Spic and Span

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Spic and Span is a major U.S. brand of all-purpose household cleaner, invented by housewives Elizabeth "Bet" MacDonald and Naomi Stenglein in Saginaw, Michigan, in 1933. The women experimented until they came up with a formula that included equal parts of ground-up glue, sodium carbonate, and trisodium phosphate. Stenglein observed that all the testing in her house made her home spotless, or "spick and span," which is an idiomatic term for "clean". They took the k off Spick and started selling the product in brown envelopes to local markets. From 1933 to 1944, both families helped run their "Spic and Span Products Company." On January 29, 1945, Procter & Gamble bought Spic and Span for $1.9 million.[1]


Until 2001, Spic and Span was made by Procter & Gamble, a major international manufacturer of household and personal products based in Cincinnati, Ohio. This product has sponsored many soap operas, serving perhaps most notably as the main sponsor of Search for Tomorrow for two decades.

In January 2001, Shansby Group, a San Francisco investment firm, purchased the brand from P&G along with the Cinch line of multi-surface cleaning products. GTCR Golder Rauner acquired the brand in 2004, after a reformulation of the Spic and Span product line.[citation needed]

About the name[edit]

The product took the name from a common phrase meaning extremely clean, "spick and span", which was a British idiom first recorded in 1579, and used shortly afterwards in Samuel Pepys's diary.[2] A spick was a spike or nail, a span was a very fresh wood chip, and thus the phrase meant clean and neat and all in place, as in being nailed down. The "span" in the idiom also is part of "brand span new," now more commonly rendered "brand spanking new." The phrase has nothing to do with the words "Spanish" or "Hispanic".[3][4]

Nevertheless, in 1999, the Mexican-American organization LatinosUSA organized a boycott against Spic and Span because of the use of the word spic, which is a derogatory term for a person of Latino descent. In addition, the term "spic and span" was used to derogate mixed-race couples of African American and Puerto Rican origin.[5]

The current owner, Prestige Brands, continues to market the product for consumer use. Procter & Gamble still markets Spic and Span for commercial use.[6] However, the product is no longer advertised on television.


The powdered form must be mixed in water prior to use; a liquid version is also available. Although considered all-purpose, it is "not recommended for carpets, upholstery, aluminum, glass, laundry or mixing with bleach or ammonia".[7]


  1. ^ Michigan History, November/December, 2007. Pgs. 13-15.
  2. ^ Origins of the expression spick and span - World Wide Words
  3. ^ Take Our Word for It June 21, 1999, Issue 45 of etymology webzine. Accessed January 16, 2007.
  4. ^ Online Etymology Dictionary detailing British phrase evolving from Dutch spiksplinter nieuw, "spike-splinter new". Accessed January 16, 2007.
  5. ^ Jonathon Green, "Spic and span", The Cassell Dictionary of Slang (1998) p. 390.
  6. ^ "Spic and Span All Purpose Cleaner". Procter & Gamble. Retrieved 2009-06-17. 
  7. ^ As written on product label

External links[edit]