The ten household items that are virtually impossible to open: From crumpets to mouthwash and laundry pods – how long does it take YOU to crack into them?
- Difficult-to-open packaging is the biggest stress factor in our homes
- A survey revealed four in ten were injured while trying to open everday items
There are few more frustrating household tasks than struggling to open a jar that just won’t budge.
Except perhaps trying to prise open the impenetrable, finger-slicing plastic that wraps everything from toothbrushes to ink cartridges.
And we’ve all come to blows with that box of laundry tablets with the catches on the lid that are designed to be childproof but seem, in fact, to be fully human-proof.
According to a report this week by the Design Age Institute, which surveyed more than 2,000 over-55s, difficult-to-open packaging is the biggest stress factor in our homes.
Almost half of the respondents said food packaging was the worst offender, while 13 per singled out medical packaging as causing ‘irritation and stress’, a feeling they said had worsened with age.
But it’s not just getting older which makes us annoyed by everyday objects that seem impossible to get into. We all struggle with these fiddly tasks.
There is even a name for it: ‘wrap rage’, coined in 2003 to sum up the anger many of us feel when we’re unable to open a packet, jar or tin.
Stories abound of homeowners resorting to scissors, pliers, nutcrackers and even hammers to tackle stubborn packaging — often with painful consequences.
A survey in 2013 revealed that four in ten of us have been injured while trying to open everyday items, while a British study found that 60,000 people receive hospital treatment every year for packaging-related cut fingers, bruised hands and sprained wrists.
So, which are the ten most difficult household products to get into — and how long would it take me, a 35-year-old with good dexterity and a reasonable amount of determination, to open them?
PRINTER INK CARTRIDGE
TIME TO OPEN: 50 SECONDS (WITH SCISSORS)
Packed in what is known as ‘clamshell’ plastic, a type of rigid, theft-proof PVC invented in the late Seventies, ink cartridges for household printers are one of the most complained-about pieces of packaging.
Not only is the plastic moulded around the cartridge itself, front and back, but it’s heat-sealed at the edges, making it impenetrable to all but the sharpest implements.
When you do make an incision, the packaging is almost guaranteed to slice into your skin.
I try tugging the plastic apart with all my might, twisting and turning it in the hope of breaking in, but to no avail.
Eventually, I give up and grab my sharpest kitchen scissors, with which I hack a hole and pull the cartridge out.
TIME TO OPEN: 51 SECONDS
The tamper-proof cap, sealed with a layer of shrink-wrapped plastic, can outwit even the most dextrous of mouthwash-users.
Listerine bottles and lids are made of PET plastic, one of the most recycled materials in the world- TIME TO OPEN: 51 SECONDS (stock image)
Listerine bottles and lids are made of PET plastic, one of the most recycled materials in the world. But the ‘squeeze and twist’ motion required to get into the mouthwash is far from straightforward, especially when you’re feeling groggy first thing in the morning.
According to consumer watchdog Which?, who included Listerine in a 2013 product test: ‘Squeezing and turning is a difficult enough action, without having to break the tamper-proof plastic seal at the same time.’
It takes me almost a minute to get into my mouthwash bottle, which involves finding just the right place on the cap to press inwards with my fingers while simultaneously twisting with my wrist.
TIME TO OPEN: 26 SECONDS
New Covent Garden soup cartons have been made from the same material since 1988: paper with a plastic lining, used to seal in the contents and keep the soup fresh.
New Covent Garden soup cartons have been made from the same material since 1988: paper with a plastic lining – TIME TO OPEN: 26 SECONDS (stock image)
The combination — a tough, laminated interior with a cardboard-like coating — is supposed to be simple to open. There is even a diagram on the top of the carton showing how to flip up the flaps up on each side, then rip diagonally to access the soup.
This is easier said than done, however. The flaps are stiff and tricky to unfold, and the plastic lining makes it difficult to tear — I can see how anyone with arthritis or other difficulties gripping would struggle to master the motion.
TIME TO OPEN: 52 SECONDS
The nation’s favourite afternoon tea treat has come under fire before for its plastic packaging, which is tightly heat-sealed at either end in an apparent attempt to stop consumers ever getting to the crumpets inside.
Warburtons, in particular, has been singled out for impenetrability – TIME TO OPEN: 52 SECONDS (stock image)
Warburtons, in particular, has been singled out for impenetrability.
A Which? product survey in 2013 reported that its entire testing panel was left ‘red-faced with exertion’ while trying to pull apart a packet.
First there’s the challenge of getting a grip on the plastic, which slides through your fingers at the slightest hint of sweat.
Once you’re holding it tightly, you’ll need every ounce of strength to tug, pull and wrench the plastic seal apart.
Just as I’m about to give up and in dire need of a sit-down, it pops open at one end.
PERSIL LAUNDRY PODS
TIME TO OPEN: 30 SECONDS
When a brand needs both instructions and a diagram on the packaging explaining how to get into it, as well as a step-by-step tutorial on YouTube, you know there may be a problem.
Persil is one of the few laundry brands not to have updated all its packaging to cardboard, so it continues to sell the big plastic box of washing capsules – TIME TO OPEN: 30 SECONDS (stock image)
Persil is one of the few laundry brands not to have updated all its packaging to cardboard, so it continues to sell the big plastic box of washing capsules.
While the plastic lid, which has two ‘lock tabs’, is supposedly child-proof, it is also adult-proof for many frustrated shoppers, who have reported bruises and broken fingernails in their efforts to get in.
