Toxic Free Q&A

Collected wisdom shared by my community of readers

What’s Really in This Faux Wood?

Question from Stacey

Hi Debra,

I purchased an outdoor table made of a “PE faux wood resin.” I have tried researching what exactly could be in this material, and I have come across some sites where the resin could be composed of PE/PP/PVC. Of course the PVC concerns me…I contacted the company a couple times, and one rep responded that the table was simply made of polyethylene, while another rep thought it might contain PVC, but was looking into it and hasn’t gotten back to me yet. Do you think I can trust that this table is only PE, or would you not trust it…Do they have to disclose that the table contains PVC, even if it is a smaller amount than the PE? Just wondering what you would do! I love the table and think it’s great for seaside, but would rather my family be safe!

Thanks so much!

Debra’s Answer

There are many labeling laws, but the overarching one is the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) “Truth in Advertising” law.

This says that “ads must be truthful, not misleading, and, when appropriate, backed by scientific evidence.”

This applies to labels too.

So per this law, if the label says PE it should contain PE and if it says PVC it should contain PVC.

I would assume that it is 100% PE and the first rep was right. But now that there has been a question about it from the other rep, I would follow through and get a confirmation.

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Water-Resistant Coating on Shoes

Question from Stacey

Hi Debra,

I purchased a pair of moccasins thinking they would be safer since they are made of suede, sheepskin, EVA/Poron cushioning, but I see they are also “water-resistant.” I contacted UGG Australia and a rep informed me that the shoes are treated with a protectant or coating to make them water-resistant. Would you return these, or is the coating harmless in a shoe?

Thank you!

Debra’s Answer

Actually water-resistant coatings can be pretty toxic. It’s better to get shoes that don’t have them.

I personally would return these shoes and look for others without the coating.

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Seeking huge pot for boiling water

Question from Beverly

I’m looking to buy a huge pot for cooking large batches of food, 21 quarts or even bigger. Ideally, I’d also like to be able to use it as a replacement for my water bath canner so that I don’t have to keep two giant pots around. I see lots of large cooking pots in the size I am looking for but they all seem to be either stainless steel or aluminum. I don’t see anything the size I need in cast iron or glass (which would be impossible to use anyway because of the weight). What would my best option be? I will be boiling water for huge amounts of pasta and cooking tomato-based products, among other things.

Debra’s Answer

chicken soup cooking

My best recommendation for a HUGE pot is the 10 quart Dutch Oven from Xtrema. I have one and it is enormous. Bigger than any pot I’ve ever had. Completely ceramic through and through. I love it.

The only other option you have really would be an enamel pot such as this one from Granite Waregranite-ware 21 qt

I have this exact pot too, in a smaller size. I don’t use it because when I make soup it burns. The metal is not very thick. So it would be fine to boil jars for canning, for example, but I don’t cook in it.

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Oster “DuraCeramic” Nonstick Wafflemaker

Question from Ric

Hi, Debra. Thanks for all you do.

My family is pressing me to get a waffle iron, which I’ve been avoiding in an effort to stay away from teflon/PFOA. (We have a cast iron one that you hold over the stove flame directly, but it’s rather a hassle.) Anyway, now I see there is one from Oster with their “DuraCeramic” nonstick coating, which claims to be PFOA-free and PTFE-free:

Do you know anything about this nonstick coating, or any other “PFOA-free and PTFE-free” nonstick coatings that are appearing on the market?



Portland, Ore.

Debra’s Answer

wafflemaker I called Oster and they said that the finish is 100% lead-free ceramic. That’s all I can say without actually physically seeing it. I’m going to go buy one so I can make gluten-free waffles.

I have the cast iron one too and it’s just too difficult.

Best price today is $17.00 at amazon. Target has a search so you can see if they have it at your local store, order online, and pick it up at the store.

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non-toxic lining for dresser drawers

Question from Cathy

Hello Debra,

I’ve been looking everywhere on-line for help with this question, and I just remembered your website. I should have asked you first!

