SEOUL—The roughly $500 billion home-appliance industry is making a hard pivot toward hygiene as the coronavirus pandemic shows no sign of moderating.

LG Electronics Inc.’s refrigerators have been retrofitted with sterilizing ultraviolet lights previously used in its water purifiers, while Whirlpool Corp. has touted washing machines with built-in heating that removes germs and allergens from clothes.

Samsung Electronics Co. is scooping up scientists who specialize in water and air quality, and Beko Electrical Appliances Co., a Turkish manufacturer, recently rolled out “HygieneShield,” a range of appliances such as refrigerators and ovens equipped with disinfection drawers. It is also offering a cleaning cabinet, a stand-alone appliance that resembles a microwave oven but is designed to disinfect everyday items such as wallets and mobile phones.

According to Mark Choe, a senior vice president at Samsung’s digital appliances business division, “all of our product development now is being done through the lens of hygiene.”

Indeed, hygiene is driving the home-appliance industry’s extreme makeover. For decades, firms saw sales grow sluggishly, especially in lucrative markets in the U.S. and Western Europe, churning out a predictable cycle of dryers, ovens and microwave ovens. A push toward digitized “smart homes” failed to captivate consumers who saw little reason to track their milk levels through artificial intelligence or get text alerts when the laundry was done.


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