According to Persil’s instructions, the correct method is as follows: First, ‘grip the tub with both hands’. Next, ‘lift the lock tabs up and away from your body until you hear a slight click’.
I don’t find it quite so straightforward. Trying to pinch and squeeze the two side tabs inwards at the same time as pushing the middle tab upwards and inwards is a bit like patting my head and rubbing my stomach.
TOOTHBRUSH AND TOOTHBRUSH HEADS
TIME TO OPEN: 37 SECONDS
Wrapped in the same rigid PVC as ink cartridges, toothbrushes and toothbrush heads have the (apparent) benefit of a ‘blister-style’ backing. Made from cardboard, this is supposed to make them easy to open by simply pressing them out.
The dual packaging is designed with consumer safety in mind; the moulded plastic shell on one side makes them difficult for thieves to pocket, while the backing is tamper-proof so it’s obvious if it has been broken into.
Which? has branded Oral B’s toothbrushes ‘hellish’ to open. ‘The moulded plastic packaging is a very difficult shape. You have to cut across the front — risking sharp edges — but miss the brush.’
I eventually make a small hole in the cardboard backing and, with a combination of ingenuity and brute force, manage to force one of the toothbrush handles through it.
JAR OF COCONUT OIL
TIME TO OPEN: 44 SECONDS
A glass jar with a metal lid — think of coconut oil, olives, sun-dried tomatoes or pickled onions — is akin to a packaging fortress.
And once the jar has been opened the first time, if the contents are oily then, come the next time, you may as well give up as your hands slide on the slightly oily glass – TIME TO OPEN: 44 SECONDS (stock image)
There is no friction between the two materials, coupled with the fact that the contents — often heated for hygiene reasons — create a vacuum as they cool, tugging the lid even more tightly onto the mouth of the jar.
And once the jar has been opened the first time, if the contents are oily then, come the next time, you may as well give up as your hands slide on the slightly oily glass.
Many people have their own way of opening tricky jars, from gripping each side with a wet tea towel to banging the jar upside-down on a table.
The best, experts suggest, is applying heat to the lid by running it under hot water or using a hairdryer. This causes it to expand slightly and breaks the airtight seal.
Determined to open my jar of coconut oil the old-fashioned way, I make sure my hands are completely dry, grip the lid in one hand and the jar in the other, and twist vigorously in opposite directions. I repeat this, with increasingly frustrated yelps, until it yields.
BRILLO SOAP PADS
TIME TO OPEN: 61 SECONDS (WITH SCISSORS)
A must for scrubbing stubborn stains off pans, steel-wool soap pads are a popular cleaning product — but no use at all if you can’t open the packet.
There is a thin plastic box-like container, sealed on top with two layers: plastic topped with foil – TIME TO OPEN: 61 SECONDS (WITH SCISSORS) (stock image)
There is a thin plastic box-like container, sealed on top with two layers: plastic topped with foil. Which? described this as an ‘awful hard-to-peel lid’.
At first glance it’s not clear where you peel from, and I can’t get a grip on the fiddly foil without digging my nail underneath it. When I do manage to peel it off, there is still the plastic layer to tackle, which won’t budge.
I eventually resort to stabbing it with scissors — far from safe and it won’t seal up again, but at least I can get the soap pads out.
SHRINK-WRAPPED FRESH MEAT
TIME TO OPEN: 29 SECONDS
Vacuum-sealed, first in rigid PVC and then an outer layer of pliable, shrink-wrapped plastic, fresh meat (and fish) is packaged in this way to make it last.
Studies have shown that thistechnique keeps the contents fresher three to five times longer than alternative packaging, as sucking the air out of the inner layer removes the oxygen which could help bacteria and mould to grow on the food.
The exterior plastic may look thin but don’t be fooled: it’s tightly welded on, with no obvious place to peel it open.
I try all four corners, finally finding one with a bit of give, but have to pull hard on the slippery shrink-wrap to reach the meat inside.
CARDBOARD-BACKED PILL PACKET
TIME TO OPEN ONE PILL: 13 SECONDS
Painkillers have been sold in blister packs in this country since 1998, under legislation brought in to limit sales and prevent overdoses. The idea is that pressing out each pill individually makes them harder to access.
For anyone trying to take a paracetamol to stave off a headache, this can be incredibly frustrating — especially when the back of the blister pack is made from eco-friendly cardboard, rather than foil.
This is usually the case with cheaper, own-brand painkillers. Not only is the cardboard backing tough to break but, when you do manage to push a pill through, it is often broken or crushed because of the force needed to extract it.
The small size of the pills makes the task fiddly and awkward, and it takes me several goes to pop one out.
TOTAL TIME: SIX MINUTES, 33 SECONDS
RESULTS: THE WORST OFFENDERS:
1. BRILLO SOAP PADS: 61 seconds
2. WARBURTONS CRUMPETS: 52 seconds
3. LISTERINE MOUTHWASH: seconds
4. PRINTER INK CARTRIDGE: 50 seconds
5. JAR OF COCONUT OIL: 44 seconds
6. TOOTHBRUSH: 37 seconds
7. PERSIL LAUNDRY PODS: 30 seconds
8. SHRINK-WRAPPED FRESH MEAT: 29 seconds
9. SOUP CARTON: 26 seconds
10. PILL PACKET: 13 seconds
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