Letters: ‘First Rule of Wite-Out. Don’t Talk About Wite-Out.’

Readers respond to David A. Graham’s question “Who still buys Wite-Out, and why?”


Who Still Buys Wite-Out, and Why?

Last week, I asked who still uses correction fluids such as Wite-Out, and why. The answer, it turns out, is many of you. And while I noted a few possible reasons that the correction-fluids business remains strong—sales of Wite-Out itself jumped 10 percent in 2017—there are a great many more unorthodox uses for sticky white fluid and its tape-based sibling that I didn’t cover.

First, I should acknowledge that I may have committed a fatal error in writing the story itself: “First rule of wite-out. Don’t talk about wite-out,” @theDevilsEnemy informed me. Oops! Speaking of bad ideas, a surprising number of people wrote to say that they suspected one reason for Wite-Out’s resilience was that it can be sniffed to get high, though most of them were quick to assure me that while they knew people who had done so, they themselves were not users. To put this in black and white, so to speak: This is a very bad idea. (Also, cannabis is legal in an ever-growing number of states. There are safer ways to get a buzz!)

One reason that one might expect a dip in sales of correction fluids is that an increasing portion of written communication takes places over computers and phones, which don’t need Liquid Paper. Or so I thought. “I still buy it, and about every six weeks I have to buy a new monitor :(,” replied @MountainbikerWI. You might be doing it wrong, sir.

Even though the digital world presents a grave threat to old-school office markets, a number of digital natives who are still in school wrote that they’re still required to use correction fluid for school projects. The kids are conversant in more than just Snapchat and TikTok:

Perhaps my favorite weird response came from many people who pointed out that Wite-Out is popular among blacksmiths. In particular, it’s useful for metalworkers who are creating “canister Damascus,” a process that tries to replicate the famously beautiful and strong blades made from the lost technique for Damascus steel. “Canister Damascus” involves placing pieces of steel and metal powder in a canister, then welding it shut and forging it. The problem is that the good steel will weld together with the canister—but coating the canister with Wite-Out first keeps the metal from sticking. Here’s a video of J. Neilson, best known from the History Channel’s Forged in Fire, explaining the process. He gets to the Wite-Out around 2:42:

Here are a few more of the intriguing responses we received:

I enjoyed your recent article about correction fluids. As a librarian, I thought you would find it interesting that Liquid Paper and Wite-Out are still very popular at our library—as a means for people to alter forms! Savvy folks will make liquid corrections with the stuff, type over the change, then make a photocopy, and presto! Now they have a better drug test, work history, benefits papers, etc. for their landlord, a potential employer, or the government.

We still offer a typewriter at the library (as well as computers, of course, which are used more conventionally), but we stopped offering correction fluids at the reference desks for this reason. If people have their own, it’s no business of ours what they do with it. But we stopped actually helping people falsify documents.

If I had to guess why correction fluids’ sales outpace those of other, dwindling office supplies, I’d put my money on its under-the-table use!

What a tangled web we weave when we use Wite-Out to deceive …   :-)

Name Withheld Upon Request

Permit me to add another use for the white stuff. My wife and I were at a wedding years ago, and as we were leaving the festivities, she went to the ladies’ room, where the bride for the next wedding was with her mother, putting on makeup. I stood outside waiting when, all of a sudden, a g-d-awful shriek was heard. My wife ran out of the room, grabbed me, and grimly said, “Let’s get out of here.”

It turns out that the bride’s mother dropped the lipstick. It went down the front of the bride’s white wedding gown minutes before the ceremony, prompting the howl I heard. “Nothing good is going to happen here,” my wife said.

The next day, I called the caterer and asked what had happened with the lipstick problem. He laughed and told me, “Oh, no problem. We used Wite-Out on the lipstick, and everything worked out just fine! I always have a box of it in the office for situations like that!”

Avrom Jacobs
Watertown, Mass.

Those of us who do crossword puzzles every day regardless of difficulty, on paper and always in ink, occasionally need Wite-Out to provide a clean slate when the puzzle gets too messy. The varieties of Wite-Out and Liquid Paper have shrunk in recent years, unfortunately, making it harder to find the right kind for one’s preferred sort of ink, and the ubiquitous foam wedges are less reliable than the brushes used to be.

Amy Siev
Baltimore, Md.

I use a bottle of Wite-Out to cover nicks on anything colored white: walls, refrigerator doors, the oven, tile, etc.

Beth Anderson
San Luis Obispo, Calif.

We have white tile floors on one level of our house. Some have chipped over the years. Wite-Out covers those marks very well, but needs to be reapplied once a year.

James Burgunder
Rheinfelden, Switzerland

Your recent online piece about the (somewhat surprising) persistence of Wite-Out sales in our increasingly paperless world overlooks one of its more potent, if less prescribed, uses. Namely, the once common practice among youth of “sniffing” and “huffing.”

Robert C. Insull
Rochester, N.Y.

I was a secretary for many decades, so Wite-Out and I have had a very personal relationship. Now that I am retired and communicate on a computer, I use it to touch up the little nicks and dents on my floorboards and doors. (Yes, I am a teeny bit OCD. Yes, I have purchased it just for this purpose.) On the more conventional side, it’s also useful for covering up wide swaths of canceled and rescheduled appointments on my calendar, or correcting checkbook-ledger errors (did I mention that I’m a bit OCD?).

Sharon Henry
Tampa, Fla.

Wite-Out saved my life in my first job out of high school in 1970, as a statistical typist at Sears, Roebuck and Company. I could type reasonably well, but I couldn’t type numbers without looking at the keys. Each report I typed had five carbon copies!

Fast-forward to 2019, and I now play in two ukulele bands. At every practice, we make notes or corrections on our music. Although a pencil and a big eraser help, the most efficient way to change our music is with correction tape! I realize that once we move our music to our devices, we will no longer need correction tape. But there is something particularly satisfying about handling actual paper and turning the page for the next song.

Linda Trytek
Deerfield, Ill.

Readers responded on Facebook:

Kathryne J. Lyons wrote: I think the author misses the fact that it’s more green to fix a few minor errors with Wite-out than to reprint the pages.

Kelly Anne Beal wrote: Jewelers use it to prevent solder from flowing to unwanted areas on pieces of jewelry they are making.

Theresa Doonan wrote: It’s great for touching up enamel on stoves etc. I also use it to touch up chips in my French manicures.

Christine Gritmon wrote: My kid uses it when he wants to fix something he wrote or drew.

Natasha Rene'e wrote: I still use it to re-use file folders as needed.

Debbie Stone wrote: I just used it to paint a key so I’d know it was for the outside door.

Callan Silver wrote: As an artist who does book collages I still buy it. I know I could use white paint, but I prefer wite out for this purpose.

Krista Turner Means wrote: I only use a paper calendar and it’d be a mess without white out.

Kathy Lynn Bryan wrote: Somebody I know uses it to correct Sudoku errors.

Readers responded on Twitter: