Spending money on an appliance can make us question ourselves. Pay an exorbitant amount, and you may wonder if you’re being foolish. Pay what feels like a steal, and you may wonder if you’ve bought a piece of junk. No wonder many homeowners do everything they can to keep their existing appliances running for as long as possible.
Fortunately, if you want to keep your appliances running longer than typical, you can. It just requires a little effort, says Chris Granger, the Chicago-based vice president and general manager of Sears Home Services, which does repair and home improvement projects. He oversees more than 6,000 technicians making more than 12 million service and installation calls a year.
Mainly, if you want to keep your appliances running for as long as possible, you need to make an effort to learn how to take care of them, Granger says.
“The owner’s manuals have great tips and maintenance advice,” he says. “You’d be surprised at the number of calls we get where if the person had read the manual, they could have fixed it on their own.”
No matter the appliance, you can likely increase its longevity by taking a few key steps. Take a tour through your kitchen and laundry room, and you’ll see what we mean.
Refrigerators. The best way to keep your refrigerator running is to clean the coils, Granger says. If you don’t know where the coils are, there’s probably an easy-to-snap-off cover over the coils on the bottom of the front of your refrigerator, or the coils may be located in the back of your fridge.
“It looks like a radiator,” Granger says of the coils’ appearance.
That is, if you can see them; if you’ve never cleaned them, they’ll likely be caked with dust, especially if you have pets.
“Get in there with a vacuum, or you can get a coil brush — a long stick with bristles on it, which will dislodge the dust and particles,” Granger says. “You want to remove the dust, so the refrigerator doesn’t have to work as hard to cool.”
Ovens. Cleaning the oven, especially around the stovetop, is where a lot of homeowners go wrong, Granger says.
“They’ll often clean it with the wrong substance and damage the burners,” Granger says.
If you aren’t sure what type of cleaner to use — and it can vary depending on the type of oven you have — go with some warm water or vinegar, Granger suggests.
He adds that some homeowners make the critical mistake of spraying around the knobs. “The knobs lead to the electrical controls. A squirt could cause a short, and then you have a problem,” Granger says.
Instead, he says, squirt a rag or paper towel and use that to wipe down the knobs.
Dishwashers. Granger says there are two issues his technicians frequently see. Sometimes the dishwasher isn’t perfectly level with the floor. Dishwashers generally have leveling legs, screws at the bottom of the appliance that can level the dishwasher should the floor be slanted. With any luck, an installer puts in the dishwasher correctly. If not, you might have vibration issues, which can hurt your machine and the dishes.
Something else that isn’t a good idea — and pay attention here, since some fights are likely to break out among couples — pre-washing too much. This can actually lead to problems like a dishwasher leaking. Granger points out that some detergents are extremely good at breaking up food residue; maybe too good.
“Some people literally almost wash their dishes before they put them in the dishwasher,” Granger says. “Sometimes the dishwasher can oversud, where there’s too much soap in the dishwasher because it didn’t have anything to clean.”
Washing machines. Don’t stuff them with an unreasonable amount of clothes. “We do more laundry repairs than any other repair,” he says, “and the most common problem is overloading [the machine].”
Granger says that some technicians have encountered customers who have filled their washing machine with so many clothes that the lid has trouble shutting. If you have a front-load washer, clothes should not cover the entire window, but about half, he says.
Clothes dryers. Unless you’re new to doing your laundry, you probably know to clean the lint trap in the dryer after every load (but in case you don’t, do it, Granger urges). You will also want to go to the back of your house, wherever the air exits, and occasionally make sure the vent isn’t clogged with lint, Granger says.
But you may be less aware of the moisture sensor that your dryer probably has, which keeps it from overdrying clothes. Granger says that if you use dryer sheets, the chemical residue can wind up on the sensors, and then suddenly your dryer is working harder than it needs to.
If there’s a theme here, Granger says, it’s to make sure your appliances don’t work harder than they need to.
“All appliances are designed for some level of abuse, just not sustained abuse,” he says.
When maintenance doesn’t work. If an appliance isn’t working, and you’ve consulted the manual and done all of the general maintenance you can think of, don’t forget to at least consider calling a repair service. That can be a risk, since you may end up paying, say, $60, only to hear that your appliance isn’t worth repairing, and you should instead spend more money to get a replacement. Still, trying to get an appliance repaired first can save you money.
Kathleen Panek, who owns the Gillum House Bed & Breakfast in Shinnston, West Virginia, with her husband, John, says that in 1995, she had a repairman look at her General Electric stove — which had been purchased by previous owners back in 1952.
He repaired a burner that didn’t work, and Panek brought him out a few more times over the years, for about $100 a pop. The stove finally conked out in 2012, but by that time, the 40-inch appliance was 60 years old. Panek spent $500 on a replacement. When something inevitably someday goes wrong, she will likely opt for a repairman first. Still, despite her current stove being made by the same manufacturer, she doesn’t hold out much hope that her second stove will have as long a lifespan.
“I doubt that the 30-inch stove that replaced it will be functioning in 2072,” she says.
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