Published April 12, 2010
Danger! Caution! Alert! It seems like everywhere you turn there’s a new list of things you shouldn't be doing.
From the machine that makes your coffee first thing in the morning to the alarm clock you set when you go to bed, just about every product you use on a daily basis comes with a list of ways not to use it.
Experts say the abundance of warnings on packages leads people to skip reading them altogether.
But if you haven't been reading your warning labels lately, you don't know what you're missing.
For example, did you know that you're not supposed to use birthday candles as earplugs "or for any other function that involves insertion into a body cavity"? Well you should ... because it's written right on the box.
You don't need to be a rocket scientist to know you shouldn't use your power tool as a dental drill .. you just need to read the manual.
And the next time your kids ask to play in the dishwasher, you don't have to be the spoilsport who tells them "no." The warning label has that covered.
"You see these warning labels because there used to be a time in America where if you spilled hot coffee on yourself, you'd call yourself clumsy, and nowadays more and more people are calling themselves an attorney," said Bob Dorigo Jones, author of Remove Child Before Folding: The 101 Stupidest, Silliest and Wackiest Warning Labels Ever.
As result, Jones said, manufacturers go to great lengths to protect consumers from injury, and themselves from lawsuits, by listing every possible safety precaution — and then some.
Here are some cases where they've gone above and beyond. Or have they?
A Cell Phone Manual Warns: Don't Try to Dry Your Phone in a Microwave Oven
"We wouldn't want anyone to make a sandwich out of them either," Motorola spokesman Rusty Brashear joked to FOXNews.com.
But it turns out that the microwave warning is no laughing matter.
"It's not quite as silly as it may sound," Brashear said. "The reason is not only would it [the microwave] melt some or most of the components in a phone, but you don't want to put lithium ion batteries in that kind of heat."
As for who made Motorola think anyone would ever try to microwave a cell phone in the first place, the answer is simple: the people who did.
"There's always an issue about how to dry out a phone if it's gotten wet ... and you can see where people might think the microwave is a good idea — so we had heard that it was being tried."
A Hair Dryer Warns: Never Use While Sleeping
Think it's impossible? Think again.
"Somebody did use a hair dryer while they were sleeping and it caused a fire in the bed," Jones said.
As result, there's a label on a number of hair appliances that warns against the practice.
Underwriters Laboratory, an independent organization that sets safety standards for just about every household appliance, says the warning started with the bonnet-style hair dryer.
"It pumps hot air up a hose into a bonnet that's over your head," UL Consumer Safety Director John Drengenberg told FOXNews.com. "You've got this nice warm air blowing on your head and you're reading and you might nod off."
The scenario is harder to picture with the handheld dryers and curling irons that also carry the warning, but Drengenberg said it, too, has happened.
"Although we don't have a lot of statistics showing people doing this, ever so often you get someone who falls asleep," he said.
A Curling Iron Warns: Do Not Use While Bathing or in Shower
What is it about hair care?
The same manual that tells you not to use your hair dryer or curling iron while sleeping gives a similar warning about bathing, and for good reason.
"The reality is that, yeah, we get reports ever so often of strange things happening with products, and it's the kinds of things that you probably wouldn't even consider doing — like taking your hair dryer or curling iron into the shower with you — but it happens," Drengenberg said. "That fact is, yeah, people have done that."
And in case common sense AND the warning aren't enough, UL has taken things a step further.
"Hair dryers have a special plug on them," Drengenberg said. "It's a fat little box and inside that box is a high tech device called a GFCI that will turn off the power if you take that hair dryer into the shower with you."
A Watercraft Warns: Never Use Lit Match or Open Flame to Check Fuel Level
So, you're in a dark place, trying to see if you have to put gasoline in your watercraft before you take it for a spin. Who has time to look for a flashlight?
"It's happened where people have said, 'I can't see in the tank and see how much fuel there is and the only thing they have is a lighter,'" Drengenberg explained.
"And then they sue you for not warning," he added. "It's just the world we live in."
But it might actually just be the country we live in.
"The thing that is I think most revealing about all these different labels, this one in particular, is you don't see that warning label on products in Europe or Asia or any other part of the world," Jones said.
The same goes for many others Jones sees in the Wacky Warning Labels contest he runs through the Michigan Lawsuit Abuse Watch.
"We had a fountain pen where the warning label in English said: Do not swallow the pen cap," Jones recalled. "But it didn't say that in any of the other translations, and that's because they don't worry about frivolous pen-cap lawsuits there."
Two-Pronged Fishing Hook Warns: Harmful If Swallowed
All this talk of pen caps might be making you hungry, but try to avoid the temptation to eat your fishing hook. Apparently, the jagged piece of metal can be harmful.
"The fishing hook contains a trace amount of lead and under California law if you have any amount of lead in a product you have to have a warning on it that says harmful if swallowed," Jones explained. "So the attorneys advised that they put it on the box, even though no one would ever consider swallowing this thing."
