What’s more alluring and addictive than a TV pitchman hawking an infomercial gizmo or gadget? They use shouts, demonstrations and promises of free stuff (which isn’t really free at all) to convince you to “Call now!”
Some of these products would be worth $19.99 (plus shipping and handling) if they did what they promise. But too often, As Seen On TV products are more dud than deal. And by the time you return or replace the item, the urgency to buy and try the gadget has passed.
Which infomercial items actually make life better, faster and easier?
Here’s a look at five popular As Seen On TV items that really do help around the house.
1. OpenX ($5 in stores)
This handy cutter slices through the plastic clamshell packaging that makes opening just about everything these days a misery. This yellow tool has two blades — a retractable blade that pierces the material, and a blade in the tool’s tip that slices through whatever stands between you and your CD, clock radio, toy or whatever else is entombed in hard-to-open packaging.
OpenX easily defeats plastic, cardboard and packaging tape. It can even open those thick, foil shells that protect over-the-counter pills. Keep it in your junk drawer and let it save you many minutes of frustration.
2. Pasta Boat ($10 in stores)
This plastic, boat-shaped container lets you cook up perfect pasta in about the same time it takes to boil water in a heavy pasta pot. Throw into the Pasta Boat a pound of pasta, pour in water up to the line, and cook in your microwave for 18 minutes. Voila! Perfect pasta.
The boat comes with a straining top for pouring out hot water, and a steamer for preparing healthful veggies. (And if no one’s looking, you can pour a tomato sauce into the container and eat right out of the boat.)
The Pasta Boat makes a great gift for people who live in small spaces or college students who cook most of their meals in dorm microwaves.
3. Grill Daddy Pro ($18 in stores)
This grill cleaner takes the muscle out of scrubbing crunchies off your backyard grill. Fill the belly of this beast with water, fire up the grill, then steam away dirt and grease before you throw on the burgers. Whatever debris the steam and brush can’t clean, Daddy’s scraper will defeat. But be careful: Grill Daddy’s bristles are sharp, so keep the tool away from small children and pets.
4. Gutter Rake ($9.95 plus $6.95 shipping and handling)
Cleaning gutters is a lot easier when you let the Gutter Rake do the dirty work for you. This T-shaped, plastic tool can extend your reach by more than 30 feet, which reduces the number of times you must climb and move tall ladders. Twist the Gutter Rake onto a broom handle, and pull gutter debris toward you with the rake’s straight end. Then, push gunk under gutter fasteners with its hooked end.
Does the Gutter Rake make cleaning gutters a joy? Nope. But it does cut down on dangerous trips up and down the ladder — and that’s worth the price of this plastic helper.
5. Cold Fire ($19.99 for 2 plus $11.98 shipping and handling)
This fire extinguisher-in-a-can puts out kitchen flare-ups and Christmas tree fires with just a push of a button. Cold Fire’s blend of non-toxic mineral and plant extracts also instantly cools hot surfaces. Just point and shoot Cold Fire, which neatly extinguishes small blazes. But don’t count on Cold Fire to put out big fires. For those, be sure to call your local fire department.
OpenX, Pasta Boat, Grill Daddy Pro, Gutter Rake and Cold Fire are As Seen On TV products that live up to their hype. But many infomercial items disappoint.
How to avoid the duds?
–Whenever possible, buy infomercial products in retail stores where you can easily return items that don’t live up to claims.
Resist the TV pitchman’s order to “Call now!” Wait a few hours and see if the urge passes.
–If you order online, never type in your credit card information until you know exactly what you’re buying and how much it costs.
Find the shipping and handling charges that are usually written in small or faded print.
Don’t fall for the “We’ll throw in a second one for free” gimmick. Most sellers charge another shipping and handling fee, which can be as much as the item itself.
Lisa Kaplan Gordon’s work has appeared nationally in USA Today, Redbook and Washingtonian Magazine. Lisa blogs via Contently.com.