Appliances eventually wear out. Certain parts simply fail with time. It’s inevitable. But abuse and neglect can speed up the breakdown rate of stoves, dishwashers, fridges, clothes dryers and washing machines, helping to keep repairmen busy. Here are some of the most common ways that homeowners contribute to the demise of their appliances, along with advice for avoiding these errors.
How to ruin it: Coins and metal objects — Some parts are easy to replace, but damage to the inner drum or outer tub, caused by coins or metal objects left in pockets, can sound the death knell for your machine. Inner-drum damage can result in torn or pulled clothing, while outer-tub damage can lead to leaks. The high price of such a major appliance, plus the cost of installation, makes any repairs or replacement prohibitively expensive.
Repairman’s tip • Never wash anything with heavy metal fasteners.
• Always check the pockets of clothing before placing them in the drum of your machine.
Bonus tip • Overloading your machine may not ruin it, but it will create additional wear and tear on certain parts, such as bearings and suspension, making them prone to premature failure and forcing you to call the repairman or fix it yourself. Be sure to always follow the manufacturer’s suggestions for load size.
When the typical 11 lb load of laundry comes out of the washing machine, it can contain up to 2 quarts of water. The dryer’s job is to remove this water. It heats the clothes, converting the water in them into water vapor and forcing it out of the dryer through the exhaust vent, along with any fluff and lint.
How to ruin it: Not cleaning out excess lint – Any build-up of lint and fluff in the filter dramatically reduces the airflow, so that your dryer has to work harder to dry your clothes, leading to increased running costs and possible premature failure. A more serious concern is the number of domestic fires linked to clothes dryers. Read your instruction manual carefully and clean the lint filter every time you use the dryer. If in doubt have it serviced by a technician to ensure all ducting and vents are free of lint.
Repairman’s tip • Follow your dryer manual’s instructions for proper venting. Whenever possible replace plastic or vinyl exhaust hoses with rigid or flexible metal venting, making the pathway from the dryer to the outside vent as straight as possible.
• Make sure that you remove any lint and fluff from all the accessible places in the dryer where they tend to collect – the back, air vents, around the mouth of the lint filter and around the door. Once a year, it may be worth getting a professional to clean the interior of your machine.
Bonus tip • Ensure that all accessible lint filters are cleaned after each use, as this ensures that the dryer works to peak performance.
• Clean and check the vent hose or duct regularly.
• Get the inside of the dryer inspected for lint and fluff build-up and cleaned on a regular basis.
GLASS AND CERAMIC STOVETOPS
Because electric stovetops don’t have many moving parts, they can last a long time. But damage to the ceramic or glass surface can be expensive to replace, often making the repair uneconomic.
How to ruin it: Blunt force – The most obvious way to break the surface is to bang it – an impact break.
Using the wrong pans – Improper heating can also crack it. Using concave-bottomed or oversized pans can trap heat and cause the hard surface to crack.
The wrong cleaning products – Cosmetic damage can be caused by using unsuitable cleaning products or utensils. Always use cleaning products and utensils recommended by the manufacturer, and remove food spillages as soon as they occur, to prevent them burning on. Repairman’s tip • Use flat-bottomed pots and pans and make sure that they are not larger than each burner.
FRIDGES AND FREEZERS
How to ruin it: Not cleaning the coils – The most expensive part of a fridge or freezer is the compressor, a part of the sealed cooling system, which is often protected under a special five-year warranty and should last at least twice as long. But you must clean the dust that builds up on the condenser coils, usually located behind a grille at the back or the bottom of the appliance. If not, the compressor will be forced to work harder and may overheat. If it fails prematurely, but after the warranty is void, a repair may be too costly and you will have to replace the appliance.
Repairman’s tip • Once a year – twice if you have furry pets – carefully clean the dust from the condenser coils and air vents using a vacuum cleaner and a condenser-coil cleaning brush (a tapered bottle-type brush on a short handle). Gently brush the surface and in between the coils, then vacuum. Repeat until the coils are dust-free. Do not poke at the coils with a vacuum cleaner’s hard-plastic crevice tool or use any metal items at all as this will result in damage to the coils.
Bonus tip • A full freezer is more efficient than an empty one, which has nothing to hold the cold. An efficient freezer not only prolongs the life of the compressor and the fridge itself – but also saves energy, so fill up all of your empty freezer shelves.
How to ruin it: Nicking the racks – One small nick in the vinyl-coated rack can start off rusting that may ruin a dishwasher. Once the metal inside begins to rust, you can’t stop it. The rust will stain the dishes until you replace either the rack or the machine.
Improper use – Incorrect loading and failure to use the correct detergent or keep the appliance topped up with rinse aid (available from supermarkets and department stores) are major factors in poor wash results.
Repairman’s tip • Hand wash pans, colanders and other kitchenware that has sharp edges. Never force too many pans or glass items into a small space.
Bonus tip • To keep the dishwasher at peak performance, ensure you use a lime remover once a month.
• To get a “squeaky” clean finish on all your items, ensure that the rinse-aid dosage selector is set correctly. Small circular ring marks or colored “windows” indicate that the setting needs to be increased (or the rinse-aid reservoir needs filling – spotting and filming on glassware are sure signs that rinse aid is low).
• Arrange sharp items in the cutlery basket so that they are not going to damage the racks or the door seal, and load sharpened kitchen knives with the handles pointing upwards. However, very sharp kitchen knives are best hand washed, not only to protect the dishwasher from potential damage, but to prolong the life of the knife blades. Repeated washing in a dishwasher blunts the sharp edge.
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