Big home appliances definitely aren’t cheap, but they can last for a really long time if you take care of them and perform the proper maintenance at regular intervals.
It’s really easy to forget about the things you use every day. Your refrigerator, dishwasher, laundry machines, and other appliances are such common parts of day-to-day life that many homeowners have this false sense of thinking where these appliances will just keep working all by themselves. But in reality, they need our help every now and then.
Here are some of the biggest and most important appliances in your home, and some information on taking care of each of them so that they last as long as possible.
Cleaning off your refrigerator’s condensor coils is perhaps one of the most important things you should do. These coils make it possible to remove the heat from inside of the fridge, which is what keeps your food cold (believe it or not, refrigerators don’t actually produce cold air). However, dust and other debris can latch on to the coils, making the refrigerator work harder to do it’s job and eventually overheat the motor.
To clean off condensor coils, just take a vacuum with a brush attachment and go over the coils to get all of the dirt off—it’s as easy as that.
You should also take a close look at the rubber seal along the door’s edge, which keeps warm air out. When the seal starts to get old and begins cracking, it compromises the tight air seal and warm air can seep in, making the refrigerator work harder to keep your food cold. Be sure to inspect it every few months and replace it when needed. Pro tip: spread a thin layer of petroleum jelly on the seal to keep it from cracking and keep a tight seal when the door is closed.
As for your freezer, try to keep the freezer full, but not too full. All of that frozen food will radiate its own coolness, just like an ice pack would, so the more you have in your freezer, the less it needs to work to keep it cold inside. If you don’t have a lot of stuff in your freezer, consider filling up jugs with water and putting them in the freezer to help with that.
However, don’t absolutely stuff your freezer, because you want to keep the vents free from blockage, as they help circulate air and keep it cold.
Not every house is blessed with a dashwasher, but if you have one, make sure you’re taking care of it. First and foremost, clean out the filter at the bottom of the diswasher reguarly. It’s usually underneath the bottom sprayer and it catches any larger bits of food or other debris from getting lodged in the drain hose. Cleaning it perodically can ensure it never gets clogged.
Make sure that you don’t overload your dishwasher, too. If it’s stuffed with dishes all over the place, water may not be able to get to other dishes that need cleaned, and you’ll end up having to run it again or taking more time to clean the dishes by hand instead.
Also, run your kitchen faucet and let the water get hot before starting your dishwasher—that way it can start immediately with hot water rather than using more energy and time for the heating element to heat up the water first before it actually starts washing the dishes.
Lastly, if glass breaks inside of your dishwasher, it’s obvious that you’ll need to clean it up, but you want to make sure you get every last piece, so doing it by hand isn’t the best option. Instead, use a shop vacuum to get all of it, because even the tiny pieces can cut through a seal and let water into the motor.
Believe it or not, you don’t have to do much maintenance on your oven and stove—you just need to keep it clean, and most ovens are self-cleaning.
In fact, you don’t want to use oven cleaner on a self-cleaning oven, because it’s too aggressive and will ruin the surface of the interior of the oven. Instead, just use the self-cleaning feature, which will heat the oven up to almost 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit and burn everything off. When it’s done, you’re left with crumbs that you just need to sweep out.
Some experts say that using the self-cleaning feature isn’t always a good idea, because you run the risk of blowing a fuse, which requires a repairman to come in and fix. If you use the self-cleaning method, perhaps only run it for an hour or so, instead of the 3-4 hours that manufacturers suggest in the manual.
As for the stove top, just make sure it’s clean and that there’s nothing blocking the gas burners. If you have an electric stove top, make sure there isn’t anything on the coils that could burn up and stink up the house.
There are two main parts of your home’s air-conditioning system. You have the condenser, which is the big, loud box with the huge fan on the outside of your house, and there are the evaporator coils, which usually sit above the furnace where your HVAC system is.
