I went to a Norwex party. I bought product.
Now, some months later, I need to purge my soul, because it’s still sticking in my craw.
It pained me to go because I don’t do consumer parties, plus I knew there would be strangers present and I’m not good at strangers. But a very nice, indeed a very wonderful person asked me to go to the Norwex party at her house, which she was hosting at the request of a friend who sells Norwex things. She promised beer and her excellent guacamole. That, in combination with friendship, was apparently incentive enough for me to do something I would generally loathe to do.
I’m a simple woman.
* * * * *
If you don’t already know (and apparently everyone does except me), Norwex sells cleaning products, mostly made out of microfiber and little or no “chemicals.”
I read a blurb on the internet about Norwex, by Norwex. Don’t quote me, but what I recall is that it was started by a Norwegian after a Swede invented microfiber. The nationalities were highlighted and seemed to matter, a lot. This is a most Scandinavian affair.
I’m not sure it helps explain the triumphant platinum grey model on the home page, whose toned back sings to me, “La la la I’m free and everything is so white and happy and the sun is shining, because Scandinavian microfiber cleaning supplies and New Zeeeeealand!”
I’m equally unsure that anything explains this bonny wee lass in odd plaid, bathing in the same white glow and engaging in child labor.
I wonder how they keep her skin so pale in so much sunlight. Obviously not sunscreen, which involves a lot of chemicals.
I clicked around on the Norwex website and pondered. Norwex is offering a whole lot of awesome. They’re so into it that it’s a branded movement (non-bowel).
Norwex is committed to “radically reducing chemicals in our homes and our environment.” Cool. Norwex’s web page presents four simply-stated factoids in this regard.
Oh, that’s real bad.
I haven’t heard that stat before. Bad. Really really bad.
What the– ? Reading this statement set off racing thoughts. What does that mean, 85,000 “chemicals”? Does it refer to only human-made chemicals or does it include naturally occurring ones? How is the number so well-rounded? What does “tested” mean? Why are we talking about the EPA? What about the FDA and other regulatory agencies? What about radioactive materials?
I tumbled on from there, my head filled with questions about how Norwex manufactures, packages, and delivers its goods. My extreme suspicions and rages about the hypocrisies and simpleton-isms of consumer marketing did not serve me well. I wasted a lot of time.
I googled “85,000 chemicals” and found references to an EPA database, the TSCA Chemical Substance Inventory. There are about 85,000 industrial chemicals on that list, so there you go, there’s the source of the number. I learned (I think) that very few of the chemicals on the list have indeed been “tested,” but I couldn’t figure out what peeps want them to be tested for. I tried to access the database for a few minutes. I wasn’t immediately successful, and there was no humorous and pithy twitter feed, so I lost interest quickly.
I know I know, “pithy twitter feed” is redundant, but I like the sound of it.
I wondered about whether any chemicals on the list were used to manufacture Norwex’s microfiber, which is synthetic, and whether they had been tested. Why is Norwex okay with using synthetic fabrics when Norwex is committed to reducing the use of chemicals on earth? How many pounds of the plastic in the ocean in 2050 will be from packaging for Norwex products, and of the 88% of the ocean surface covered in plastic, what portion constitutes plastic from Norwex? Is that a run-on sentence or merely compound? What horrible chemicals, plastics, and pollutants are involved in transporting Norwex products to the consumer? How can any company selling a bunch of consumer crap to as many people as possible for as big a profit as possible truly care about reducing consumption?
I needed something to brace myself against, to stop the flood of irritable questions. So I googled microfiber. I learned from wikipedia that microfibers “are made from polyesters, polyamides (e.g., nylon, Kevlar, Nomex, trogamide), or a conjugation of polyester, polyamide, and polypropylene…”
Huh. Time to drill down. I googled polyester for starters and learned from some random source that polyester is an ester made from an acid, benzene-1,4-dicarboxylic acid (teraphthalic acid) and an alcohol, ethane-1,2-diol.
It is often known by its trivial name “polyethylene terephthalate (PET).”
Well of course. I knew that.
I said “polyethylene terephthalate” aloud many times in my best Midwestern American, Southern American, and English accents, all with random stresses on different syllables. Any word set containing that many vowels and the letter combination “phth” deserves as much.
“Carla, is your shirt made from a cotton jersey?”
“No, it’s polyethylene terephthalate. Do you like it?”
“I hated growing up in the 70’s, it was the age of ugly polyethylene terephthalate.”
“Have you seen that John Waters flick? I can’t remember it’s name… Oh — Polyethylene Terephthalate!”
