Title:
Systems, dispensers and methods for laundry additives
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
A system for introducing laundry additive materials to an automatic washing machine comprises a unit dose package including a first compartment containing a first laundry additive material, a second compartment containing a second laundry additive material, and optionally at least a third compartment containing a third laundry additive material, and a dispenser. The dispenser is adapted for interchangeable use with unit dose packages containing two, three or more compartments, and includes a housing structure comprising a first chamber adapted to receive the unit dose package. The housing structure is arrangeable in a first position to receive the unit dose package and a second position to secure the unit dose package in the first chamber. The dispenser further includes first compartment piercing elements adapted to open the first compartment and, if included, the third compartment; a second compartment piercing element adapted to open the second compartment; and a second chamber in fluid communication with the first chamber. The first compartment piercing elements are adapted to open the first compartment and the third compartment, if included, by arranging the housing structure from the first position to the second position, and at least the first compartment and the third compartment, if included, are adapted to then release the first laundry additive material and the third laundry additive material, if included, for gravitational flow for use in a wash cycle. The second compartment of the unit dose package is adapted to release the second laundry additive material to the second chamber during a spin cycle.



Inventors:
Aouad, Yousef Georges (Cincinnati, OH, US)
Application Number:
11/003610
Publication Date:
09/01/2005
Filing Date:
12/03/2004
Assignee:
AOUAD YOUSEF G.
Primary Class:
Other Classes:
68/17R, 68/207, 68/213, 221/132, 222/80, 222/129, 8/158
International Classes:
D06F39/02; (IPC1-7): D06F39/02
View Patent Images:



Primary Examiner:
STINSON, FRANKIE L
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
DINSMORE & SHOHL, LLP (1900 CHEMED CENTER, 255 EAST FIFTH STREET, CINCINNATI, OH, 45202, US)
Claims:
1. A system for introducing laundry additive materials to an automatic washing machine, the system comprising: a unit dose package including a first compartment containing a first laundry additive material and a second compartment containing a second laundry additive material, and optionally at least a third compartment containing a third laundry additive material; and a dispenser adapted for interchangeable use with a unit dose package containing two, three or more compartments, the dispenser including a housing structure comprising a first chamber adapted to receive the unit dose package, wherein the housing structure is arrangeable in a first position to receive the unit dose package and a second position to secure the unit dose package in the first chamber; first compartment piercing elements adapted to open the first compartment and, if included, the third compartment; a second compartment piercing element adapted to open the second compartment; and a second chamber in fluid communication with the first chamber; wherein the first compartment piercing elements are adapted to open the first compartment and the third compartment, if included, by arranging the housing structure from the first position to the second position; wherein, after the housing structure is arranged in the second position, at least the first compartment and the third compartment, if included, are adapted to release the first laundry additive material and the third laundry additive material, if included, from the unit dose package for gravitational flow from the dispenser for use in a wash cycle of a washing machine; and wherein the second compartment of the unit dose package is adapted to release the second laundry additive material to the second chamber during a spin cycle of a washing machine.

2. The system according to claim 1, wherein the second compartment piercing element is adapted to open the second compartment by arranging the housing structure from the first position to the second position.

3. The system according to claim 1, wherein the second compartment piercing element comprises a centrifugal pivoting member adapted for centrifugal actuation during a spin cycle of a washing machine.

4. The system according to claim 1, wherein the second compartment of the unit dose package is adapted to substantially contain the second laundry additive material until a spin cycle of a washing machine.

5. The system according to claim 4, wherein the second chamber is adapted to substantially contain the second laundry additive material during a spin cycle.

6. The system according to claim 5, wherein the housing structure further comprises a third chamber in fluid communication with the second chamber, and a dam positioned between the second chamber and the third chamber, wherein the dam is adapted to substantially inhibit flow of the second laundry additive material from the second chamber to the third chamber during a spin cycle and the dam is adapted to substantially permit a gravitational flow of the second laundry additive material over the dam and into the third chamber after a spin cycle.

7. The system according to claim 6, wherein the third chamber is adapted to substantially contain the second laundry additive material received after a spin cycle until after a predetermined water level is reached in the washing machine during a rinse cycle of a washing machine.

8. The system according to claim 1, wherein the first chamber is substantially free of the first compartment piercing elements when the housing structure is arranged in the first position and the first compartment piercing elements extend into the first chamber when the housing structure is arranged in the second position.

9. The system according to claim 8, wherein the first compartment piercing elements are pivotally attached to the housing structure for pivotal retraction from the first chamber and pivotal extension into the first chamber.

10. The system according to claim 1, wherein the first chamber is substantially free of the second compartment piercing element when the housing structure is arranged in the first position.

11. The system according to claim 1, wherein at least one of the first compartment piercing elements is adapted to open the first compartment by forming an opening in a wall of the first compartment, wherein the first laundry additive material may be released from the first compartment by passing through the opening, and the dispenser further includes an auxiliary first compartment piercing element adapted to form a vent opening in the wall of the first compartment, wherein the vent opening is adapted to permit air flow into the first compartment when the first laundry additive material is released through the opening in the first compartment wall.

12. The system according to claim 1, wherein the second compartment piercing element is adapted to open the second compartment by forming a slit in a wall of the second compartment.

13. The system according to claim 12, wherein the second compartment piercing element is adapted to open the second compartment by forming a single slit in the second compartment wall.

14. The system according to claim 1, wherein the unit dose package includes a third compartment containing a third laundry additive material.

15. The system according to claim 14, wherein at least one of the first compartment piercing elements is adapted to open the third compartment by forming an opening in a wall of the third compartment, wherein the third laundry additive material may be released from the third compartment by passing through the opening in the third compartment wall, and the dispenser further includes an auxiliary compartment piercing element adapted to form a vent opening in the wall of the third compartment, wherein the vent opening is adapted to permit air flow into the third compartment when the third laundry additive material is released through the opening in the third compartment wall.

16. A dispenser adapted to receive a unit dose package including a first compartment, a second compartment and optionally at least a third compartment, for introducing laundry additive materials to an automatic washing machine, the dispenser comprising: a housing structure comprising a first chamber adapted to receive a unit dose package, wherein the housing structure is arrangeable in a first position to receive a unit dose package and a second position to secure a unit dose package in the first chamber; first compartment piercing elements adapted to open a first compartment and optionally a third compartment; and a second compartment piercing element adapted to open a second compartment; wherein the first chamber is substantially free of the first and second compartment piercing elements when the housing structure is arranged in the first position and the first compartment piercing element extends into the first chamber to open a first compartment and optionally a third compartment of a unit dose package by arranging the housing structure from the first position to the second position.

