My bizarre odyssey into the wacky world of the infomercial products:
There I was, parked in front of the TV set at 2:30 in the morning, eating a Suzy Q and watching a rerun of WKRP in Cincinnati, when an infomercial about a little egg-like device that scrapes away foot calluses cut in. I was simultaneously engrossed and grossed out by the image of discarded foot shavings, and then a thought crossed my mind: I need a PedEgg! Then another: I don’t think I can finish my Suzy Q.
Thus began my bizarre odyssey into the wonderful, wacky, weird, “What the …?” world of infomercial products—the official domain of the “Why didn’t I think of that?” product. After maxing out my credit card on stuff that my wife politely dubbed questionable, I discovered that some were shoddy, some were enticing but just missed the mark, and others? Well, simply put, they were brilliant!
To make sure you know which is which, Reader’s Digest staffers joined me in testing and rating As Seen on TV products, ranking them on the following scale:
★ Don’t waste your money
★★ Works, sort of
★★★ Good enough to buy
★★★★ Overnight delivery!
So don’t reach for that phone until you’ve read what we have to say.
PediPawsIllustration: David Goldin for Reader’s Digest, Photograph: Jeremy Lips for Reader’s Digest
What the company says: “The fast, easy, gentle” way to trim your pet’s nails. PediPaws is a battery-operated, motorized emery board that sands down puppy’s nails “without the pain caused by traditional nail clippers.”
What we say: Some infomercial products work great, but it seems that the only thing PediPaws is great at is scaring your pet—the noisy motor frightened every dog we used it on. “My older dog wouldn’t let me near him with it,” said one pet owner. Another wasn’t too embarrassed to admit that her dog’s a screamer, and “she yelped when I tried it on her.” Those dogs are all a bunch of wusses, charged a third pet owner, who swears by PediPaws. “My dog put up a fuss at first,” she conceded, “but then gave up when I said, ‘Be a good girl if you want a treat.’ Food motivates her.” (With so many different product reviews, here's how to spot a fake one.)
Greenwash BallIllustration: David Goldin for Reader’s Digest, Photograph: Jeremy Lips for Reader’s Digest
What the company says: Toss out the laundry detergent! The GreenWash Ball cleans clothes “by bouncing around natural ceramics inside the ball that raise the pH level of the water.” The texturing on the ball helps loosen dirt and at the same time softens clothes without the use of chemical fabric softeners.
What we say: “I’m not sure it cleaned my clothes,” said one confused launderer. “I mean, it might have, but I’m not sure.” That’s because the GreenWash Ball doesn’t use sudsy detergent to clean clothes, just friction, and that means no fresh scent. Suds or no suds, another tester is hooked. “It’s easy to use, and my clothes were clean. Best of all, it will save me the trouble of getting to the laundry room and discovering, Oh, #%^$! I’m out of detergent! (Check out these 9 mind-blowing facts about laundry!)
Bumpits Volumizing Hair InsertsVia Amazon.com
Bumpits Volumizing Hair Inserts
What the company says: The website’s URL speaks volumes: bighappiehair.com. Place a Bumpits insert behind your part line, drape your locks over it, and watch your hairdo go from “flat to fabulous! Women Love Love Love It!!!”
What we say: The women they know may love, love, love it, but not the women we know. “Not sure when this hairstyle came back in style,” wondered one member of the flat-hair society. Plus, “when you put in two at a time, they look like devil horns.” Another tester pointed out that “despite all the teasing and hair spraying, I couldn’t get my hair to camouflage the comb.” But if you insist on sporting the Sarah Palin do, stick with the shorter Bumpits. “The large ones give you a strangely elongated head, similar to the aliens’ in Mars Attacks!” said a researcher. Added another, “I’m tall enough. I don’t need an extra five inches of hair.” You can add Bumpits to our list of infomercial products to never recommend. (If you have fine hair, you might be making these mistakes that are taking away your volume.)
Debbie Meyer Green BagsVia Amazon.com
Debbie Meyer Green Bags
What the company says: Fruits, vegetables, and cut flowers stay fresh longer inside these reusable bags. How? They’re “made with a natural mineral that absorbs and removes the ethylene gas”—released by apples, peppers, and the like—“that causes normal deterioration.”
