Battling the Parfum* Dragon, or How I Finally Removed Fragrances from New Laundry
May 30th, 2011 by Alice

I bet some of you out there have fragrance and perfume allergies as well. I wanted to share a laundry solution I finally found: Borax.

I just add it to my washer with any load that has a chemical fragrance (like new clothes or “new” clothes from the secondhand store). I wash them twice like this and they come out with no scent!


Now for the epic story of the quest to find a laundry solution that removed “fragrance” and “parfum.” Stop reading if you’re not interested – the whole solution is above.

The Anti-Parfum Quest

I like to shop for clothes secondhand. The selection is more varied, it is waaay cheaper, and sometimes you find treasures. A few years ago Value Village switched detergents, to something that makes me itch and sneeze.

I washed those clothes a dozen times with my detergent, All Free&Clear to no avail. I washed them with a box of baking soda, soaked them for days in vinegar, soaked them for days in baking soda (both wet and dry), and hung them outside in the Sun. (All tried & true methods according to the housewife wisdom on the internet.) Still stinky. One thing did work: wearing the clothes for a day and then washing them. Something about the sweat and skin oils worked into the perfume and it got washed away. But, as this was incredibly uncomfortable, this was not a long-term solution. Strike 1. (On one notable occasion I had a friend wear a shirt for me, and then washed it.)

“There must be an answer,” I thought. “We live in the future.” So I started looking into odor and scent removers. Sadly, they’re mostly about pet smells, and other organic residue. They’re often enzyme-based, so those little enzyme buggers love to eat the organic smell-causing molecules.

This led me on a chase to find out what kind of molecule “parfum” is – probably an alcohol or an oil – not what the enzyme buggies are bred to eat. Strike 2.

“There must be an answer,” I thought. “People have been washing clothes for thousands of years, and washing out perfumes since at least the middle-ages.”

And then I had a baby. First of all – everything is (uhg) baby-scented, which doesn’t smell anything like actual baby. Secondly, thoughtful friends and relatives would pre-wash gifts for us, with their nicely-perfumed detergent or dry it with their softly-scented dryer sheets. Things had gotten desperate, especially if we wanted to enjoy these incredibly useful gifts.

“What’s the oldest form of laundry detergent?” I asked. “What is the unadvertised, no-additives, little non-descript box hiding on the shelves behind all the colorful jars?”

‘Clean-Clean washes cleaner!’
‘Keep you brights brighter with Bright-It-All!’
‘NEW! Organic lavender-lemon-patchouli scent is better for Mother Earth and better for Mother You!’

All of which have fragrance or “parfum” as one of the middle ingredients.

What have people been using for decades, without mentioning it, without bragging, but with so much success the brand doesn’t need to advertise? Like baking soda or baking powder or salt – those boxes and cans have looked identical since at least 1909.

What is the not-so-secret but forgotten laundry fix-all?


I took some home (it only comes in large boxes from the brand 20 Mule Team), followed the suggested directions on the back. My blankets came out bright, clean, and completely “parfum”-free. Finally.

Sometimes with new laundry it takes two borax-washes, because I haven’t already been battling the Parfum Dragon with Sun, baking soda, vinegar, fresh air and wash after wash of free & clear detergent.

Still, it is nice to have clean clothes that don’t make me sneeze, and baby clothes that smell like actual baby when they have a baby in them. Home Run!


*On ingredients labels I repeatedly see “fragrance (parfum)” or the other way around listed. I think it is a funnier word than “perfume” which is why I use it here.

UPDATE: Dial Corporation makes the MSDS of Borax available here. This pdf is the copy of the Borax MSDS I downloaded May 31, 2011. In short, don’t eat it or get it in your eyes and you’ll be fine. A quote from the MSDS: “The use of this product by consumers is safe under normal and reasonable foreseen use.”

Table of Contents!
Mar 26th, 2011 by Alice

New! Now this site comes with a Table of Contents, accessible here or by clicking on the left column. :)

Alcohol and Cooking (and Breastfeeding)
Jul 26th, 2010 by Alice

It is “common knowledge” that cooking something that contains alcohol will cook off the alcohol. Well. Maybe somewhat, but it is obviously not quite that simple.

Alcohol Retention when Cooking

This data is from Alcohol Retention in Food Preparation by Augustin et al, 1992J Am Diet Assoc. 1992 Apr;92(4):486-8.- (though you can’t download the study there). You can read the same information here, from the USDA’s Nutrient Data LaboratoryUSDA Table of Nutrient Retention Factos, Release 5 (2003) – see page 12. Or, here is the pdf hosted locally – see page 12.