"It didn't used to be this way," he added. "Our grandparents didn't need to be told not to swallow a fishing lure."
Bet the fish wish someone would tell them.
iPod Shuffle Warns: Do Not Eat iPod Shuffle
Here's another warning our grandparents never needed. Maybe because they didn't have iPod Shuffles, or maybe because they would have known that the same machine that the plays their favorite dinner music probably isn't meant to also be their dinner.
We apparently don't deserve the same benefit of the doubt.
"There was a shot where the iPod was next to a pack of gum to show its size," iPod spokesperson Christine Monaghan told FOXNews.com. "So that's why the warning was there, because we said that it was smaller than a pack of gum."
For over $100, that doesn't sound like a very satisfying meal — not nearly as filling as, say, an LCD TV.
Too bad they’re also "not for personal consumption."
ExtenZe Male Enhancement Pill: Do Not Use While Pregnant or Nursing
Luckily ExtenZe is for personal consumption, but ... sorry, ladies ... it will not enlarge your penis and it's definitely off-limits if you're pregnant or nursing.
"That falls in the category of we have so many warning labels we'll slap it on everything we make to cover ourselves," Jones said.
But the alert not only made it on the box, it is one of the only two warnings printed in capital letters.
"It's like the box of PMS Midol that says 'do not use if you have an enlarged prostate' — chances are if you have PMS is you're not going to have a prostate," Jones said. "But we figured there might be some guy out there one night who might have such a bad headache, he might be willing to take his wife's Midol. You never know."
Still, FOX News Legal Analyst Bob Massi says it "just doesn't make sense."
"Let's assume that language is specifically for the guys. It's a confusing warning so it has no use anyway — it should make clear that guys shouldn't take it if their partner is pregnant or nursing," he told FOXNews.com. "And for it to be for a female doesn't make sense either unless they're going to explain why a female would take this stuff to begin with."
Maybe she's having a boy?
Children's Dimetapp Warns: Be Careful When Driving a Motor Vehicle
It makes perfect sense that children between the ages of 6 and 12 should be very, very careful the next time they take the family car out for a spin after taking Children's Dimetapp.
"Again, this is a case where they've got all these warnings so they're just going to throw them on everything they make," Jones said.
The kids should apparently also be careful when operating heavy machinery and ask a health professional before use if they're pregnant or breast-feeding.
Razor Scooter Warns: This Product Moves When Used
In case the cold medicine warning leads parents to restrict the car keys altogether, kids can always hop on a Razor scooter to get around. But they should pay very close attention to the warning smack dab in the middle of the handlebars lest they not realize: the scooter will move when used.
"That one is because of all the injuries that occur when kids use a product like that," Jones said. "The personal injury lawyers who bring these lawsuits will always say in lawsuits that the company failed to warn — even if it's it common sense."
"That's why every bag of peanuts warns: this bag contains nuts," he added.
Our next warning might benefit from a similar label.
Washing Machine Warns: Do Not Put Any Person in This Washer
Everyone knows that washing machines are made to wash your clothes, but apparently a college student missed the memo that he’s not supposed to be wearing them at the time.
"According to the manufacture, somebody at a college had a little too much to drink and decided to take a ride in the washing machine, got hurt, and sued," Jones said. "So something that should be common sense has to be slapped on every washing machine now made by that manufacturer."
Drengenberg said children are also a major concern when it comes to washing machine warnings.
"Ever so often you have a situation where one sibling puts the other in the dryer or they're playing hide and seek or something and somebody pushes the button," he explained.
The warning's effectiveness on children is debatable, Drengenberg admitted, since the small ones usually can't read.
"It's alerting the parents: keep your kids at a safe distance," he said.
Clorox Bleach Wipes: Do Not Use as Diaper Wipes or for Personal Cleansing
Now that you know you can’t throw the baby in the washing machine you might be at a loss for how you're ever going to clean up his latest disaster. But just in case you were thinking that this sounds like a job for Clorox, think again. The company’s disinfecting wipes may look a lot like diaper wipes, but, as the package points out in bold, they aren't.
"Ah yes, that's actually one of our past winners, too, along with the Scrubbing Bubbles Toilet Brush that says: Do not use for personal hygiene," Jones said.
Luckily, he wasn't aware of any lawsuits where someone tried to shower with the toilet brush or use the Clorox wipes on their baby.
A Vanishing Fabric Marker Warns: Should Not Be Used as a Writing Instrument for Signing Checks or Any Legal Documents
Surprisingly, Jones also had no information on any lawsuits regarding this "Wacky Warning Labels" finalist either ... though it's possible the legal documents just disappeared.
"It should be common sense not to sign a contract with a vanishing marker, but you never know," he said.
But he did come up with an instance in which this warning might not apply.
"I think a lot of people will be tempted to use this for their tax returns."