YES! But How? :: Furniture Polish


I was interested in your furniture polish recipe, but I can't find raw linseed oil. Everybody sells boiled because of OSHA regulations. I noticed on the boiled label that it said to use raw linseed oil on children's furniture. What's going on? Can I use boiled for furniture polish? —Beverly, Jarbidge, Nevada

Dear Beverly:

Raw linseed oil is available in health food stores, usually in the refrigerator, and often is called flaxseed oil. Boiled linseed oil found in hardware stores has chemical dryers and solvents added, so I don't recommend it. Another suggestion is to use jojoba, a liquid wax that doesn't go rancid, also available from health food stores.


What do you recommend as a nontoxic way to clean carpet? —Gail, Walnut Creek, California

Dear Gail:

Steam cleaning your carpets with a concentrated detergent works very well. If you call in professionals, make sure they use a detergent without synthetic perfumes. Good, all-purpose, liquid concentrated detergents can be found in health food stores. Some professional carpet cleaning companies will agree to use a detergent you provide, and some have claimed that clients' detergents work better than their standard fare.

Many hardware stores and even supermarkets rent steam extraction carpet cleaners. If you rent one, be sure to rinse it thoroughly, since flea pesticides are often used in such cleaners.

To clean carpets with a steam cleaner, fill the machine's detergent dispenser with 1/4 cup concentrated all-purpose liquid detergent and put four gallons of water in the water dispenser. If the directions that come with the machine differ, follow the directions on the machine, but be sure to reduce the amount of detergent if it is concentrated.

Sometimes adding alkaline minerals helps remove dirt. Dissolve two teaspoons each of borax and washing soda in about four cups of hot water, then add the mixture to the water dispenser. Don't add more minerals, because too much may leave a white residue.

A good basic carpet deodorizer and odor remover is simple baking soda. Sprinkle baking soda over the carpet and leave it on overnight. Sweep up most of the baking soda, and vacuum up the residue.


I am currently splitting my time between part-time work and volunteering. I've enjoyed donating my time doing things like working with homeless men and low-income seniors. While these activities deeply fill my head and heart, my body remains neglected. Do you know of any organizations that are looking for volunteers for physical work? —Eric, Seattle, Washington

Dear Eric:

Physical work, especially outdoors, is therapeutic and good for the mind and body. There are many excellent organizations that could put your body to work. First, you need to define the type of work you want to do—working on a farm, construction, trail maintenance ...

Organic farms are often looking for help in the fields and greenhouses —especially at harvest time. Try asking around at your local farmers' market. Habitat for Humanity is an excellent place to volunteer your home building skills. The Park Service and other land-conservation organizations often need folks to maintain trails and build bridges, so if there is an open space you enjoy using, call to see if they have a volunteer trail maintenance weekend. You may also try the Yellow Pages and the Internet for places to volunteer. In Washington state, for example, try Volunteers for Outdoor Washington, 206/517-4469


I want to build a new deck off my home, but I‘m concerned about using treated lumber because I have heard that it contains arsenic. Are there alternative lumbers? —Fran, Bainbridge Island, Washington

Dear Fran,
Building a deck presents a host of environmental and sustainability problems. I put your question to Patty Southard at the Environmental Home Store in Seattle, Washington, and she had several recommendations.

Although the wood preservative industry is now negotiating a voluntary phaseout of arsenic-treated lumber, 90% of pressure treated wood still contains arsenic. ACQ (alkaline copper quaternary) and CBA (copper, boron, azole) - treated woods, however, do not contain arsenic. They are available at many lumberyards and at stores that specialize in environmental building products.

Another option is a tropical hardwood such as ironwood that is “certified sustainable” by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). Since these woods are harder and stronger than most domestic softwoods, you can often engineer the deck to use less lumber. A third alternative is recycled plastic decking. The most common brand, Trex, can be found at lumberyards nationwide.

Unfortunately, none of these alternatives is totally sustainable. All the wood options cause trees to be cut. The recycled plastic decking, while it is a long-lasting alternative, is not biodegradable. To find the most sustainable deck for you, evaluate your needs and your local environment. If you are thinking of a deck near the ground, one option might be to build a recycled brick patio or, if you live in a desert environment, perhaps a sandstone patio. In the northwest, think of using redwood or cedar if you can find them with the FSC label. Ask your local environmental building center for guidance in finding the product that is right for you.


I have been washing woolens in the washing machine for years. Here is the process I use: Fill the machine with tepid to cool water. Add detergent of choice. Turn off machine. Add woolens and swish around briefly; let soak about half an hour. Turn machine to spin cycle. Refill machine on rinse cycle, then turn off, swishing article around again. Let stand another half-hour. Turn to spin cycle to complete process! —Betty, Mountain View, California

Dear Betty,

It's the combination of hot water and agitation that causes shrinkage. Although researchers at the University of Mississippi don't believe that spinning causes shrinkage, I don't recommend it for any wool, rayon, or silk fabrics. Also, be careful to let woolens dry slowly, away from the sun, as heat during drying also causes shrinkage.


I have been enjoying an ant-free environment that I think is due to cleaning with half vinegar, half water, and a squirt of CitraSolv. But recently I read in a health newsletter that citrus extract is harmful to cats. Must I give up my great floor and counter cleaner?  —Betty, Watsonville, California

Dear Betty:

There are many reports on citric-based flea repellents. Many of them note that cats are sensitive to citrus or find the smell offensive, but the degree of sensitivity depends on both the cat and the dosage. In addition to citrus, a number of herbs such as cinnamon, mint, pennyroyal, and even catnip, are known to repel ants. You can find suggestions for natural ant repellents online at in Better Basics for the Home, by Annie Bond (Three Rivers/Crown Press, 1999).

Here is a recipe for a homemade sugar ant hotel that I've used to rid our house of these common pests. I make three to six of them every ant season. Place a few in the kitchen, and wherever else ants like to frequent.

  • 1 cup borax
  • 1 cup sugar water
  • 4 shallow screwtop glass jars
  • 4 loose wads of toilet paper

In a bowl, mix the borax and sugar. Place a loose wad of toilet paper into each of four different screw-top jars. Pour a quarter of the sugar and borax mixture over the toilet paper in each jar. Fill each jar with water to one inch of the top. Screw the lids on the jars, and with a hammer and nail, make four to eight holes in the lid. Place the jars in areas where you have ants (but keep away from pets and children).

Editor's note: Borax is a naturally occurring compound. No evidence exists that it is either carcinogenic or bio-accumulating in animals. It may cause nose, throat, and eye irritation from moderate short-term exposure; contact a poison control center in case of accidental ingestion.

No Paywall. No Ads. Just Readers Like You.
You can help fund powerful stories to light the way forward.
Donate Now.