Manufacturers of home appliances are turning growing concerns about toxic fine dust pollution being blown over from the Chinese mainland to their advantage.
One unexpected beneficiary is the clothes dryer, a product that has not been widely used in Korea until recently as people were happy to hang their washing on the line. But now that the air that dries the clothes is increasingly poisonous, the year has already seen 150,000 units of the bulky gadgets sold during the first quarter, surpassing the whole of last year’s sales.
Another supposed benefit is the dust-removing and disinfectant properties the manufacturers boast, which allow people to throw clothes in the dryer if they fear that they have been polluted with toxic dust.
LG and smaller rival Rinnai only introduced clothes dryers in Korea last year, but the market has grown swiftly, and this year their sales are expected to reach 600,000 units.
Sales of clothes dryers at Lotte Hi-Mart surged 11-fold in the first quarter compared to the same period of 2016. Samsung, which has been focusing its marketing activities in Europe and North America, joined the fray by reintroducing a dryer on home turf last month.
Meanwhile, air purifiers are also rolling off the shelves. Samsung, LG and Coway are running factories at full capacity to meet soaring demand.
One staffer at an appliance manufacturer said, “The secret to the success of health-related home appliances is the concern among Koreans over air quality, as demonstrated by the large number of people walking around with surgical masks. But another factor is that the technology has improved in leaps and bounds”.
In the first quarter of this year, sales of air purifiers surged more than 50 percent on-year, and industry insiders expect them to reach 1.5 million units this year.
“In the past, the most popular models were made for small rooms of up to 40 sq.m, but now there’re products built for homes up to 100 sq.m”.
High-end air purifiers can be operated by smartphone apps.
Another selling point is that they are much more energy-efficient than they used to be. Choi Doo-hwan at Lotte Hi-Mart said, “Power-saving clothes dryers being sold these days are slim enough to be placed practically anywhere in the home and consume just a quarter of the electricity older models used”.
LG leads the markets because it went all out in developing home appliances to make up for its weakness in the smartphone field compared to rival Samsung. Jung Yeon-sung at Dankook University said, “The urgency at LG spurred it to quickly spot the needs of consumers and make speedy investments”.