You can remove the cover panel and inspect the evaporator coils and fins. If there’s dirt build-up, you can usually vacuum it out and clean it yourself, but if there’s ice freezing over the coils and fins, then you have a problem that requires a professional to come in and repair.
As for the condenser, you’ll want to make sure that it’s free of debris as well. Take some time to clean off the radiator fins on the outside and inside by hosing it down. The big fan can usually be taken off by removing a few screws, allowing you to access the inside.
Furthermore, if there are obstructions in the way, get rid of them. Many homeowners like to hide their A/C condenser with bushes, lattices, or shades, but it’s a piece of machinery that likes being completely free with the wind blowing all around it, so let it be free.
There’s not a whole lot you can do maintenance-wise with a furnace, especially if it’s powered by gas (which is dangerous to play around with), but there are a few small things you can do.
First and foremost (and this goes for air conditioning too), replace the air filter on a regular basis, which is usually every 3-4 months depending on how often it’s used. When the air filter gets dirty, it reduces the airflow of your HVAC system, limiting its performance and forcing the blower to work harder. Your house won’t be heated or cooled as efficiently as it could be, using up more energy and costing you more money.
Also be sure to frequently inspect the flames that the furnace produces. They should be steady blue flames that aren’t flickering orange (a teeny bit of flickering is okay). If they’re flickering orange a lot, this indicates a problem that requires a professional to check out.
It’s also not a bad idea to get your ducts cleaned if they haven’t been cleaned in a while. Ducts can be a great place for mold to grow, and you don’t want those spores blowing out of your vents and floating around in the air. Usually carpet cleaning companies have the tools to do this job, and it only costs a couple hundred bucks.
There are a couple things you’ll want to regularly check on a water heater, all of which are of relatively equal importance. First, check the pressure relief valve, which automatically gets rid of any excess pressure that hot water creates inside of the water heater. However, mineral and calcium buildup can form inside of the valve and freeze it shut in a way, preventing it from opening up when it needs to. To fix this, simply open up the valve fully a couple of times per year to prevent that kind of buildup.
Secondly, the dip tube inside of the tank is what forces cold air down to the bottom of the water heater in order for it to get heated. An old dip tube can corrode and break apart, which leaves cold water at the top of the tank near the hot water outlet. So if you’re not getting the hot water you need at the faucet, but your heating elements are working properly, it’s likely the dip tube, which isn’t too difficult to replace.
It’s also a good idea to drain the water completely out of the water heater every now and then to get rid of sediment that has collected on the bottom of the tank. However, never leave an electric water heater on when it’s empty, as the heating elements are specialized for heating up water and can easily burn out otherwise.
When washing clothes, don’t use too much laundry detergent, especially on high-efficiency machines that don’t use a whole lot of water. Too much detergent can leave behind a film on the inner surface that can be a hotbed for mold growth.
Furthermore, pull the washer out from the wall and inspect all of the hoses for wear and tear, which could eventually cause a leak.
Make sure that your washer is perfectly level and is firmly planted to the floor. If not, excessive vibration can occur, which can loosen connections over time and cause a water leak, not to mention lots of noise.
You probably know this already, but it’s very important: clean out the lint filter after every cycle. A clogged lint filter severely reduces drying time and can also be a huge fire hazard.
On top of that, take the time to deep clean your dryer every few months, as lint can build up in other places besides the lint filter. You can usually remove the back panel by unscrewing a few screws, and from there you can get access to the inside. It’s also not a bad idea to check the dryer exhaust duct for trapped lint and clean it out.
Images by Emily May/Flickr Steven Depolo/Flickr, Dayna/Flickr
Craig Lloyd is TIME Magazine’s 2006 Person of the Year, as well as a mediocre gamer, aviation geek, baseball fan, motorcyclist, Marvel fanboy, and a proud introvert. He began his career as a young, naive teenager tinkering around with the family computer and has since blossomed into the beautiful geek he is today.