read more here about plastic toxicity. There are some pods now that claim to be plastic-free and are made of plant-based “biomaterials”. These are better for the environment and probably less toxic than plastic but we really don’t know exactly what is in them. Using loose, organic beans is a safer bet.
I may receive commissions from purchases made through links in this article including Amazon Affiliates.
Choosing safe cookware is an important part of creating a non-toxic, healthy home. After all, cookware comes in contact with the food we eat, often for prolonged periods of time. High temperatures, which our cookware is subject to, can increase migration of toxics and toxins from the cookware and into our food. Also, fumes from the cookware can be inhaled while we cook. So, what are the best types of cookware to use and what should be avoided?
This guide will answer those questions and tell you what brands fall into each category. Unfortunately, there is no cookware material that is perfect and without issue. It’s best to select several different types of safer cookware and rotate them. That way, you will reduce exposures from any one type of material.
I’ve rated each category with a letter grade using the following criteria:
- Products are well tested by independent organizations and ingredients are well disclosed and understood.
- Products are tested by independent organizations but may contain additives that are not well disclosed.
- Products have limited testing and additives that are not well disclosed.
- Products are not well tested and have ingredients with known health concerns and/or ingredients whose health effects are not yet understood.
- Products are known to release materials with known health concerns.
There are not currently any categories with a grade of “B”. Some products that are graded “C” could move up to a “B” with more thorough testing.
Glass has been used for centuries to store food and is generally considered to be the safest material for this purpose. Concerns have been raised recently in blog forums about the presence of lead in glass, including glass cookware. Lead is not typically added to glass as an ingredient, except for leaded crystal which should be avoided. However, lead is everywhere in the environment and any raw material is likely to have some degree of lead contamination.
So, is there lead in glass cookware and does it leach into food?
Glass cookware is made from glass ceramic, which has the same chemical composition as glass but is treated with heat to crystallize the glass. An extensive study done on several types of glassware, including glass ceramic, tested products under several testing conditions including acidic solutions cooked for long periods of time. The glass ceramic products had no detectable levels of lead under any test conditions. You can read more here about the study and other types of tested glassware. Glass ceramic is non-porous so it does not leach or react with acidic foods.
Look for glass cookware and bakeware that meets or exceeds California Proposition 65 standards for lead and cadmium for extra assurance.
Glass ceramic cookware is among the healthiest options but it is not without risk. Shattering is a concern with any glass cookware but glass ceramic is more tolerant of temperature changes and therefore less likely to shatter. Borosilicate glass is less likely to shatter than soda lime glass. All glass cookware should be used with caution and it’s important to carefully follow manufacturer directions.
Glass Cookware Brands
Luminarc (glass ceramic)
Visions (glass ceramic)
Glass Bakeware Brands
Anchor Hocking (soda lime glass)
Arcuisine by International Cookware (borosilicate glass)
Corningware (glass ceramic). Not all Corningware is glass ceramic. Much of it is stoneware.
Libbey (soda lime glass)
Pyrex (soda-lime glass)
Simax Glassware (borosilicate glass)
Cast iron is made with a blend of iron and steel and cast in a sand mold. While there may be other proprietary ingredients added, lead and cadmium are not found in untreated cast iron. Iron is known to leach into food in significant amounts, often increasing with acidic foods and longer cooking duration. A study by the American Dietetic Foundation found that iron content in spaghetti sauce increased by 945% while that in cornbread increased 28%. For many, the addition of iron to food is viewed as a health benefit because iron deficiency is not uncommon in the U.S. Read more here about how much iron is recommended. Those with a known excess of iron may need to avoid cooking with cast iron.
