Miele's Pod Plan Could Change Laundry Detergent Forever

New detergent systems promise the right dose for every stain, fabric, and wash cycle in Miele's newest machine.

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A washing machine is only as good as the detergent in it, and Miele thinks that your detergent isn't good enough.

Alongside its new flagship washer and dryer pair, the German appliance manufacturer introduced not one, but two new detergent systems at IFA 2013. The company claims that the schemes will maximize performance in its top-of-the-line W1 washing machine by working synergistically with the wash cycles.

Miele Detergent Exhibit
Miele's detergent showcase at IFA 2013. Yes, the man in the lab coat is part of the show.

If either one is even modestly successful, other detergent brands could follow suit and start selling multiple varieties of detergent pods, and even start co-branding with appliance manufacturers. Imagine a medley of new Tide Pods, formulated for any stain, fabric, or even washing-machine brand.

Miele's most ingenious detergent idea is CapDos, a system of 10 varieties of detergent capsules, each tailored for a specific laundry need. There's a sport capsule for sweat and an outdoor capsule for synthetic athletic apparel, a booster for really dirty loads, one formulated for water resistant clothing, and enzyme-free, super-foamy formulas for silk and wool—just to name a few. The capsules are built to fit into the detergent tray of the W1 washer, and the machine will be able to sense which variety of capsule was used, and automatically choose the right wash cycle.

It seems like a good way for Miele to just sell lots of single-serve pods at marked-up prices (hello, Keurig coffee). But there's at least some good sense behind what the company is doing. Not all stains are created equal, and a sweat stain doesn't respond to a specific detergent the same way that a wine spill might. Standard detergents tend to damage sensitive fabrics, too. A set of Miele pods will have most needs covered.

It seems like a good way for Miele to just sell lots of single-serve pods at marked-up prices, but there's at least some good sense behind what the company is doing.

No prices have been announced for CapDos, and they won't be available until later this year, but we're assuming that they aren't cheap. They strike us as something to use on occasion, for specialty loads, rather than every single wash cycle—and it's probably more convenient to keep a few little pods lying around than it is to buy a whole bottle of Woolite every time you decide to wash your Christmas sweaters.

Also included in the W1 is the the TwinDos dispensing system. Rather than loading detergent into the machine for every single load, there are slots for two big tubs of washing liquids—one detergent, one bleach.

TwinDos Exhibit
The TwinDos system dispenses the appropriate amounts of pre-loaded detergent (blue) and bleach (clear) based on the wash cycle chosen.

The machine automatically dispenses the soaps in appropriate amounts based on which wash cycle you select. A whites cycle will use more bleach than a darks cycle, for example. Miele sells its own pre-filled tubs, as well as fill-it-yourself containers. If you have TwinDos containers in the W1, but insert a CapDos capsule for one load of laundry, the machine will only use the CapDos detergent.

Miele isn't the only company that makes a washing machine with a detergent dispenser. But as far as we can tell, it is the only one that actually brands and sells its own detergent. The representative we spoke to told us that the machines could not perform at an optimal level using store-bought soaps, since they aren't formulated to work in harmony with Miele's design and engineering.

CapDos has potential to change the way detergents are sold. If it catches on, other detergent makers will likely be lining up to do something similar. The pre-measured pods that have caught on in the past few years have been so effective at reducing wasteful detergent usage, that as a result, overall detergent sales are on a slippery downward slope.

Selling multiple varieties might convince some shoppers to buy more detergent—for the same reason that soft-drink companies usually see an uptick in sales whenever they introduce a new flavor or "line extension."

Selling multiple varieties might convince some shoppers to buy more detergent—for the same reason that soft-drink companies usually see an uptick in sales whenever they introduce a new flavor or "line extension." The drinkers who already buy lots of soda just buy even more.

Co-branding might be more far-fetched—Miele made its own batch of detergents and a new dispensing system in order to work with one specific machine, and the company genuinely seems to believe that the W1 will get clothes cleaner this way. It's much harder for Procter & Gamble to make at least a half-dozen detergent formulae for different appliance brands (let alone all the machines within those brands). Doing it properly would require a lot of research, and the potential payoff seems relatively slim.

It might work for Miele, though, because one of its goals (aside from actually engineering better performance out its machines) is to create brand loyalty. And a part of its brand is to convince buyers that its machines really are superior.

But who knows? Maybe we'll see a Whirlpool detergent somewhere down the line.

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