17. The dispenser according to claim 16, wherein the second compartment piercing element is adapted to be extended into the first chamber to open a second compartment of a unit dose package by arranging the housing structure from the first position to the second position.

18. The dispenser according to claim 16, wherein the second compartment piercing element comprises a centrifugal pivoting member adapted for centrifugal actuation during a spin cycle of a washing machine.

19. The dispenser according to claim 16, wherein the housing structure further includes a second chamber in fluid communication with the first chamber, and wherein the housing structure is adapted to substantially contain laundry additive material in the second chamber during a spin cycle of a washing machine.

20. The dispenser according to claim 19, wherein the housing structure further comprises a third chamber in fluid communication with the second chamber, and a dam positioned between the second chamber and the third chamber, wherein the dam is adapted to substantially inhibit flow of laundry additive material from the second chamber to the third chamber during the spin cycle and the dam is adapted to substantially permit a gravitational flow of laundry additive material over the dam and into the third chamber after a spin cycle.

21. The dispenser according to claim 20, wherein the third chamber is adapted to substantially contain laundry additive material after the spin cycle until after a predetermined water level is reached in the washing machine during a rinse cycle of a washing machine.

22. The dispenser according to claim 16, wherein the first compartment piercing elements are pivotally attached to the housing structure for pivotal retraction from the first chamber and pivotal extension into the first chamber.

23. A dispenser adapted to receive a unit dose package including a first compartment, a second compartment and optionally at least a third compartment, for introducing first, second and optionally at least third laundry additive materials to an automatic washing machine, the dispenser comprising: a housing structure comprising a first chamber adapted to receive a unit dose package, and a second chamber in fluid communication with the first chamber, wherein the housing structure is arrangeable in a first position to receive a unit dose package and a second position to secure a unit dose package in the first chamber; first compartment piercing elements adapted to open a first compartment and optionally a third compartment, by arranging the housing structure from the first position to the second position; and a second compartment piercing element adapted to open a second compartment; wherein the housing structure is adapted to dispense a first laundry additive material and optionally a third laundry additive material by gravitational flow from the dispenser in a wash cycle of a washing machine, and wherein the housing structure is adapted to receive and substantially contain a second laundry additive material in the second chamber during a spin cycle of a washing machine.

24. The dispenser according to claim 23, wherein the housing structure further comprises a third chamber in fluid communication with the second chamber, and a dam positioned between the second chamber and the third chamber, wherein the dam is adapted to substantially inhibit flow of laundry additive material from the second chamber to the third chamber during the spin cycle and the dam is adapted to substantially permit a gravitational flow of laundry additive material over the dam and into the third chamber after a spin cycle.

25. A method of introducing laundry additive materials to an automatic washing machine, the method comprising: attaching a dispenser to a drum of a washing machine, the dispenser including a housing structure arrangeable in a first position and a second position and comprising a first chamber, first compartment piercing elements, and a second compartment piercing element; inserting a unit dose package into the first chamber while the dispenser is arranged in the first position, the unit dose package including a first compartment containing a first laundry additive material and a second compartment containing a second laundry additive material, and optionally at least a third compartment containing a third laundry additive material; arranging the dispenser in the second position to secure the unit dose package in the first chamber, open the first compartment with a first compartment piercing element, and release the first laundry additive material from the unit dose package for gravitational flow from the dispenser, and, if a third compartment is included, open the third compartment with a first compartment piercing element and release the third laundry additive material from the unit dose package for gravitational flow from the dispenser; opening the second compartment with the second compartment piercing element, the second laundry additive material being substantially contained within the second compartment prior to a spin cycle; initiating a wash cycle of the washing machine wherein the first laundry additive material is mixed with water within the washing machine; initiating the spin cycle of the washing machine such that the second laundry additive material is released from the second compartment and substantially contained within the dispenser during the spin cycle; and initiating a rinse cycle of the washing machine such that the second laundry additive material is released from the dispenser and mixed with water contained within the washing machine drum.

26. The method of claim 25, wherein the second compartment is opened with the second compartment piercing element when the dispenser is arranged in the second position.

27. The method of claim 25, wherein the second compartment is opened with the second compartment piercing element during the spin cycle.

28. The method of claim 25, further comprising the steps of containing the second laundry additive material in the dispenser after the spin cycle until after a predetermined water level is reached in the washing machine during the rinse cycle.

29. The method of claim 25, wherein the unit dose package includes a third compartment containing a third laundry additive material.

30. The system according to claim 1, wherein the piercing elements are adapted to be fully retracted from the first chamber when the housing structure is arranged in the first position.

31. The system according to claim 30, wherein a bottom plate of the first chamber is pivotable to an upward position when the housing structure is arranged in the first position, wherein the piercing elements are fully retracted from the first chamber and contact between a user's hand in the first chamber and a piercing element is prevented, and wherein the bottom plate is pivotable to a downward position wherein at least the first piercing elements are adapted to extend into the first chamber when the housing structure is arranged in the second position.

32. The system according to claim 1, wherein the dispenser is adapted to receive rinse water in a washing machine rinse cycle to rinse remaining laundry additive from the dispenser.

33. The dispenser according to claim 16, wherein the piercing elements are adapted to be fully retracted from the first chamber when the housing structure is arranged in the first position.

34. The dispenser according to claim 33, wherein a bottom plate of the first chamber is pivotable to an upward position when the housing structure is arranged in the first position, wherein the piercing elements are fully retracted from the first chamber and contact between a user's hand in the first chamber and a piercing element is prevented, and wherein the bottom plate is pivotable to a downward position wherein at least the first piercing elements are adapted to extend into the first chamber when the housing structure is arranged in the second position.

35. The dispenser according to claim 16, wherein the dispenser is adapted to receive rinse water in a washing machine rinse cycle to rinse remaining laundry additive from the dispenser.

36. The dispenser according to claim 23, wherein the piercing elements are adapted to be fully retracted from the first chamber when the housing structure is arranged in the first position.

