ShamWow: We Tried The As-Seen-On-TV Cleaning Cloth

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To borrow an old joke, we haven't been hearing about ShamWow for 40 years, it just seems like 40 years. Vince Offer, born Offer Shlomi, is the pitchman and owner of the ShamWow brand, which first hit the market in 2006. Between Offer's acerbic persona, his unsavory personal behavior, and an understandable distrust of infomercials, it's positively amazing that the $29.95 (for a set of 4) ShamWow towel is the success that it is. And, perhaps unfortunately, some of the credit for that success is due to Offer's longish TV ads in which he demonstrates the towels. The ShamWow was named the best "As Seen On TV" product in a 2010 CNBC poll. The success seems to rely on Offer's indifference to the audience's reaction, which makes one suspect that the reason he's not trying harder is because the product can sell itself. Offer simply rushes through a list of possible uses as if he has somewhere better to be.

The ShamWow demonstrations themselves include a series of shots of the towels soaking up spills then being wrung out to produce a seemingly impossible quantity of liquid. Unlike some of Offer's other video content, which can be racy in the most juvenile way, the ShamWow ad avoids intentional humor. He shows the ShamWow drying vehicles, spills, dogs, dishes, sweaters, his arm, a pie plate full of water, and a carpet soaked in cola. Offer isn't slick but abrasive, possibly disreputable, and probably convinced that his product works well.

The original ShamWow

There doesn't seem to be anything unique about the ShamWow, and it's not even an invention created or owned by Offer's organization. Amazon has hundreds of shammy cloths for washing cars, dishes, etc. Some are woven, some unwoven, and some are the original antelope leather chamois from which the nickname "shammy" comes. We paid about $7.49 each for four 20-inch x 23.5-inch cloths, but you can buy what appears to be a very similar fabric and size for as little as $1.22. The question is, of course: Is the ShamWow, or even its cheaper counterparts, worth the money and trouble?

The original 2008 commercial claimed the ShamWow could hold 20 times its own weight in liquid. Offer uses the ShamWow to soak up a pie plate full of water and then, in perhaps the most remarkable feat of all, he dumps quite a lot of cola onto a small square of carpeting. The ShamWow appears to soak almost all of it up before Offer wrings out the towel into a glass bowl. Precision scrubbing of television commercial videos online wasn't nearly as common as it is today, so it's trivial to see that there's some amount of camera trickery involved in this last stunt. The piece of carpet Offer blots with his ShamWow clearly isn't the same one on which he poured the cola. But that doesn't mean the soaking (or "vacuuming" as Offer describes it) doesn't really work. So, we decided to try it ourselves.

Sham or wow? Let's test it.

We sent someone out for a bottle of cola (Cherry Coke Zero, for the record, a concoction that smells disturbingly like some sort of sun-tanning lotion), and cut a scrap of carpet roughly the size of Offer's. Our scrap wasn't nearly as long-piled as Offer's shag carpet. This surprised no one, and we made a note to take this into account if it might make the difference between a successful and an unsuccessful test.

In the commercial, Offer completely soaks his carpet in cola. When the camera switches to a longer shot the liquid that had been pooled underneath it is gone, but the circle of cola is still visible. We initially poured about the same amount of cola as Offer's circle, then repeated his actions in absorbing it with the ShamWow by laying the towel on the carpet, flipping the towel over, rolling it up, wringing it out into a glass bowl, and then blotting it aggressively to pick up the remaining liquid. Everything was wrung out into the same bowl. When the results were sub-par, we completely soaked the carpet square and repeated the entire procedure to see if the amount of liquid in the carpet changed the results substantially.

Answering some other ShamWow questions

Of course, cleaning Coke Zero from carpeting isn't the only potential use for the ShamWow, so we looked into it from a few other angles as well. We wiped up some intentional spills to get a feel for the ShamWow's absorbency and performance. The towel picked up fairly large amounts of liquid without any streaking when the cloth was dry. When the cloth was damp, it could still absorb a large amount of liquid, but left the work surface wet. We also filled the towel with as much water as it could hold and wrung it out for measurement. Not counting the liquid that was spilled when wringing out the towel and left in the cloth, we retrieved 2 ⅔ cups of water from the ShamWow.

There is some debate about whether the ShamWow is simply an unwoven microfiber material. One source, Tauwel, claims that the ShamWow is made of "low-grade non-split microfibers" that are suitable for absorbency but less ideal for thorough cleaning. Since we couldn't resolve this in our online research, we took a look at both the ShamWow and a woven microfiber cloth under a microscope to see if we could draw any conclusions. It was obvious that the woven fabric was assembled differently. Furthermore, it appeared that the fibers in the woven microfiber cloth were substantially smaller than the ShamWow fibers. Whether this is a product of split versus non-split microfibers, or the ShamWow has an entirely different makeup, remains to be seen.

Does the ShamWow really sell itself?

Consumer Reports and others tested Offer's claim that the ShamWow can hold 20 times its own weight in water; the ShamWow materials were changed to match their 10X findings. So it came as no surprise that Offer's cola stunt involved some exaggeration. When we dropped the ShamWow on the soaked carpet and then flipped it over, it absorbed almost no liquid. Rolling the ShamWow up with a little pressure against the carpet picked up very little cola. The aggressive blotting did pick up more, though nowhere near as much as in the commercial. We didn't find much better results after adding more cola to the carpet. After we were done, we blotted the carpet with a blue Scott Shop paper towel, which came away very wet. It's possible that Offer's shag pile, or the fact that his ShamWow had been used before and ours was new, made some difference to our test results. But it does strain credibility that these factors would make such an enormous difference.

The capacity test, on the other hand, was impressive. The ShamWow held a surprising amount of water, and wiping up spills was as effective as was shown. On the whole, we like the material, and would recommend buying cheaper versions of the non-woven towel, or some woven microfiber towels, for cleaning jobs that demand absorbency. Whether you're willing to pay extra for the ShamWow (thereby indirectly funding Offer's horrifying comedic film projects) is a personal call. We wouldn't.