The ‘90s were the time of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, a burgeoning internet, and seemingly countless gadgets and gizmos hocked by sellers on television. These cheeky infomercials are staples of the post-Cold War era, and you may have memories of yourself basking in the glow of a late-night infomercial emanating from your TV screen. These ‘90s gadgets were the best that engineering had to offer, but now they serve as artifacts of days gone by.
These gadgets ran the gamut from a headset to hold your landline, to juicers, to three of the same exact quesadilla makers, to self-help audio tapes. With the promise of making your life easier — and a concerning emphasis on losing weight and counting calories — these products were irresistible to the postmodernist audience. Here are 24 infomercial gadgets ranked from worst to best.
[Ed. Note: All these gadgets weren’t necessarily born in the ‘90s, but they dominated the airwaves, anyway.]
The Worst: Tony Robbins’ Personal Power
“To light the fire under people to get up, move on, and be part of the solution rather than part of the problem is the gift that I constantly aspire to. It is one that Tony Robbins clearly has.”
Personal Power is this sort of vague self-help audio cassette program that is supposed to help you be the best you. This is the only item on our list that stretches the definition of a gadget. It’s also probably the item that has had the biggest impact, inspiring countless grifters, motivational speakers, and podcasters around the world.
23. Popeil Automatic Pasta Maker
“You can make pasta with Popeil Automatic Pasta Maker in under three minutes.” (*audience gasps*)
There is room in the world for homemade pasta, but most home cooks are likely to opt for the dried alternative that costs $US1 ($1) per pound at most grocery stores. And therein lies the issue with the Ronco Pasta Maker. Instead of trying to make a pre-existing task easier, the Pasta Maker presents you with a manufactured problem (homemade pasta takes a long time to make) and provides you with a gadget to fix it. It’s peak 1990s infomercial bullshit.
22. The Juiceman Juice Machine
“It’s just the quality of the juice you get with the Juiceman… it’s very rich and it’s very wholesome and hearty and fresh and just drinking that feels like my body saying ‘Thank you! You just cleansed me.’”
The Juiceman Juice Machine’s infomercial feels like it appeals to everyone’s worst fear in the ‘90s: being fat. Testimonials include lowering blood pressure, heightened libido, quitting smoking, and more solely based on the nutrients you’re gonna get by using the Juiceman. Research indicates, however, that juicing offers no leg-up over just eating fruits and vegetables. Everyone’s into smoothies these days anyway. One could argue there’s a straight line from the Juiceman to the Liver King.
21. Great Wok of China
“Cooking with a wok goes back to two, three thousand years in China, and the Chinese still cook with the authentic Chinese wok.”
The Great Wok of China is…fine. It’s just a wok. It’s actually a little refreshing how few gimmicks there are, and the gimmicks the infomercial hosts do describe (cooking with high heat, for example) are the same quirks you might see in any wok you might purchase.
It’s a reminder of just how many foods and cooking techniques we take for granted today (hummus, sushi) that seemed wildly exotic to Americans in the ‘90s.
20. Purr-Fect Punch
“This is definitely in fashion, all the fish on here.”
The Purr-Fect Punch is an all-in-one embroidery kit that can make embroidered designs for dirt cheap. Despite the low barrier of entry, this product likely only appealed to young kids or the elderly.
The legend goes, not many people bought the Purr-Fect Punch, but everyone who did, later opened an Etsy shop.
19. The Jet Aire Professional Hairstyling System
“Anyone can have that breathtaking, just-walked-out-of-the-salon look without even leaving your home.”
The Jet Aire Hairstyling was advertised to those who couldn’t help but succumb to bad hair days. The wand pulled hair in to preheat it and then would shoot it out of a bunch of little holes. The problem with this device is that it’s just over-engineered and doesn’t set itself apart from more readily available curling irons
18. Miracle Blade III
“A blade so sharp and powerful you can cut a pineapple…IN MID-AIR!”