37. The dispenser according to claim 36, wherein a bottom plate of the first chamber is pivotable to an upward position when the housing structure is arranged in the first position, wherein the piercing elements are fully retracted from the first chamber and contact between a user's hand in the first chamber and a piercing element is prevented, and wherein the bottom plate is pivotable to a downward position wherein at least the first piercing elements are adapted to extend into the first chamber when the housing structure is arranged in the second position.

38. The dispenser according to claim 23, wherein the dispenser is adapted to receive rinse water in a washing machine rinse cycle to rinse remaining laundry additive from the dispenser.

39. The method according to claim 25, wherein the dispenser receives rinse water during the rinse cycle to rinse remaining laundry additive from the dispenser.

Description:

CROSS REFERENCE TO RELATED APPLICATIONS

This application claims the benefit of provisional application U.S. Ser. No. 60/526,642 filed Dec. 3, 2003 and is a continuation-in-part of U.S. Ser. No. 10/366,204, filed Feb. 13, 2003 which claims the benefit of provisional application U.S. Ser. No. 60/356,544, filed Feb. 13, 2002; U.S. Ser. No. 10/366,100, filed Feb. 13, 2003 which claims the benefit of provisional application U.S. Ser. No. 60/356,543, filed Feb. 13, 2002; U.S. Ser. No. 10/289,936, filed Nov. 7, 2002; and U.S. Ser. No. 10/737,429, filed Dec. 16, 2003 which claims the benefit of provisional application U.S. Ser. No. 60/435,646, filed Dec. 20, 2002.

FIELD OF THE INVENTION

The present invention relates to systems, dispensers and methods, for adding laundry additive materials to the drum (tub) of an automatic fabric laundering (washing) machine during a multiple cycle operation. The laundry additive materials are packaged in separate compartments of a unit dose package which is inserted into a dispenser located within the washing machine drum in order to effect dispensing of the laundry additive materials into the washing machine drum at the appropriate stages or cycles. In a specific embodiment, the systems, dispensers and methods are interchangeably operable with unit dose packages containing two, three or more separate compartments.

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

There are a great many types of laundry additive materials suitable for use in automatic washing machines for fabric laundering. Cleaning agents such as surfactants and detergent builders are used to assist in the mechanical removal of soil and stains from fabrics being laundered. Bleaching agents, enzymes and adjuvants relating thereto are designed to promote chemical degradation and removal of soils and stains. Fabric conditioners, softeners, anti-wrinkle agents, soil release materials and similar agents serve to alter and enhance the condition, appearance or feel of laundered fabrics. Other auxiliary materials, such as pH adjustment and control agents, buffers, solvents, dispersants, anti-redeposition agents, dye transfer inhibitors, stabilizers, preservatives, perfumes, dyes and the like are used to alter the aqueous environment in the automatic washing machine drum to provide for optimum performance of the active laundry additive materials or to improve the quality or aesthetics of commercialized laundry products containing these active additive materials.

The various types of laundry additive materials are frequently intermingled or admixed together in a wide variety of combinations for convenience and are commonly marketed to consumers in bulk quantities, in either solid, i.e., granular or tablet, or liquid form. To carry out the laundering operation, the consumer then adds aliquots of product as needed or desired from the bulk products into the automatic washing machine drum in appropriate amounts and at appropriate times during the laundering cycle.

It would be desirable, and a number of attempts have been made, to market fabric laundering products in “unit dose” form whereby aliquots of laundry additive materials are provided in pre-measured, pre-packaged form. The consumer can then conveniently add one of these unit dose aliquots to the automatic washing machine, e.g., into the drum, at the beginning of the laundry cycle and not have to measure product from bulk or add product to the cycle at different subsequent points in time.

Several factors complicate the provision of certain types of laundry additive materials in unit dose form. For example, some types and forms of laundry additives are not compatible with each other within a single concentrated product. Different types of materials may chemically interact with each other when admixed in concentrated form, thereby degrading and rendering one or both types ultimately ineffective for its intended purpose. Such incompatibility works against combining such materials together within a single unit dose product.

Another complicating factor in providing unit dose laundry products is that different types of laundry additives work best under different sets of conditions. Such different conditions are those which occur as the laundering operation progresses through its cycles which generally include one or more washing stages and one or more rinsing stages within the drum. The need therefore arises to add different types of laundry additives to the washing machine drum at different times during the laundering procedure. For example, a number of types of fabric conditioners and softeners and other additives are best added to the rinse stages of the laundering operation, subsequent to the cleaning stage. In some cases, rinse-stage materials may not work in the way they are intended if they are present in the relatively high pH washing stages with chemically incompatible surfactants, builders, enzymes and other types of materials which perform their functions in the washing cycle(s). Thus, even when provided in unit dose form, a number of materials which are typically thought of as rinse additives must be placed in the washing machine during the rinse cycle, well after the initial stages of the laundering operation have begun. This can create the need for the consumer to return to the washing machine at the beginning of the rinse cycle to add the materials which are to function during the rinsing operation. In other cases, it may be desirable to design laundry cycles with multiple wash and/or rinse cycles and it may be desired to place a washing additive such as a detergent in a unit dose form to be released in one or more wash cycles.

Devices which can dispense laundry additive materials into one or more stages of a machine laundering operation are disclosed in U.S. Pat. No. 4,186,573 and PCT Publication WO 01/25526. Products in the form of a pouch or container which can be used for the staged or delayed dispensing of laundry additive materials into a machine fabric laundering operation are disclosed in U.S. Pat. Nos. 4,026,131; 4,260,054; and 4,588,080; and in Canadian Patent 1,133,712. Arrangements involving a dispensing device and a pre-packaged amount of laundry additive material for staged or timed dispensing during a laundering operation are disclosed in U.S. Pat. Nos. 4,379,515 and 4,882,917 and in PCT Publications WO 01/07703 and WO 01/07702.

A number of attempts have been made to permit the consumer to place laundry additive materials into devices or dispensers at the beginning of the laundering operation with those devices or dispensers serving to add the additives to the laundry cycle automatically. Addition can thus occur without further consumer involvement when the appropriate cycle is reached later in the laundering operation. Many such devices and dispensers operate by having their dispensing action activated by the centrifugal force. Centrifugal force, of course, arises as a consequence of the spin cycle in the machine laundering process. A fast spin cycle generally follows the washing step and serves to drain the washing machine drum of wash water prior to the addition of rinse water for the rinse cycle which follows the spin cycle.

Use of centrifugal force activated devices, dispensers or packages for delivery of laundry additives to the laundry cycles in an automatic laundering machine operation is not without its difficulties. In the first place, it is not simple or straightforward to fashion such devices, dispensers or packages in a way such that they are useful with or as unit dose packages of additives. In the second place, systems utilizing unit dose packages of laundry additives must be designed so that the unit dose can survive the stresses and rigors of one or more stages of the laundering operation while remaining unopened and intact. Finally, the centrifugal force-activated dispensing means for the unit dose must be configured so that the unit dose of laundry additives is not added to the washing machine drum too soon after the spin cycle begins. If the additive contents of the unit dose are released into the drum too early, much of these contents are lost with the water being drained from the drum during the spin cycle.

Given the foregoing difficulties in formulating unit dose products, it is desirable to provide systems, dispensers and methods which can effectively utilize additive products in unit dose form to deliver laundry adjuvants to the drum of an automatic fabric laundering machine during the machine's various operational cycles. Moreover, as unit dose packages can vary in the number of separate compartments and additive materials provided thereby, it would be advantageous to provide systems, dispensers and methods suitable for use with various unit dose packages.

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

Accordingly, the present invention provides improved systems, dispensers and methods for introducing laundry additive materials to an automatic washing machine. The present invention further provides such systems, dispensers and methods which facilitate addition of two or more laundry additive materials at different cycles of an automatic washing machine process.

In one embodiment, the invention is directed to a system for introducing laundry additive materials to an automatic washing machine. The system comprises a unit dose package including a first compartment containing a first laundry additive material and a second compartment containing a second laundry additive material, and optionally at least a third compartment containing a third laundry additive material, and a dispenser. The dispenser includes a housing structure comprising a first chamber adapted to receive the unit dose package, wherein the housing structure is arrangeable in a first position to receive the unit dose package and a second position to secure the unit dose package in the first chamber; first compartment piercing elements adapted to open the first compartment and, if included, the third compartment; a second compartment piercing element adapted to open the second compartment; and a second chamber in fluid communication with the first chamber. The first compartment piercing elements are adapted to open the first compartment and the third compartment, if included, by arranging the housing structure from the first position to the second position, and after the housing structure is arranged in the second position, at least the first compartment and the third compartment, if included, are adapted to release the first laundry additive material and the third laundry material, if included, from the unit dose package for gravitational flow from the dispenser for use in a wash cycle of a washing machine. The second compartment of the unit dose package is adapted to release the second laundry additive material to the second chamber during a spin cycle of a washing machine.

In another embodiment, the invention is directed to a dispenser adapted to receive a unit dose package including a first compartment and a second compartment, and optionally at least a third compartment, for introducing laundry additive materials to an automatic washing machine. The dispenser comprises a housing structure comprising a first chamber adapted to receive a unit dose package, wherein the housing structure is arrangeable in a first position to receive a unit dose package and a second position to secure a unit dose package in the first chamber; first compartment piercing elements adapted to open a first compartment and optionally at least a third compartment; and a second compartment piercing element adapted to open a second compartment. The first chamber is substantially free of the first and second compartment piercing elements when the housing structure is arranged in the first position and the first compartment piercing element extends into the first chamber to open a first compartment and optionally a third compartment of a unit dose package by arranging the housing structure from the first position to the second position.

In a further embodiment, the invention is directed to a dispenser adapted to receive a unit dose package including a first compartment and a second compartment, and optionally at least a third compartment, for introducing first, second, and optionally at least third, laundry additive materials to an automatic washing machine. The dispenser comprises a housing structure comprising a first chamber adapted to receive a unit dose package, and a second chamber in fluid communication with the first chamber, wherein the housing structure is arrangeable in a first position to receive a unit dose package and a second position to secure a unit dose package in the first chamber; first compartment piercing elements adapted to open a first compartment and optionally a third compartment by arranging the housing structure from the first position to the second position; and a second compartment piercing element adapted to open a second compartment. The housing structure is adapted to dispense a first laundry additive material and optionally a third laundry additive material by gravitational flow from the dispenser in a wash cycle of a washing machine, and is adapted to receive and substantially contain a second laundry additive material in the second chamber during a spin cycle of a washing machine.

Further, the invention is directed to a method of introducing laundry additive materials to an automatic washing machine. The method comprises attaching a dispenser to a drum of a washing machine, the dispenser including a housing structure arrangeable in a first position and a second position and comprising a first chamber, first compartment piercing elements, and a second compartment piercing element; and inserting a unit dose package into the first chamber while the dispenser is arranged in the first position. The unit dose package includes a first compartment containing a first laundry additive material and a second compartment containing a second laundry additive material, and optionally at least a third compartment containing a third laundry additive material. The method further comprises arranging the dispenser in the second position to secure the unit dose package in the first chamber, open the first compartment with a first compartment piercing element, and release the first laundry additive material from the unit dose package for gravitational flow from the dispenser and, if a third compartment is included, open the third compartment with a first compartment piercing element and release the third laundry additive material from the unit dose package for gravitational flow from the dispenser; opening the second compartment with the second compartment piercing element, the second laundry additive material being substantially contained within the second compartment prior to a spin cycle; initiating a wash cycle of the washing machine wherein the first laundry additive material is mixed with water within the washing machine; initiating the spin cycle of the washing machine such that the second laundry additive material is released from the second compartment and substantially contained within the dispenser during the spin cycle; and initiating a rinse cycle of the washing machine such that the second laundry additive material is released from the dispenser and mixed with water contained within the washing machine drum.

The systems, dispensers and methods according to the present invention are advantageous for addition of laundry additive materials in an automatic washing machine for fabric laundering. The systems, dispensers and methods are particularly advantageous for allowing addition of separate laundry additive materials at different stages of an automatic washing machine operation, and are particularly advantageous for interchangeable use of unit dose packages of two, three or more compartments. These and additional advantages will be more fully evident in view of the following detailed description.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

The following detailed description describes various embodiments of the invention defined by the claims and will be more fully understood in view of the drawings in which:

FIG. 1 is a side view of a dispenser in accordance with one embodiment of the invention, in a closed position;

FIG. 2 is a side view of the dispenser of FIG. 1, in an open position;

FIG. 3 is a top view of the dispenser of FIG. 1, in a closed position;

FIG. 4 is a front view of the dispenser of FIG. 1, in an open position;

FIG. 5 is a cross-sectional view of the dispenser in a closed position, taken along line 5-5 of FIG. 3;

FIG. 6 is a cross-sectional side view of the dispenser in an open position taken along line 6-6 of FIG. 4;

FIG. 7 shows an exploded view of a portion of the housing structure of the dispenser of FIG. 1;

FIG. 8 is a top view of one embodiment of a first chamber bottom plate in the dispenser of FIG. 1;

FIG. 9 is a top view of the housing base of the dispenser of FIG. 1;

FIG. 10 is a top view of a unit dose package according to one embodiment of the invention;

FIG. 11 is a top view of a unit dose package according to another embodiment of the invention;

FIG. 12 is a side view of the unit dose package of FIG. 11;

FIGS. 13A and 13B are partial cross sectional views of a pivoting piercing element for use in a dispenser according to an embodiment of the invention;

FIGS. 14A and 14B are partial cross-sectional views of a centrifugally actuated piercing element for use in a dispenser according to an embodiment of the present invention; and

FIG. 15 is a partial cross-sectional view of a system according to one embodiment of the invention wherein a unit dose package is inserted in a dispenser.

The various embodiments shown in the drawings are fully discussed in the following detailed description.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE INVENTION

The systems, dispensers and methods of the present invention are intended to provide dispensing of laundry additive materials into different stages of the laundering process from a single unit dose package which contains such additives. Such additive materials are dispensed into the washing machine as the machine proceeds through its operational wash and rinse cycles. This is accomplished using a dispenser having a substantially rigid housing structure which is positioned within the machine and which holds and opens a unit dose package containing the additive materials to be dispensed.

Dispensing of laundry additive materials in accordance with this invention takes place in a conventional automatic washing machine useful for the laundering of fabrics. Such automatic washing machines are those typically found in the home or in businesses such as self-service laundromats wherein individual consumers can launder their own loads of fabrics.

Automatic washing machines of the “North American” configuration typically utilize an upright or vertical drum or tub into which fabrics to be laundered are placed. Fabrics and laundry additives are added into the washing machine tub or drum, which is usually cylindrical, from the lidded top of the machine and are thus generally referred to as “top-loading” machines. Such North American style machines will frequently utilize a vertical agitator element placed along the axis of the drum. Rotation and vertical motion of the agitator serves to intensify the contact of fabrics in the drum with wash and rinse water in the drum. Japanese washing machines are typically similar in configuration to the North American machines.

Automatic washing machines of the “European” configuration commonly utilize a drum or tub, also generally cylindrical, which is positioned with the drum axis sideways or in a horizontal position. Fabrics and laundry additive materials are placed into the tub or drum of a washing machine of this configuration though a door on the front wall of the machine and are thus generally referred to as “front-loading” machines. Automatic washing machines of the European configuration typically do not utilize an agitator device or element.

Both North American and European automatic washing machines utilize a cycle of operation wherein the machine goes through a series of steps in which water is added, contacted with fabrics being laundered and then removed from the washing machine drum. Typically, after fabrics are added to the drum, the first step in the laundering cycle is a washing step wherein significant amounts of water are added to the drum. The washing step involves a period wherein the fabrics being laundered are contacted with substantial amounts of water, generally with agitation or rotation of the drum. Water in the washing step will usually contain the primary laundry wash additives such as surfactants, builders, bleaches and/or enzymes which assist in and promote the removal of soil and stains from the fabrics being laundered.

At the conclusion of the washing step, water is removed from the washing machine drum. Frequently, this is brought about by gravity flow of wash water from the drum through appropriate valve configurations. Generally wash water is also removed by means of centrifugal force brought about by the drum rotating rapidly in a spin cycle. This centrifugal force moves water in the drum through holes or apertures in the circumferential walls of the drum. These holes lead to drainage means which can be opened and shut.

After the initial spin cycle, clean water is added back to the drum in a rinse cycle. Secondary laundry rinse additives such as fabric softeners or conditioners are generally contacted with the fabrics being laundered during the rinse cycle. Washing machine operation may also involve several additional spinning and rinsing cycles.

The present invention relates to systems, dispensers and methods which allow cycle specific dispensing of laundry additive materials into the drum of an automatic washing machine during fabric laundering operations. For purposes of this invention, “laundry additive materials” or simply “additives” can comprise any solid or liquid materials which are conventionally added to the automatic washing machine drum during a fabric laundering procedure. Thus the list of suitable “laundry additive materials” includes, but is not limited to, wash additive materials and rinse additive materials. “Wash additive materials” will generally refer to any solid or liquid materials which are conventionally added to the automatic washing machine drum, along with fabrics being laundered, during the wash cycle of the laundering procedure. The wash cycle typically occurs at the beginning of the laundering operation. Most commonly, wash additive materials can include, but are not limited to, primary cleaning agents such as detersive surfactants and detergent builders, chelating agents, anti-redeposition agents, dispersants, suds suppressors, suds boosters, and some of the same kinds of cleaning agents like bleaches and enzymes and adjuvants therefore which may also be used as rinse additives. “Rinse additive materials” generally include fabric softeners and conditioners, bleaches, enzymes, bleach and enzyme stabilizers, bleach and enzyme activators, aqueous and non-aqueous solvents, pH adjustment and control agents, dye transfer inhibitors, preservatives, anti-microbial agents, soil release agents, anti-wrinkle agents, chelating agents, optical brighteners, perfumes, pro-perfumes, dyes, and carriers. Although there may be some overlap in the two classes of materials, “rinse additive materials” are typically different and distinct from “laundry wash additive materials” or “wash additives.” A more detailed description of various laundry additive materials of both the rinse and wash variety can be found in WO 00/02982 and WO 00/02987.

The systems according to the present invention for introducing laundry additive materials to an automatic washing machine comprise a unit dose package and a dispenser. Several embodiments of a unit dose package suitable for use in the present systems are set forth in FIGS. 10-12 while various embodiments and features of dispensers suitable for use in the present invention are set forth in FIGS. 1-9 and 13-14. FIG. 15 shows a system according to the invention comprising both a unit dose package and a dispenser. As discussed in further detail hereafter, the systems, dispensers and methods of the invention are advantageous in allowing interchangeable operation with unit dose packages containing two, three or more compartments for respective laundry additive materials.

