This is what the future of laundry looks like (take note, guys!)

The new Swash may revolutionize the way we clean our clothes - but not in the way you might think. (source: Whirlpool/Swash)
The new Swash may revolutionize the way we clean our clothes — but not in the way you might think. (Whirlpool/Swash)

When you think of doing laundry, you probably think of making a dreaded trip to the laundry room or dealing with heaps of clothes that have been piled artfully within a basket (or perhaps not so artfully on the floor).

So Whirlpool recently unveiled a new machine known as the Swash that offers an alternative for people who are tired of “washing, drying, steaming, ironing and dry-cleaning” to get their clothes clean.

In just 10 minutes, Swash claims that it will have your clothing wrinkle-free, smelling fresh and ready to go.

So is all this just a bit of innovation mumbo-jumbo from a big company to get consumers to buy more stuff, or is this really what the future of laundry looks like?

What’s interesting is that the Swash is not being marketed as a home appliance (which is what you might expect from a company like Whirlpool) but rather, as a sleek, stylish technology device that’s part of your everyday busy lifestyle. The Swash itself looks a lot like a piece of super-slim computer hardware. It even comes in two colors (off-white or black) just like the first iPhones and boasts its own Instagram account. Which raises the obvious question — when was the last time you ever took a selfie while doing laundry?

That’s exactly the point. The Swash has been cleverly designed to fit in the bedroom or the office or the walk-in closet, not just the laundry room – it’s meant to be small, portable and design-friendly enough where people won’t give you a funny look if they see your Swash next to your living room coffee table. Product photos, for example, show a Swash positioned next to a bed. That alone is a sea change in how we think about “doing laundry.”

And, to make the machine as easy to operate as possible, the Swash is not powered by big bulky bottles of Tide detergent. Instead, it’s powered by one-time-use Tide detergent pods (“Swash Pods”). That’s right, you can now do your laundry the same way that you make your coffee. Buy pods, pop one into a machine, wait a few minutes, and voila! It’s ready to go.

Which, of course, should have you raising your eyebrows right about now. That seems like a surefire way for Whirlpool and Tide to get people to spend more money on laundry. Each package of 12 Tide pods costs $6.99, and the Swash machine doesn’t come cheap – it  retails for $499 at Bloomingdale’s. Assuming that a bottle of Tide laundry detergent also costs about $6.99, then a few back-of-the-envelope calculations suggests that you’re washing 12 items of clothing for the same cost as doing multiple loads of laundry. Those costs add up, even if it reduces your annual dry-cleaning tab.

From this perspective, then, the Swash should remind you of the strategy of any consumer company that sells a core product relatively cheaply, and then makes all their profits on getting consumers to buy a supporting product on a regular basis. Think of companies like Gillette that get you to buy razor blades again and again, or printer companies like HP that get you to buy ink cartridges again and again, or companies like Keurig that get you to buy coffee pods again and again. It sounds like a classic B-school case study of how to make money. Here, the logic appears to be to sell the machine for $499 and make all the money back on packs of $6.99 detergent pods.

But that ignores one big thing, and again, it comes back to lifestyle. The Swash could make it fun for guys to do laundry. Yes, you heard that correctly. For guys, let’s face it, laundry is not so much about getting clothes “clean” as simply getting rid of the wrinkles and neutralizing the odors, which is what the Swash promises to do. There is actually a photo on the Swash Instagram account suggesting guys might use the Swash ahead of a big date – when was the last time you saw that in an ad for a home washing machine?

Just as the Nest transformed the thermostat and the smoke alarm into objects of technological lust, the Swash may transform our traditional, gender-specific notions of the humble washing machine. This is a tech gadget as much as a home appliance. It’s showing up on tech blogs and gadget sites like Engadget, not just on sites like InStyle with advice on “how to never iron again.” Need a shirt ready for your next business meeting or hot date? Just set up the Swash next to the big-screen TV in your man cave and it’s ready to go in 10 minutes. An innovation that induces a cultural change so great that guys will want to do laundry on a regular basis is, at the very least, interesting.

Laundry may not seem like an area where we see the Next Big Thing. But it’s clear evidence of how just about anything is ripe for disruptive innovation, even something as simple as laundry. Generations of women grew up hand washing their clothes, to be followed by generations of women who used bulky, noisy machines to accomplish the same task. The real breakthrough is that the Swash may use technology to completely disrupt the process of cleaning our clothes, thereby democratizing the laundry process for men.

Dominic Basulto is a futurist and blogger based in New York City.
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