How to keep your appliances working

How to keep your appliances working
(Photo Credit: Jonmark Nailor)

By Rory Callaghan

Do you change the oil in your car? Of course you do. Household appliances also need to be maintained for best performance and durability. We tend to buy and use them, but we don’t think much about their maintenance. Fortunately, it’s easy to keep your appliances working right for many years with some basic housekeeping. These machines are among the most expensive you’ll buy, so you want to keep them doing their job for many years.


Your refrigerator is your hardest working appliance because it is on all the time. The compressor cycles on and off just like your air conditioner. Its job, of course, is to make the air inside it cold. One key component that works in the process is called the condenser. It collects a lot of dust, much like your furnace filter.

Clean your condenser quarterly to keep your refrigerator working at maximum efficiency. This also extends the life of the unit, protecting your investment. Many people never clean the condenser and then are annoyed when the unit fails. Be your refrigerator’s caretaker, and it will keep your food cold for years to come.  

The condenser is located either on the back, at the bottom, or at the top of the unit and can be a challenge to reach with a vacuum. If it’s at the top, you’ll have a panel concealing it, so get on a step ladder to remove that. Use a vacuum with a brush attachment to clean the dust that has collected. A bottom mounted condenser requires you to get on your knees to vacuum it, so use a garden pad for comfort. If it’s behind the refrigerator, you’ll want to remove the food first so it’s lightweight enough to pull forward so you can reach the back.

While the cleaning of the condenser improves performance and longevity, there is a second step that takes maintenance to a higher level. This step is for built-in units only.

You’ve removed the dust clinging to the condenser face, but some dust is deep inside, and the vacuum can’t quite pull it out. So, what to do? Push that dust out the back side of the condenser by using a blower or compressed air. This treatment cleans more thoroughly but can be a little messy. The dust you’re blowing through the condenser will end up around the unit and in the air, so wear a mask and eye protection while doing it.

Washers and dryers

Front loading washing machines have a reputation for getting moldy. This is an easy fix, but you must be diligent every time you wash clothes. When you’re done washing for the day, dry the gasket thoroughly. Keep a dish towel handy for this purpose.

Once a month, check the drain holes in the gasket because they collect lint. Use a pick tool to pull lint out. The gasket cannot drain properly if the drains are clogged. Periodically wipe the gasket down with rubbing alcohol. Never close the door completely when the machine is not in use. It needs air to breathe. Closing the door guarantees you’ll grow mold.

Vented dryers collect lint beneath the lint screen, so buy a lint brush, which is flexible and conical, and snake it down and around as far as it will reach. You’ll be stunned at how much lint you’ll pull out. Change your flex foil duct once a year because it’s cheap and easy. They collect a lot of lint, which slows drying and uses more energy.

Ranges, cooktops and ovens

Cooking creates grease that both spatters and goes airborne, so the area surrounding the cooktop needs daily clean-up. Electric smooth and induction tops are easy to wipe clean, at least. Gas burners require a bit more attention. The sparkers need to have grease removed from them, which can be done with a bit of alcohol, but make sure they are not hot when you do that.

Maybe you’ve experienced a gas burner that fails to ignite. The most likely reason is grease on the sparker. If cleaning it doesn’t bring it back to sparking, use a metal file gently or even scrape it with something as simple as a butter knife. This will expose the brass nub and you’ll be back in business. If a thorough cleaning fails to get a burner to start, you have a bigger problem.

We’ve relied upon self-cleaning ovens for decades. But this method is fast falling out of favor with manufacturers who now know it to be detrimental to the longevity of the oven. I recommend you don’t use the self-clean function that heats the oven up to 600 degrees or higher because while it cooks off the grime, it also cooks your electronics.

Steam cleaning is a new way to clean some ovens, and more brands will soon offer it. If your oven does not have a steam clean function, you can simulate it by placing a roaster pan in the middle of the oven at 250 degrees. Let the oven reach temperature and then wait another 15 minutes to be certain the pan is hot. Put several ice cubes in a measuring cup. Open the oven and quickly toss them into the pan. The ice will steam up instantly. Repeat the process in another 10 minutes, and let your oven cool. Wipe it down with a nylon scrubber and sponge. Don’t use commercial cleaning products. You can steam a bit of vinegar with water in the pan between ice treatments, but the smell can be noxious so be very careful to not take a strong whiff.


There are products available to clean your dishwasher, but always consult your maker’s instructions. It’s easy to mar the finish of stainless steel with the wrong stuff. Worse than creating a cosmetic blemish, solvents in some dishwasher cleaners break down the components in the machine, contributing to failure.

I’d rather my dishwasher look less than brilliant inside, but clean dishes well and last for many years. Use the kind of detergent the maker recommends. They are not in it for a piece of the action. They know what works best in their machines.

The writer is kitchen planning director at M&M Appliance and Cabinets on South Washington Street. Email him at or call/text at 301-537-3515.