When I was done with this sad, saliva-spewing monologue, I wiped the computer screen down with a kleenex, because I didn’t have an absorbent microfiber cloth handy.
Honestly, do you want to wear polyester on your body when you know its molecules look like this?
It looks really itchy. Plus isn’t something on that ingredient list derived from petroleum? I don’t want to wear oil for a fabric.
I decided to drill down further. I tried to figure out if any of the inputs to polyester (or the inputs to those inputs) are on the TSCA Chemical Substance Inventory and have been “tested.” I got absolutely nowhere. I didn’t have the information set I needed to use the database search engines. And anyway, I couldn’t even learn whether Norwex’s products are in fact manufactured out of polyester or one of the other microfiber options listed in the wiki page. What if they’re Kevlar?
Google is useless sometimes.
* * * * *
Norwex doesn’t do storefront retail. It sells products via house-party “multi-level marketing” pyramid schemes (think Tupperware) designed to reward those of us who are perfectly comfortable making friends with anyone, who can identify suckers — sorry, consumers with ease, and who are happy to invite ourselves into others’ homes to sell things for a profit.
And that’s how I ended up at a Norwex party, with some social anxiety in tow. But my friend the hostess was gracious, her guacamole was excellent, and the offer of beer was immediate. I didn’t fart on anyone, and I don’t think I said anything truly offensive.
If I were to just stop right there, I’d call the party a success.
But there was the Norwex business to attend to. A small group of women lounged in the living room, making awkward conversation. Norwex Lady stood before us. On display were unfamiliar-looking small cloths of many colors, some other cleaning devices, a stick of butter, and a bowl of small eggs.
A peculiar tableau, to be sure.
* * * * *
Norwex Lady took that stick of butter and smeared half of it all over a living room window (note to self: I will never host a Norwex party), and then she cleaned it up with a small damp Norwex cloth, by just wiping that cloth in perfect elliptical passes 20 or 30 times until the window twinkled and sparkled like new. No chemicals used! Just the cloth! Spotless window! Wiping hand miraculously not greasy! Wasted stick of butter!
It was a mighty dramatic demonstration. But my kids would never smear a stick of butter on the window, and anyway fat is easy to clean up. Hot water; cotton rag, zero polyethylene terephthalate. The real issue is things like stickers that I forget to pull off. After a couple months, the adhesive on those innocent “removable” stickers cures up so hard it takes a blow torch or toxic solvents to get them off. If Norwex Lady wanted to impress me, she needed to show me a microfiber cloth that would take those blasted stickers and their adhesive residue off of my windows, as well as off of my wood furniture.
The eggs were used to demonstrate how well the vegetable scrubber microfiber cloth works. Norwex Lady lovingly wiped those eggs down with the green cloth until they shined like a baby’s bottom. Lovely lovely. But all I could think was… Cleaning the smooth surface of an egg is easy. Show me how that cloth works on a furrowed dirty beet or a cantaloupe.
It occurred to me as I sat there that the primary purpose of the eggs wasn’t to demo the cloth but rather to show us that Norwex Lady has chickens in her backyard that provide her with eggs to eat. Very post-modern self-reliant frontier chick! A groove that goes well with the no-chem Norwex model. And hey, I can respect that. I respect that she showed us her eggs. I asked her how often her chickens produce eggs. Based on her response, I calculated she’s getting about three cute little eggs a day for a family of four.
Terephthphthphth… Sorry girl, I know you’re still buying eggs at the grocery store.
We spent quality time talking about Norwex’s anti-bacterial kitchen cloth, a small, unattractive cloth enwoven with silver to keep it from growing bacteria. In my mind, I gave myself a quick head slap to stop myself from wandering off into questions about where the silver is mined, what chemicals are used to separate it from the ore and weave it in with the chemically-made microfiber, whether reasonable labor laws are followed in the mines Norwex silver comes from. I didn’t want to be rude.
Norwex Lady showed us a chart comparing bacteria levels on surfaces cleaned 8 or 9 different ways — lemon, vinegar, clorox, some common squirt cleaners, simple water, and of course a Norwex silver-enwoven wet cloth wipe down. The clear winner was the Norwex cloth.
I stared at the chart and could not bite my tongue because an important option was missing: soap. I like to clean my kitchen counters with soap, because, well…. Soap. “Why isn’t soap and water on there?” I asked.
Norwex Lady had a ready answer: do you know how much DISGUSTING stuff is in soap?? Did you know they use rendered animal fat in soap??