I have a massive bone to pick with the knife market. I subscribe to the mantra that if you own three, high-quality knives — a chef’s knife, a serrated knife, and a pairing knife — you’ll be set for life so long as you take care of them. In contrast, people tend to opt for big, bulky knife blocks with steak knives you never use and ten different knives that all serve the same function, and that’s where the Miracle Blade III comes in. The knife set is super ugly and unnecessary, but it’ll get the job done if you’re desperate to cut a pineapple in mid-air.
17. Power Steamer
“We can come up with laptop computers, fax machines, car phones, automatic washers and driers when it comes to taking the wrinkles out of our clothes, but we still have to do this!” (*irons vigorously*)
The Power Steamer feels like an actual solution to a real problem. The Power Steamer is advertised as a steamer/iron that can remove wrinkles from anything with just steam. The problem is clothing steamers already existed, and this infomercial makes it seem like the product is some brand-spanking new technology. The benefit here is that you don’t have to use distilled water. Pass, but don’t get too cocky, Power Steamer.
16. Super Snacker/SnackMaster/LeSnack
“I’m gonna make blueberry muffins in one side, then a bit of health consciousness and make bran muffins in the other.” (*audience applauds*)
As far as I can tell, these three separate devices all do the same exact thing, which just speaks to the absurdity of the ‘90s infomercial craze. These three devices all make some kind of triangle-shaped hot pocket/muffin/quesadilla hybrid and you can use everything from bread and cheese to eggs to make a snack. While I normally hate a machine that does one thing, this could be great for kids or lazy mornings — and the one thing looks pretty tasty.
15. Phone Relief
“The ultimate in hands-free phone design.”
Phone Relief is a headset that is attached to your landline with Velcro. While goofy, there is a clear need for an apparatus like this, as evidenced by the big chunky neck rests sold to this day, which you can buy and attach to your office phone. The downside with Phone Relief is that it is too much a product of its time, and isn’t smartphone compatible.
14. Magic Wand
“So you’re actually making mayonnaise IN the mayonnaise jar!”
The Magic Wand is a handheld cutting/blending gadget that you can use instead of your blender/knife/food processor/whisk. In the above infomercial, the Magic Wand is wildly versatile in its applications, making breadcrumbs, mayonnaise, and chocolate mousse. These days, you can do most of this with an immersion blender.
13. Ronco Showtime Rotisserie & BBQ
“I lost five pounds in a little over a week, and I’m so happy. I needed to lose some weight for some modelling pictures that I’m doing so it was just incredible to lose that much weight in such a short amount of time.”
Infomercials in the ‘90s had a really weird fixation on losing weight, and nowhere is that better evidenced by the infomercial for the Ronco Showtime Rotisserie & BBQ. The commercial spends almost three whole minutes of testimonials (which you can almost guarantee are not true) from audience members describing how much weight they lost. Despite this, the rotisserie does look like it makes incredible food, it doesn’t take up that much counter space, and it can cook a lot of different stuff.
12. Gallery Glass
“I’m fed up with you revealing what we do before the end of the show! You’re not gonna do it to me today, Mike.”
Gallery Glass occupies this weird, liminal space between a genuinely useful product and a novelty. The kit contains all the materials you need to mimic the look of stained glass without soldering a metal frame and cutting glass yourself. Since you use squeeze bottles to paint a piece of glass with the Gallery Glass liquid, it definitely won’t look like stained glass up close, no matter how much the hosts will try to convince you it will, but I appreciate the effort.
“Get yourself a good, sharp pair of scissors.”
Microcrisp is advertised as a roll of foil-like material that, according to infomercial host Cathy Mitchell, “changes the microwaves into thermal energy” which seems… wrong. But I digress.
With some scissors, tape, and Microcrisp, you too can have crispy food from your microwave (which will famously make things soggy or chewy). Microcrisp is far from the worst concept on this list, but it loses points for the Microcrisp rack that you have to use and then throw in your cabinets until the next time you use the foil. Also, if you have an air fryer these days, you’re not missing out.
10. Super Slicer
“It’s a self-contained unit, it’s a professional machine.”
The Super Slicer is really just one of those mandoline slicers that have been found in kitchens for decades. While there may be some flashy branding and infomercial cliches, what’s great about the Super Slicer is that it knows that it’s not reinventing the wheel. You can make potato chips, carrot sticks, and slice onions — that’s it.