Cast Iron needs to be regularly seasoned with oil to maintain a relatively non-stick finish and protect against rust. This raises questions about what type of oil to use and if using less-healthy oils creates a risk of its own. Some brands sell cookware pre-seasoned with oil. The types of oil vary by brand with some using healthier oils than others. Since the oil used for pre-seasoning is a small amount and a one-time application, I am more concerned about what oil is used to continually maintain the utensils over time. Some argue that high-smoke point oils are best because when oils are heated above their smoke point, they degrade and give off byproducts that are thought to be carcinogenic. Coconut, avocado, and rice bran oil have high-smoke points. Flaxseed oil is sometimes used because it is a drying oil and creates a durable finish but it has a low smoke point and can become rancid over time.
Beware, if a cast iron product does not need to be seasoned it likely has a non-stick coating. Keep reading to understand concerns about non-stick coatings.
Cast Iron Cookware Brands:
Lodge Seasoned Cast Iron (preseasoned with soybean oil)
Field Company (preseasoned with organic grapeseed oil)
Finex (preseasoned with organic, non-GMO, flaxseed oil)
Cast Iron Bakeware Brands:
Lodge Cast Iron Muffin Pans (preseasoned with soybean oil)
Carbon steel is similar to cast iron except is has a slightly higher iron content. Carbon steel typically is comprised of about 99% iron and 1% steel, while cast iron typically has 97-98% iron and 2-3% steel. The different composition allows carbon steel to be lighter than cast iron. It also needs to be regularly seasoned with oil.
If a carbon steel product does not need to be seasoned it likely has a non-stick coating. Keep reading to understand concerns about non-stick coatings.
Carbon Steel Cookware Brands:
Lodge Carbon Steel (preseasoned with soybean oil)
Matfer Bourgeat (not preseasoned)
US-ION Wrought Iron (preseasoned with rice bran oil)
Stainless steel can be a safe type of cookware if you use it under certain conditions. Stainless steel is known to leach nickel and chromium into food. Nickel is an essential micronutrient for humans but too much can result in the development of dermatitis. Chromium, a trace mineral in the human diet, is less of a health concern than nickel but can also cause dermatitis. Leaching can occur at different levels depending on the acidity of the food being cooked, the amount of time the food is in contact with the cookware and the age of the cookware.1 Studies show that the amount of nickel and chromium that leaches into food is generally below recommended limits. Stainless steel is exempt from California Proposition 65 testing because OEHHA has concluded exposure from metal alloys to be minimal and below thresholds required for warnings.2
However, if you have a known or suspected nickel or chromium sensitivity it may be best to avoid all stainless steel.
You can follow these steps to minimize nickel and chromium exposure:
- Avoid cooking highly acidic foods for long cooking durations. (consider cooking chili or tomato sauce in a glass stock pot.)
- Wash new stainless steel before use and follow this process before using: Cook a solution of 50% vinegar and 50% water for a 2 hour period and discard the solution. Repeat this process 6 times.3 Studies show that stainless steel leaches significantly more nickel and chromium when it is new and levels off after following this process.4
- Consider products that use 430 grade stainless steel (18/0) which contains only trace amounts of nickel. The tradeoff is 430 stainless steel has a little less stain and corrosion resistance than stainless steel made with nickel and requires a little extra care. Be sure to follow manufacturer directions for use and maintenance. Also, make sure that the inner layer that touches the food is 430 steel. Some products claim to be made of 430 steel but only use it on the outer layer that touches the stove so that it can be used with induction cooktops.
Stainless steel is not considered a good conductor of heat so many stainless steel pots and pans have a core layer of aluminum or copper. This means that a layer of aluminum or copper is sandwiched between layers of stainless steel and do not come in contact with food. However, if you have a pot or pan with a scratch deep enough to expose the core, you should replace it out of caution. One manufacturer confirmed their top layer of steel is .015” thick. That is about the thickness of an average fingernail. It’s not very thick, but it is thick enough that you would be able to feel a groove if you ran your finger over it. If the core is copper you would be able to see the core if exposed through a scratch. Keep in mind though, that leaching is partly dependent of the surface area of the material. A very small amount of the core material would be exposed from a deep scratch, limiting the amount of leaching.