Ewwww, went the polite collection of women. And that was that. A perfect deflection. Everyone nodded and let it go.
Which led me to conclude that soap and water actually won the bacteria contest.
Norwex Lady talked quite a bit about kitchen cloth maintenance. My idea of cloth maintenance is, “launder.” But this was different. Norwex Lady started by explaining that the cloths are anti-bacterial. They won’t stop things from growing on the surfaces that they clean, but Yuck won’t grow on them, because silver (say it dramatically, every time), so you won’t spread Yuck around when you wipe. Also once they trap particles and grease, they do not. let. go. Everrrrrr. They’re like the pit bull terrier of the microfiber rag world.
That sounded tempting to me. I have serious issues with spreading Yuck from place to place in the kitchen and I have strict protocols. I have a 36-inch-wide bank of kitchen drawers, and one entire drawer is devoted to cloths, towels, and cloth placemats. Long ago, I bought a cheap pack of white cotton terry car towels at Costco, it was about 20 bucks for 60 cloths. They fill more than half the drawer. When I pull one of those out, I use it and then down the laundry chute it goes (I’ve got a little access door to the chute in a wall right in the kitchen). The dish towels don’t get used for more than half a day, and if they touch anything Yucky or Gross? Down the chute. If a cloth or towel hits the floor even for a second? It stays there for a time to wipe floor drips of water, or else it goes straight down the chute. Placemats? One use, down the chute. A cloth is on the counter and I can’t tell why it’s there? Down the chute. Any question of any kind as to the sanitary status of a cloth? Down the chute.
About 15 minutes ago, Jesse announced to me that she just vomited in my rag and placemat drawer. I stared at her, blinking for a long moment as I processed the news. All I could eventually say, in a near-whisper, was, “Why would you do that?” I sent her upstairs before any further interaction would drive me into a spiral of rage.
I emptied that drawer, my entire supply of rags and towels and placements. Down the chute.
Once stuff goes down the chute, I have specific tactics in the laundry as well. I know Anthony disregards these rules completely, and I try not to think about that too much, but in my laundry world (the correct, sanitary world), three important rules govern. One, kitchen cloths are washed separately in hot water, with plenty of soap and some form of peroxide. I don’t care about stains, I only care about clean. Two, kitchen cloths are never ever washed directly after a load of underwear. Because fecal matter, parts-per-million, and gross yuck disgusting (I’m literally fighting off a gag reflex as I think of it right now). Three, if ever a piece of underwear sneaks into a load of kitchen cloths, I go outside to gather myself, and once the sick feeling has passed I come back and run the load again (offending underwear removed).
So anyway, this is a long, long way of saying that the idea of a cloth that won’t spread crap from here to there, that I could keep around for more than a little while, is tempting. But Norwex Lady went somewhere bad, very bad, with the silver story. She said, you rarely have to wash this cloth, because it doesn’t grow bacteria quickly. You only have to wash it when it starts to smell bad.
“But,” I interrupted, trying not to make faces. “But… if you can smell it, by then isn’t it too late?”
Norwex Lady ignored me. I tried again.
“Am I allowed to wash it before it smells? Because I don’t think I can wait for it to smell.”
Women were snickering. Norwex Lady was not amused.
Instead, she returned our attention to cloth maintenance. Launder it occasionally (when it starts to smell like ass). Once in a while, in order to “release” trapped particles that have achieved semi-permanent attachment to the cloth, boil it for 15 minutes.
A cloth I have to boil for a quarter hour to keep clean. Huh. I wonder what the carbon footprint is on that. And also, this gets me to thinking as I sit here. If this stupid cloth traps particles and never lets them go without a good boiling, do I really want to use it to clean up things like Jesse’s vomit in my rag drawer?
No. The answer is plainly no. I attacked the vomit with a white terry car rag. Down the chute.
* * * * *
There was so much to show us. The cleaning products — dish soap, laundry detergent, some sort of scrub paste that contains particles of marble or something like that — didn’t call to me. I’m picky about cleaners, and also I can’t pay 24 dollars for a small bag of laundry detergent that claims to work with just one teaspoon per load of laundry. I don’t know how the particles of such a small amount of soap can even reach each article of clothing in a normal-size load.
The dryer balls and dishwasher balls? Couldn’t get past the name. Juvenile associations.
Nor did I want the “Body Scrub Mitt.”
“BacLock” is a trademarked made-up word that means this microfiber’s got the silver thing going on, so that it will magically keep itself hygienically bacteria-free. (Until it starts to smell.) Norwex Lady said she and her kids don’t even use soap anymore in the shower, just this mitt.