With reference to FIGS. 10-12, the unit dose package includes at least first and second compartments containing first and second laundry additive materials, respectively. For example, as shown in FIG. 10, the unit dose package 10 includes a first compartment 12 and a second compartment 14. In one embodiment, the first compartment 12 contains a wash cycle additive, for example, detergent, and the second compartment 14 contains a rinse cycle additive, for example, a fabric softener. The unit dose package compartments may be formed of a flexible or rigid material and, in one embodiment, are formed as a one piece plastic package. As shown in FIG. 11, a unit dose package 20 may be formed with three compartments 22, 24 and 26, containing first, second and third laundry additive materials, respectively. This may be useful when two additive materials are incompatible with each other and may be desirably separately packaged until they are added to the washing machine in a single cycle. For example, compartment 22 may contain a detergent laundry additive including a bleach-sensitive enzyme component, while compartment 26 contains a bleach. Although both additives may be dispensed from their respective compartments during the wash cycle, they are maintained separately until they are dispensed form the system. The unit dose package may contain four or more compartments as desired. Unit dose packages of two, three, four or more compartments may be used interchangeably in the systems, dispensers and methods of the invention. FIG. 12 sets forth a side view of the unit dose package of FIG. 11 provided with a top wall 30. The unit dose package preferably includes an extended portion 18 (FIG. 10), 28 (FIG. 11) which facilitates handling of the unit dose package, and particularly placement of the unit dose package in a dispenser and removal of the unit dose package from a dispenser, as will be discussed in further detail below. The compartments of the unit dose package, once filled with the respective laundry additive materials, are covered and sealed with the wall 30 in any suitable manner. Preferably, the wall 30 is a rupturable film or foil. The wall 30 may be adhered to rim portions 29 of the compartments of the unit dose package by adhesive and/or heat sealing and/or other sealing means known in the art.

The unit dose package itself must be sized and configured so as to work cooperatively with the first chamber of the dispenser housing structure into which it fits and within which it is used. Each compartment of the unit dose package is suitably fashioned from water-insoluble material and may be flexible or rigid or have some compartments flexible and other compartments rigid. The compartments may be made from any conventional polymeric material which can be thermoformed or injection molded into the desired structure. Polyethylene, polypropylene, polystyrene and polyester (e.g., polyethylene terephthalate) are non-limiting examples of materials which may be used to form the unit dose package. A polymer material should be chosen which has good heat stability, especially if the unit dose package is to be utilized in European washing machines where water temperatures approach boiling. The material of the unit dose package should also be inert to any chemicals which are present in the laundry additives which are contained in the respective compartments. In one embodiment, the unit dose package comprises a thermoformed tub formed from water-insoluble plastic, such as for example, polypropylene or polyethylene. The tub can be sealed with a thin layer of puncturable or rupturable plastic or metal, e.g., plastic film or aluminum foil.

The unit dose package is adapted for reception in a first chamber of the dispenser housing. With reference to FIGS. 1-9 and 15, various views of a dispenser 40 are shown. FIGS. 1 and 2 respectively show the dispenser arranged in a closed position and an open position. The dispenser includes a housing structure 42 comprised of a housing base 44, a housing top 46, a front cover 48 and a rear cover 50. The housing structure of the dispenser is adapted for positioning within a washing machine drum throughout the wash, spin and rinse cycles. Generally, the housing structure will be positioned within the washing machine drum in a location such that it will be in contact with the rinse water. One suitable non-limiting example of an appropriate attachment means is further described in U.S. application Ser. No. 10/737,429 filed Dec. 16, 2003. Positioning of the housing structure may be accomplished by attaching the housing to some specific point within the washing machine drum. Alternatively, the housing may be positioned by utilizing an unattached structure which is of such a shape or configuration that it suitably positions itself within the washing machine drum as a consequence of the forces it encounters during the laundering operation, or at least during the spin and rinse cycles. Preferably, at the beginning of the laundering operation, the housing structure will be attached to some specific spot within the washing machine drum wherein it will stay during the entire laundering cycle. The housing structure may be positioned on or near the washing machine agitator (if there is one) or may be positioned on the floor (top loaders) or rear wall (front loaders) of the drum. Most preferably, however, the housing structure will be affixed to the inner circumferential wall of the washing machine drum in a position so that at least at some point during the rinsing cycle(s) it is in contact with water used in the cycle. For North American washing machines, this position will preferably be below the fill line for rinse water in the drum.

As the housing structure should protect the unit dose package during the various laundry cycles, the structure may be substantially rigid, i.e., it does not deform sufficiently to prematurely rupture or otherwise open the compartments of the unit dose package as a consequence of forces or stresses which it encounters during the laundry cycles. The rigid housing structure can be fashioned from any suitable solid material including plastic, metal, ceramic, wood, etc. so long as the structure maintains its configuration and mode of operation through the laundry cycles. In one embodiment, the housing structure is rigid and is formed from thermoformed or injection molded plastic so that it can be readily and cost effectively mass-produced.

The housing structure covers 48 and 50 may be arranged from the first open position to the second closed position as shown in the Figures to secure a unit dose package in a first chamber of the housing structure. More particularly, the front and rear covers may be pivoted between the open position shown in FIGS. 2 and 6 to the closed positions shown in FIGS. 1 and 5. Various structures will be apparent to one of ordinary skill in the art for allowing arrangement of the housing structure from the first position to the second position. In the embodiment shown in the Figures, each of the front and rear covers are pivotally connected with the housing top 46 to allow pivoting arrangement from the first position to the second position. More specifically, with reference to FIGS. 4-7, the front cover 48 includes sidewalls 54 and 56, each having a rear portion 58 as shown in FIG. 7. The sidewalls 54 and 56 are pivotally connected at their rear portions 58 with the housing top 46 at a pivot formed by insertion of pin 60 into hole 61. Additionally, the rear cover 50 includes sidewalls 62 and 64 which are pivotally connected with the front cover sidewalls 56 and 58, respectively, by pivot pins 66 arranged in aligned holes 68 in the respective sidewalls.

In one embodiment, the front cover 48 is provided with an indentation 70 having a lower edge 72 separated from an adjacent portion of the top cover to provide the cover with a handle portion 74. The handle portion 74 may be easily gripped by a user, facilitating arrangement of the housing structure of the dispenser from the open position shown in FIGS. 2 and 6 to the closed position shown in FIGS. 1 and 5.