Make sure you are buying uncoated stainless steel. Some of these brands also sell non-stick coated products.
Stainless Steel Cookware Brands:
All Clad D3 (430 outer layer, aluminum core, 304 inner layer)
Cutco (430 outer layer, aluminum core, 304 inner layer)
Homi Chef (430 inner and outer layer and aluminum core)
Made In uncoated stainless (430 outer layer, aluminum core, 304 inner layer)
Nöni (solid ferritic stainless steel)
Stainless Steel Bakeware Brands:
All Clad D3 (18/10 stainless steel with aluminum core)
HKJ Chef (18/10 stainless steel)
This is the only ceramic cookware I recommend. Xtrema pots and pans are 100% ceramic, made only from natural minerals, clay and water. No metals are added as ingredients in this ceramic cookware. Because lead is everywhere in the environment and any raw material is likely to have some degree of lead contamination, it is possible that trace amounts could be present. However, every shipment is tested by government-regulated laboratories to ensure that lead, cadmium and other heavy metals do not leach into food. All testing results, which meet California Proposition 65 limits are posted on their website.
I recommend Xtrema because of the company’s transparency and commitment to producing products that are healthy for humans and for the environment. The extremely hard ceramic cooking surface can’t be scratched by metal utensils or steel wool and doesn’t wear off. NOTE: This cookware is fairly heavy and comparable to the weight of cast iron. It is not entirely non-stick but is fairly easy to clean.
This is a particularly challenging category to evaluate because enamels differ in how they are formulated, applied and fired. Most companies consider their formulas and processes to be proprietary and do not disclose them. Porcelain enamel cookware is made primarily of silica sand, soda ash borax and cobalt oxide that are melted together, ground into a powder, then applied to metal cookware and fired at high temperatures. Metals such as cobalt, antimony, arsenic or nickel may be added to improve adherence to the metal base. Cadmium is sometimes used to make bright exterior colors such as red, yellow and orange. Additional substances can be added for functionality including Teflon.
There is little research available on migration of heavy metals from porcelain enamel. Additionally, California Proposition 65 only sets migration limits for lead and cadmium in cookware so it doesn’t tell you about levels of other heavy metals or toxicants.
In 2018, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) established a new standard for vitreous and porcelain enamels that sets migration limits for 16 heavy metals. The standard was set because of evidence of the presence of metals including aluminum, lead, cadmium, cobalt and nickel. The German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment studied enameled grill grates and found high levels of aluminum, antimony, arsenic and nickel.5 The new ISO standard is voluntary, so manufacturers are not required to meet it, but it will be helpful to identify if there are safer porcelain enameled products. I have not yet found any brands that meet the new standard but if I find any particular brands, I will identify them here.
Porcelain Enamel Brands:
Le Creuset Enamel Cast Iron and Enamel on Steel
Lodge Enameled Cast Iron
Staub Cast Iron
Like porcelain enamel, ceramic stoneware is hard to evaluate because glazes differ in how they are formulated, applied and fired. Unlike porcelain enamel, metals are not needed to adhere ceramic glaze to its base. However, they may include other additives. For example, formulas may include titanium dioxide to make white interior glazes or aluminum oxide to stiffen the glaze.
Manufacturers that do not add lead or cadmium as an ingredient to their products and provide evidence that they meet California Proposition 65 migration levels are less of a concern, but risks remain about other unknown and untested substances.
Be particularly cautious of stoneware that is not made by a reputable company. A study of ceramics from Nigeria found high levels of leaching lead, cadmium, arsenic, and chromium.
Ceramic Stoneware Brands:
Le Creuset Stoneware
Anodizing is an electrochemical process that converts the metal into a corrosion-resistant finish. This keeps the aluminum from leaching but the finish may degrade over time. Unfortunately, I was not able to find any research that measures leaching from anodized aluminum. All studies found are on untreated aluminum. Also, California Proposition 65 does not require testing for aluminum. Aluminum cookware that is anodized should minimize leaching but without evidence I don’t recommend it.
