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Thu, May 30, 2002 - Page 19 News List

Here's an area where technology could clean up -- floor mops

By Caroline Baum  /  BLOOMBERG , WEST TISBURY, MASSACHUSETTS

I spend a good deal of time off the job thinking about the same kinds of issues I write about on a daily basis. To get a read on the economy, I ask retailers about sales (the answer I get depends on whether I'm perceived as an interested shopper or reveal myself to be a journalist); I note if the places I frequent -- theaters, restaurants -- are crowded or empty; I question service providers on how their business is doing.

So it should come as no surprise that I've taken up the cause of technology -- with somewhat of a different slant than US Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, who wants to know when it's coming back.

For me, the burning technology question of the day is: Can't anyone design a better mop?

Effort in futility

I'd been through what I thought were all the brands on the market, from sponge-type to string-type. They all start strong and end weak. The dirt absorbed from the first area of mopped floor is re-deposited at the opposite end of the room. Unless you change the water in your bucket constantly, sponge- or string-mopping is an effort in futility.

Last year, I took up my dilemma with one of my colleagues, Steve Matthews, a Bloomberg consumer products reporter based in Atlanta. One of the advantages of working for a news organization is that someone always has the answer you're looking for or can tell you where to find it.

Matthews suggested I try Swiffer. (OK, so I'm a little out of the mop loop not to have heard of Swiffer before then.) "A Swiffer home is a cleaner home," Procter & Gamble promises on the Swiffer Web site. "Transform your home. Transform your life."

I was looking for a better mop; Swiffer promised to change my life.

I immediately went out and bought a Swiffer (the hardware -- aluminum shaft with swivel head -- comes packaged with the dry mop) and a Swiffer Wet, which is what I needed for hardwood floors. I decided against the Swiffer WetJet, a powered version, for reasons I can no longer remember. (Matthews reports that the big battle right now is between the powered Clorox ReadyMop and Swiffer WetJet.) The Swiffer wet-mop system consists of the hardware purchased with the dry mop plus a package of wet, disposable clothes (handiwipes soaked in cleaning solution) that wrap around and attach to the head.

Disposable culture

That part of the concept and design is excellent. We live in a disposable culture. The philosophy of planned obsolescence predated high-tech equipment: When was the last time you chose to have a toaster oven repaired? The Swiffer is great for quick mop-ups on bathroom floors.

Dust and hair (human and dog) adhere to the wet cloth, although the wet goes out of the mop quickly, leaving the detritus on the floor in a nice little line along the mop edge.

Where the Swiffer didn't pass muster with this consumer is on those tough spills on hardwood floors. I need a man's mop, something that can take the pressure when applied. The Swiffer is just too flimsy for the tough jobs.

Some of the product endorsements on the Web site -- "best thing ever," "awesome," "a godsend" -- suggest Swiffer won't be contacting me as a spokeswoman anytime soon. Surely I can't be the only person who finds mop technology unequal to the task.

A Moore's law for mops

We are producing faster chips, more powerful computers, higher speed phone lines and cars with global positioning systems to tell us where we are at any given moment (in case we forget).

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