Angie’s List: How to Keep Major Appliances Working Better, Longer

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Most major appliances should hum along doing their heating, cooling, washing, drying and grinding for a decade or more. Know why many sputter and choke years before they should? Yep. It’s usually your fault. Angie's List has tips to help you keep your appliances working better, longer.

Most major appliances should hum along doing their heating, cooling, washing, drying and grinding for a decade or more. Know why many sputter and choke years before they should? Yep. It’s usually your fault.

“Our highly rated appliance repair specialists tell us it comes down to owners not doing basic cleaning as needed and/or doing things that harm the appliance,” says Angie Hicks, founder of Angie’s List, the nation’s leading provider of consumer reviews on local contractors and service companies.

In most cases, consumers don’t realize they’re abusing their appliances because they never read the owner’s manuals that accompany the machines.

  •     More than 50 percent of respondents to a recent Angie’s List member survey never clean their refrigerator condenser coils;
  •     Nearly 50 percent clean their ovens only once or twice a year – 12 percent never do; and
  •     Experts say the garbage disposal is one of the most misused machines in the kitchen.

“Those manuals may not be riveting reads,” Hicks admits. “But these machines are designed to make your life easier. Knowing how to use them properly can save you hundreds in repair bills and will reduce the stress of having one break down on you.”

High-end appliances can cost thousands of dollars. Most repair calls cost less than $100, not counting replacement parts, Hicks said. Often, highly rated companies will forgive the service call if they’re hired to do the repair, and they’ll give good advice about whether you should repair or replace your machine.

“If your machine is 10 years old or older and the repair bill will be more than half the cost of a new unit, you’re probably better off replacing it,” she added.

Angie’s Appliance Do’s and Don’ts

The refrigerator/freezer (expected lifespan: up to 15 years.)

  •     DO clean the condenser coils. It’s an easy vacuum cleaning job for most of us and will help the fridge run efficiently. Built-ins might require a service call.
  •     DO check the seal. If it’s not tight, you’re losing efficiency and not keeping food properly chilled. Close the door on a thin sheet of paper and if the paper slips, your fridge is wasting energy. Replace the seal or adjust the door latch if needed.

The dishwasher (expected lifespan: up to 15 years.)

  •     DO clean your dishwasher’s filter to remove particles and debris. Filter locations vary depending on the model, so check your owner’s manual if you can’t find it.
  •     DO use the right amount and type of soap. Your owner’s manual will advise you. Going wrong here will affect your pump. Powdered soap tends to work better than liquid.

The garbage disposal (expected lifespan: up to 20 years.)

  •     DON’T stuff the disposal full of food waste and then turn it on.
  •     DO run cold water for 10 seconds before feeding in small bits of waste, keep the water running as you feed in the waste and for 30 seconds after it disappears.

The oven (expected lifespan: up to 20 years.)

  •     DO check your oven’s temperature gauge. An easy way to do this is to bake a cake by exactly following the directions on a basic mix. If the cake isn’t perfectly baked, you may need a service call to fix the oven.
  •     DON’T use the self-cleaner before important meals. Self-cleaning cycles require ovens to run at extremely high temperatures and often cause the oven’s electronic components to fail. Most highly rated repair specialists say it’s better to clean up spills when they occur and to use drip pans than to rely on the self-cleaner.

Washing machine (expected lifespan: up to 15 years.)

  •     DON’T stuff too many clothes in the machine. Overloading your unit will cause it to prematurely wear out.
  •     DO empty pockets and put lingerie in mesh bags before washing: Repair specialists report finding all sorts of small items in the guts of machines that would have spun happily for years. Among the troublemaking items: bra under wires, golf tees, baby spoons and coins.
  •     DO replace washer fill hoses every five years.

Dryers (expected lifespan: up to 15 years.)

  •     DO clean the vent with every load. A clogged vent will slow down the dry-time of your cycle and increase the potential for a dryer fire.
  •     DO have the outside vent (exhaust duct) inspected annually and cleaned yearly.

Water heaters (expected lifespan: up to 20 years.)

  •     DO drain a quart of water from your water heater tank every three months to remove sediment that slows down heat transfer and lowers the efficiency of your heater.

Heating and Air Conditioning Systems (expected lifespan: up to 20 years.)

  •     DO check air filters monthly and replace as needed.
  •     Have annual inspections for both furnace and air conditioners to catch small problems before they get bigger.

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Cheryl Reed
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