Silicones are considered by some health organizations to be safe. Health Canada states, “There are no known health hazards associated with use of silicone cookware. Silicone rubber does not react with food or beverages or produce any hazardous fumes.”6
However, some studies are finding that silicones are not completely insert and can release certain toxic substances at low level. Studies are still limited and most focus on a type of siloxane group, cyclic volatile methyl siloxanes (cVMS), which are by-products of silicone manufacturing. The health effects of cVMS are debated but in 2018 the European Chemicals Agency added 3 (D4, D5, and D6) to their Candidate List of substances that may have serious effects on human health and the environment.
Some studies are finding that silicone bakeware can leach cVMS into food, particularly at high temperature (above 300°) and into high fat food. For example, migration into meatloaf was higher than into cake.7,8 Greater migration was found in new, unwashed molds.
Silicones, like plastics, can include a mix of chemical additives, fillers, and raw material impurities. There are few studies that focus on the migration or health effects of these potentially harmful ingredients. You can read more here about the toxicity of silicone.
Non-stick Cookware with Ceramic Coating
Many new, non-stick cookware products made with ceramic coatings claim they are non-toxic and a safer alternative to non-stick cookware with PTFE or PFOA coatings. This type of cookware is unproven as a truly safe alternative and there are multiple areas of concern.
Ceramic or “sol-gel” coatings usually contain ceramic nanoparticles that are applied in a thin coat to the surface of the cookware.9 Some use titanium dioxide nanoparticles which according to this study migrate into food, particularly after the coating is scratched from normal use. Chronic exposure to titanium dioxide nanoparticles has been linked to immune disruption and precancerous lesions in the gut.10 The use of nanoparticles in food contact materials is not yet well studied and more research is needed.
According to a major supplier of all types of coatings, the best ceramic coatings last just 15% as long as PTFE-based coatings.11 Where does the coating go? I think it’s safe to assume that the coating ends up in your food.
Ceramic coating formulations can be combined with epoxies, acrylics, or alkyds to give them additional functionality.12 Many manufactures will not release the ingredients in their coatings because they consider them proprietary. Some hybrid ceramic coatings also contain PTFE.
Cookware for noncommercial use is exempt from FDA regulation. That means that one can’t assume that ingredients in cookware that come in contact with food have been tested and proven safe.13, 14 The FDA does stipulate that if non-stick coatings are found to “adulterate food with unsafe substances” immediate action will be taken. That’s too little too late. While California Proposition 65 provides stringent regulations for lead and cadmium in cookware it does not currently regulate nanoparticles, PTFE, aluminum, non- airborne titanium dioxide, nor other cookware ingredients of concern.15
It’s possible that there are some safer options within this category and I will update the guide accordingly should I learn of them.
Non-Stick Ceramic Coating Brands:
Our Place Always Pan
Zwilling J Henckels Spirit Cookware
Non-Stick Cookware with PTFE Coating
PTFE is one of 3000 poly- and perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) used in consumer products. PFAS chemicals are known as “forever chemicals” because they are persistent in the environment and in our bodies. Most people looking to avoid toxins know not to use non-stick pots and pans because coatings with PTFE, when heated to high temperatures, can release fumes that coat the lungs and can cause fluoropolymer fever, also known as Teflon flu. PFOA, another PFAS chemical, was used in the past to manufacture PTFE and was sometimes found as a contaminant in products made with the chemical. PFOA is considered a toxic substance by the EPA and has been linked to adverse effects including cancer, birth defects and liver damage. Fortunately, most reputable companies no longer manufacture PTFE using PFOA.
However, new studies by the FDA have found that the short chain PFAS chemicals used to replace PFOA are much more toxic than previously thought.16 Additionally, PTFE which is thought by some health experts to be harmless because it is inert, is considered a moderate health concern by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) because it hasn’t been studied.
