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Whirlpool Introduces Portable Laundry Product
Jan 13, 2005
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Whirlpool Corp.'s latest product adds a new wrinkle to an old, oft-dreaded household task-ironing.

The company plans to introduce the Fabric Freshener, at the 2005 International Builders' Show in Orlando, FL, U.S.

Similar in function to Whirlpool's larger, more expensive Personal Valet, the Fabric Freshener is a portable electric appliance that uses steam and heat to remove wrinkles and odors from clothing made from wool, cotton, silk, rayon, polyester, and other common fabrics.

The Fabric Freshener is to go on sale May 1, 2005 at a suggested retail price of U.S. $219 -- less than one-fifth the $1,199 cost of the armoire-sized Personal Valet, which the company plans to continue marketing. Whirlpool says the Fabric Freshener is the first such portable product of its kind.

For its first 3 months on the market, the Fabric Freshener will be available only at Best Buy stores and at Whirlpool.com, making it the first Whirlpool-branded product to be sold by the company directly to consumers.

Whirlpool Corp. sells other brands online, including its Gladiator GarageWorks modular storage system for garages and its KitchenAid countertop appliances, cookware, baking pans, and cutlery.

Designers and engineers at the Benton Harbor-based appliance maker started creating the Fabric Freshener about 2 years ago, said Laura Hall, Whirlpool brand manager.

"We developed this from the ground up," she said.

The bluish-gray machine resembles an oversized garment bag when in use and collapses down to about the size of a canister vacuum. It can treat one or two articles of clothing at a time using only tap water; no chemicals are needed, nor can they be added.

"With a product like this, it helps to extend the life of your clothing," said Audrey Reed-Granger, a Whirlpool brand spokeswoman.

To operate the unit, wrinkled clothes are placed inside the bag, a plastic cup in the base is filled with water, the bag is zipped up and the "start" button is pushed. Each cycle begins with a steaming process, followed by a drying cycle and a cooling-down period. The average cycle time is about 30 min.

Whirlpool officials expect many buyers to be business executives looking for a way to avoid doing most of their ironing. While the Fabric Freshener cannot press a crease into a shirt sleeve or pant leg, it can eliminate most wrinkles in clothes for a "casually pressed" look, Ms. Hall said.

The device is particularly effective on sweaters and wool suits and safe for dry clean-only clothing and hand washables, she added. Unstained and unsoiled clothes often are taken to dry cleaning shops to have wrinkles and stale smells removed.

Diane Ritchey, editor of Home Appliance magazine, a publication for consumers, said the Fabric Freshener continues a laundry-product trend that also includes Maytag Corp.'s Neptune Drying Center. Introduced in September 2003 by Newton, IA, U.S. Maytag, it pairs a traditional tumble dryer with an upper drying cabinet that further refreshes clothes.

"That's been a really big hit for them," she said.

Ms. Ritchey said consumers always are looking for affordable appliances that would make their lives easier, so she expects the Fabric Freshener to be a success -- once people have grown accustomed to the idea.

"I can see consumers seeing the benefit of it eventually," she said. "When a new appliance heads our way and it's really kind of trendy, we tend not to jump on it as quickly as manufacturers, I think, would like.

"But once we do catch on, they usually are pretty big hits. It could potentially be a very nice appliance for people." (AP, Detroit Free Press)

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