I have a new dresser, and I’d like to put some kind of liner in the drawers, to protect the wood from the clothes, and the clothes from the wood. 

Contact paper, fabric, wrapping paper with wallpaper paste (Mod Podge), cork, acid-free paper, parchment paper — I’ve looked into all of these and I’m not feeling good about any of them.

I’m thinking that the local frame shop’s acid-free mat paper might be my best bet, but I don’t know about what the material is made of, only that it’s acid-free.

Any ideas?

Many thanks,


Debra’s Answer

Well, in the past I have just used a paper that I like.

All paper is basically made in the same way, from some kind of cellulose pulp. Most paper is made from wood pulp, very fine writing paper like Crane’s is made from cotton linters that are too small to be woven into yarn to make fabric. Nowadays many papers are made from recycled paper or fibers.

The thing that would make a difference regarding toxicity is if the paper is treated with something for performance (such as paper towels are treated with formaldehyde for strength) or when inks are added. Brightly colored wrapping paper is more toxic, for example, that a plain sheet of art paper intended to receive paint.

At my local art store like Michael’s, they have big sheets of colored papers that you can cut to size. You might see what they are treated with, if anything.

There are also handmade papers, which tend to not be treated, but may be sprayed with a finish. So always ask.

I can tell you in general about toxics that might be in paper, but always ask the manufacturer because there can be a lot of variation.

Readers, any suggestions?

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Diesel Fuel and Leather Seats

Question from audrey

I am writing for a friend who is looking for a new car and who has mcs. She found a car that she likes but it requires diesel fuel. Do you see any reason that this would be worse if one has mcs instead of using regular gas?

She also has seen some cars that have leather seats. She said the leather in cars about ten years ago seemed to be more toxic/smelly than the ones today. Do you know if this is true? Also she said she has read that some leather in cars are now having fragrance added to the leather. Was wondering if you knew anything about that and how can we stop such a foolish thing. Thank you for your help.

Debra’s Answer

Well, actually diesel exhaust contributes 15 times more secondary organic aerosol chemicals than gasoline emissions per liter of fuel burned. So gasoline would be a better choice for MCS.

Now leather seats. It depends on the seats. I have leather seats, but I bought my car used and they had not been treated with any kind of cleaner. I love my leather seats.

I once reupholstered my car seats with cotton canvas. I brought my fabric to a car upholstery place and they did it for me. So that is always an option.

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Window pane repair

Question from Angelique

A pane in our metal multi-pane window broke. During repair, what kinds of materials do I have to look out for, and what would be best to use?

Debra’s Answer

Here are complete instructions:

Replacing a Pane of Glass on an Aluminum Window Frame

It mentions using clear silicone and vinyl strips (on the outside) to hold the pane in place.

Since this is standard for metal windows, I would just use these materials. The silicone should be for this purpose and is called “Glass-Metal Sealant.” It probably will have some fumes but they will outgas. Keep windows open, use fans.

For wood windows, you can install a pane with wood strips on either side. That’s one of the reasons I love wood windows.

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Multiple Chemical Sensitivity and the Brain

Question from JD

Hi Debra,

Let me start off by saying, I think you have done an amazing job in spreading the word and educating people on the dangers of toxicity. You have a wealth of information that can help others to understand and begin to live a toxic-free life. Thank you for that. :)

In all your research, have you ever come across Annie Hopper, founder of Dynamic Neural Retraining System and former MCS Sufferer? Annie’s program involves retraining your brain from being stuck in a trauma loop within one’s limbic system.

When Annie was suffering from MCS, she was on a mission to cure herself. The missing link, she found, was the study of the brain. She began to study about brains and references a book called, “The Brain That Changes Itself,” by Dr. Norman Doidge, in her program. She also includes a video clip of this doctor where he explains neuroplasticity.

Neuroplasticity: From – It is the brain’s ability to reorganize itself by forming new neural connections throughout life. Neuroplasticity allows the neurons (nerve cells) in the brain to compensate for injury and disease and to adjust their activities in response to new situations or to changes in their environment.

