Dry Cleaner in the Corner

I loaded it into the device, waited a half-hour, and -- voila -- my shirt came out pressed and clean-smelling.

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Whirlpool's prototype Personal Valet means fewer trips to the dry cleaner.

When I first saw Whirlpool's Personal Valet a few months ago in North Carolina, I didn't have time for a formal test. But I did have a wrinkled shirt with me (more accurately, on me). I loaded it into the device, waited a half-hour, and -- voila -- my shirt came out pressed and clean-smelling.

My admittedly quick trial seems to back up Whirlpool's claim that the Valet saves trips to the dry cleaner. The cabinet-sized machine includes
a rack big enough to accommodate three garments. Clothing is shaped and stretched with weights and other accessories. A compressor blows air through a dispensing nozzle to create a penetrating mist. Then, a small heating element warms the cabinet to 140F, which activates a water-based chemical called Presiva. The chemical, according to Whirlpool, smoothes wrinkles and vaporizes odor molecules.

The Valet won't replace dry cleaning, since it doesn't remove stains or visible dirt. But Whirlpool claims that two-thirds of garments taken to the cleaners aren't really dirty: They're just wrinkled and smelly. The device is still being tested. Once available nationwide -- no word on when yet -- it should retail for around $1,000.