All you need is saliva

Paolo P. Mangahas

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My salivary glands are probably more active than the average person’s. I could possibly power a small rural village in Africa if my saliva had the same chemical properties as gasoline.

Saliva. Don’t you just love that word? Say it with me. Saliva.

Phonetically speaking, it sounds rather chic and sophisticated, snooty even. If it didn’t refer to that oral fluid we all know too well, I would probably name my daughter Saliva (and my son, Syphilis – but that’s another story).

Compared with other animal species, I think humans have long been underutilizing this biological resource. Some people even go as far as regularly spitting out this useful fluid as if having too much of it would actually drown them. What a waste.

Have you ever seen a dog consciously spit? Dogs, like most animals, in fact use their saliva as a natural disinfectant to clean and heal wounds. Certain birds use their saliva to build nests; most frogs use it to catch insects, while some snakes carry venom in it to kill prey. And cats, well, they practically bathe in their own saliva.

Probably due to some evolutionary flaw, I seem to have acquired this particular animal instinct more than anyone I know because I’ve always found many uses for saliva (or at least more than what other people would care to admit). And no, I don’t mean using it as a grooming product, but rather as an all-around liquid cleaner for some of the toughest stains on just about any solid surface.

When dealing with hard-to-remove stains, my auto-response has always been to quickly lick my finger and gently rub on the affected spot – a primordial reaction most likely genetically passed on to me by my Stone Age ancestors who were very particular about keeping their caves clean and spotless.

“Honey, the neighbor’s Pterodactyl scraped our walls again, would you be a darling and lick it clean for me?” was probably a normal conversation one would hear from my cave-dwelling relatives.

For cleaning

When cleaning items, the amount of saliva and pressure I use depend on how bad the stain is. There have been desperate times when I’d practically lick the affected spot or even spit on it in an attempt to loosen the stain’s molecular hold on the material. Sometimes, leaving the item soaked overnight in spit does the trick as well.

So far, I’ve used saliva to effectively remove certain types of stains, scratches, scrapes, nicks, spills, and marks on almost all kinds of surfaces including fabric, mobile phones, laptops, glassware, shoes, furniture, home appliances, and cars to name a few.

Saliva effectively cleans without ruining your varnish or paint job and leaves electronic devices smooth and shiny. Saliva in a spray bottle anyone?

Saliva also comes in handy in very dry weather especially when flipping through glossy magazines, counting crisp new money, or opening flimsy plastic bags (like those annoying clear, thin ones in the fruit section of grocery stores).

With all these practical uses for saliva, it’s no surprise then that life has blessed me with an overabundance of it.

My salivary glands are probably more active than the average person’s. I could possibly power a small rural village in Africa if my saliva had the same chemical properties as gasoline.

And my dentist would be the first one to attest to this fact.

He always ends up looking like he just spent a fun day in a water park after doing a standard cleaning procedure on my teeth. It actually takes two suction machines to keep my mouth from flooding his office – a lesson the poor guy learned after having to change my drenched paper bib multiple times in one sitting. If he had his way, he’d probably shove an industrial vacuum cleaner in my mouth.

And if there was such as thing as a portable saliva suction machine, I’d most likely be walking around with one stuck in my mouth all day, because my salivary problems are certainly not confined to my dentist’s office.

When hungry, I literally drool when I think of food or even see a photo of it. I drool when I’m totally focused on anything like playing the piano or sketching, which usually ruins my work when using charcoal pencils (I’ve thought of shifting to water color). I drool when trying to assemble anything big or small. Sometimes, even tying my shoelaces does it.

Student days

One time during group work back in college, I was tasked to write notes on a large brown flipchart paper. I was hunched on the floor meticulously scribbling our notes when out of the blue (or my mouth to be exact), a tiny drop of saliva gracefully fell on the paper.

I tried to disguise it as a period in a sentence but the tiny drop quickly bled into the brown paper and bulldozed its way into a growing circle, smearing black marker ink along its destructive watery path. It soon blossomed into a perfect dark patch that threatened to bore a hole into the paper. I was too embarrassed to even look up at my groupmates who were all huddled around me, so just continued writing amidst the expanding black blob in the middle of our report.

High school music class was another ordeal. At one point, our music teacher told us that we were going to learn how to play the recorder (a woodwind musical instrument from the flute family). I looked at her thinking, “You whore! Not unless you provide me with a bucket to catch all my drool!”

As expected, instead of blowing a gentle flow of air into the instrument, I created a fountain of saliva. I spewed a steady gush of spit throughout entire classical pieces, turning my recorder into a water pipe and drenching my classmates with wet melodies the whole semester.

What my music class didn’t know was that sitting beside me in fast-moving vehicles such as speedboats, jet skis, motorbikes or cars and buses with open windows may likewise result in the same occasional scattered rain showers.

I’ve since then learned to stay away from any apparatus having to do with wind – both musical and vehicular. But my saliva hasn’t been too happy with that.

As if guided by some evolutionary intelligence (damn those strong prehistoric genes), my saliva has dropped the need for a third party channel to launch itself into the world. It has found a new way of escaping my mouth through the simple act of yawning.

What used to be a harmless activity has turned into some form of natural aberration ever since I had my impacted wisdom teeth pulled out (yes, by the same dentist).

Somehow, in place of my molars, shallow pockets in both corners of my mouth have formed, where small amounts of saliva lie stagnant, just waiting for me to yawn and retract my tongue far back enough to push a steady spray out of my gaping mouth. I haven’t fully comprehended the entire mechanics of this but I now yawn like some venomous snake. Perfect.

So what do you do when life throws you with too much saliva? No, you don’t make lemonade as the popular saying goes. That would be sick.

You shine your appliances with it, what else? – 

Paolo Mangahas is a Filipino writer who has published several essays on food, lifestyle, fashion, and social and environmental development in various publications in the Philippines and abroad. He currently resides in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, managing communications for a regional marine conservation program. Follow him on Twitter: or Facebook:


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