Owner’s Manual Error Made My Steam Cleaner Self-Destruct

The Whirlpool Fabric Freshener is a device that lets you steam clean your clothes at home, or just quickly get wrinkles out of a piece of clothing without ironing it. The contraption isn’t cheap, but is easy to store and very useful. Andrew purchased one last year, and used it quite a bit. He followed the instructions given for cleaning the system with vinegar every few months, and then….it stopped working entirely. What did he do wrong? He called up Whirlpool to find out.

As it turns out, the water-softening beads that are part of the system aren’t compatible with vinegar. They swell up and clog the tubes, making the whole “steam cleaning” thing problematic. Oh. So much for that part of the manual telling customers to periodically clean the system with vinegar.

Andrew wrote to us in praise of Whirlpool:

Last Fall, I purchased a Whirlpool Fabric Freshener. It is a great machine for quickly removing wrinkles and odors from clothing. I used it a fair amount but not to excess.

The issues with the product began when I ran vinegar through the system to clean the scale from the boiler. Even though the instruction manual tells you to follow this procedure every six months (and provides you with a cycle cup explicitly for this purpose), after running this cleaning cycle my fabric steamer stopped working.

Realizing the 90 day warranty had expired, I checked the internet to find out if there was some way I could fix it. While there was no user serviceable parts, I did find out that running vinegar through the fabric freshener had ruined quite a few other machines.

It turns out that the vinegar interacts with the water softening beads found in the other cycle cup (for use with distilled water), causing them to expand and block the water tubes running to the boiler.

I called Whirlpool nine months after I purchased the product and left a message on their system. Within a couple business days a nice woman named [M.] returned my call and within minutes had started the process to ship (for free) a brand new fabric freshener, as well as a
return shipping label for the defective model.

I will admit I live in Maine and during my initial phone call mentioned the State’s Implied Warranty Law but the speed that Whirlpool handled the claim tells me it probably
didn’t matter.

I would like to thank Whirlpool and M. for a great customer experience.

P.S. If anyone else has this Whirlpool Fabric Freshener, be sure to not use vinegar in it.

Well done, Whirlpool, for taking responsibility for the manual screwup and replacing Andrew’s Fabric Freshener. We’d promote this to true “Above and Beyond” status had the company gone out of its way to contact any customers they could track down through registration cards or other means in order to warn them not to use vinegar, but we still give you about a B- for offering replacements.


Edit Your Comment

  1. az123 says:

    The failure here is the guy actually read the owners manual and followed it…. who does that?

    • TastyBeverage says:

      People who want to watch the world burn.

    • Hi_Hello says:

      in my younger days, I didn’t read manual. I knew what I was doing. And I never had any problems. Once in awhile I found something neat. I figure that if I had read the manual, I would’ve discovered this neat function earlier.

      Today, I skim through the manual because I realized that some people are designing stuff just to be different and not to make sense.

      • TonyK says:

        Yes, getting older seems to induce the need to read manuals. In my (much) younger days I only read the manuals when trouble happened. These days I look over the manuals before doing anything. Strange how time has changed my habits. :D

    • Mr_Magoo says:

      It’s hard to read manuals nowadays, because 3/4 of the manual is dedicated to warnings and cautions. It’s a pain to find the parts that actually tell you how to use the product.

    • anchorworm is really sick of Minnesota weather says:

      I like to read the manual just to laugh at the warnings that have to be posted because people have hurt themselves misusing a product. Two of my favorites were a ladder with a warning not to set up on ice, and a Dremel tool with the warning that it was not to be used as a dental drill for humans or animals. Sad part is that you know that someone said that he wasn’t going to pay a dentist for a root canal, he was just going to use his Dremel.

    • NewsMuncher says:

      I read manuals when I was younger. But it seems that the “manuals” included with a lot of products (cameras, printers, etc) only go as far as setup and cleaning and warnings. I still read them, but I find the experience to be much less rewarding because I rarely learn anything new about the product.
      I’ve had my camera three years now, and I’m still figuring it out.

  2. snape says:

    I actually bought this same device around the same time (it was a slickdeal last fall). I remember in the thread people warning about following the directions. The one cup it comes with has vinegar embossed on it too.

    For anyone interested, it works ok. It can only hold like 3 shirts so its not a iron replacement that I’ve been dreaming of. Now i only use it to steam my bedspread and dress shirts.

  3. McRib wants to know if you've been saved by the Holy Clown says:

    Oh, good guy Corporate Service.
    How unusual.

    • NotEd says:

      Maybe. But the possible threat of the Maine Implied Warranty Law may be partially responsible for the positive outcome.
      Having just finished working for another manufacturer last month, I can guarantee that state with laws that help protect the consumer like Maine’s can guarantee vastly different outcomes for customers than if they lived in another state without such a law.
      Not saying that Whirlpool in particular wouldn’t have reacted the same way if the OP had lived elsewhere. After all if they had been receiving multiple complaint due o the bad instruction in the manual they may have changed they’re policy just to avoid legal action.

