or, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Fear and Loathing at a Public Library Reference Desk

Reference Question of the Week – 7/5/15

   July 11th, 2015 Brian Herzog

pinesapThis was actually a reference question I asked myself, but it's sort of summery so maybe relevant to other people - and, hopefully, helpful.

I was outside playing one day a few weeks ago and ended up with pine sap on my favorite pair of shorts. That's the worst because I don't like going shopping, and I thought that sap meant pretty much the end of clothes.

I was sad, so I put them aside in the hopes that the sap would just evaporate naturally. I came across them last week, and was able to determine that sap doesn't naturally evaporate out of shorts.

Since no laundry experts were around to ask, it occurred to me search online for "remove sap from clothes" to see if the internet had any ideas. I figured they did, but also figured it involved vinegar - which seems like the magical cure for almost anything, but is too bad because I can't stand the smell of vinegar.

So, with the optimism appropriate to any new trip on the internet, I started clicking links.

There was no shortage of tips and old school remedies, as you might suspect. The consensus seemed to be rubbing (or soaking) the spot of sap in anything from laundry detergent to cooking oil to WD-40 (surprisingly, vinegar was not mentioned).

Most of the options were either things I didn't have, like nail polish, or didn't actually trust, like peanut butter. But one that kept coming up - hand sanitizer - sounded interesting.

I don't have any at home (because, you know, super-bacteria), but it seems to be everywhere else so it was worth a try. I was especially swayed by this guy's video:

My shorts are cotton, but if it works so magically on his, why not mine, right?

And holy cow, it worked! Mine took three applications - my guess is because it was a big blob that had soaked through the cotton (and I had already washed and dried them) - but it worked. In just a couple minutes, it was as if the sap was never there. I don't know where it went, but it went away.

Besides the magic, it must be the alcohol in the hand sanitizer breaking down the sap, but I couldn't be happier to be able to wear my favorite shorts again stain-free.

Yay for internet research.

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Reference Question of the Week – 8/7/11

   August 13th, 2011 Brian Herzog

Hot pepperA woman, wearing glasses, comes up to the desk and says she has two things to ask me - then relates this story:

Last night I was chopping peppers while cooking dinner. I wasn't using gloves because the peppers were from my own garden, and I didn't think they'd be very hot.

However, after dinner, I took my contacts out and could feel my eyes burn a little, which must have been from pepper juice left on my fingers.

This morning, even after showering, shampooing my hair, and washing my hands thoroughly, I could still smell and taste the pepper juice on my hands. That worried me, because I think it must also still on my contacts.

So my questions are, is there some kind of home remedy to get pepper juice off my hands, and how can I tell if my contacts are safe? It was my last pair of disposables and I actually have an eye appointment in a couple weeks, so I only need them clean enough to make them last.

Whew. I figured I could find information about pepper juice remedies, but I wasn't about to suggest anything having to do with her eyes*.

I did a few different keyword searches for cleaning pepper juice off of hands, and there were indeed tons of websites and suggestions. The two I saved for her were:

Although there didn't seem to be a consensus of what method was best - just lots and lots of suggestions.

For an idea of what to do about the contacts, I thought I'd call my own eye
doctor, because they've always been very friendly and helpful. I explained why I was calling, and the receptionist kind of laughed and put me on hold to consult with the doctor.

When she came back, she said to just throw them away. I kind of figured that's what she'd have to say, but I don't think it was just to protect against a lawsuit. She said contacts absorb pretty much everything they come into contact with, so there is just no way to safely clean them.

She did suggest the patron contact her own eye doctor now, even before her upcoming appointment, as they might be able to give her a temporary pair.

I conveyed all of this to the patron, who was appreciative - however, she said she was already using a temporary pair from the eye doctor, which were supposed to carry her through to the upcoming appointment.

Oh well - she was able to clean her hands, but she's stuck with glasses for the next couple weeks.


*That's the public reference librarian's mantra after all: no medical, legal, financial, or tax advice, ever.

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Reference Question of the Week – 6/1/08

   June 7th, 2008 Brian Herzog

Mr Clean bottleWhen you're a librarian, even your friends are patrons. A friend of mine asked me this in email:

Do you know how to remove nail polish from a wooden table?

Ha. I mean, this is definitely serious, but still, it's kind of funny. Anyway, the library has a bunch of "how to clean anything" type books, but their suggestions varied greatly. They all said not to use nail polish remover, but beyond that, they suggested using more nail polish (with the theory that the wet on the dry would make the dry wet again and thus easier to clean off), vinegar, dry cleaning powder, etc.

Since none of these seemed like sure things, I went online to see what else was available. I found two websites with suggestions, and it seemed that mineral spirits was safest way to go.

I emailed all of this to her, including the two urls, and she replied:

Okay, now, this just pisses me off - I went to that same wiki answers site and had NO LUCK outside of "nail polish remover." Ha - how do you find this stuff? It's a gift.

It's not a gift, it's library school training, and the fact that finding information is what I do for a living. To the people that fear Google will replace librarians, I simply say, no, it will not.

And here's something else Google can't do: after emailing what I had found, I kept checking through our reference books. Eventually, I found the Stain Buster's Bible, which suggests using amyl acetate (banana oil) to remove nail polish from finished furniture. It says to get the chemically pure kind (from a pharmacy), but to go easy because it can also remove the finish.

I emailed that, too, but haven't heard back yet if any of these methods worked. I'm hoping "the patron" will provide a full report in the comments section.

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