#2. The Laundry Detergent That Shreds Clothes
Unilever's Persil was at one time the most popular laundry detergent brand in the U.K. By the 1990s, though, their product started to lose ground against the competition, which customers seemed to think was more effective. Since Persil hung their hat on the claim of making clothes cleaner than the rest, something drastic had to be done. They needed a chemical that would get the clothes clean ... at all costs.
Napalm gets the stains out every time.
What they came up with was Persil Power, a revolutionary super-compact detergent that was lauded as the new king of washing powders. Grass stains would hear its name and shudder. Your whites would be so white that men would bow to you as an angel come to earth.
The Horrible Malfunction:
Customers all over the country were quick to find out that the detergent applied a scorched earth mentality to cleaning clothes. It turned out that Persil Power was Unilever's first swing at equipping washing powders with chemical catalysts that increase their cleaning power. As such, they had little clue of what they were actually doing, and ended up making the mistake of testing the strength of their new concoction on brand new clothing, made from sturdy, workmanlike fabrics. This meant that the final product was so powerful, it wasn't only out to remove dirt; it was going to make sure dirt would have nothing to come back to, ever again.
Chemistry in Action!
You only ever need to wash one piece of clothing -- as a warning to the others.
Normal clothes are made from much more delicate fabrics than the ones the powder was tested on, so P.P. tore through them in moments, usually leaving the clothes bleached and shredded to ruin. In a short period of time, Persil Power destroyed tons of clothing all over the country, rendering the entire wardrobes of untold families into useless piles of abused fabric that could only be worn at Burning Man. That shit was clean as hell, though.
When Unilever finally decided to suck it up and bite the recall bullet, they found themselves buried under a slew of lawsuits from both retailers and consumers. Their groundbreaking formula ultimately ended up costing them around 250 million pounds.
"We can recoup some of the losses if we turn this stuff into children's toys or something."
Eventually, they ended up lowering the amount of destructive components and rereleased the detergent as New Generation Persil, which presumably could reliably be used to clean fabrics more delicate than dragon hide.
"Now 40 percent less corrosive!"
#1. The Flashlight That Can Stop Your Heart
... if you have a pacemaker, that is.
L.L. Bean, like all manufacturers, has had their ups and downs. For instance, the first product they manufactured was a hunting boot that was guaranteed to keep your feet dry. They got to eat more than their share of humble pie pretty much immediately, as 90 percent of the boots were returned for being cracked and leaky to the point of uselessness. Since then, they have produced some mighty fine and reliable footwear, so, lesson learned!
The lesson? It's much easier to make small shoes waterproof.
But in 2005, L.L. Bean launched a series of budget survival kits, most notably the handy Outdoorsman in a Bottle. It consisted of a water bottle, a blanket, a compass, a knife and a handy flashlight -- in other words, a pretty decent package for some emergency Bear Gryllsin'. It's not exactly a frivolous product if you're the outdoorsy type who could at any moment wind up stranded in some frozen wilderness due to a broken-down vehicle and no cell reception. You've got a compass to point you in the right direction, and a flashlight to shine the way. And the flashlight doesn't even need batteries!
Then, in January 2006, the company issued a hasty recall of each and every one of said kits.
The Horrible Malfunction:
Consumer Product Safety Commission
But there's no danger of the other disaster survivors not knowing where you got your stylish blanket and shovel.
Yeah, about the flashlight not needing batteries ... the Forever Flashlight was powered by a magnet, copper coil and some revolutionary shake weight technology so that you can recharge it by making a motion like you're jerking off a robot.
Wait, did we say magnet? And it's in there next to a compass, which works based on detecting the Earth's magnetic field, and stops working forever if it gets too close to a magnet? Yep! The magical flashlight rendered the compass useless.
You'll be lost, but at least you'll have a dim light that requires constant shaking.
And that magnet was very, very strong. Like "disrupt a heart patient's implantable cardiac defibrillator" strong. Which, incidentally, it totally could. The recall, by the way, stated that they would happily replace your nonworking compass. And for the flashlight, they'll send you ... a warning label you can stick on it telling heart patients to stay away. Well, hell, we could just write it on there with a Sharpie if that's all it needs.
If you're wondering, yes, the product was recalled before any injuries were reported. But keep in mind that implantable defibrillators are devices that can jump-start a failing heart if it stops beating, so you can imagine the lethal combination that could have resulted if the person's heart was already under heavy exertion from giving their flashlight a handjob.
"I suddenly care much less about this hurricane!"
For more head-scratcher items, check out 7 High Tech Products And Their Cheap Ass Ingredients. Or learn about the 5 Horrifying Food Additives You've Probably Eaten Today.