Mike Monsky was driving along one day with his son, who was eating a peanut butter sandwich. When some of the filling spilled on a stray television remote control, he got a big idea.
He tried in vain to clean the peanut paste from between the rubber buttons. Then it came to him: Why not make a remote with a flat surface, a control that can easily be cleaned?
So, along with business partner Dan Ruback, he did.
The Clean Remote has caught on in a few hospitals and hotels that are ramping up hygienic efforts in an era of swine flu, hand sanitizer, cleaning wipes and mouth masks.
And a reality television show also has its sights set on the local inventors who work out of a warehouse on Dupont Circle, near Racetrack Road.
"A lot of thought went into this," Ruback said.
• • •
Ruback, 51, of Oldsmar realized remote controls were going to be his life about 10 years ago. He grew up with his cousin Monsky, 50, now of Odessa, in Woodbridge, N.J., where they started repairing VCRs, televisions and other electronic devices.
But the electronic repair business was waning, and the cousins had to figure out a way to stay in business. They noticed that people were constantly replacing remote controls that were broken or lost.
In 1996, they started Command in Hand, a company selling remote controls. They put up a Web site and, they say, business never slowed down. They moved operations to Tampa in 2001 and got to work developing a universal remote control specifically for hotels and hospitals.
"We just found a niche," Ruback said.
Today, their warehouse is cramped with boxes of remote controls stacked to the ceiling. The remotes — about 300,000 of them — are sorted by make and model and are ready to be shipped to couch potatoes all over the country.
"We just have bags and bags of them," Ruback said. "It just never ends."
• • •
Somewhere between tragedy and peanut butter came their next big moment.
About 2 million people acquire infections while in the hospital, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And a few years back, Ruback and Monsky say, a relative and an employee's daughter both got sicker after hospital stays.
The business partners didn't know what exactly caused those infections, but they knew that a remote control, even in a hospital room, can carry plenty of bacteria. So they were looking for a way to improve the device, and when Monsky's son spilled the peanut butter, the solution became clear.
They came up with the Clean Remote about six years ago.
The flat surface is easy to clean and is more resistant to bacteria. The remote costs around $10 and works on about 200 television brands. They can be purchased online at cleanremote.com or by calling, toll-free, 1-800-827-2546.
Monsky and Ruback are in the process of creating a newer remote with more functions tailored to in-home use, Ruback said.
The Clean Remote has been tested in laboratories, including the University of Arizona and UCLA Medical Center. The flat remotes contained less bacteria than a regular remote before being wiped clean and less after being cleaned, according to the University of Arizona Department of Soil, Water and Environmental Science study.
Sales have been steady, said Ruback, who recently closed a deal selling 4,000 remotes to Best Western at a trade show in October.
Troy Rutman, a spokesman for the hotel chain, said it is working to boost cleanliness in its rooms.
"We know that this is considered one of the dirtiest items in a room and we are looking for ways to reduce that," Rutman said.
The inventors also are being considered for an upcoming season of the Anthony Sullivan show Pitchmen.
"It's an exciting product, and we have high hopes for it," Sullivan said.
Ruback's pitch: "What happens in Vegas, stays on the remote."
Times staff writer Eric Deggans contributed to this report. Jared Leone can be reached at (813) 226-3435 or [email protected]