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Whirlpool Swash review: Pseudo-dry cleaning at home

Whirlpool would like to wean customers off of habitual dry-cleaner trips by using its Swash clothes refreshing machine at home.

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Brian Bennett
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Brian Bennett

Senior writer

Brian Bennett is a senior writer for the home and outdoor section at CNET. He reviews a wide range of household and smart-home products. These include everything from cordless and robot vacuum cleaners to fire pits, grills and coffee makers. An NYC native, Brian now resides in bucolic Louisville, Kentucky where he rides longboards downhill in his free time.

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Meet the $400 Swash, an appliance Whirlpool says will limit trips to the dry-cleaner by "refreshing" garments right at home and in just 10 minutes. Using a combination of heat and scented chemicals, the Swash's gentle treatment supposedly translates to fewer runs through harsh washer and dryer cycles too, which in turn means less wear and tear.

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6.2

Whirlpool Swash

The Good

The Whirlpool Swash improves the look, feel and smell of lived-in apparel in 10 to 15 minutes. It has simple controls and an LED light countdown timer.

The Bad

Though less expensive than similar products, the $400 Swash is still pricey. The machine requires proprietary pods to function, can't remove stains or duplicate the pressed look of ironing or dry-cleaning. It also only handles one garment item at a time.

The Bottom Line

The Whirlpool Swash might have unique appeal for habitual re-wearers of designer denim and fancy sweaters, but it's more economical for everyone else to wash, dry and iron their clothes, with the occasional trip to the dry-cleaners.

The Swash is not a complete replacement for dry-cleaning, or even basic washing. This machine doesn't actually clean soiled fabric nor remove stains. Rather it offsets unpleasant odors with its own perfumes and smooths out obvious wrinkles. And unlike much pricier appliances such as the new $2,000 LG Styler, the Swash can't handle multiple items of clothing either which makes it far from practical. Worse, the Swash requires proprietary scent pods to operate, which at about 60 cents a pop can add up quickly. So while the Swash is tempting, especially if you're in the elite subset of people who habitually re-wear designer jeans, you're better off tackling laundry the old-fashioned way.

Whirlpool Swash freshens and spruces up clothes at home (pictures)

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Design

At first glance the Swash looks a lot like a classic steam radiator but one constructed from plastic instead of metal. A curved row of blinking LED lights which runs along its foremost edge, however, reveals that this is a 21st century appliance. Another giveaway is the Swash logo, a stylized silver "S," emblazoned on the machine's front face.

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The Swash is big and heavy.

Chris Monroe/CNET

Something else you'll notice right away is that the Swash is big and heavy. Tall, yet narrow and with a wide profile the appliance stands at a height of 4 feet 3 inches, which is well above waist level. Tipping the scales at a hefty 80 pounds, the Swash is no lightweight gadget either. All these physical realities mean you should put some thought into where you'd like to place the Swash within your home. Thankfully once deployed the Swash doesn't require a dedicated water line or other plumbing, only a standard 120 volt outlet (three-prong) for electrical power.

Using the Swash

With very few buttons, settings or special functions operating the Swash's controls is a simple affair, but this doesn't mean it's easy to use. The first step is to load and hang your clothes. Start by grasping the machine's silver knob to slide its door open. Once fully extended, you then hang the item you'd like to treat inside the door using the Swash's bundled plastic hanger. Specific types of garments the Swash is designed to accept are shirts, sweaters, pants (both creased and jeans) along with dresses.

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The controls are few and simple to use.

Chris Monroe/CNET

Since the hanger's width is adjustable, you can also insert blazers and jackets of varying sizes into the Swash. Lengthy items though such as raincoats or winter coats must be folded over the hanger to avoid creating wrinkles in their bottom sections.

Of course one of the claimed abilities of the Swash is removing wrinkles and creases from your clothes without having to whip out and wield a hot iron. To accomplish this the inside of the door has an array of "smoothing clips" meant to latch onto garments and pull their fabric taut. Six in all, the plastic clips are spring-loaded and sit on the lower and bottom edge of the Swash's sliding clothes compartment. These clips are also attached to retractable cords which are the source of the clips' tugging force.

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Open the Swash then hang your clothes inside.

Chris Monroe/CNET

Despite its basic mechanics, hanging clothes properly in the Swash takes more time and effort than you might think. For instance the hanger employs a Y-shaped handle, instead of a traditional curved hook, which you place in slot on the door. The slot's wide channels make it easy to slide the hanger into the door, but also for it to pop out while mounting the clips. And because garments hang the entire length of the machine you will have to kneel, squat or sit down on the floor to attach every clip.

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You'll need to clip the smoothing clips too.

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Next you drop a Swash pod, a plastic oval cup, into a receptacle inside the door's top edge then slide the door closed. To seal the appliance up properly you'll have to give the door a firm but gentle push during the final three-quarters of an inch or so. Using too much force or speed, as I did on my first attempt, causes the pod to slightly escape its resting place and be crushed by the Swash's pod-opening mechanism (and results in a wet, perfumed mess).

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The Swash uses proprietary pods to function.

