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Your shower curtain could be ruining your sex life

Phthalates are everywhere, and may affect women's libido

By Stacey Cohen of ConsumerAffairs
October 24, 2014 Photo © sababa66 - Fotolia

Hide the shower curtain -- it could be ruining your sex life! In fact a lot of things you have around the house could be detrimental to a woman's libido.

A study presented to the American Society for Reproductive Medicines annual conference in Honolulu found that phthalates, a common chemical used to increase plastic’s flexibility, could be to blame for low libido in women.

Phthalates are found in just about everything -- including toys, vinyl flooring and wall covering, detergents, lubricating oils, food packaging, pharmaceuticals, blood bags and tubing, and personal care products, such as nail polish, hair sprays, aftershave lotions, soaps, shampoos, perfumes and other fragrance preparations. Yes, even in sex toys so thats the last thing you want to grab to try and get things going again.

The study was conducted by Dr. Emily Barrett of the University of Rochester and included 360 pregnant women. Researchers measured the levels of phthalates in their urine. They were also interviewed on how they felt about sex in the months before they became pregnant.

The women who had a more phthalates in their system were two and half times more likely to say that they weren't that interested in having sex. Barrett said that she thinks that phthalates could interfere with the production of estrogen and testosterone – both of which are linked to the female libido.

What to do

How can this marriage be saved?

  • First off, avoid plastics with recycling code #3.
  • Choose phthalate-free toys. Toymakers Early Start, Brio, Chicco, Evenflo, Gerber, Lego and Sassy have pledged to stop using phthalates. Look for toys made from polypropylene or polyethylene or avoid plastic toys altogether.
  • Purchase phthalate-free beauty products. Ingredients are listed on make-up.
  • Install a glass shower door.
  • Up your iTunes list with mood music and dim the lights.


Detergent manufacturers wish you'd waste more detergent

Efficient machines and savvy consumers depress detergent companies' bottom lines

By Jennifer Abel of ConsumerAffairs
October 24, 2014 Photo © Danomyte - Fotolia

Pity the poor detergent makers: Bloomberg BusinessWeek reports that the rise in efficient washing machines requiring far less water to launder clothes than earlier models has also resulted in consumers using far less detergentthan before. (Or, depending how you look at it, you might say: consumers are finally starting to use the right amount of laundry detergent, rather than wastefully using too much, as many of us are wont to do.)

From 2009 through 2013, total U.S. detergent sales have fallen 6.4% (even as the country's population increased by more than 10 million people, from 306.77 million in July 2009 to 316.98 million in July 2013).

This decline can't be blamed on the recession — people need clothes and clothes need washing no matter how the economy's doing. And there certainly hasn't been any decrease in the population, nor in the average number of clothes each person owns and needs to launder.

So what's changed? Water-efficiency standards for appliances, including washing machines.

Suds are a sign

It all boils down to soap suds. Here's the thing: suds are a sign that you're using more soap than you need. And if you put “too much” soap into a dishwasher or washing machine, the results can be horribly messy. You might have seen the sitcom trope – or, if you're unlucky, personally experienced the minor household catastrophe – somebody puts far too much into a washer and only realizes it after soap suds start erupting out of the machine onto the kitchen or laundry room floor.

So if you see actual suds, chances are you're using too much detergent or soap. But how much is too much? That varies depending on a number of factors, including how much water is involved, but generally speaking: the more water you're using, the more soap you'll need.

So an amount of detergent that didn't generate any suds in an old water-intensive washing machine will start making suds in a newer, more efficient model. And when consumers see their sudsy machines, they compensate by using less detergent.

Here's something I accidentally discovered years ago, when I still washed my clothes in laundromats: for pretty much every brand of laundry detergent I've used, I've been able to get my clothes clean with much smaller doses of detergent than the official manufacturers' recommendation.

Smaller doses

Incidentally, have you ever wondered why those doses are so difficult to precisely measure? If you use liquid detergent, with their bottlecaps doubling as measuring cups, you've surely noticed how the cup tends to be muchlarger than the recommended dose of detergent. And the “fill line” indicating how much to pour in the cup is incredibly hard to see, a barely raised line the same color as the cup itself … if any drug companies tried packaging their liquid medications like that, they'd soon be sued into oblivion after too many patients accidentally overdosed on their products.

But accidentally overdosing a load of clothes with laundry detergent doesn't have the same consequences, especially not in the days when machines used huge amounts of water and the extra unneeded detergent simply rinsed away – and, arguably, such waste boosted the detergent companies' bottom line, too.

Yet ordinary consumers might never have suspected how much detergent they were wasting – until they switched to a new, water-efficient washing machine and had to cut down on the detergent after having problems with suds or “soap scum.”

Whether you have an old-model washing machine or a new high-efficiency model, here's a money-saving experiment worth trying: next time you do a load of laundry, try a smaller-than-usual dose of your regular detergent — say, if you usually fill that cup all the way to the fill line, try filling it only 90% of the way. If the resulting load of laundry comes out clean, then try another 10-percent detergent reduction for the next load.

Depending on which brand of detergent you use, the efficiency of your washer, and how “dirty” your average load of laundry actually is, you might be able to reduce your detergent usage by up to 50% — while your clothes get as clean as they ever did.


Yoga training has gone to the dogs

It might sound odd but both dogs and their "parents" seem to enjoy it

By Stacey Cohen of ConsumerAffairs
October 24, 2014 Photo Photo © Dogadog.com

If you were to peek into most yoga classes you would probably see the classes are attended by a majority of fit, flexible females in tight clothes. But, contrary to what you might think, it’s not just a sport for ladies that are in awesome shape and can bend in every direction.