What we say: Vegetarians, rejoice! “I put yellow, ripe bananas in the green bags, and a week later, they still hadn’t turned brown,” said one daiquiri lover. Now, it’s hard to believe that a green bag can do all of this, but even a skeptic was convinced: “Cut veggies were still fresh five days later.” Thanks to the savings on food, another added, the bags are a “good value.” Hooray for infomercial products that work! (Here are some other ways to keep your fruits and veggies fresh longer.)
Dust Mop SlippersIllustration: David Goldin for Reader’s Digest, Photograph: Jeremy Lips for Reader’s Digest
Dust Mop Slippers
What the company says: Dust while you walk in these plaid, open-toe slippers with a dust mop sole. They’re one-size-fits-all and machine washable, and they “pick up dirt, dust, and pet hair as you slide across the floor.”
What we say: The prince wouldn’t have scoured his kingdom for Cinderella if she’d worn these “dorky-looking” slippers to the ball, insisted one fashionista. But if he were doing the cleaning up afterward, he might don a pair himself. While they’re useless against “grit or big pieces of dirt, they’re fine for quick general floor dusting,” said one potential rug shopper. In fact, a happy feline owner chimed in, “they actually collected cat hair and stray pieces of litter.” Dorkiness quotient aside, our first tester liked that they were “comfortable.” (Here are some other ways to get rid of dust in your home.)
Wearable TowelVia Amazon.com
What the company says: The scene is a public swimming pool. You’ve just emerged from the water and want to cover up. A robe is too heavy, and your towel keeps falling off. The solution: a towel with arm openings! For you voguers, it can be worn tunic- or toga-style. And it’s so attractive, it’s “perfect to wear with family and friends.”
What we say: It’s a bold fashion statement, all right—one that screams, I’m a doofus! Said one modest tester, “If you were self-conscious at the beach, this product is not going to boost your self-esteem.” Another suggested this improvement: “They would be onto something if they would just get rid of those armholes.” Of course, in that case, it would have a different name: towel. And “a pretty flimsy” one at that, added a third reviewer. Ultimately, this one is another addition to our list of infomercial products to never recommend.
What the company says: “ProCaulk is the only hassle-free way to caulk bathrooms and kitchens with no mess and a perfect finish every time.” The kit comes with a tube of caulk, an edger to cut out old grout, and tools with different shapes and sizes to smooth out the new seal on “any edge, any corner, any joint.”
What we say: You don’t have to be a plumber to love it. Although it can get a bit messy—after all, it hasn’t eliminated the human element that can dribble sealant all over the tub—“it does what it’s supposed to,” said one happy grouter. Another tester was spotted walking off with a couple of kits. It’s high praise when things get stolen from our offices. Mess aside, you can add this to our list of infomercial products we love!
Bottle TopsIllustration: David Goldin for Reader’s Digest, Photograph: Jeremy Lips for Reader’s Digest
$34.99 for a set of 12 ★★
What the company says: “Turn your favorite canned drink into a bottle” with these plastic bottle tops that snap onto most cans. Doing so “prevents bugs from crawling into your drink, keeps your beverage carbonated, and prevents spills.”
What we say: The Bottle Top is a hassle to snap on and off. “I spent five minutes fighting with it,” complained one testy tester. Other reviewers refrigerated their bottle-topped cans and returned a day or two later to a fizzless soda. “I wasted half a can of Coke—and there’s nothing worse than a flat Coke!” one whined. But another tester did spot some upsides through her rose-colored glasses: “No spills, and they come in cute colors!” And that, after all, is what’s really important.
What the company says: “You’ll be saying wow every time you use this towel.” That’s because the ShamWow “holds 12 times its weight in liquid and easily removes cola, wine, and pet stains, and washes, dries, and polishes any surface. It’s machine washable and lasts ten years,” says the product’s rapid-fire pitchman, Vince Shlomi.
What we say: Vince knows his rags! “I loved it,” raved a reviewer. “It really works—soaks up spills superfast. I want ShamWow! I need it, my friends need it, my family needs it!” Less stimulated reviewers also noted that it did a good job sopping up spills on carpets. (Here are some homemade carpet stain removers.)