Sunday, 28 July 2013

Bitrex - Bitter Safe Than Sorry

Bitrex, Bitter, Taste. Bitterant
(photo by Greg O'Connell)


Noun. Mid-20th century.
[Invented name.]

(Proprietary name for) a bitter-tasting synthetic organic compound (denatonium benzoate, C28H34N2O3)
added to cleaning fluids or other products to make them unpalatable.

Have you ever used shampoo that smelt so delectable, so inviting, so irresistible, that you just had to taste it? I'm a sucker for anything coconut, and it just seems impossible that something that smells so seductively wonderful could be anything but delicious. But it doesn't, of course; quite the opposite, it tastes positively repulsive, and the reason it does is because it's had Bitrex added to it with the specific purpose of stopping idiots like you and me from drinking it. Yes, you! Don't pretend you didn't take a sip of that mango and passion fruit body lotion once.

Beyond stopping numbskulls from chugging back soap, Bitrex has a number of other (more serious) applications. It's used in treatments to prevent nail biting, for example, and also as a general bitterant to prevent humans (especially children) from consuming nasty things like cleaning products and antifreeze. It's also used as an effective animal repellent. In fact, one of its first applications after its discovery in 1958 was to stop Danish pigs from cannibalising each others' tails - a quick daub of Bitrex on the old corkscrew and bingo! No more tail-munching piggies to threaten the world's bacon supply.

And there are more pigs in this story! You know the ubiquitous alcohol-based hand-sanitiser that suddenly popped up everywhere in the wake of swine flu? You thought it was made to taste revolting to stop people drinking it, didn't you! Well, you're half right, as it's an example of what's called 'denatured alcohol', which is an alcohol product that's had all kinds of stuff put into it to make it thoroughly unfit for human consumption. Therefore, not being an alcoholic drink, it falls into different tax brackets and is much cheaper to produce. Bitrex kills two birds with one stone, though, as they seriously do not want you drinking industrial alcohol, which is likely to kill one moron with one sip.

So the message is clear - stop drinking or even tasting shampoo, soap, lotion or any other toiletry, no matter now irresistible it smells. As for sanitising gel, antifreeze or any other type of denatured alcohol, seriously: you're going to a very bad place indeed if you knock that stuff back.

I present to you Denatonium Benzoate. This diagram ... umm ... means something apparently

Do you want to deny that you've ever deliberately tasted shampoo?

Seriously? No one will believe you.

Would you like to invest in my business idea of edible chocolate shampoo?

Do please leave your sweetest, least bitter comments below.  


  1. I think this is why the DIY natural soaps and body lotions became so popular. People just mixed all kinds of food together with the excuse that it was great for their skin, while actually, they were just preparing a little shower snack.

    1. Showers Snacks! What a great name for the business. You're in, Bibi.

  2. Wouldn't it be cheaper just to blend up a few brussel sprouts and put those in the shampoo?


    1. I'm not sure that it would be cheaper. And some people (me) love sprouts.

    I was never tempted to eat or drink cleaning products. Not even on a Father Jack way at 4am.

    1. I don't believe you. No one believes you. Thanks for visiting Lexicolatry, Konrad : o )

  4. To be honest, the thought of taste testing any hair or beauty product has never entered my mind before... and I must say it seems rather unappetizing...

    This post actually reminds me of "My Strange Addiction" - oh the things some people consume ridiculous amounts of! (Sofa cushion stuffing...laundry detergent...oh my)

    1. I don't believe you! I don't believe any of you!!! Surely I'm not the only weirdo on the planet that has *one time* tasted shampoo because it smelt so delicious?? Surely not! : o D