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Dishwashers to usher in renovation of kitchens

Updated: 2012-09-05 21:10
By Wu Wencong and Mo Jingxi (

Dishwashing machines stand out among kitchen appliances for their huge market potential and high energy efficiency as the government promotes energy-saving household electrical appliances in Chinese kitchens, in line with the State Council's energy conservation plan for 2011 to 2015.

A questionnaire that aims to determine the eating and dishwashing patterns of Chinese consumers will be launched in September by All-China Environment Federation, a national NGO under the leadership of the Ministry of Environmental Protection. The results will become foreign dishwasher manufacturers' reference as they fine-tune their products to fit the local market.

One thousand copies of the 50-question survey will be distributed to families with different levels of income in Beijing and Shanghai. Topics include the kinds of food they eat, their habits when hand-washing dishes, and their feelings about the chore.

This has not been the first time that the Chinese market has attracted dishwasher manufacturers. As early as the late 1980s, more than 100 local dishwasher brands gave it a try. At that time, the 1,000 yuan ($157.50) kitchen helper was about 10 times the worker's average monthly salary, which led to poor market demand.

Later in 1995, foreign dishwasher corporations first set foot in the Chinese market, initiating fierce price competition with local companies.

"Yet up till now, dishwashers remain the only home appliance not widely accepted by Chinese consumers," said Xu Dongsheng, secretary-general of the China Household Electrical Appliances Association.

"Their misunderstandings about it are deep-rooted. People with a traditional education background believe dishwashing by hand to be an indispensable part of living. … Others regard the machine as water- and electricity-consuming and costly, and installation to be inconvenient."

According to a study conducted by two foreign dishwasher companies in 2009, less than 1 percent of Chinese residents have bought or plan to purchase dishwashers, even in the top three cities. The US, by contrast, had already topped 50 percent penetration by 1996.

But many leading companies claimed that the industry will emerge soon. On May 25, a dishwasher industrial peak seminar was held in Shanghai, where industry giants gathered and expressed their eagerness and expectations for the growing Chinese market.

A 2011 market research conducted by Reckitt Benckiser, a household products producer based in London, reports that 74 percent of consumers are willing to or interested in buying dishwashers. The figure in 2009 was no more than 3 percent.

The companies' faith in the market also comes from the government's policy to subsidize energy-conserving products.

Hygiene issues may be another way to boost the Chinese market for dishwashers. A report about the hygienic situation in Chinese kitchens released by the Chinese Preventive Medicine Association on August 30, 2011, says the average number of germs on a dishcloth in a household in Beijing is 18,000 to 100 billion. The figure may be five times higher in Shanghai because of the city's high humidity. Even a toilet seat seems hygienic compared with a cloth with about 30 million micro-organisms.

"Being an environmentally friendly kitchen appliance, the dishwasher ensures not only domestic hygiene, but also saves water and labor," said Xie Yuhong, deputy secretary-general of the All-China Environment Federation.

"Based on research conducted by the United States Environmental Protection Agency, using an ordinary dishwasher saves as much as 6,000 gallons (22.7 cubic meters) of water a year and saves house workers 230 hours of labor."

Seeing a promising future for the industry, more surveys and laboratory experiments analyzing the Chinese market will be conducted by the end of this year before Chinese households can witness the changes brought by a dishwasher.