Mary Jane Derex is a Morton Grove-based interior designer who has been specializing in sustainable solutions for the past eight years. This slim 54-year-old woman with short gray hair and an organic cotton t-shirt has made it her mission to help people lead more chemical-free and environmentally sustainable lives.
Derex’s awareness of how chemicals in our immediate environment affect us was a long time in coming.
“I’d been working with an allergist for seven years, getting weekly injections to cope with my growing number of allergies,” Derex said. “I later learned they were symptoms of MCS, or multiple chemical sensitivity.”
But it took a life-changing spiritual journey in Machu Pichu, Peru, for Derex to fully grasp environmental issues on a deeper level. “The trip changed my awareness of how we do things,” Derex said. “I fell in love with the earth.”
Upon her return, Derex finally realized that her longtime allergy problem was caused by her immediate surroundings—and her interior design job.
“My allergies got worse when I visited new homes, worked with carpet vendors or spent time in freshly painted rooms,” Derex said.
Derex began to research, amassing a “huge database of information about which products are truly healthy, and which are not,” Derex said. “Unfortunately, ‘green’ and ‘healthy’ are not always synonymous.”
Derex cites vinyl as an major offender. “During the manufacturing process, for example, vinyl out-gasses chemicals including dioxins and mercury.” Vinyl also continues to out-gas chemicals when used in the home.
Five Ways To Detoxify Your Current Kitchen
Derex’s house reflects her earthy philosophy—especially the kitchen, a sunlit room with beautiful teak panels and cabinetry, hardwood flooring, natural fiber-covered cushions on the banquette seats and bamboo cutting blocks.
Derex suggested five products she relies on to detoxify her kitchen:
- ActiveIon water-based spray cleaner. This device, , uses a mild electric charge to ionize plain tap water and cause it to lift dirt and grime from surfaces while killing germs and bacteria. “I clean just about everything with it,” Derex said. Fruits and vegetables, countertops and stovetop, windows, backsplash and the refrigerator interior, car interior are just a few areas that ActiveIon shines in. The sprayer, available online, is not cheap at about $165. “But when you consider how safe it is, and how many cleaning products it replaces, the ActiveIon is worth every penny,” Derex said.
- Sponges. “Stop buying them!” Derex says. Sponges harbor all kinds of bacteria and grime. Instead, Derex swears by simple wash cloths for most dish-washing, and steel wool for pots and pans. The curly steel wool pad, which she buys at Super H Supermarket in Niles, can be run through the dishwasher for sanitizing.
- Sink Into Your Bliss, made by Blissful Home, serves as a replacement for Comet cleansing powder. The Bliss powder, which fills Derex’s kitchen with the sunny smell of lemon and eucalyptus as she cleans her sink, can be found online or purchased at Whole Foods. It’s also good for scrubbing bathtubs and bathroom sinks, Derex added.
- Thieves All-Purpose Cleaner is another wonderfully aromatic and safe cleaning product. This essential-oil concoction, made by Young Living, gets its cleaning power from cloves, lemon, cinnamon, eucalyptus and rosemary. “I’ve used it full-strength to successfully clean all the grime off my barbeque grill,” Derex says. “And diluted, it can be used for everything from laundry to surfaces and even oven deep-cleaning.”
- Glass teapots. Unlike ceramic or metal teapots, “you can look at it and know it’s clean inside,” Derex says of her well-used glass teapot sitting on the electric stove. If you buy one, make sure it’s made of tempered glass, and therefore safe for use on gas or electric stoves.
Five Ways To Detoxify Your Future Kitchen
If a kitchen remodeling project lies in your near future, Derex recommends the following tips:
- Cabinetry: “Look for formaldehyde-free cabinets,” Derex advised. She opted for teak wood, finished only with oil and wax rather than varnish.
- Countertops: Man-made quartz countertops have the “look and feel of granite or stone, but they don’t require sealing, nor do you have to worry about staining,” Derex said.
- Electric stove instead of gas stove: With electric, there are no errant gas fumes to worry about. “I used to hold my breath and open the window when I would light the old gas stove,” Derex said. Her kitchen features a glass-top electric cooking surface.
- Walls: Opt for zero or low-VOC paint.
- Floor: Choose non-toxic, renewable finishes whenever possible. “Cork flooring is renewable, durable, easily maintained and easy on the feet,” Derex said. “Plus if you drop things, they are less likely to break.”
By living a healthy lifestyle, including dietary changes and detoxifying both her body and home of chemicals, Derex has been to overcome her allergic symptoms and chemical sensitivities.
If you’d like more information, contact Mary Jane Derex via her Web site, www.mjderex.com.