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Mailwasher: More 'spammunition' against spam

David Strom takes another look at anti-spam applications.

Category: Spam cleaner
Name of tool: Mailwasher
Company name: Nick Bolton -
Price: Donation requested
Platforms supported: Windows and any POP-based e-mail server

*** = Hey, not bad. One notch below very cool

Key features:

Easy and simple to use
Eliminates the majority of spam e-mails
Whitelist and blacklist entries

Getting started with your whitelists will take some patience

Last month, I described a few of the anti-spam products that I have been using. Since then, and thanks to your diligence, I have come across many others and dutifully tried them all out. I want to tell you about my current favorite, called MailWasher, which does a very good job and is the best of the breed, as far as I can see.

Lucky for you I get tons of spam a day, a fountain of porn, make-money-fast and personal letters from Sub-Saharan African "officials" that can be directed at these various products. I didn't realize what an ideal test environment I had until I delved into this area.

The anti-spam products fall into one of three general categories:

1) Peer-to-peer products like SpamNet and Matador, which operate inside your Outlook or Outlook Express program and process the mail as it arrives to that program. While these products do a reasonable job, they are slow and somewhat frustrating to operate. In addition to the two I reviewed last month, there is also IhateSpam from Sunbelt Software, NUCEM from, SpamAssassin from (which also works with Exchange servers) and (which works only with Eudora and not Outlook/OE). I am less keen on this category since trying these all out, and you'll see why in a moment.

2) Mail service providers that do the screening on the front end of their systems, so when you get around to reading your mail, the spam never hits your inbox. An alternative to this is one of several corporate-level products that can do the same thing for an entire business' e-mail population. I wish more ISPs would implement products like this, but in the meantime, you can sign up at any number of sources, including,, and (that has an interesting "one-time" e-mail address feature). Some of these service providers make use of Web-based gateways for you to read your mail, which can be cumbersome. And while the idea of having a filter on the front end of your mail system is the right way to go, it means you might have to change your e-mail identity or ISP to take advantage of this feature.

3) Standalone screening products that work against any POP-based mail server. This is where MailWasher comes into play, and where I think you should be, too. McAfee's SpamKiller is another product here, but it is a bit more complex and cumbersome to operate than Mailwasher, although it has more features.

I was initially hot on the P2P products in the first category, but the more I used them, the less I thought of them. Part of the problem is that they take too darned long to go through your messages. In the amount of time required, I could have easily deleted the messages. Part of the problem is that they don't do much to eliminate spam from the source: They just delete it from your inbox. There are noteworthy exceptions: NUCEM sends messages to whenever you mark a message as spam. That sounds great, but then you have to deal with the automatically generated messages from the abuse department thanking you for notifying them -- just what you need, MORE useless e-mail. And I had problems running these products against my IMAP mail server (except for SpamAssassin -- that seemed to work just fine but did manage to render my one of my machines with Windows 2000 running Outlook 2000 completely inoperable).

So what does Mailwasher actually do? It is a separate program (and thankfully, all contained in a single executable file -- a nice touch) that will connect to multiple mail servers and scan your headers. You can delete messages, mark them as spam and bounce them back, or mark them as friendly and add the sender to your whitelist.

Marking the messages as spam and having them bounce is good, because this is probably the fastest way to signal to the spammer that you no longer exist. It isn't foolproof (and probably by the time you read this some spammer will have figured a workaround), but it does get to the source of the spam itself.

A nice feature of MailWasher is that you can preview the message without having to download it with your e-mail program: Just double-click on the message and a separate window pops up with the message contents.

A couple of my newsletter subscriptions were marked as potential spam by the program -- but that was easy enough to fix, just right click on them and mark these as friendly, and it won't make this mistake any longer.

So what does this cost? You don't have to pay anything, but I recommend you contribute something to the author -- he has a fee schedule on his Web site, but since the commercial programs go for about $30, that might be a good place to start if you like the software and find it useful.

I am sure that there are other spam cleaners out there that I haven't tried yet. But for now, I am sticking with MailWasher. It does the job and operates quickly enough, even on a slower 300-MHz Pentium.

Strom-meter key:
**** = Very cool, very useful
*** = Hey, not bad. One notch below very cool
** = A tad shaky to install and use but has some value.
* = Don't waste your time. Minimal real value.

About the author
David Strom is the senior technology editor for VAR Business magazine. He has tested hundreds of computer products over the past two decades working as a computer journalist, consultant and corporate IT manager. Since 1995, he has written a weekly series of essays on Web technologies and marketing called Web Informant. You can send him e-mail at

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