9. The Turbo Cooker
“Cathy, you’re 100% right. You’ve got the cards, you don’t need me anymore.”
I wanted to hate the idea of the Turbo Cooker since I am a cooking equipment purist who hates unitaskers like the Super Slicer, but the Turbo Cooker could be incredibly useful for the introductory cook. I also appreciate how versatile it is for a simple pan — host Cathy Mitchell says you can do everything from cooking a whole chicken to steaming vegetables to baking cupcakes. But for some reason, this infomercial is obsessed with getting you to stop using oil for cooking and start using diet soda for baking. Bizarre.
8. Red Devil Grill
“I want to show you something, Mimi, I have found that is so revolutionary, it has literally changed the way we think…about cooking!”
The Red Devil Drill is a portable grill that’s supposed to be able to fit everything you could fit on a typical, backyard grill. It’s probably not something I’d find myself using, but I could see the market for it. Unfortunately, The Red Devil Grill loses some points because the product was the centre of a recall in 2002 over burn hazards.
“Take a look at this old, useless piece of furniture. That belongs in a junkyard or even someone’s fireplace.”
QRB is a furniture refinishing chemical that can “quickly restore beauty” — hence QRB. QRB strips paint in just a few minutes, revealing the bare wood underneath. I don’t know if this has a place in everyone’s garage, but in a world of flipping furniture from Goodwill, this could be a staple.
6. Bissell Big Green Clean Machine
This is far from the worst product hocked to audiences in the ‘90s, especially since products that make cleaning easy and quick are still loved to this day — just ask CleanTok. The Big Green Machine is a vacuum without the bags — think a sleeker version of the shop vac that’s been collecting dust in your garage. What really stuck out to me about the Big Green machine is its performance at removing liquid stains. The thing is loud and bulky, but it seems very good at its job. If nothing else, it’s satisfying to watch in that PowerWash Simulator kind of way.
5. The HomeRight Paint Stick
“I’m going to paint an 2.44 m-by-2.44 m wall with just the paint in my hand, and I’ll do it in less than one minute!” (*audience boos*)
This product — a paint roller with no paint tray that promises a single coat is all you need — is actually super impressive. The gimmick with the HomeRight Paint Stick is that you fill the stick with paint using a syringe-style mechanism, and you can fill the stick seven times with one gallon of paint. There are no drips, and the stick telescopes to give you more reach. The only downside is that cleaning the inside of the paint stick is probably a nightmare.
My name is Geek,
I put them on as a shocker.
I love these BluBlockers.
Everything is clear,
they block out the sun,
I gotta get me some.”
The BluBlockers were ahead of their time. Blue-light-blocking glasses are all the rage these days, but in the ‘90s, the technology was seemingly novel and worthy of a kitschy infomercial. In that way, they were ahead of their time. Whether or not BluBlockers actually did their job is up for debate, but they’re actually pretty fashionable.
3. HP 9000
“That’s what the English always say, ‘No worries, no worries.’”
I don’t know if this infomercial is tricking me or not, but this product looks amazing. HP 9000 is a stain fighter that can also revitalize silver, brass, and jewellery. In the infomercial, the hosts get diluted red dye, ink, grease, and iodine out of a shirt and even human skin using a small amount of HP 9000 paste and a drop of water. It’s really something.
2. The George Forman Grill
“Because of the slanting of it, the fat rolls down. It’s different.”
The George Foreman Grill has literally transcended time and culture. The Foreman Grill sprung onto the scene in 1994 and since then, it’s become a staple in some kitchens, becoming the butt of jokes on shows like The Office, That’s So Raven, and Drake and Josh.
The Best: Genesis Plant Care System
“No you don’t need all of that, put that down!” (*slams wheelbarrow full of tools on the ground*)
Gardening is actually a science, and the Genesis Plant Care System appears to make it incredibly easy. There’s really no tricky gimmick here: The system is a 16-box grid of square-foot blocks and some fertiliser, that’s really it. What it does do is contain gardening to a specific area to cut down on mess and real estate, much the way an elevated gardening bed would. 10/10, no notes.