My brother Mark emphatically explained to me once why he doesn’t like to use soap from someone else’s shower. “The last thing people always wash in the shower is their ASS, so that’s what’s on that bar of soap when I pick it up. Why would I want to use that??”
This bath mitt takes it to a whole new level by getting rid of soap. My kids are supposed to use it to clean their bodies, which inevitably includes their crotches, and by tomorrow night’s shower the mitt will magically dis-arm all the fecal matter so they can safely scrub their sweet little faces safely? Don’t worry, it’s safe, as long as you throw it in the laundry when it starts to smell?
I don’t think so.
Then there was the premier product, a really expensive mop system, dry and wet, well over a hundred dollars. Buy the separate rubber brush to scrape down the microfiber cover. Anthony would divorce me, I think, if I came home with another floor cleaning mechanism. We already have swiffer sticks, a Shark steam cleaner with many microfiber covers (because one use, down the chute!), a Bissell carpet steam cleaner, and a Bissell spot cleaner. Also a microfiber dry mop with a couple covers. Also the Dyson vac with allergy-kit attachments. Just no. No more.
* * * * *
But in the end I did buy some product. It’s how parties like this work. I would have felt awful leaving without placing an order. There was so much peer pressure.
Okay okay, there wasn’t. My hostess friend made perfectly and absolutely clear that I didn’t have to buy anything, but then there was Norwex Lady being really nice and she used a whole stick of butter. I couldn’t stiff her.
I bought a furniture cleaning mitt. Let me show you the marketing on it.
So cute, and only EIGHTEEN DOLLARS and some change, which is so much cheaper than spray cleaners. Plus the shape is so useful for getting into corners, just shove my thumb in them. I’m really looking forward to using this thing until it smells. It arrived in a small clear plastic bag, and I promptly threw it down the chute, because any new fabric in the house goes down the chute.
I haven’t seen it since, because Anthony put it away and I have no idea where it is.
I bought the veggie cleaning rag. I don’t know why. I must have had in mind the amount of money I intended to spend, and the invisible money thermometer hadn’t filled all the way on my order total. I’ve used the rag twice, and meh. It’s sitting on my kitchen counter right now but it will be unused for the foreseeable future, keeping itself bacteria-free because silverrrr.
I bought a pair of silver-colored kitchen scrub sponges. They looked like a good alternative to a skanky kitchen sponge — though grant you, my kitchen sponges never get skanky because I replace them every week, thus contributing greatly to the ocean’s garbage crisis. But when I got the Norwex sponges, the instructions said I can use them on non-stick surfaces but not on stainless steel. Whaaa? Since my kitchen sink is stainless steel, this makes them tricky. What’s the use of a sponge if I can’t scrub dishes with it and then scrub down the sink?
I also bought a couple of those magic kitchen cloths, with a promise to myself to never let them smell. They look attractive enough in the marketing.
But in person, in the buttercream color I ordered because it was on sale, a cloth looks like this up close:
When you pick it up, it feels kind of small and shoddy, cheap even. You see that little reddish smear just shy of center? Kimchi juice. Kimchi stains never come out.
Here’s what it looked like after I cleaned up a cocoa powder spill:
I know you’re wondering if “cocoa powder” is a euphemism for something more disgusting, but no, not this time. I couldn’t get that stain out. I tried pouring a kettle of just-boiled water over it, just for kicks. The stains remained firmly in place. Down the chute it went. I can’t bring myself to boil it for 15 minutes.
But I’ll tell you what. That ugly cloth is still pretty great. It picked up that cocoa powder without leaving a trace behind, like a black hole swallowing light.
* * * * *
There is no moral to this aimless story. I went to the party, my heart full of mockery and suspicion. I bought products made out of the very chemicals Norwex claims to be fighting against. It arrived in plastic bags, which will join the plague of plastic that is destroying our oceans. I can’t find the dusting mitt, so I’ve never used it; the veggie scrub and kitchen sponges are useless. They were probably shipped from overseas somewhere, landing in my house where they’ll languish, completely wasted, until I throw them away in a few years.
This is the true scourge of the consumer age, the real reason our planet is covered in mountains of garbage: companies like Norwex play to consumers’ interest in helping mother earth, by encouraging us to engage in more consumption rather than less. And I totally fell for it.
I suck. I think I’ll drop out and start subsistence farming. It’s the only way to atone for my existence.
Or, well… Maybe I just won’t go to any more Norwex parties.