Preparation Style Alcohol Remaining
No heat, stored overnight 70% left
Stirred into hot liquid 85% left
Flamed (flambé) 75% left
NOT stirred in but baked 25 minutes 45% left
Stirred in and baked, simmered – 15 minutes 40% left
Stirred in and baked, simmered – 30 minutes 35% left
Stirred in and baked, simmered – 60 minutes (1 hr) 25% left
Stirred in and baked, simmered – 90 minutes (1.5 hrs) 20% left
Stirred in and baked, simmered – 120 minutes (2 hrs) 10% left
Stirred in and baked, simmered – 180 minutes (2.5 hrs) 5% left

Alcohol and Breastfeeding

Here’s a related table from Ho et al Alcohol and breastfeeding: calculation of time to zero-level in milk from 2001 -Biol Neonate. 2001; 80: 219-22.-

This is data from a study… not data about your body. Therefore numbers will be different for your body and your metabolism.

Mom’s Weight 

kg (lb)

Number of “standard” drinks
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
45 (100) 1:54 3:50 5:45 7:40 9:36 11:31 13:27 15:22
47 (104) 1:52 3:44 5:37 7:29 9:22 11:14 13:07 14:59
50 (110) 1:51 3:43 5:35 7:27 9:18 11:11 13:03 14:54 16:52
52 (115) 1:48 3:37 5:26 7:15 9:05 10:53 12:42 14:31 16:47
54 (120) 1:46 3:32 5:19 7:05 8:52 10:38 12:25 14:11 16:21
57 (126) 1:45 3:31 5:17 7:02 8:48 10:34 12:20 14:05 15:58
59 (130) 1:42 3:26 5:09 6:52 8:36 10:19 12:02 13:45 15:52
61 (134) 1:40 3:21 5:02 6:43 8:24 10:05 11:46 13:28 15:29 16:50
63 (139) 1:38 3:17 4:56 6:34 8:13 9:52 11:30 13:10 15:09 16:27
66 (146) 1:37 3:15 4:53 6:31 8:10 9:48 11:26 13:04 14:48 16:20
68 (150) 1:35 3:12 4:47 6:24 8:00 9:36 11:12 12:48 14:42 16:00
70 (154) 1:33 3:07 4:41 6:15 7:50 9:24 10:57 12:31 14:24 15:40

As usual, I am not a doctor or nurse. I cannot and will not give you medical advice. I present the information above for interest only. If you find it interesting or useful – great, but any decisions you make regarding alcohol are your own responsibility, and will affect your health and your children.

GOVERNMENT WARNING: (1) According to the Surgeon General, women should not drink alcoholic beverages during pregnancy because of the risk of birth defects. (2) Consumption of alcoholic beverages impairs your ability to drive a car or operate machinery, and may cause health problems”

Alcohol and Food Allergies
Jun 26th, 2010 by Alice

This is simply to share what I know about various alcohols and their ingredients, since ingredients labeling currently is not required for alcohol in the United States. I have no expertise, simply some experiences in Seattle, WA. As always, use your own judgment, and please let me know about your own experiences.

Beer and Malt Beverages

Beer itself tends to be straightforward, but can have intriguing things mixed into it. I’m skeptical of beers with names that contain flavors and Christmastime “seasonal” ales (due to added spices and therefore nut).

Hops has a track record of causing contact dermatitis, and both of us find that it unsettles our stomachs. We’ve found Belgian ales to be lower in hops content.

Mike’s Hard Lemonade/Limeade etc – contain malt and other beer-like substances. I have not had a problem thus far.

Wine and the Like

Red Wine – contains sulfites

White Wine – also contains sulfites, but I can tolerate it. I don’t know if you can.

Mead – mead is traditionally made from honey. I’ve tried many meads, but I don’t try the ones that have spices in them or “mulled” meads.

Sake – mostly made from rice. There’s a special kind of mold, koji, that is used instead of yeast to encourage and control the fermentation. Sakes also can contain sulfites.

Vermouth – infused with “botanicals,” who knows what that means. Watch out for martinis, vermouth may be a wine, but it is spritzed over martinis.

Mixed Drinks, Liquor, Liqueurs, etc

WARNING Gin is usually infused with many flavors including nuts. Bombay Sapphire is one I know has almond. Dry Fly is one that I know does not contain any nuts whatsoever (the people at Dry Fly are also very nice about answering ingredients inquiries).

WARNING Maraschino cherries may contain almond, and some bartenders like to add cherries or cherry juice unexpectedly. Explain why cherries are a bad idea when ordering your drinks. Several other anecdotal commentors have indicated that Maraschino is usually just sugar and color, traditional has an almond-like flavor from the cherries themselves, sometimes this is done with apricot. In any case, unless I’m holding the jar in my hands I won’t deal with them, since sometimes they do have almond.

