Thursday, November 5, 2009

The end of scrubbing tubs

As a college aged male bachelor, I know a thing or two about bathrooms that have gone uncleaned for longer than many people might think possible. To make matters worse, I use a humble castile soap that produces scum with unabashed vigor. Last week, by the combined effort of many unknowable forces, I decided to clean the bathroom, and in the process made a fantastic, incredible, revolutionary discovery (this time not involving micro fiber cloths)! I started with the typical futile effort, spraying everything with potent cleaning chemicals and scrubbing, scrubbing, scrubbing with a typical plastic bristle brush. Before long it was clear that all my effort was adding up to nothing. I decided to pull out the big guns, and began to seek a green scouring pad. I found one, and thumbed it as I saw in the same drawer a box of those new-fangled magic "eraser sponges," also known as melamine foam, I had picked up on a whim at the dollar store. Feeling my sense of adventure kick in (and not knowing what else I might ever use them for), I decided to grab a magic sponge and give it a try. The results were unbelievable. The soap scum literally rolled off every surface after just a pass or three; I had the whole shower cleaned and sparkling in under 5 minutes! Never before in my life has a shower taken less than an hour, at least, to clean, and thus my excitement for this finding. From now on I needn't fear nor need to clear a day so that I can clean the shower; maybe, just maybe, it'll get cleaned more often now... no commitment there though. I checked the box of the eraser sponge afterward, and it does actually suggest using it for cleaning the shower, which means someone, somewhere out there actually knew about this beforehand. This is hard to believe, I would have figured the news would spread like word of a Gmail outage (wildfire in this age is the new grass growing, amirite?). I don't know if they've advertised these for this purpose since my exposure to commercials is essentially nonexistent, but I'm led to believe that even if they did it would pass unnoticed and the reason is simple: from memory, bathroom cleaning products are depicted in an ineffective way. I remember them showing what looked like an evenly disgusting tile wall, oddly aesthetic in the precision of its filth, which becomes pristine after just one pass of a sponge. Yeah, sure, everyone believes that. Even with the magic sponge there's some work involved, but I think 30 seconds of someone cleaning a real bathroom in real time with real results would be an amazing commercial. It'd say "Hey, look, this actually works. We're not trying to trick you using magical cartoon scrubbing bubbles." But then again, this is marketing we're talking about, which leads to a strong movie recommendation: How to get Ahead in Advertising.

More than you ever wanted to know about soap after the jump!

As a quick aside (Ed: not quick), I happily use Dr. Bronner's bar soap. For one, I like the feel of castile soap; others say it feels "slimy." I'm not sure I agree, but I don't think that's a bad descriptor for a sensation when the unsanitary connotations are removed from the word. I think it might feel more oily, like the wet version of velvety. I also love the scents the soap comes in: peppermint, lavender, eucalyptus, citrus, etc.

Perhaps my favorite feature of Dr. Bronner's is the elegance of the ingredients list:
water, saponified organic coconut, organic palm and organic olive oils (w/retained glycerin), organic hemp oil, organic jojoba oil, essential oils, citric acid, vitamin.

Simply enough, I don't see anything on there that I might object to rubbing all over my body on a daily basis.

On the other hand, there's the ingredients in Dove bar soap:
sodium cocoyl isethionate, stearic acid, coconut acid, sodium tallowate, water, sodium isethionate, sodium stearate, cocamidopropyl betaine, sodium cocoate or palm kernelate, fragrance, sodium chloride, tetrasodium EDTA, trisodium etidronate, BHT, titanium dioxide and sodium dodecyl benzene sulfonate.

Hm... if I were to come across a large barrel marked BHT, or sodium cocoyl isethionate (SCI), I doubt my first thought would be 'hey, I should rub this on my skin!' To be fair, Dove (owned by the ginormous multinational Unilever) might just be using scientific names for similar ingredients--that's no problem, scientific precision is a Good Thing, not a reason to blindly assume danger and run in fear. Were scientific precision the case at hand, in the age of the Internet, it would be easy to resolve, and so I did in some minor way. SCI is a detergent or anionic surfactant, which means that it reduces the surface tension of water. It turns out that it is a very specific chemical compound derived from coconut oil, which is partially more reassuring than the big scientific name. Coconut acid refers to a mixture of the fatty acids (fatty acids are often oils) that appear in coconut oil, and it's a fair bet that cocamidopropyl betaine and sodium cocoate have something to do with coconuts too. Intuitively I'd still prefer the whole oil than some specific derivative of that oil, but intuition isn't exactly the most intelligent creature (otherwise airplanes and computers would have been common sense a long time ago). What about BHT? Also known as butylated hydroxytoluene, it's a "lipophilic (fat-soluble) organic compound that is primarily used as an antioxidant food additive [...] as well as in cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, jet fuels, rubber, petroleum products, electrical transformer oil, and embalming fluid." In this particular instance, it is most likely used as an analogue of Vitamin E to reduce the oxidation of unsaturated oils by atmospheric oxygen--in other words, it's a preservative. Once again, BHT is like Vitamin E, but not Vitamin E, and once again from the naive common sense perspective, I'd rather just have Vitamin E. I haven't looked at any of the other ingredients, but from painting I know that titanium dioxide is used as a white pigment, and whether or not it seems to be benign I'd rather just have off color soap! Dr. Bronners uses some fair trade ingredients as well as orgranic ingredients; whether either of these mean anything is probably closer to subjective at this point in time.


MommyRohner said...

I'm so sorry I didn't introduce you to the Magic Eraser earlier. I discovered it years ago, and yes, it has saved many a wall from repainting and many a tub from rust stains. You are ready to be a mom I guess!

Oh, you shower every day? Really?

dreamer.redeemer said...

I recall seeing them in your house at some point, which legitimized them to some degree... otherwise I might not have thought to pick them up, even for just a buck.
Exactly every day might be a stretch, but its certainly closer to that than it has been in the past.