Lysol Used to be Advertised as a Feminine Hygiene Product and Birth Control
Yes, the disinfectant more commonly known today as a toilet bowl cleaner was once suggested for vaginal use. Talk about versatile!
Although it was always intended for household cleaning, from the 1920s up until the ’60s, Lysol was largely marketed for personal bodily use, rather than disinfecting doorknobs or coffee tables like we see in today’s advertising for the product. Ads suggested that women use the cleaner as a douche fluid for everyday cleaning, and even as a form of birth control for use directly after sex (the disinfectant would kill sperm, the advertising suggested).
Above: A vintage Lysol advertisement
According to the 2002 book Devices and Desires: A History of Contraceptives in America, “By 1940, the commercial douche had become the most popular birth control method in the country, favored by women of all classes. It would remain the leading female contraceptive until 1960, when a breakthrough technology– oral contraceptives– knocked it off its lofty pedestal… [T]he most popular brand, Lysol disinfectant, were soap solutions containing cresol… which, when used in too high a concentration, caused severe inflammation, burning, and even death.”
Devices and Desires further states that “Lysol was a caustic poison and in more concentrated form was retailed with a prominent skull-and-crossbones icon. Ingested, it could kill; applied externally, it irritated and burned. Lehn & Fink sold it for feminine hygiene anyway, ignoring a recommendation made by the 1912 Council on Pharmacy and Chemistry of the AMA…”
Several women reportedly died after using the product as directed. The worst part? It turned out, Lysol didn’t even work as a contraceptive at all: a 1933 study showed that 250 out of 507 women using the disinfectant got pregnant, probably about the same number who would have using no birth control at all.