Vodka – vodka is a popular drink to flavor, so watch the added flavorings, but what it is made of CAN VARY. Just because you’ve heard that vodka is from potatoes doesn’t mean it all is. I personally have now seen wheat-, rye-, potato-, and honey-based vodkas. Given that though, I find plain vodkas a great starting point when I’m out, one that isn’t scary because they usually are either very plain or the flavor is broadcasted all over the label.

WARNING Absinthe – Even now that it is legal again, I have no plans to ever try it. First it’s anise flavored (which is one of my allergies), and second, I don’t have a good way to test my allergies to wormwood first. Thirdly it contains other undefined herbs.

WARNING Chartreuse – contains over a hundred herbal extracts. I’m not interested in trying this, or trying to figure out if I’m allergic to any of them, I’m sure I’m allergic to at least one.

WARNING Jägermeister – also contains a large number of herbs, fruits, spices etc. That’s too many for me. Jäger is common in mixed drinks, especially drinks that have reputations as NOT “girly” drinks. Some people One bar I have visited adds Jäger to Long Island Iced Tea, even though that is not traditional. Remember, I’m allergic to a few spices and apricot pits, so I don’t mess around with unknown ingredients. I’ve read claims that Jäger does not contain either nuts or peanuts, and as a secret recipe, I don’t know the actual ingredients.

WARNING Vermouth (technically a wine) vermouth is infused with “botanicals,” who knows what that means. Vermouth is spritzed over martinis. Okay, I’m super confused about vermouth. Because there’s a wine that you can drink, infused with botanicals, and dry vermouth is an ingredient in dry martinis … anything that says “botanicals” I stay AWAY from.

Scotch, Bourbon, Whiskey – usually start from barley, rye, or wheat and are aged in barrels (frequently oak). Sometimes those barrels have been used for other alcohols first (sherry or bourbon – yes, some scotches are aged in bourbon barrels). The grain is usually malted and sometimes smoked – leaving a peaty flavor. Laphroaig scotch usually starts with water from peat bogs, in addition to being smoked over peat. Single malt scotches have a name that they want to maintain, so they’re quite consistent between batches.

WARNING Frangelico – is a hazelnut liqueur. STAY AWAY. This is contained in the popular “chocolate cake” shot – a shot that tastes like chocolate cake but has no cake and no chocolate.

WARNING Amaretto – this is almond liqueur. STAY AWAY.

Godiva Chocolate and White Chocolate liqueur – I had a little bit of a not-so-fun feeling in my mouth on tasting the Godiva chocolate liqueur. Since I don’t know and can’t find the real ingredients I’m staying away.

WARNING Celtic Crossing – I reacted minorly to this. It tasted a bit like almonds. I don’t know what it actually was that caused the reaction.

Kaluah – I’m pretty sensitive to peanuts and tree nuts and I don’t have a problem with this coffee-flavored liqueur. Jason won’t try it though because of his coffee sensitivity and general legume allergy.

Brandy, Cognac, Port – all of these start with wine. I said above that I don’t do red wines for the sulfites, but I haven’t had a problem with brandy or cognac. Port sometimes makes me sneeze, but I like tawny port anyway.

Grand Marnier – a citrus-flavored cognac

Rum – I haven’t tried the spiced rums, but both dark and white rum are pretty straightforward. They start from cane sugar, and some dark rums are aged in barrels.

Cointreau – citrus-flavored, but is NOT a cognac. This liqueur doesn’t start with wine. I have no clue what it really is, but I’m not allergic to it and neither is Jason.

Chambord – dark, berry-flavored. That’s all I’ve got. I’m not allergic to it and neither is Jason.

Tequila – is made from agave syrup. This does bother Jason, and if you’re sensitive to cacti or tropical fruits I’d be careful of it. I recommend getting tested or challenging agave before trying tequila.

General Advice

Alcohol impairs judgment. If you have food allergies, alcohol may make it harder to make the right decision about using your EpiPen or taking your Benadryl. Surround yourself with trustworthy friends when drinking and call for help if you’re not sure about something.

I have heard some reports that alcohol can speed up allergic reactions or make you more sensitive than usual. Please be cautious.

Benadryl and alcohol can mix badly as they’re both sedatives, so be careful. Follow your doctor’s instructions at all times. I have found consulting nurses, on-campus nurses, and doctors perfectly willing to discuss what happens when you mix alcohol with emergency allergy medications with me – especially when I bring it up before it happens accidentally. Alcohol is common in our society, and an expected part of many social interactions after a certain age. If you have a quick chat with your doctor before you get into a situation involving more than a sip of wine, then you’ll be prepared and ready (on the allergy front anyway) when you’re offered your first drink.

