iStock / Vladimir Mucibabic


Making a little extra effort to take care of your major appliances can extend their lives significantly and save you money. Mike Owings of Mike’s Custom Service in Bloomington has a number of easy-to-follow suggestions.

If your refrigerator has external condenser coils, clean them as the manufacturer recommends so you don’t put stress on the refrigerator and drive up energy costs. “The fan that cools the coils sucks up everything, especially cat hair,” Owings says.

Also, condition the door gasket with petroleum jelly so it won’t rip, and wipe up spills that may stick to the gasket and cause it to tear. To test that the gasket is tight enough, slide a dollar bill between it and the door. If you don’t feel friction, replace the gasket so it won’t “frost” your food and run up your electric bill.

Cleaning the lint filter of your clothes dryer after every use and cleaning vents at least once a year eliminates 80 percent of potential problems. (Clogs cause most heating element failures.) For easier cleaning, don’t use a vent hose longer than what the manufacturer recommends.

“You’re supposed to turn off the water line after every washer load—but no one does,” Owings says. Rubber hoses may weaken and crack after two or three years, so replace them as soon as necessary with braided stainless hoses with burst protection.

Never cover the middle oven rack of your stove with a sheet of aluminum foil, which traps heat. “A self-cleaning oven functions at over 800 degrees,” he says. “Covering the rack with aluminum may bring the temperature beneath the rack up another 100 degrees or more, and oven walls can warp at 1,000 degrees.”

It’s unlikely that you’ll damage a dishwasher, but if you ever use dishwashing liquid instead of automatic dishwasher detergent in the machine and create masses of bubbles, Owings says, “Just open the dishwasher for a moment and pour a tablespoon of oil inside.”

A survey on the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers website gauges the average life of appliances: 14-19 years for refrigerators (depending on type), 14 for top-load washers and 11 for front-load, 13 for dryers, 17 for electric ranges and 19 for gas. The average lifespan for microwave ovens, dishwashers, and room-size air conditioners is ten years.

Once an appliance has run for half the expected lifespan, some experts say, it doesn’t pay to invest in a major repair. Owings has a simpler rule: “If the repair costs more than half as much as a new appliance, go shopping.”