Home Laundry: Sophisticated simplicity

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Home laundry, the staple product of the domestic appliance sector, is a good indicator not only of the general health of the industry, but also of the latest customer expectations. Anna Ryland examines the current trends in this market.
Both manufacturers and retailers agree that modern, time-deprived consumers want home appliances which first of all make their life easier and save them time in every way possible. Hence the growing popularity of washers with bigger drums, higher speeds and more energy efficiency.

Stuart Frost, product marketing manager at Maytag, sums up these trends: “Ease of use, functionality and economical use of energy, water and detergent are key in the advances of laundry technology; manufacturers are developing machines that safeguard and protect the environment, as well as provide excellent performance economically”. Then he adds: “I honestly believe that simplicity and ease of use are not key today, they are critical!”

Delivering customer expectations

Bigger loads

This simplicity is delivered by increasingly sophisticated machines which feature seemingly impossible solutions.

An obvious example of this is an expectation of bigger wash loads, which nevertheless have to be delivered by the same size washing machines, as kitchens get less not more spacious. Dawn Stockell, UK brand and marketing manger at Electrolux, comments: “Over the past year we have seen a significant growth in bigger load capacities. Once upon a time virtually all washing machines offered a 4.5kg load, while today the majority (around 50%) offer a load size of 5.5-6kg or more, with the biggest growth rate seen in the over 7kg load category, which is up by 72% on the previous year (Jan-Dec 06, source GfK). Consumers readily buy into the sales argument that, the larger the load capacity, the more clothes they can wash. They welcome the idea of washing less often, as well as saving time, energy and money.”

Nicole Cowley, Whirlpool category manger, explains the technological rationale behind the introduction of larger loads: “8kg capacity machines are becoming increasingly popular for a number of reasons. The 40% more capacity over a 5kg model can mean better care for your fabrics – materials have more room to move around, and so are less stressed, water and detergent can penetrate the fabric more easily, and creasing is reduced. So even if you do not need the capacity for larger loads, the bigger drum size is worth having.”

Yet, it is worth remembering: “Most of us still tend to sort our laundry by colour and fabric type which means that the load sizes are typically very small. So it is hugely important for a machine to wash even more efficiently and offer automatic load and water adjustment, electronically, “ points out Maytag’s Stuart Frost.

Energy efficiency

With the growing cost of energy and water and frequent media coverage of the need to reduce the carbon footprint of our households, there is greater than ever consumer interest in energy efficiency of appliances. All top of the line washers are now A and A+ rated. For example, “Whirlpool’s 6th Sense technology saves up to 30% on time water and energy by recognising the size of the load using special sensors. A+ rated washing appliances are up to 10% more efficient than A-rated appliances,” explains Whirlpool’s Nicole Cowley.

The LG Steam Direct Drive which is A++ rated uses 35% less water and 21% less energy than traditional washers. Hotpoint’s Aqualtis has an Eco function that gives the consumer feedback on the most economic programme to use.

Also Baumatic has developed a water-efficient system called ‘Rain Shower Effect’. “By harnessing the centrifugal force generated by the spinning drum, water collected in a reservoir is re-used in the wash cycle. This feature enables high quality cleaning results to be achieved by using much smaller amounts of water and detergent, which is also kinder to the environment,” explains Paul Thompson, managing director of Baumatic UK.

“Whilst many washing machines are now AAA or even A+AA rated, this is not the case for tumble dryers. AEG-Electrolux was first to launch the A-rated dryer last year – T59800. And this year the Zanussi-Electrolux brand has just launched a B-rated dryer TCE7227, which is 23% more efficient than an equivalent C-rated dryer (over 77% of all tumble dryers sold are C-rated; source GfK),” comments Dawn Stockell of Electrolux.

Keeping user informed

Consumers expect simplicity from domestic appliances but at the same time they wish to be in control and well informed of what’s going on. Well designed control panels are essential for this. They suggest wash cycles, offer extra information on how to deal with stains and are interactive, so programmes can be personalized.

Intelligent programmes

New programmes are constantly being developed for specific purposes. Different fabrics and types of garments benefit from specialized wash cycles, such as wool, silk or lingerie. Whirlpool, for example will introduce in 2007 a jeans wash especially designed to deal with denim.

Yet, a good wash isn’t just about removing dirt. “Many people today are allergic to the enzymes and soap residues that can remain in clothes after washing.” Extra rinses are always recommended for those with sensitive skin or for babies – it is a lot more effective to increase the number of rinses than increase the amount of water in the rinse. Maytag’s 60 Series offers a Super Rinse that can increase the number of rinses to five, “remarks Stuart Frost.

