Spic and Spam
Publication Date: Friday Feb 23, 1996

Spic and Spam

What's really best for your household needs

by Diane Sussman

Our domestic existences haven't been the same since the New York Times broke the story. According to this venerable paper, we can polish our furniture with Spam, clean our toilets with Efferdent and shave with Jif. (We assume they they meant the smooth version, not the crunchy).

The story was based on household tips culled from Joey Green's book, "Polish Your Furniture with Pantyhose" (Hyperion, $7.95). Besides Spam polish and Jif shaving cream, the book suggests removing splinters with Elmer's Glue-All, relieving calluses with Nestea and moussing with Jell-O.

What's next? Cleaning the cat box with capers, oiling the redwood deck with tuna fish and removing water rings with mayonnaise?

Actually, removing water rings with mayonnaise isn't altogether daffy. "Mayonnaise displaces water in wood cells," said Larry Hassett, owner of Palo Alto Hardware. "It's extremely effective."

For that matter, cleaning your toilet with Efferdent isn't entirely laughable either. "Teeth are porcelain, just like toilets; and teeth get stained, just like toilets," said Hassett. "There's a direct correlation between what Efferdent can do for teeth or toilets."

Efferdent also works well at pulverizing years of "red wine grunge" on decanters, observes Palo Alto woodwoorker, Loy Martin. "Just fill it with Efferdent and water and suddenly it's crystal again."

Martin did not, however, like anything about polishing furniture with Spam--once he found out what Spam is. "Spam? Isn't that a pan spray?" He nearly dropped the phone when told it was a meat product (spiced pork shoulder, to be exact). "A meat product? Polish wood with a meat product?

"It reminds of a shampoo I once had," he continued. "It had animal products in it, and one day it went bad. After that, you couldn't walk into the bathroom for weeks."

Leslie Blackwell, a sales representative for Jasco chemical company in Mountain View, a company that makes wood care products, had a similar reaction. "Fine if you want your table to smell like a sandwich," she sniffed. "I would think it would go rancid, and that's if the ants didn't get there first,"

"Nothing about it makes sense to me," said Hassett, who, as you recall, didn't have a problem with water rings and mayonnaise or Efferdent in the toilet.

In the interest of science, Hassett also was willing to shave with Skippy (he didn't have Jif). The outcome: it gummed up his razor, wouldn't wash out of his full beard and made him smell like a sandwich all day. "I don't recommend it."

If you are serious about maintaining your wood furniture, advises Blackwell, forget both Spam and furniture polish. "Most furniture polishes contain silicone, which attacks and darkens the wood. Basically, it just leaves the wood darker and sticky."

"Most furniture polishes are just wiping products," agrees Hassett. "They don't protect or preserve your furniture. Basically they remove dust, and you can do that with a cloth."

So what does work? Blackwell likes lemon oil, which by the way, isn't really lemon oil at all. "Lemon doesn't produce oil," said Hassett. "And there's no lemon juice in lemon oil. It's really lemon-scented oil."

For finished wood, Martin uses only paste waxes such as Black Bison or Bowling Alley Wax that are made with canuba oil. "Canuba penetrates the wood and restores the finish. Do it right, and you only have to do it once a year."

Hassett doesn't restrict his allegiance to one product. He likes several new products on the market, plus walnut, almond and lemon oils. "There's a theory that the old stuff, like beeswax, works best. But there's a lot of new stuff way better than beeswax. They eliminate effort and work."

Whatever product you choose, be sure to oil both sides of the wood, not just the top. "Moisture flows through all surfaces of the wood, and you want to treat all surfaces. You don't do much to help if you just oil one side."

And remember: No product protects wood as well as putting it in the right environment. "Several things destroy wood: heat, sunlight and vapor," said Hassett. "Environment is everything."

Wackiness aside, polishing furniture with Spam makes no economic sense whatsoever. A 12-ounce can of Spam costs $2.59, compared to a 16-ounce bottle of lemon oil for $3.79.

And there's one more factor to consider. Like all food, Spam has a shelf life while lemon oil is a product for the ages. "I've had one bottle for 10 or 12 years," said Blackwell. It's doubtful Spam would last that long.

Of course, if you live downtown Palo Alto, you may not have a choice. Whole Foods Market, the only supermarket downtown, carries neither Spam nor Jif.

And so far there's no data on tofu Spam surrogate or Adam's Natural peanut butter.

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