How long your appliances last isn’t just a matter of how well they’re built. How you treat them matters, too. Here are some simple tricks to keep your major appliances running as long as possible and avoid expensive repairs…
Use less detergent. People tend to fill dishwasher soap cups to the brim and use the amount of clothes detergent recommended on the bottle or box. That’s way too much. Modern dishwashers and washing machines use less water than those of decades past, so less detergent is needed. Also, more powerful and concentrated detergents are available today. Using excessive amounts of detergent creates a soapy residue inside the machine that results in a buildup of mold and mildew, which smells and eats away at the rubber parts, shortening the appliance’s life.
If you have used too much detergent in the past, also use a dishwasher cleaner, available in most supermarkets, to remove soap residue. Leading brands include Glisten and Finish.
Alternative: Use solid tablets that include premeasured amounts of detergent. If you have soft water, split the tablets in half. Don’t use liquid gel packs, because they contain too much detergent and are too sudsy.
If you have hard water and/or your clothes washer is not a modern front-load or high-efficiency top-load machine, use one-quarter of the amount of detergent recommended on the detergent label.
Only if you are washing extremely dirty clothes should you use the amount of detergent recommended on the label.
Clean out your dryer’s exhaust line at least once each year. If the plastic or flexible-metal ductwork that your electric dryer uses to vent hot air is clogged with lint, the dryer’s heating element will overheat and might fail. Clogged lines can cause serious mechanical problems for gas dryers, too. And with either electric or gas, a clogged vent can double or triple the amount of energy required to dry a load of clothing. On a gas dryer, the lint that builds up also can cause carbon monoxide to vent into the home and possibly start a fire.
If your dryer’s exhaust line is too long to clear out by hand, purchase a dryer-vent cleaning kit with a flexible extension rod long enough to reach the full length of your dryer’s exhaust line. These are available at home-improvement stores for less than $50. Remember to clean both the portion of the exhaust line that leads from the dryer to the wall and the part inside the wall.
If your older refrigerator’s rubber-door seal gaskets are becoming brittle, apply a layer of Vaseline to keep them supple. Reapply whenever the gasket feels dry to the touch.
It’s probably time to replace the gasket if it has cracked or split. Replacing door gaskets on older machines with screw-on gaskets is a labor-intensive job that usually costs $200 to $300 per door.
Also: On most refrigerators, you need to clean the coil — the metal piping typically located behind a removable panel at the base of or behind the refrigerator — at least once a year. Clean it at least twice a year if a dog or cat that sheds lives in the home. A refrigerator’s compressor is forced to work much harder when the coil is coated with dust or pet hair. That can cause overheating and compressor failure. Having a new compressor installed is likely to cost more than $400 in parts and labor.
Your refrigerator’s manual should include directions for cleaning the coil. Even if the owner’s manual says that the coil is self-cleaning, it still needs to be cleaned at least once a year. I have never seen a clean “self-clean” coil on a refrigerator after two years of use.
There isn’t much you can do to extend the life of an oven, but there is something you can do to reduce the odds that it will fail at a particularly inconvenient moment. Best: Wait until after the November/December holidays to run the self-cleaning cycle.
People tend to run oven self-cleaning cycles immediately before big cooking days, such as Christmas, Thanksgiving and important dinner parties. Unfortunately, ovens are most likely to fail during or soon after these self-cleaning cycles because of the very high temperatures involved. It isn’t easy to get a broken oven fixed around the holidays, either — appliance repair shops and parts distributors often are closed.