Lysol Was Once Used As Birth Control – And Poisoned A Lot Of Women

Published July 11, 2021
Updated April 13, 2023

With few options available to women, Lysol’s advertising as a feminine product made it one of the most popular contraceptive devises around.

Most people keep Lysol under their sinks, ready to pull it out to disinfect the countertops or wipe germs off of bathroom surfaces. What most of us probably don’t want to do, is put the disinfectant anywhere in or on our bodies. However, in the early 1900s, Lysol wanted women to do just that.

Lysol marketed directly to housewives, not to use as a household cleaner, but to use as a feminine hygiene product that would ensure their “feminine daintiness” and protect “married happiness.” Rather than the common cleaning agent we all know today, early 1900s Lysol advertised itself as a douche that could be used to kill germs that caused odor and entice disinterested husbands.

In fact, a majority of the ads focused on winning back husbands’ attention, seeming to place both the blame and the burden on the wife for causing his indifference.

While the ads claim that using Lysol for feminine douching would bring back intimacy, they carry a subtler message that goes beyond promoting basic cleanliness.

Vintage Lysol Advertisement

FlickrA vintage Lysol ad for feminine hygiene.

After the passage of the Comstock Law, contraceptives were made illegal in the U.S. and remained so until 1965. Therefore, douching after intercourse was a common – albeit ineffective – method of birth control. With few options available to women, Lysol’s advertising as a feminine product made it one of the most popular contraceptive devices around.

Although Lysol was a cheap, convenient, and popular birth control method, it also didn’t work. A study undertaken in 1933 showed that almost half the women who used Lysol ended up getting pregnant.

What Was Lysol Originally Used For

FlickrA vintage Lysol ad for feminine hygiene.

It wasn’t just advertisements that promoted the use of douches. Respected doctors, such as Joseph De Lee, a prominent obstetrician, encouraged the use of Lysol in labor, saying that it would “reduce the amount of infectious matter” carried into the uterus during birth.

Lysol Ad For Douching

FlickrA vintage Lysol ad for feminine hygiene.

However, the claim that it was safe, gentle, and non-caustic enough to be used on “delicate tissue” was proved to be false. At that time, Lysol’s active ingredients were even more toxic than the ones used today.

Until 1953, it contained crestol, a harsh antiseptic that caused burning and inflammation, and by 1911 doctors had recorded 193 poisonings and five deaths as a result of douching with Lysol.

It wasn’t until the 1960s that douching with Lysol began to fall out of popularity, as more birth control methods became available for women to access. By then, Lysol had changed to a less toxic formula and began marketing itself as the common household cleaner we recognize in our cabinets today.

After learning what Lysol was originally used for, check out these vintage anti-suffrage posters that showed why men were scared to give women the vote. Then read about the the history of condoms.

Aimee Lamoureux
Aimee Lamoureux is a writer based in New York City.