Bosch washers are also equipped with Aqua Plus programme which removes detergent residues by using a higher water level throughout the wash and rinse cycles.

Eliminating bacteria from the laundry and the washer itself was a focus of many recent product developments. In 2006, Samsung applied Silver Nano technology to its new range of washing machines. They contain rods of silver that generate ions which when dissolved in the water to produce anti-bacterial cleaning solutions which also eliminate odours in the laundry.

Baumatic has just launched new models with an antibacterial surface, which contains invisible silver particles that interact with the washing removing bacteria from the wash. Also Whirlpool is extending its use of Microban to laundry equipment this year. Together with Microban the company has developed a special treatment to help reduce bacteria growth, odours and mould in the detergent drawer.

Stain removal is still one of the greatest challenges for the engineers developing laundry appliances. It is perhaps not surprising that the new washer range from Siemens (WM14S493GB) is the market ‘first’ with an automatic stain removal system (autoStain) which takes care of 14 different stains without special pre-treatment. Acknowledging the superior performance of the range, the Good Housekeeping Institute (GHI) has given it its accreditation. To date, these are the only washing machines approved by the GHI.

Making ironing easier is another laundry challenge, which has been addressed by the LG Steam Direct Drive washers. “It’s Refresh programme uses steam for only 20 minutes to remove creases in garments, eliminating the need for ironing,” comments Simona Allan, white goods marketing, LG Electronics. Also “the new BEKO tumble dryers incorporate a sensor drying electronic control system which means the machine will automatically stop when clothes have reached the level of dryness selected, saving your customers time and money by not over-drying clothes and cutting down electricity bills,” adds Ragip Balcioglu, director of buying and product at Beko.

How quick is a good wash?

Overwhelmed by the available choices, the customers frequently ask retailers: How quick is a good wash?

The answer isn’t simple for the following reasons: “Energy labels and the drive to get an A-rated wash using less energy has led to longer wash times on today’s washing machines – for a cotton wash now over two hours – compared to the one hour it was 12 years ago. Electrolux knows that many consumers do not want such a long wash time which is why it offers a Time Saver button which allows the running time to be cut by 50%,” clarifies Electrolux’s Dawn Stockell.

Interestingly, this is an area which Whirlpool laboratories have tested comprehensively. “The Whirlpool daily load programme is a 40° wash lasting one hour. It gives a good quality wash for a 3.5 kg load of mixed fabric (standard drum size). The Whirlpool quick wash is 30 minutes but this is only recommended for a lightly soiled load of 3.0 kg (standard drum size), clarifies Nicole Cowley. Then she explains further: “There are several constraints to getting an efficient quality wash shorter than this – with shorter cycle times the spinning cycle would only be suitable for very light fibres (where not much water has been absorbed). Also, washing powders generally need at least 15 minutes to be sufficiently activated in the water.”

Washing in style

The traditional image of home laundry appliances has been challenged by the recent developments. While some makers diversified to grey or stainless steal finishes “Smeg has proved laundry appliances can be as stylish and design led as ovens or hobs with its new range of ‘retro’-style washing machines. They are available in pink and cream and feature the same styling as its FAB refrigeration products,” comments Joan Fraser, national sales support manager at Smeg UK. Also the Maytag 60 Series has a styling with a difference – with a drop down door in the latest metal finish, concealing a door to the washer.

Many design features are dictated by ergonomics. In 2006, Miele on its W1000 series, Indesit on the Aqualtis, Hoover on the Vision HD, Candy on the Grand’O and Electra on its 8.5kg models – introduced tilted drums (some were also positioned higher) with wider openings which make loading and unlading easier while at the same time adding a modern design touch.

Developments outside the box

New category developments providing solutions for complete fabric care are coming thick and fast. The high-profile ‘Prêt-à-porter’ fabric refresher that Whirlpool launched two years ago, has been followed by Maytag’s Drying Cabinet – a multi-functional, freestanding unit, designed for drying anything from shirts to Wellington boots.

Now Fagor has developed the DrIron, the first dryer that not only dries, but irons, says the manufacturer. This new laundry concept features a condensation system that extracts humidity from clothing during the drying process. The machine takes up to 120 minutes to produce ready to wear clothing and crinkle free laundry utilising specially designed hangers and accessories.

What will come next? Maybe when all the bother will be taken out of doing the laundry we will consider it a new form of leisure and take pleasure getting our wooden pegs out again?

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