Stronger than dirt


I am pleased to report that, thanks to an important scientific advance, the human race may soon be able, after years of frustration and failure, to lick soap scum.

I have here an article from the ASTM Standardization News. ASTM stands for "American Society for Testing and Materials," which is an organization that, as its name implies, has something to do with testing and materials. The article, sent in by alert reader Michael Jawer, states:

"Topping the list of the most dreaded household chores, cleaning the soap scum from our showers and bathtubs has also been one of the most challenging. But thanks to a new guide developed by Subcommittee D-12.16 on Hard Surface Cleaning, part of Committee D-12 on Soaps and Other Detergents, beating soap scum is expected to become easier and less expensive."

This is wonderful news indeed, because everybody has soap scum. It's nothing to be ashamed of. Poke your head into the finest bathrooms in the world in Buckingham Palace, the White House, even the Vatican and you'll be shot by security guards. So just take my word for it, there's soap scum in there, and they can't get rid of it, because soap scum is the most durable substance known to humanity, a fact that was demonstrated by the U.S. space program. You may recall that when the first space shuttle was built, scientists were concerned about protecting it from the intense heat of re-entry into the atmosphere. So what did they do? They covered it with tiles. They knew that tiles are the ideal breeding ground for soap scum, and that soap scum cannot be harmed by atmospheric re-entry or even leading household cleansers.

Oh, sure, you've seen TV commercials wherein the Cheerful Housewife, standing in a bathroom the size of Radio City Music Hall, waltzes up to a scum-encrusted tile, sprays it with a cleanser, and then wipes it off to reveal a sparkling shine. But these commercials are not filmed on Earth; they're filmed on the Commercial Planet, where everything is different; where fast-food-chain employees really are happy to serve you; where there is some meaningful difference between Coke and Pepsi; and where "light" beer does not taste like weasel spit.

Here on Earth, however, anti-soap-scum products are not effective. I base this statement on a recent nationwide survey of my Research Department, Judi Smith, who said: "The stuff they say gets rid of soap scum never ever works."

For many years the only prestigious international research institution working on the soap-scum problem was Heloise, who was always running hints from readers about it. ("Heloise, my soap-scum problem was so bad that my husband said he didn't even want to take a shower! So I made a mixture of three parts vinegar, one part lemon juice and two parts sulfuric acid, and I put it in his coffee.")

But then Subcommittee D-12.16 on Hard Surface Cleaning swung into into action. According to the ASTM Standardization News article, researchers "went to consumers' homes and scraped off soap scum to analyze it." I bet THAT was a fun job.

Using their samples, they were able, for the first time in recorded history that I know of, to reproduce soap scum in the laboratory. (The article does not reveal the exact formula, but it involves human body fat and an ingredient identified only as "dirt." The article also does not reveal where they GET the body fat. Maybe they just go to liposuction clinics and ask for it. "It's OK!" they explain. "We're making soap scum!")

To determine how cleansers are used in consumer households, the researchers also conducted what the article describes as "actual tests" in which they determined "when consumers stop wringing the water from their sponge and how much (cleanser) product they place on the sponge." (It is only a matter of time before this whole effort is dramatized in a motion picture starring Harrison Ford.)

Armed with this information, the researchers developed a method for testing tile cleansers. The cleansers are tested on tiles that have been coated with laboratory scum, then heated in an oven. ("Care to join us for lunch, Ted?" "No thanks, Bob! I just put a fresh batch of scum in the oven!")

Please understand that we do NOT yet have a cure for soap scum. But we DO have, finally, a standardized cleanser-testing method. And the Standardization News article confidently predicts that this standard will produce benefits that "go far beyond the bathroom."

On behalf of consumers everywhere, I salute the researchers of Subcommittee D-12.16 on Hard Surface Cleaning. I hope that their achievement will inspire the efforts of ASTM research groups working on other serious bathroom-cleaning problems. I refer specifically to Subcommittee C-35.98 on Getting Kids To Stop Leaving Towels On The Floor; and this is the ultimate challenge Subcommittee P-20.20 on Getting Males To For God's Sake Aim Straight.

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