Laundry has come a long way since we beat clothing with stones at the edge of the river to get them clean.
It has certainly progressed since the days of the electric wring washer.
The appearance of the dryer and the invention of fabric softener ended our dependence on the clothesline and the search for the perfect laundry days.
We should be satisfied, shouldn't we?
Of course not. What good is a washer that can't be programmed to remove every known stain? Or a dryer that can't receive instructions from the washer on how to dry the next load?
The latest functions
Some of the functions being programmed into the new generation of washers and dryers are designed to save energy and water.
Others can be considered novelty items. For example, one new Maytag model, the MAV9750, has a finger faucet under the rim that you can use to wash laundry soap off your hands. It also has a "remind chime" that tells you when the wash is done, which is easier than putting your ear to the floor if the washer and dryer are in the basement.
For those among us who grow tired of technology or are confused by it, Maytag's new Atlantis has a less-complicated, easy-to-learn control panel.
The complexity is restricted to the interior, with a HydroClean wash action to keep "whites white" and a HydroFlex agitator to increase the movement of clothes through the water.
Do you suffer from LLS (Loud Laundry Syndrome)? Before you call the doctor, remember that this condition seems to be common among owners of older washers that tend to make a lot of noise.
LG Electronics, which introduced the single-unit washer/dryer to the U.S. market two years ago, has found a cure for LLS: the direct-drive system, which reduces noise.
You get more than just a noiseless washer. You get a virtually motionless one, as well. At the Builders Show in January in Las Vegas, LG's Daniel Lee stood a nickel on its side on the washer and had a technician gradually raise the agitation rate of the machine to its peak -- 1,200 revolutions per minute.
The nickel didn't move. The price of the washer ranges from $899 to $1,299, but this includes the industry's largest load capacity: 3.72 cubic feet.
There also is a delay-wash feature, which allows you to program the machine to complete washing up to 19 hours after you have loaded it.
Sometimes, the manufacturers want to get their products out in front of an audience -- in this case, 90,000 builders -- so a new Amana washer-dryer line arrived in Las Vegas without a name or price.
But it has a stainless-steel tub, "common-sense" fabric cycles, a QuickWash feature that lets you wash the shirt you need for a party in record time, and SteadySpin, which will let the washer continue spinning even if the load becomes unbalanced.
Think you've seen everything?
You haven't. Because Whirlpool used the Builders Show to introduce a laundry-room concept the company seems to think we all want: The Family Studio.
'Newest status symbol'
Joan McCloskey of Better Homes and Gardens calls the laundry room "the newest status symbol" among home buyers.
"If you stop to think about that, it's rather astonishing," McCloskey said. "Imagine telling your grandmother that all of your friends really rave about your $30,000 laundry room."
Mara Villaneuva, a brand manager for Whirlpool, said the company's surveys found that laundry was a priority for its customers and that some of those surveyed "had already built multifunction rooms they called 'power laundry rooms' -- places in which they could combine their household chores with those of their families."
Since the typical U.S. family does eight to 10 loads of wash a week, and 20 million women and 10 million men spend hundreds of hours each year washing and drying clothes, why not "have a place for families to do crafts, pay bills, for children to do homework, or surf the Internet -- not to mention a beautiful space to take care of the entire family's wardrobe?" Villaneuva asked.
You may be thinking that here is another example of excess and conspicuous consumption, but McCloskey, who is an impartial observer of the housing scene and oversees virtually endless surveys of her magazine's readers, has a different view:
"It is a space where you corral all the messy chores, crafts, sewing, and even a gardening project in one space that you can close the door on," McCloskey said. "When you describe that space to a mother, you should see her face light up."
It is true, at least according to the National Association of Home Builders, that laundry rooms are a priority among home buyers.
Gopal Ahluwalia, staff vice president of the association's Research Economics Group, said his 2002 survey showed that "a separate laundry room was a 'must-have' " for buyers of average-size and upscale houses.
The Whirlpool Family Studio's laundry facilities are not limited to the manufacturer's Duet Fabric Care System -- also known as a washer and dryer.
It also features a DryAire drying cabinet, which is designed for air-drying wool sweaters in a couple of hours rather than a couple of days. The cabinet provides a place for drying delicates or bulky items.
There is also the SinkSpa jetted sink for delicates, which has water jets for hand-washables.
The Personal Valet Clothes Care System, introduced two years ago, removes wrinkles and odors and gets clothes ready to wear in about 30 minutes.