In the first, open position of the housing structure, the unit dose package may be inserted into a first chamber, shown in the Figures as chamber 80. In the illustrated embodiment, the chamber 80 is substantially enclosed by the front cover 48 and the rear cover 50, the housing top 46 and the adjacent sidewalls of the covers, a rear wall 47 of the rear cover, and a bottom plate 82. The bottom plate 82 is shown in further detail in FIG. 8. The bottom plate 82 provides support for the unit dose package in the first chamber 80 of the housing structure when the housing is arranged to secure the unit dose package therein and presents the unit dose package for operation of the piercing elements on the compartments of the unit dose package. The bottom plate 82 has a circumferential footprint which generally corresponds with the housing base 44 in which it is arranged, and includes upwardly extending side panels 84. The side panels 84 are pivotally attached with the sidewalls 54, 56 and 62, 64 of the front and rear covers, respectively, at the pivot points formed by pins 66 in holes 68. Accordingly, when the housing structure is arranged in the open position by pivoting the front cover 48 from the closed position to an open position, the rear cover 50 and the bottom plate 82 are also pivoted in an upward manner as shown in FIGS. 4 and 6.

The bottom plate 82 is also provided with one or more holes or slots, indicated at 86 and 88, which allow extension of piercing elements therethrough. More particularly, in one embodiment, piercing elements 90 and 92 are mounted on the interior of the housing structure base 44, as shown in FIG. 9. As the front cover 48 is pivoted downwardly from the open position shown in FIG. 6 to the closed position shown in FIG. 5, the bottom plate 82 similarly pivots downwardly to allow the piercing elements 90 to extend through the slots 86 and into chamber 80 and to allow the piercing elements 92 to extend through the slots 88 into the chamber 80. When a unit dose package is placed in the chamber, as shown in further detail in FIG. 15, with the rupturable wall 30 of the unit dose package adjacent and facing the bottom plate 82, the piercing elements are effective to open the adjacent compartment(s). The bottom plate 82 includes one or more additional recesses or slots 94 in proximity to the side plates 84 to receive a lower portion of the side walls of the rear cover 48 as the rear cover pivots downwardly to the closed position. The housing base 44 is provided with additional piercing elements 96 at a rearward position, effective to pierce a further compartment area of a unit dose package contained in the chamber. It will therefore be apparent that the piercing elements may be arranged to function within the first chamber 80 at various positions to pierce corresponding compartments of a unit dose package. Accordingly, the unit dose package may contain two, three or more compartments and the dispenser will functionally cooperate with each such unit dose package. The systems of the invention therefore allow a single dispenser to be used interchangeably with two-compartment unit dose packages, containing, for example, detergent and rinse materials, respectively, and three-compartment unit, dose packages, containing, for example, detergent, bleach and rinse materials. The systems employing three or more compartment unit dose packages allow dispensing of both multiple additives to one cycle of a wash operation, for example additives which are not storage stable with one another, and multiple additives to different cycles of the wash operation, for example detersive and rinse cycles.

FIG. 15 shows a cross-sectional view similar to that of FIG. 5, with a unit dose package as shown in FIG. 11 secured therein, in accordance with the system of the invention. FIG. 15 shows a vertical orientation of the dispenser 40 positioned on a drum wall 108 in a manner typically employed in a top loading washing machine. The dispenser 40 may be mounted on the drum wall in any suitable manner. In the embodiment shown in FIG. 15, a hook 109 extends within a slot 49 formed in the outer, bottom surface of the housing base 44, and is attached with the drum by insertion in a hole in the drum wall. An alternate means for mounting the dispenser on a drum wall is disclosed in US 2004/0172768 A1. The base 44 may further include one or more feet 51 which assist in maintaining the position of the dispenser on the drum wall.

As the housing is arranged to the closed position, and the bottom plate 82 is pivoted downwardly, piercing elements 96 extend into a portion of the adjacent compartment(s) to open the compartment(s). In unit dose package 20, one of the piercing elements 96 pierces compartment 26, while the other piercing element 96 pierces the compartment 22 (not shown in FIG. 15). If a unit dose package having two compartments 12 and 14 as shown in FIG. 10 is employed, the piercing elements 96 would both extend into compartment 12. Additionally, piercing elements 90 extend, respectively into an upper portion of the compartment 22 (not shown in FIG. 15) and into the compartment 24 (as shown in FIG. 15). The openings made by the piecing elements 96 cause the first compartment to release the first laundry additive therefrom, and the first laundry additive flows by gravitational force from the dispenser into the washing machine as shown by arrow A. The laundry additive material flows from the first compartment through the openings made by the piercing elements 96 and from the dispenser through adjacent openings or apertures in the housing structure. For example, the laundry additive material may flow from the dispenser through the opening 45 formed between the housing base 44 and the rear wall 47 of the rear cover 48. In addition, or alternatively, the rear wall 47 of the rear cover may include one or more, or a plurality, of apertures allowing flow of a laundry additive material from the dispenser. Thus, a first laundry additive, namely detergent, is released upon the closing of the housing structure front cover 46 of the dispenser. In use of a unit dose package 20, a detergent additive may be released from compartment 22 and a bleach additive may be released from compartment 26, for example, upon closing the front cover, thereby presenting both such additives for a wash cycle. The piercing elements 90 and 92 which extend into the upper portions of compartments 22, 26 act as auxiliary piercing elements in that they form vent openings in the wall 30 which permit air flow into the compartments when the laundry additives are released and thereby allow faster release of the respective laundry additives from the compartments 22 and 26 through the openings formed by piercing elements 96.

