On Tuesday Holly posted an extremely interesting article about how Bounce could help control fungus gnats. Then one of our frequent commenters (and all around great guy) Ray Eckhart pointed out that he has a problem with promulgating an off-label use of a product. And that got me to thinking. What household products is it OK for us to suggest that a consumer use for a non-labeled purpose, and what products shouldn’t we suggest? This is a question that has haunted me for a long time, so with this post I want to give you my line of thinking – I’m not trying to tell you what’s right or wrong – just trying to let you know my thoughts on the topic.
First of all, let’s admit that there are off-label uses of products which most of us hardly think about and simply accept as “generally OK.” For example, I have never been taken to task for suggesting using a plastic bag for protecting fruit from insects or for suggesting that dish washing detergent may be a good insecticide. Of course both of these pest control techniques have their drawbacks (it can get hot in the bags in the South, injuring fruit, and insecticidal soap can burn the foliage of sensitive leaves) still, using these products outside of their labeling doesn’t seem to bother people too much. Likewise, the idea of using alcohol to stunt plant growth, eggshells to stop slugs, or milk to control plant disease doesn’t seem to upset people too badly (whether they work or not being beside the point).
But there are some off-label uses of products which could be considered obviously bad. For example, controlling weeds by dumping gasoline on them and setting them on fire, or perhaps washing your ripe fruit in a cup of paint thinner.
Then there are the off-label uses of products such as mouthwash for plant disease and tobacco juice for insects. I see these as neither obviously fine nor obviously terrible. So where is the line to be drawn?
In my opinion, as an extension educator, I feel that it is my job to tell my audience (That’s you guys!) the facts about different gardening/growing techniques including those that are “off-label.” I don’t feel that it’s my job to tell you what to do and what not to do (well…maybe with the exception of telling you not to pour gasoline on your weeds and light them on fire or not to soak your food in paint thinner!) It is up to you to make your own decisions.
Let’s go through a “for-instance” here. And let’s use one that I’ve written about – using hot peppers as an insecticidal spray. Hot pepper sprays can work to control certain insects. Just mix up a few hot peppers with some water, add some dish detergent, put it into a spray bottle, and off you go. I have used sprays like this myself in small experiments to control mites, and they have worked reasonably well. I have also read a number of articles showing that these sprays have at least some effect on certain pest insects. But hot peppers certainly aren’t “labeled” for use against insects, and let me tell you, a little hot pepper in the eyes, or even the skin, and you can be in pain for hours. Long term damage is unlikely – but not impossible. So what should I, as an extension educator, do? In my opinion exactly what I just did – give you the facts and let you make your own decisions. I feel exactly the same way about Holly’s post about Bounce – she gave you the facts – if you want to try using Bounce to control something then that’s up to you. Do I recommend Bounce for controlling insects? No. But I’m the kind of person who encourages careful experimentation, so I wouldn’t tell you not to use Bounce to try to control insects either – though I would tell you to be very careful and that unintended consequences might arise.