The Electrolux Iron Aid steam dryer appeared in the European marketplace some time ago, but now it seems to be catching on. Since the white-goods market is moving slower than other markets (e.g., the phone business), the emergence of a new type (or subtype) of appliance is noteworthy.
Fabio Alzetta, Electrolux’s dryer business manager for Europe, explains: “The Iron Aid is a condense dryer with a built-in steam generator. It has two different types of steam programs: One allows consumers to refresh their clothes, while the other helps with the ironing. At the end of the normal drying cycle, the user can select a steam phase of about 20 minutes. This dewrinkles the laundry.”
Electrolux understood that many users wash all their laundry at one time and iron some of it later. Hence, the company’s dryer offers a 20-minute steam cycle to prepare the laundry for easy ironing. The steam is generated from a separate container that holds sufficient water for 4 to 10 cycles. The energy used in this cycle is just 0.2 kWh. The appliance also offers special programs for drying delicate fabrics such as wool and silk. “After an initial drying cycle,” notes Alzetta, “many items do not need more ironing. For garments that require additional care, the unit has a cycle that is 50% faster than the initial cycle.”
Electrolux’s Nick Fox, who is responsible for strategic product planning, was involved in the Iron Aid project from the beginning. “From our Consumer Connection research program, we learned that most customers are quite satisfied with current washers and dryers. It is not new that ironing is seen as the most unpleasant chore—60% of customers hate it. We also saw that customers are unwilling to go to the dry cleaner, and that washing by hand is also unpopular. Many customers told us that they did not want an extra appliance, such as a separate drying cabinet (European houses are small). Since Electrolux has a lot of experience with steam from our commercial laundry business, we decided to apply that knowledge and design a steam dryer.”
Fox notes that much of the design work was performed in the company’s German laundry R&D center in Nuremberg in conjunction with its central R&D team in Italy. Initially a product for the European market, Iron Aid will be introduced to some Asian markets later this year. The current product design uses a closed-circuit condense dryer; that’s why the product has not been launched in the United States, a vented-dryer market.
The design work focused on two issues, the steam unit (including its mechanical and electrical functions) and the drying and steaming cycles. “The steam unit is outsourced,” remarks Fox. “It took a while to design the cycles, to study and integrate the drying and steaming effects, and to adapt it all to the many different fabrics and loads.”
“Until now,” explains Alzetta, “the feedback from the markets has been very positive. The trade embraced the concept and is willing to display it to the public.” Users have responded well, and consumer magazines such as the UK’s Which? and Germany’s STIWA have reacted positively. “Of course it is a new product, and everybody (including ourselves) has to learn how best to communicate it to the customer.” The company has had to learn how to push the system’s advantages without promising too much. Some consumers don’t believe that the unit can actually dewrinkle their clothes before they see it at work, notes Alzetta. “Unfortunately, most shops are not equipped for such in-store demonstrations.”
He continues that the machine cannot eliminate ironing altogether. But it does reduce total ironing time significantly and achieves professional-style pressing in less time than conventional ironing.
The European dryer market varies greatly from country to country, with more than 50% penetration in the UK, Belgium, and The Netherlands; approximately 30% in France and Spain; and less than 3% in Italy and Eastern Europe.
Iron Aid has no competitors at this point, remarks Alzetta, “but we know that a number of competitors will be launching steam dryers in the near future. Whirlpool has announced the launch of a vented steam dryer for the United States, and the Spanish company FagorBrandt might be introducing a product similar to Iron Aid later this year. LG is also expected to enter this market. We welcome these initiatives, since it confirms our choice and helps to create a new product category.”