Is there anything Listerine can't do? An article from 1888 recommended the product — then primarily a surgical antiseptic — "for sweaty feet, and soft corns, developing between the toes." But that was only the beginning. Here are some of the many claims — some legitimate, some not — associated with the mouthwash over the years.
1. It gets rid of dandruff!
True? Maybe. It’s never been debunked, and many people swear it’s cheaper and more effective than expensive dandruff shampoos. Want to try for yourself? Dump a capful of the original formula and douse your head with it after your shampoo. Let it sit for five minutes, then rinse. Repeat for a week. Make sure you don’t have any sensitive skin or cuts on your scalp, because that’s going to sting a little. Or sting a lot. Or make you cry for your mama.
If your problem is that your rabbit has dandruff, you're in luck. The 1937 ad states, “Rabbits with dandruff were cured of the disease only on the sides which were treated with Listerine.”
2. It fights colds and sore throats!
True? Not so much. Listerine proudly advertised that a quick gargle could help guard against a “mass invasion” of germs until the Federal Trade Commission put a stop to it in 1976. After ruling that Listerine didn’t prevent or alleviate illness, the FTC made the company run a line in the next $10.2 million worth of advertising that said, “Contrary to prior advertising, Listerine will not help prevent colds or sore throats or lessen their severity."
3. It will save women approaching “tragic thirty” from damning spinsterhood.
True? Ummm, no. But here’s a fun fact for you: Listerine is responsible for helping popularize that horrible saying, “Always a bridesmaid, never a bride.” They used the phrase in charming ad that read, in part:
“Edna’s case was really a pathetic one. Like every woman, her primary ambition was to marry. Most of the girls of her set were married – or about to be. Yet not one possessed more grace or charm or loveliness than she. And as her birthdays crept gradually toward that tragic thirty-mark, marriage seemed further from her life than ever. She was often a bridesmaid but never a bride.”
4. It’s as effective as flossing.
True? Unfortunately for those of you who hate jamming small pieces of string down into your gums, this one is false. In 2005, a federal judge’s ruling forced Listerine to hire about 4,000 workers to visit retailers across the country to place stickers over the bottle’s false claim that “Listerine’s as effective as floss at fighting plaque and gingivitis.” That little falsehood, which Listerine said was approved by the American Dental Association, cost the company about $2 million.
5. You can smoke it!
True? Yep. Listerine produced their own brand of cigarettes for a time back in the late ‘20s. They claimed puffing on a Listerine cig gave a "cooling and soothing effect" that was achieved by "impregnating fine tobacco with the antiseptic essential oils used in the manufacture of Listerine.”
6. It inspires vaccines!
True? Indeed. OK, so “Inspires vaccines!” hasn’t been stamped on mouthwash bottles (yet), but in 2008, scientists at Johns Hopkins came up with a vaccine based on Listerine breath strips. Their design was ideal because of their light weight and the way they dissolved quickly – it meant they could be easily transported and swallowed by kids, even infants.
7. It cures that "not so fresh" feeling (and gonorrhea)!
Image via Flickr user Caveman Chuck Coker
True? …No. Just no. Despite claims that it was a great idea to use Listerine on areas with “delicate tissue” because it was gentle enough to “not derange or impair important functions,” mouthwash will not actually stop venereal disease.
8. It keeps flowers fresh!
True? Not even. Real Simple magazine tested this theory to see if the antiseptic would keep bacteria away from flowers they way it keeps bacteria away from your mouth. The verdict? Nope.
9. It’s a great aftershave!
True? Could be. According to ads from the ‘30s, it’s not only the best aftershave you’ll ever use, it also has incredible powers of healing. “You will like it,” one ad insists, before trying a different tactic: “Go ahead and try Listerine this way. We dare you.”
10. It's a great mosquito repellant!
True? Yes, if only for a few seconds. Listerine contains a bit of eucalyptol, a substance that can also be found in commercial bug repellant. But the amount found in Listerine is so minuscule that you’re not going to get much mileage out of it as mosquito killer. Plus, the alcohol content in Listerine is so high that it evaporates quickly. So, yes, Listerine will kill mosquitoes - but on such a limited basis that you’d be much better off buying real bug spray.
11. It will allow you to create beloved children’s characters worth billions!
True? Well, it may not work for you, but it worked out pretty nicely for Pixar. To keep the lights on at the office, Pixar dabbled in advertising. One of their spots for Listerine, “Arrows,” won a Clio Award in 1993. Toy Story came out two years later.