Wednesday, November 11th, 2009

Unless you’ve been living in a sensory deprivation chamber, you’ve probably heard of the Sham-Wow.  You know, those super towels that apparently soak up gallons of liquid, save you from ever having to purchase rolls of Bounty again, and, judging from the cool enthusiasm of Sham-Wow pitchman Vince, can pretty much save the world and cure leprosy and dishpan hands.  Don’t get too excited.  I’m not reviewing the Sham-Wow, exactly.  Technically.

I usually try to avoid purchasing anything “as seen on TV.”  I had a bad experience with a Rainbow Brite record album back in 1986 and then again with some Time Life books as a young teenager in the early 90′s.  These events pretty much cemented my family’s deeply held belief that things ordered off television are instruments of the devil.  The deviiiiiiil.

Of course, there was no contingency for the physical “As Seen on TV” aisle in Target.  Oh yes.  All those BumpIts, Slap Chops, and Strap Perfects that were easily resisted on the small screen are suddenly so much more accessible in person.  And of course, there are the Zorbeez.

Zorbeez towels are essentially twin to Vince’s Sham-Wows, except they’re hawked under a different name by the late, exuberant Billy Mays.  Clad in his iconic blue shirt with a vocal volume cranked to 11, Mays said it like he meant it.  It’s hard not to put at least a little faith in someone who extolled the virtues of a product so, well, loudly.

So yes, I paid Target ten big ones for my pack of Zorbeez.  And I was really, really keen to put them to the test.

Photo Credit: Gwen Feldman

Photo Credit: Gwen Feldman

I ripped open the Zorbeez pack as soon as I arrived home.  I filled a coffee mug with tap water, and upended it over my kitchen floor, as you’ll see in the photo to the right.  I added the fish net to create a more cohesive, aquatic theme.  And because well, I was sort of bored and it was there.  (For some reason, the fish net is Willow’s favorite toy; it’s not unusual to see her stalking around my flat with it (quite elegantly) clenched in her teeth, and we tend to find it everywhere.)

I didn’t include the next photo, which was simply the first view of the large Zorbeez towel placed over the puddle of water and fish net.  It wasn’t that exciting.  The real test was about to begin.

Photo Credit: Gwen Feldman

Photo Credit: Gwen Feldman

Pressing the Zorbeez into the puddle of water, I half expected to hear a giant sucking sound as the towel defied physics and hoovered up the mess in a flash (and perhaps a few squares of my tacky kitchen linoleum for good measure).  Instead, the towel just got really, really wet.  And to my dismay, the floor stayed that way, too.  I poked at the Zorbeez.  I swished it around some more in the minor lake I had created.  The water simply spread further across the floor.  In the photo to the left, you can see that the towel is a sodden mess.  It’s difficult to make out the water on the floor because well, I took the snapshot with my Blackberry and it’s not exactly National Geographic approved gear.

Unwilling to accept defeat, I referred to the instructions, which I hadn’t read before, because who reads directions to use a towel?  Oddly, there was something I overlooked; apparently Zorbeez only perform to their full potential of they are dampened first.  Yes, I see the inherent flaw in logic there too, but I was dumb enough to purchase the Zorbeez in the beginning of this wet disaster.

I repeated the experiment but misted the next towel with a spray bottle before plunging it into the water.  The results were equally abysmal.  In the end, the only towel up to the task of drying my floor was my oversized bath towel that I bought freshman year in college.

Upon closer scrutiny, I noticed something interesting about Zorbeez shammies.  They seem to be made of really cheap felt.  Remember when you were a kid in preschool, learning about weather, mittens, and brushing your teeth?  Chances are that your teachers used felt boards to illustrate these concepts with pre-cut, felt objects placed on the boards.  These towels were made of the same stuff, though I honestly think they’re not even story time worthy.  Hold them up to the light, and you can sort of see through them.

While felt is a great tool to teach the uninitiated, I can’t see it used to suck a liter of cola out of berber carpet.

I gave Zorbeez one last chance tonight.  We’ve been a little lazy here at the Apply Yourself Product Lab, and the resulting Giza-sized pyramid of dirty dishes has been nothing short of pants-wetting-terrifying.  He washed.  I dried.  I attempted to use my Zorbeez shammy towels.

Again, I tried both a regular, dry Zorbee (is that the singular form?) and another that was pre-misted with water.  I saw no difference in performance between towels.  At first, I thought that maybe the dry Zorbee was actually absorbing water from my ceramic bowls, but it turned out that I was just holding the dinnerware too closely to myself and it was rubbing against my sweatshirt.  Yes, my hoodie was more effective on my dishes than the Zorbeez.  There was no difference on plastic, Pyrex glass, or metal.  The Zorbeez failure was officially epic.

I haven’t quite figured out if there is an alternative use for my Zorbeez.  Hang them from the ceiling in lieu of Tibetan prayer flags?  Too ghetto.  Cut into smaller squares for coasters?  Wouldn’t go with my decor.  Sew into clothing for Willow?  I’m pretty sure that’s animal cruelty.

I have a feeling my Zorbeez will be collecting dust next to my copy of The Fountainhead and the Fairy Tarot Cards I bought ten years ago.

Would I ever recommend Zorbeez?  Only if I really, really didn’t like someone.

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