Cocktail shakers can be used for multiple drinks. Watch out for cross-contamination.

Finally, if you plan to go out with friends and you’re not the designated driver, I advise finding a simple, commonly-available alcoholic drink that you are comfortable ordering in a mixed setting before you go out. This way you always have a safe fallback that most bars will carry and you don’t have to feel put upon when the order comes around to you and you start listing allergies. Tee-totallers do this too – they order plain Coke (looks like they’re drinking rum-and-coke) or 7-up (looks like 7-and-7). Rum and Coke, vodka with a twist of lemon, scotch, etc. Feel free to tell your bartender to mix whatever you want. You know he has Sprite or 7-Up or some kind of safe fruit juice and your favorite liqueur? So what if it’s 7-Up and bourbon? Tell him what you want, he’ll probably do it – you’re usually only paying for the liquor and his time anyway.

Final Notes

You know this already: communicate with your server and the bartender when possible. In my experience these people are even more attentive and able to accommodate requests than restaurant servers and chefs. Perhaps there is less pressure in some of the settings I’ve been in, or perhaps there is some reality in the stereotype that bartenders are there to listen, but whatever it is, I’m glad for it.

I’ll keep adding to this as I learn more and as you leave your experiences in the comments.

Asian-Staple Substitutions
May 23rd, 2010 by Alice

Some of my standard substitutions for Asian-food staples:

  • Soy sauce = Maggi Seasoning (no soy, but wheat) never bothers my mild soy allergy.
  • Soy sauce = Two friends recommend San-J Wheat-Free Tamari (I’ve never used it – you know, the soy). Another friend recommends Bragg’s Liquid Aminos
  • Fish sauce = add a 1inchx2inch piece of cooked salmon (or raw if you’re making soup anyway)
  • Fish sauce = add a 1inchx2inch piece of smoked salmon works too
  • Fish sauce = (I know the above don’t help you if you have a fish allergy – for you I’d add a good dollop of salt, or perhaps some seaweed if that works) You might even try beef bouillon
  • sesame oil = canola oil with a touch of Maggi or “soy sauce”
  • sesame oil = canola oil with some spice added, try a grind or two of white pepper to get that “Asian spice flavor”, or a bit of Fenugreek to add the richness of sesame
  • “seasoned” rice wine vinegar = usually is seasoned with sugar and salt. Judge for yourself whether it is worth the risk, we have no trouble with it
  • rice wine vinegar = white vinegar or apple cider vinegar with a little sugar
  • bean sprouts = julienned broccoli stems (crazy, right?!)
  • Shiso leaf = peppermint leaf or basil leaf (it isn’t at all the same, but sometimes random weird ideas work)
  • bean noodles = rice noodles
Yum! Let’s Eat!
Jun 2nd, 2009 by Alice

Good morning.

My name is Alice, and as some of you already know I have a lot of very severe food allergies. I am lucky to have found a husband who also has a lot of very severe food allergies, and a group of friends who are extremely understanding and supportive.

This is a collection of the recipes we have cooked together. They will NEVER include nuts, peanuts, milk, eggs, beans, peas, fennel, licorice, anise, balsamic vinegar, apricot pits (yes, pits), and shellfish. Also, for now we’re avoiding soy, so many of the recipes will be mostly soy-free (the occasional lecithin slips in since soy is a minor allergy for us at the moment). There are some salmon recipes, but other fish are currently in the “no” column.

If you choose to make any of these recipes you are responsible for your own safety.

Choose ingredients that are safe for you. Read the ingredients every time – and yes, you can do it. We’ve been reading ingredient labels (or our family has for us) for nearly 30 years, it gets tiresome, but it has saved us from some un-fun trips to Urgent Care. I can share my successful ingredient finds with you, but ultimately your safety is your responsibility.

After I reel off that list of food allergies I am often asked “What do you eat?!” as if the list above encompasses all known food items. It doesn’t. I eat mostly the same food as everyone else, the big difference being Jason and I cook almost all our own food. We don’t go out for burgers and fries, we make them. We don’t pick up a grilled chicken and a salad at the grocery store on a busy night – we get the ingredients and start cooking. Well, he does. I bake.

Anyway, whether you’re new to food allergies or an old hand, whether you’re just striking out on your own and learning to cook safe food for yourself, or whether you’re just interested in some new foods (maybe you don’t have food allergies), I hope you find something yummy here.

Some of these recipes are highly modified, but most only slightly. It is amazing what you can do just by trying. Sometimes you’ll fail. Sometimes you’ll make something wonderful.

The only food I haven’t managed to truly replace in my life? Ice cream. Sorbet just isn’t the same. I’m still working on it, and maybe someday I’ll get it right.

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