Any pan that claims to have a non-stick coating is likely either PTFE based or ceramic based and should be avoided.
Non-Stick Cookware with PTFE Coating Brands:
Calphalon Hard-Anodized Aluminum Nonstick
Made in Non-Stick Cookware
Most aluminum cookware is either anodized or coated with a non-stick surface. It is well established that untreated aluminum leaches into food. One study found aluminum leaching during conditions comparable to cooking acidic foods for long periods that were 6 times the recommended level. Aluminum is the third most prevalent element in the earth’s crust. It is not an essential element for humans but because of its ubiquity it accumulates in the human body mainly through food. It’s important to eliminate unnecessary sources. Aluminum has an effect on many biological processes and is linked to many adverse health effects including neurotoxicity. Though hotly debated, high levels of aluminum have been linked to breast cancer and Alzheimer’s disease.17
Most copper cookware is lined with stainless steel. Copper cookware lined with stainless steel should have the same safety profile as stainless steel cookware.
The FDA warns against cooking with unlined copper. Copper is an essential nutrient for the human body but too much can be toxic. Excess copper can cause nausea and vomiting and very high doses can cause liver and kidney damage.18
A reader recently asked me to look into a playground mulch product to determine its toxicity. I’d like to share the results with you because I think it will be helpful to anyone trying to decide what material to use for their outdoor playsets but also because it is a good example of how important it is to look beyond marketing claims and understand what regulations do and do not address.
The product is described as a virgin rubber mulch product that contains no phthalates, heavy metals or VOCs. It meets California indoor air standards. The company distinguishes its product from tire-derived rubber (TDR) that is often used on playgrounds and turf fields and has been found to emit dangerous levels of chemicals as well lead.
The company is unable to provide a Safety Data Sheet (SDS) because it is made from trimmings and unused material from children’s safety tile flooring. Their product is a combination of products from many different manufacturers.
They were able to provide testing that showed that the test sample had:
- No detectable levels of phthalates. This is not surprising because while phthalates were widely used in flooring, manufacturers have been eliminating them.
- Lead detected at 3ppm which is well below California’s restriction of <80ppm for playground mulch but it is not zero.
There was no testing done for Total VOCs (TVOC) but if the product meets California Section 01350 it must have TVOC less than or equal to 0.5mg/m3.
Here are my concerns that this product, while perhaps not as bad a tire-derived rubber, has some of the same issues:
- A 2010 study by California’s Department of Public Health (CDPH) titled Tire-Derived Rubber (TDR) Flooring Chemical Emissions Study found:
- Both TDR and new rubber (NR) flooring products still emit a myriad of VOC chemicals, and their release is not uniform among the different products. A minority of products released excessive amounts of chemicals; and
- Xylene, butylated hydroxytoluene, ethylbenzene, toluene, formaldehyde and acetaldehyde were found in a range of products. Benzene and carbon disulfide were above the health threshold in one or two samples… Some of the identified chemicals do not yet have health-based standards, making their health impacts difficult to assess.
Even if the product meets California Standards, it is likely emitting at least some of the above chemicals, just at a level that meets the standard. Because this will be outdoors, the risk is somewhat mitigated (although it’s still not good for the environment!).
There is a level of lead, it is simply below the standard allowed. California has a restriction of 80ppm for rubber mulch used on playgrounds. While no level of lead is safe, some soil can contain levels of lead that are higher. The EPA considers 400ppm in soil acceptable. But, again, no level is safe.
The limitations of the testing provided is that it is unclear how much of the finished product is actually tested. Because the product is a combination of materials from many manufacturers, it is not known if the test covers products from every supplier or is it a test of just one or a few. Given the potential problems with new virgin rubber it is a concern.
Overall, this product is likely much less toxic than tire-derived rubber mulch. It does, however, have low levels of lead and VOCs. The VOCs will be mitigated because it will be outdoors. While this is a less toxic product, I would still opt for natural, untreated wood mulch.