Two weeks ago, I began her program. As I began to educate myself on the limbic system and take part in the cognitive therapy portion of her program, the chronic “fight or flight” piece (the feeling of panic when breathing in toxic products or when foretelling and getting stuck in the “what ifs” before entering a public place), my anxieties decreased significantly.

I’ve struggled with MCS since the mid-90’s, and for the first time in almost 20 years, I am hopeful that I can fully recover. Don’t get me wrong, I’m 100% in agreement with organic food, toxic-free products, zeolite, and exercise, and know they have prevented me from getting really bad.

While I learned a lot about neuroplasticity, what fascinates me the most is the brain’s ability to get stuck in a rut and releasing send false messages to my body, such as heart palpitations, fatigue, swollen glands, going hoarse, headaches, digestive problems, puffy eyes, coughing, the list goes on. Moreover, the brain’s ability to retrain itself, thus leading to a healthier life, mentally, emotionally, and physically.

I admit, I thought Annie’s program might be hype, so I researched it thoroughly. What I found is that her vision is to facilitate global healing while also promoting environmental awareness that precipitates big changes in how we live on this planet.

Annie was a keynote speaker at a national Brain Injury Conference in June 2009, and delivered ground breaking research on “Acquired Toxic Brain Injuries and Neuroplasticity.” She was also a guest speaker at the American Academy of Environmental Medicine in 2013, held in Phoenix, Arizona.

There is also a doctor (I believe in her hometown) who refers all patients with MCS symptoms to Annie, because he got, and is getting, great results from patients that have tried or are trying her program.

Anyway, I’m sold on her program, and I thought you might be interested as another possible resource, should you agree with her program.

Thanks for all you do,

Julie Possee

Debra’s Answer

I don’t have any experience with this method so can’t comment on it, but I would like to take this opportunity to say that simply avoiding toxic chemicals is not enough to build health. There are many other factors, including other things that may be wrong with the body or mind, lack of nutrition, etc.

What elimination of toxic chemicals does is remove a continuous source of harm to your body, allowing your body to do other things that can contribute to healing. It’s like trying to empty a bathtub with the water running. If you continue to be exposed to toxic chemicals and try to do something else to heal your body, it’s likely not to work because toxic chemicals are continuing to pull your body down while you’re trying to make it heal.

But once you eliminate incoming toxic exposures and removing toxic chemicals stored in your body, there are any number of other things that can be done, and may need to be done to restore health.

This may be one of them for some people.

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Scotch Guard

Question from Patrick

Hello Debra Lynn,

I moved a year ago and bought a new couch for my new space. Because I have a youth group that meets at my house, I was advised to spray the couch with Scotch Guard. Normally I am adverse to using any kind of chemical spray, but I took the advice.

Soon after I noticed my eyes burned every time I spent time on the couch. It’s beneath three tall windows overlooking a street lined with trees. I have terrible tree pollen allergies, so I thought it was the trees causing the problem. It was until recently that I remembered the spray.

To test the theory that it was causing the reaction, I rubbed my face in a cushion at a time my eyes were not itchy. They immediately burned.

So my questions are: If it’s the Scotch Guard (and not something toxic in the couch itself), is there a safe way to remove it? Steam-cleaning? If it’s the couch, how do I find a new one that isn’t toxic?


Patrick Jennings

Debra’s Answer

I’m not surprised that you are reacting to Scotch Guard, because it is a fluoropolymer, like Teflon.

Here’s one opinion about removing it, “Scotchguard is a fluoropolymer that creates a film like level on the fabric. You will find it almost impossible to remove without a chemistry lab and it will not dye. If you could remove it, it would probably make the fabric unusable. Even in a textile facility, once on the fabric, it is considered permanent on the fabric.”

That’s what I have always thought. You can’t remove it.

But then I found these instructions:

I don’t know if this will work or not.

How to find a couch that isn’t toxic. Try the Furniture page of Debra’s List.

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