  4. TinaBringMeTheAx says:

    I’m sorry, but any company that warrants their products for only 90 days is not a company one should do business with.

    …just saying.

    • Chuft-Captain says:

      Good luck doing business with any company then, because 90 days is on the generous end of things anymore.

      • shufflemoomin says:

        Unless you’re in wonderful Europe with 2 years as standard. ;)

      • TinaBringMeTheAx says:


        The Black & Decker iron and Oster toaster oven I just bought have one year warranties. So do the bike light, bike seat, bike pump and just about every other item I bought on Amazon over the past year.

    • DaveInBillsburg says:

      If these types of products breakdown it will probably happen before the 90 days are up, if they last past that time period there is a good chance they will continue working beyond a longer warranty period. At least that has been my experience with products but YMMV.

    • nybiker says:

      I agree.

      A side note to warranty coverage with regards to furnaces. I had to get a new one about 5 or 6 years ago. It comes with a 10-year warranty. Well, it cracked last year. Great, I get to get a new one. Yes, the furnace comes for free. But my oil supply company (with whom I have a maintenance agreement with) hits me with a $3,000 charge to remove the broken one and install that ‘free’ one. Why doesn’t the oil company go after Burnham for the installation fee? I found out it’s a industry standard practice. If it does crack within 1 year, then, the install is free. Gee, so Burnham is out whatever for the replacement furnace, but I get hit with a $3,000 fee to replace it? Doesn’t seem right to me.
      /end of rant.

      • akronharry says:

        3000 dollars to replace the furnace and remove the old one? Someone is getting ripped off big time.

  5. DaveInBillsburg says:

    Be interesting to see if the new one corrected the instruction manual or if Whirlpool is still giving out the same cleaning instructions.

  6. Ogroat says:

    I have successfully used lemon juice to descale my electric kettle for a few years now. It works nearly instantly and washes out without any fuss. You might try that out.

  7. Russel says:

    I found myself in a similar situation around 2 years ago and gave Whirlpool an F. My Fabric Freshener suddenly stopped working after I followed the instructions for the vinegar cleaning. After a bit of googling, I discovered that the timing was not a coincidence. As Whirlpool’s own instructions caused the machine to break, I was hoping they could replace the blocked components. After several phone messages and emails went unanswered, I finally received an email with some boilerplate language about the product being out of warranty.

    I’ve since discouraged a couple of friends from purchasing the Fabric Freshener and have avoided Whirlpool appliances myself.

  8. 808 says:

    Something similar about Whirlpool’s mixed messages regarding maintenance, wi aless happy outcome. We have a Whirlpool Duet front-loading washer. It has a “clean” cycle in which you are only to use bleach. We called with two issues when the machine was sbout 2 months old. (1) Lots of sudsing when washing and detergent residue remaining in clothes despite using less HE detergent than the detergent manufacturer specified. (2) nasty mildew spots/smell in the gasket assembly at the front.

    Whirlpool customer service said re(1) to clean the machine empty with vinegar and re-wash the clothes with vinegar (this is fine occasionally but wears out clothes super-quick as every dry-goods employee and sewing teacher from your middle-school past will tell you) … And just to keep reducing detergent amount and guess at a lower amount (despite my asking for recommendations they have from the detergent makers they co-marketed with at the time *cough cough Tide* “because how would we know that?”

    Re (2) she said to run the machine empty multiple times with bleach “although too-frequent cleaning will damage the machine.” No acknowledgment of what turns out tobe a widespread problem for lots of folks in a variety of climates.

    Lovely. So a few months later when the mildew kept spreading despite wioe-downs and bleach cycles, we spent $150 on a new gasket, use Affresh (made for Whirlpool special cleaner), wipe off the inside of the machine and all the folds of the gasket and spot-treat with Clorox pen and use Liquid bleach in the “clean” cycle monthly (always fun because I’m allergic to it). Mildew is blossoming anyway. Have had the machine 3 years and hate it, not least because we saved for more than 3 years to buy Thea large front loader and matching dryer. /rant

    • NotEd says:

      We’ve had almost the same washer/dryer set for 4 years now. No mildew problems so far though.
      Of course when they were delivered the guy who installed them basically told us that after we were done with the washer we should leave the door open, as well as the detergent drawer to avoid mildew. Probably the best advise one could get on ther Duet washers, it sounds like. Have only usedthe “Clean” cycle a few time because of it.

  9. Press1forDialTone says:

    Whirlpool is by itself a good company. It’s the idiots who sell their
    products who make it look bad. Lowe’s, Home Depot, Sears, etc
    etc etc.

    I have had excellent out-of-warranty service from them. I have a
    washer-dryer pair (Kenmore, made for Sears by Whirlpool) which
    is 20 years old and I’ve never had a problem with them.