The 5 Most Baffling Product Recalls of All Time


Most product recalls are boring -- some rust-proofing isn't up to par, some toy could conceivably be eaten by a particularly stupid child. It's usually just a precaution. After all, no product hits the market without months or years of testing first. Manufacturers aren't morons.

Yet sometimes you hear about a product that fails in a way that almost seems like intentional sabotage and/or a cruel practical joke. Like ...

Gun Holsters That Shoot You in the Leg

The 5 Most Baffling Product Recalls of All Time
Consumer Product Safety Commission

A gun holster seems like a pretty simple device. It's basically just a gun-shaped pocket, right? If it were to fail, it seems like the worst that could happen is that the gun would fall out when you're walking around the grocery store. Or maybe in a quick-draw situation it would stick and the bad guy could get the jump on you -- but how often does that come up in everyday life?

Well, it turns out there is one fairly important thing that can go wrong ...

The Horrible Malfunction:

Apparently manufactured by our own favorite drunk uncle, the 2002 version of Uncle Mike's gun holster for Glock model handguns had a nasty tendency to shoot at people.


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Which isn't to say the holsters were useless.

The malfunctioning line featured a retention strap that did the exact opposite of what it should have done, i.e., securing the gun in place so it couldn't be accidentally fired. Instead, when you took your gun out of the holster, the strap had a tendency to move out of position and actually pull the gun's trigger when it was reholstered.

Heads started turning after three separate occasions of holster-induced involuntary discharges, not least because one of them was an actual cop who was shot in the leg. Instead of completely recalling the product, the company opted to just replace the flawed straps with a wider, differently designed version that the consumers could install themselves. Because when your product has a flaw that shoots bullets, the most logical move is to make your clients fix it DIY style.

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Consumer Product Safety Commission

"Any customer foolish enough to buy our product deserves only contempt."

It could be worse, though. It could have been ...

A Flammable Fire Extinguisher

The 5 Most Baffling Product Recalls of All Time
Consumer Product Safety Commission

In the 1990s, a company called Colbra Corporation introduced a revolutionary new fire extinguisher called Fire Cap. It was a very unorthodox device: a small 16-ounce bottle (not unlike a hairspray can) that was meant to put out little spot fires. Like if your trash can caught on fire or something.

Well, hell, everybody should have one of those on hand. In fact, the city of Jackson, Mississippi, actually adopted it as their police department's official fire control device. The Fire Cap went on to sell by the truckload in multiple countries, and the world was the company's oyster. But by 2000, Colbra Corporation was bankrupt, and it was clear that anyone who had ever used the Fire Cap would probably have a lot of explaining to do to their insurance companies.

The 5 Most Baffling Product Recalls of All Time

Fire Cap: Because sometimes having insurance money is better than having stuff.

The Horrible Malfunction:

If you're wondering exactly how the Colbra Corporation managed to bottle something that stops fires that efficiently in a mere aerosol can, we have an answer for you: They didn't. Fire Cap wasn't very good at stopping fires.

In fact, according to the recall notice of the product, it didn't stop fires at all. If anything, it intensified them.

The 5 Most Baffling Product Recalls of All Time

So, uh, yeah. Maybe we aren't the best source for advice on fire retardant genitals.

That ... really seems like something they should have noticed on the first day of product testing, right? Like even if the first time they tried it their test fire went out, they'd probably try it a few more times just to make sure, right? Maybe by setting a variety of things on fire?

Instead, for years Colbra had managed to sell thousands of cans of a product that operated on a sliding scale from zero to doing the exact opposite of what it was supposed to do, and no one found out, because apparently there were no fires whatsoever in Jackson before 2000.

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Don't worry, though, they've had plenty since.

And, to be frank, the fact that it took so long for anyone to bother using it makes us kind of angry. Look at that thing. It's stop-fire in a spray can, people! We'd have tested the Fire Cap the second we purchased it. Just flat out set the store counter on fire and tried it out.

Hand Sanitizer That Adds Bacteria to Your Skin

The 5 Most Baffling Product Recalls of All Time

Modern man's germ phobia is unlocking new levels of paranoia every week, and boy are the companies cashing in. One major sign of this phenomenon is the rise of hand sanitizers. Essentially, they're just bottles of rubbing alcohol with a thickening agent and hopefully something to make it not smell like rubbing alcohol -- it's not exactly rocket science. And, from the manufacturers' viewpoint, they're pretty much a dream product: easy to make, easy to market and in constant demand.


And it all started with some billionaire visionary wondering if there was a way to bottle OCD.

The only way to mess up something that simple would be filling the bottle with the exact opposite of what should be in there. Just filling it to bursting with pure filth.

In 2009, Clarcon Biological Chemistry Laboratory did just that.

The Horrible Malfunction:

Meet the Dermassentials by Clarcon Antimicrobial Hand Sanitizer. Pay particular attention to the word "antimicrobial." It was supposed to be a revolutionary "bioganic" sanitizing product that was specifically made to contain no alcohol, presumably to stop hobos from stealing the bottles. Instead, it ended up proving that alcohol -- also known as the thing in hand sanitizers that actually does the sanitizing part -- does play a pretty important role in the mix.

Clarcon Antimicrobial Hand Sanitizer, along with several other products of the same line, was quickly found to contain dangerously high levels of disease-causing bacteria. This was especially embarrassing, because the company not only specifically labeled the product as being particularly efficient in kicking microbe ass, but also marketed it as an effective sanitizer for open wounds.

The 5 Most Baffling Product Recalls of All Time

"You know what, why don't you just take a dump on it instead?"

The bacteria in the product weren't just your average disease cocktail, either -- some of the germs the sanitizer was found to contain were deemed dangerous enough to potentially cause conditions that require medical and even surgical attention. And while inflicting the user with flesh-eating bacteria may indeed be an efficient way to get rid of dirty skin, the FDA was less than thrilled and the product was hastily recalled.

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That isn't red dye. It's blood the Red Cross turned down.

And, on the extreme opposite end of the cleaning product failure scale ...

The Laundry Detergent That Shreds Clothes

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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.

The 5 Most Baffling Product Recalls of All Time

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.

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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.

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"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!"

The Flashlight That Can Stop Your Heart

The 5 Most Baffling Product Recalls of All Time
Consumer Product Safety Commission

... 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!

LL Bean Inc.

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:

The kit is actually pretty goddamned dangerous on its own.

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.

The 5 Most Baffling Product Recalls of All Time

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.

The 5 Most Baffling Product Recalls of All Time

"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.

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