Chris Monroe/CNET

Lastly all you need to do is select either the Swash's 10 or 15 minute operation cycle and the machine will launch into action. The curved line of LED lights then begin a countdown to cycle completion. Aside from the two cycle buttons, there's a cancel key as well to bring the Swash's activity to a halt. Additionally, the Swash may ask you to empty or return a reservoir, located at the foot of the machine, before you can run a cycle (communicated by blinking orange and blue lights).

Performance

Despite its radiator-like appearance, this machine doesn't rely on heated water vapor to function. In fact the Swash uses an entirely different approach from the one other product that claims similar clothes refreshing capabilities, the LG Styler. Instead of piping in steam to waft over garments, the Swash sprays both sides of a particular item with misted liquid pumped from the Swash pod.

It's this fluid formula Whirlpool says is key to creating the Swash refreshing effect. According to the company, the special formula (made by Tide) is 30 percent more absorbent than plain water. The higher rate supposedly translates to swifter fabric saturation to aid fast transfer of deodorizing and fiber softening agents contained within the Swash pod solution. Next the Swash kicks into drying mode powered by a convection fan to remove excess moisture from your clothing.

One upside to the Swash is the device's relatively brief run time. The appliance's refresh cycles of 10 and 15 minutes are shorter than the Styler's briefest refresh mode of 20 minutes. And compared with the rest of the Styler's lengthy cycles (spanning 40 minutes to a marathon 2 hours 30 minutes) the Swash's operation feels almost lightning quick. The downside here is that the Swash is optimized to treat just one item at a time. By contrast the Styler can tackle batches of at least three garments though it takes much more time to do so.

Wondering if the Swash actually works as advertised? In a word, yes, but it's no dream machine. While the complex procedure for hanging and clipping dress shirts it tricky, I found the results satisfying. Specifically I ran 100 percent cotton shirts, which I considered heavily wrinkled, through the Swash and after 15 minutes I was treated to a garment that was respectably smooth and relatively crease-free.

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Wrinkled cotton dress shirts came out looking much smoother.

Chris Monroe/CNET

I enjoyed similar performance with shirts cut from cotton and synthetic blends as well, even when I selected the shorter 10-minute process. That said, If you're expecting the crisp edges and sharp lines you typically get from using an iron, you'll be disappointed. Shirts were smoother but still slightly rough around the edges, especially at their collars which remained a bit bent out of shape.

I had mixed results with the Swash's claimed deodorizing abilities. I put my favorite raincoat into the machine, along with an "Unwind" scented pod, and engaged its 15-minute cycle. After, I definitely noticed a marked reduction in the frowsy aroma living somewhere deep down within the long-unwashed coat. I could still detect a trace of funk, however, if I sniffed the garment's inner lining deeply.

The same sort of result occurred when I pushed one of my suit blazers through the Swash for 15 minutes. The jacket smelled better and had a smoother look, but wasn't completely rejuvenated. Specifically, sweat stains in the armpit region were reduced but still present and the coat wasn't what I'd call ultra-clean. Of course I've been known to sweat like a horse, plus dry-clean and launder my delicates infrequently -- not an immaculate combination.

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The Swash freshens jeans too.

Chris Monroe/CNET

The Swash though regained some ground when processing sweaters and jeans. The 100 percent wool sweater I subjected to the Swash (15-minute cycle) certainly felt as though it came back straight from the cleaners. Its fabric felt softer, yet had more springy resilience and picked up the most Swash pod aroma of any of the clothing I tried. I also noticed that the old sweater had a pleasingly tighter fit, regaining some of the life it once had. That said, the Swash did not remove any legacy stains nor could the machine repair pilling the sweater suffered from, particularly in fabric on its sleeves.

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Refreshed jeans were softer, fragrant, and felt better to wear.

Chris Monroe/CNET

If you're addicted to pricey designer denim though, you'll find a friend in the Swash. While the jeans I own are of the mass-market Levi's variety, a pair of my perpetually re-worn black-denim pants transformed from being stiff and perhaps a little crusty, to having a luxuriously soft texture. They also wore with a more comfortably fitted cling. I also approved of their slightly dryer-sheet fragrance which beats sweat and funk any day of the week.

Should you splurge for a Swash?

For most laundry-doers that answer is no. While the Swash does do a pretty good job of smoothing out wrinkles in dress shirts, of both cotton and synthetic fabric blends, hanging and clipping inside the contraption takes more effort than I want to commit to. As someone who simply machine washes and dries my buttondowns, hangs them, then irons to order, the Swash is less convenient. I can also iron-press my shirts in about 5 minutes.

Even if your wardrobe consists mainly of dry-clean only garments such as sweaters, delicate dresses and suits, the Swash isn't ideal since it can't process multiple items at once. For this ability you'll have to spring for the opulently priced $2,000 LG Styler. Couple this with the fact that each cycle uses up a 60-cent pod and your Swash costs over time will quickly add up. The Styler might be expensive but it does let you use ordinary (and optional) dryer sheets instead of pods. And remember that serious spills and stains will still require a trip to the dry-cleaner.

Indeed I only see the Swash satisfying one particular subset of person, one who solely wears designer denim for weeks on end for fear of degrading the look and feel of their investment through mechanical washing and drying. Until the Swash, or products like it, come down to $100, ditch the proprietary refresh pod format for a universal standard, and process many garments at once with speed, their appeal will remain marginal.

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6.2

Whirlpool Swash

Score Breakdown

Features 5Design 6Performance 7Usability 6