Yoga has gone to the dogs! It's becoming quite popular in the canine kingdom and actually has it's own name -- Doga. I think you understand why.

Suzi Teitelman, of Jacksonville, Fla., is a Doga instructor and also trains new instructers. She says Doga was born when she was living in New York. After the 9/11 terror attacks, she decided to get a dog, something she always had wanted.

She got a puppy and brought it to the yoga class that she was teaching at Crunch Fitness. She liked always having the dog with her and pretty soon incorporated it into the classes. She then started a separate class which at its conception was called Ruff Yoga but has since morphed into Doga.

"Dogs are naturally content, peaceful and compassionate -- we learn a lot from them," Teitelman told ConsumerAffairs. "It's a lot more then postures. It's meditation, chanting and being in the present. Dogs come to a blissful moment at the end. There is a lot of touching, including massages and helping them get into a pose themselves."

Hyper dogs

You have to wonder, though, about those dogs that just can't sit still -- that see a squirrel or something and are totally thrown off course. In other words, the easily distracted type.

"Dogs who run around are the dogs whose parent isn't into it. You are sharing your energy and connecting with the dog's energy," Teitelman said See -- it always comes back to the parent!

Teitelman says dogs should have their own Doga mat but if not, they can share with their parent. Classes are 30 minutes and can run from $10-$15 for a group lesson and up to $150 for a private lesson depending on location.

Teitelman has travelled all over the country and even as far away as Hong Kong to teach doga. You can see videos of Doga on her site or get a DVD and try it at home with your pups. 


Feds shut down “tech support” scammers in New York

Remember: Microsoft, Facebook and other tech companies will never, ever call you at home

By Jennifer Abel of ConsumerAffairs
October 24, 2014

Photo Photo © japolia - Fotolia.com There's moderately good news coming out of New York today, as the Federal Trade Commission announced that the courts, complying with an FTC request, have shut down a company whose entire business model relied on versions of the old tech-support scam.

The FTC's complaint, available here in .pdf form, says that Pairsys, Inc. and its two officers Uttam Saha and Tiya Bhattacharya made cold calls to consumers while pretending to be tech-support staff from Facebook or Microsoft. They also took out deceptive ads which led customers to believe they were calling the tech-support numbers of legitimate companies.

The FTC said that if you called one of those fake numbers, or accepted cold calls from fake “Microsoft” or “Facebook” tech-support personnel, the scammers would try convincing you to give them remote access to your computer. And if you agreed, here's what happened next, according to the FTC press release:

the scammers would lead the consumer to believe that benign portions of the computer’s operating system were in fact signs of viruses and malware infecting the consumer’s computer. In many cases, they implied that the computer was severely compromised and had to be “repaired” immediately.

At that point, consumers were pressured into paying for bogus warranty programs and software that was freely available, usually at a cost of $149 to $249, though in some cases, the defendants charged as much as $600 for the supposed products. The FTC’s filings in the case allege that the company made nearly $2.5 million since early 2012.

The sad thing is that Pairsys' victims were relatively lucky, by tech-support-scam-victim standards; at most, each one “only” lost a few hundred dollars of their money. Other tech-support scammers are far more vicious. In September, we told you the story of a Wisconsin woman who received a cold call, allegedly from Microsoft tech support; when she gave the scammer access to her computer, he deleted various important files of hers, and demanded $200 if she wanted to get them back.

Her story had a relatively happy ending, though: the scammers were never caught or even identified, but a computer-savvy police officer was able to restore her lost files.

Malware plants

Other tech-support scammers will try planting malware on your computer, anything from keylogging software that records everything you type (including account passwords and other sensitive information), to malware that remotely activates your computer's webcam, to zombie software that uses your computer to bombard other people with virus-laden spam.

The single most important rule to remember, in order to protect yourself from tech-support scammers, is this: “Don't call me; I'll call you.”

In other words, if you detect a possible problem with your Facebook, Microsoft, Netflix or other tech accounts, and want to contact the company, go right ahead. But if you get an out-of-the-blue phone call or email, allegedly offering to help fix a problem you never even knew you had — don't believe it.

Of course, in light of the FTC reports that Pairsys also took out misleading ads complete with fake tech-support numbers, there's something else you need to bear in mind: when you're online searching for corporate contact information — such as the phone number to call if you're having issues with Microsoft, Facebook or anyone else — keep an extra-sharp eye on the search-engine results, and website addresses.

If you see a phone number supposedly for Microsoft tech support — did you find it on Microsoft's own page, or on CompanyINeverHeardOfBefore.com? If it's the latter, don't even think of calling it.


A tiny gain for new home sales in September

Prices of new homes sold moved lower

By James Limbach of ConsumerAffairs
October 24, 2014 Photo © Brian Jackson - Fotolia

The pace of new home sales cooled in September, but still managed to post a gain.

The U.S. Census Bureau and the Department of Housing and Urban Development report sales of new single-family houses were up 0.2% last month -- to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 467,000. The increases, as tiny as it was, put the sales rate 17.0% above the year-ago pace of 399,000.

Prices and inventory

The median sales price of new houses sold in September 2014 was $259,000, compared with $269,800 in September 2013. The median is the point at which half the prices are higher and half are lower. The average sales price was $313,200, versus $321,500.

Inventory swelled during the month. The seasonally adjusted estimate of new houses for sale at the end of September was 207,000, representing a supply of 5.3 months at the current sales rate. The supply in August was 4.8 months.

The complete report is available on the Commerce Department website.



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