Dear Ms. Household Environmentalist: I greatly enjoyed your recent column that dealt with dust and particulate pollution in the home. My wife and I have been considering a new vacuum cleaner. We are familiar with the water-type vacuums, but do they really do a better job than a paper filter vacuum? Has anyone done any authoritative research into this? Which machine is more efficient at removing dust mites and fine particulates?
We have a canister machine and an upright. Is one any better than the other in this situation?
Dear Reader: Seattle-based home toxics specialist John Roberts has done considerable research on vacuum cleaners. In fact, I've been trying to volunteer my rugs for his work, to no avail. His results show that upright vacuum cleaners are more effective on rugs than are canister-style machines, though a canister that has a power head attachment performs almost as well.
Here's his hot vacuuming tip: Use the newfangled, high efficiency bags that Eureka, Hoover, Royal and several other companies are making. They cost around $2 a bag (versus 50 cents for a regular bag), but Roberts thinks they're really worth the extra money. He suggests that you try these high-efficiency bags before investing hundreds of dollars in a high-efficiency machine.
Dear Ms. H.E.: We live in an older home that has no particle board in the floors or kitchen. A small bookcase in the baby's room, however, is made of particle board with a wood veneer, painted white.
After reading about formaldehyde in particle board, my husband contacted a friend of his who works as a lumber broker. The friend informed us that particle board was indeed a big issue in the early 1980s, resulting in new industry regulations regarding the way it is produced, resulting in a product that is far less toxic.
If particle board is today safe, why would people like you still be writing about its hazards?
Dear Reader: Your husband's friend is only partly right. In 1983, HUD did issue new emissions standards for particle board. Those standards greatly reduced the plume of excess formaldehyde outgassing from new particle board.
Most air toxics specialists say, however, that these standards still aren't strict enough to protect us. And they don't affect the outgassing that begins to occur as moisture in the air breaks down the urea formaldehyde bond. That means we should all continue to be concerned about particle board.
However, Richard Knights, of Blue Sky Labs in Seattle, thinks that, unless your baby has chronic respiratory problems, a small painted bookcase with a wood veneer is not a cause for concern.
Dear Ms. H.E.: I have an older type no-need-to-wax linoleum floor in the kitchen and family room. Is there any alternative to petroleum-based waxes? I'm not that enamored of shining floors but mine do look dull without anything on them.
Dear Reader: You have a couple of options. Annie Berthold-Bond's book "Clean and Green" has two pages of recipes devoted to homemade floor waxes. If you are a do-it-yourselfer, give those a try. If stirring some concoction in a double boiler isn't how you see yourself spending your Saturdays, you could try an easy, old-fashioned floor polish: skim milk. It doesn't smell, honest. It won't give you a world-class shine, though.
Livos makes a rather pricey plant-based floor wax available mail
order from The Natural Choice Company, at 1-800-621-2591. Or you could scrutinize labels on commercial waxes and pick the least offensive. The only way to judge is by how dire the warnings are on the label.
Dear Ms. H.E.: In a column that dealt with dust allergies you mentioned some mattress and pillow covers that are impervious to dust mites. Do you know where I can buy those?
Dear Reader: Call Allergy Control Products, at 1-800-422-DUST, and ask for a catalog. The dust covers are pretty expensive, but they are one of the best things you can do to combat dust mites if you are allergic to the little devils.
(Feeling environmentally incorrect? Write a letter to Ms. Household Environmentalist -- on recycled, unbleached paper, of course, using soy-based ink -- and send it to P.O. Box 121, 1463 E. Republican St., Seattle, Wash. 98112.)