The piercing element 90 which extends into the compartment 24 of the unit dose package shown in FIG. 15, forms an opening in the compartment. However, in a specific embodiment, the opening which is formed in the compartment wall 30 comprises a slit which does not allow release of the second laundry additive contained therein by mere gravitational force. Rather, the second laundry additive is contained in the compartment 24 of the unit dose package until the dispenser is subjected to centrifugal force of a spin cycle in a washing machine. In one embodiment, this compartment is opened by a single slit. When the dispenser 40 is subjected to the spin cycle of a washing machine, the second laundry additive is released from the compartment 24 of the unit dose package to a second chamber 98 of the dispenser, as shown in FIG. 15. The second chamber is formed between the housing base 44 and the underside of the bottom plate 82 when the dispenser is in the closed arrangement shown in FIGS. 5 and 15. The second chamber 98 is in fluid communication with the first chamber 80, for example via the slots 86 and 94, and/or spaces 99 formed between the edges of bottom plate 82 and the housing base 44. The housing structure, particularly the housing base 44, is adapted to substantially contain laundry additive material in the second chamber 98 during a spin cycle of a washing machine. In one embodiment, the second chamber is configured to hold substantially all, for example at least 80% by weight, or alternatively, at least 90% by weight, of the laundry additive material released from the second compartment of the unit dose package until the spin cycle is completed. Thus, the centrifugal force which moves the laundry additive material released from the second compartment into the second chamber of the dispenser also holds the laundry additive material within the second chamber, until the spin cycle is complete. As will be apparent, the second compartment 24 may be replaced with two or more second compartments containing respective laundry additive materials for addition in later cycles of a wash procedure. In this embodiment, corresponding additional second piercing elements are provided to open each such compartment.

Further, the housing structure 42 comprises a third chamber 100 in fluid communication with the second chamber 98. The third chamber 100 is also formed between the housing base 44 and the underside of the bottom plate 82. A dam 102 is positioned between the second chamber 98 and the third chamber 100. The dam 102 is adapted to substantially inhibit flow of laundry additive material from the second chamber 98 to the third chamber 100 during a spin cycle and is adapted to substantially permit a gravitational flow of laundry additive material over the dam and into the third chamber 100 after the spin cycle is completed. At the conclusion of the spin cycle, when the centrifugal force ceases, the laundry additive material flows from the second chamber 98 to the third chamber by gravitational flow over the dam 102, as shown by arrow B.

The third chamber 100 substantially contains laundry additive material received from the second chamber after completion of the spin cycle until after a predetermined water level is reached in the washing machine during a rinse cycle of a washing machine. More particularly, with reference to FIG. 15, the laundry additive material contained in the third chamber 100 remains in the third chamber until the level of rinse water in the washing machine rises above the height of the wall 104 of the third chamber. As the rinse water rises above the wall 104, and, subsequently above the height of the opposite wall 106, the rinse water enters the third chamber to dilute and disperse the laundry additive therein to the drum chamber of the washing machine. Advantageously, this laundry additive is a rinse additive, for example, a fabric softener. In one embodiment, the dispenser is positioned in the washing machine such that the rinse water will completely submerge the dispenser and therefore wash any remaining laundry additive from both the second chamber 98 and the third chamber 100, effectively cleaning the dispenser during the laundry rinse cycle.

In one embodiment, one or more of the piercing elements may be provided with a pivoting base to more completely remove the piercing element from the first compartment when the dispenser housing is in the open position, thereby preventing any contact between the piercing element and a user's hand upon insertion or removal of a unit dose package in and from the chamber 80, and/or to more fully extend the piercing element into a compartment of the unit dose package when the dispenser is arranged to the closed position. For example, as shown in FIGS. 13A and 13B, a piercing element 110 is pivotally mounted on the housing base 44 and includes an extension 112 pivotally attached with the bottom plate 82. When the dispenser is in an open arrangement as shown in FIG. 13A, the piercing element 110 is fully retracted from the slot 114 in bottom plate 82 and therefore is fully retracted from the first chamber 80. As the dispenser is moved from the open arrangement to the closed arrangement, and the bottom plate 82 is pivoted to a lower position as shown in FIG. 13B, the action of the bottom plate 82 on the extension 112 causes the piercing element 110 to move through the slot 114 and into a piercing position in the chamber 80. One of ordinary skill in the art will appreciate that one or more of the piercing elements can be caused to retract from and/or extend into the first chamber 80 in various manners within the scope of the present invention.

In a further embodiment of the invention, the second compartment of the unit dose package is not opened when the housing structure is arranged in the closed position but rather is opened during a cycle of the laundry process. For example, the dispenser may include a selectively actuatable piercing element which pivots during a spin cycle from a position in which it does not open the compartment of the unit dose package to a position in which it opens the compartment. With reference to FIGS. 14A and 14B, a piercing device 118 includes a piercing element 120 and a weighted extension 122. The piercing device 118 is pivotally mounted at pivot 124 on the housing base 44. The weighted extension 122 biases the piercing element 120 in a position shown in FIG. 13A, fully retracted from the slot 126 in the bottom plate 82 and therefore fully retracted from the first chamber 80, as shown in FIG. 14A. However, the piercing device 118 is weighted such that during a spin cycle of a laundry process, the centrifugal force causes the piercing device 118 to pivot such that the weighted extension 122 is forced against the housing base 44 and the piercing element 120 is extended through the slot 126 and into a piercing position in the chamber 80, as shown in FIG. 14B. One of ordinary skill in the art will appreciate that one or more of the piercing elements can be caused to retract from and/or extend into the first chamber 80 in various manners during a cycle of the laundry process within the scope of the present invention.

Opening of each compartment of the unit dose package within the housing structure should permit most, for example, at least about 80% by weight, 85% by weight, 90% by weight, or all, of the contents of the compartment so opened to be eventually combined with the wash or rinse water present in the washing machine drum during the cycle in which the contents are released. The water in the drum for any cycle during which an additive compartment is opened will typically eventually have added thereto from 5 to 50 grams, preferably from 15 to 35 grams, of additive material as a consequence of the opening of the additive compartment.

The systems according to the invention comprising the dispenser and unit dose package therefor may be conveniently commercialized by marketing them in the form of kits. Thus, the dispenser and unit dose package which are to be combined in the systems and methods of this invention may be sold together, packaged as a unitary commercial kit product. Furthermore, the unit dose packages may be sold by themselves as refills for use in a dispenser which the consumer may have previously purchased and installed on the washing machine to be used for practice of this invention. In the case of refills, the unit dose packages can be marketed in combination with a set of instructions which describes the previously-purchased dispenser into which the unit dose package fits and further describes the method of setting up and operating the system in the consumer's automatic washing machine.

All documents cited in the Detailed Description of the Invention are, in relevant part, incorporated herein by reference; the citation of any document is not to be construed as an admission that it is prior art with respect to the present invention.

While particular embodiments of the present invention have been illustrated and described, it would be obvious to those skilled in the art that various other changes and modifications can be made without departing from the spirit and scope of the invention. It is therefore intended to cover in the appended claims all such changes and modifications that are within the scope of this invention.