A relaxing sauna. A deep-cleansing facial. A neatly pressed pair of pants. There are plenty of situations where a good steam goes a long way. Appliance manufacturers are taking advantage of those super-hot water molecules, too, using them to more effectively clean clothes and dishes.

Steam made its appliance debut in the laundry room with LG being the first to incorporate it into its SteamWasher, the maker says. For 2008, the company is offering another first, adding the Allergiene cycle to its SteamWasher.

In general, steam penetrates clothing fibers better than just water and thus can more effectively remove dirt. It also helps dissolve detergents more completely for cleaner rinsing and is a perfect refresher for the occasional touch-up. With the Allergiene cycle, LG says it's able to use the SteamWasher's True Steam generator to put real steam in the wash tub at the appropriate temperature to break down allergens without the extra-hot water causing harm to the fabrics.

Whirlpool also is using steam to its advantage with the Duet Steam laundry pair. In the washer, a “steam boost” increases temperatures to generate steam that helps lift away everything from grass stains to grease without pre-treating, the maker says. In the dryer, a 20-minute steam cycle freshens fabrics and removes wrinkles, even from a full laundry load that's been left behind after drying.

Capitalizing on steam's ability to loosen grime in the kitchen, GE is introducing its SmartDispense2 dishwasher (shown) with a deep-clean wash program for heavily soiled dishes. “We first saw steam in the laundry, and that use really resonates with consumers because it's a different kind of cleaning and a better cleaning,” says Tamara Horne, GE's product manager for dishwashers. “We decided to look for a way to introduce steam into our dishwashers with the goal of helping to remove everyday soil more easily.”

With the deep-clean cycle, the Smart-Dispense2 uses steam to loosen tough-to-wash-off foods, such as eggs, rice, peanut butter, and oatmeal. The dishwasher also features a pure steam pre-wash option to pre-treat dishes and help eliminate streaks and spots. Both cycles are safe for everyday china and stemware. Horne notes that while the steam cycle uses about 1 gallon more water with a cycle time similar to that of a pots-and-pans cycle, the SmartDispense2 will still be EnergyStar-qualified.

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