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How to Maintain and Repair Major Appliances

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Major appliances like refrigerators, ovens, dishwashers, washing machines, and dryers are part of any functioning home. But when they break, they can be expensive to replace. That’s why it always makes more sense to maintain your appliance as best you can and repair them when they break. We know that not every homeowner is an appliance repair technician, so we don’t expect you to know how to handle big problems. But some basic maintenance and home troubleshooting can often save you time and money. So here is our outline of how to maintain and repair major appliances before calling in the pros.

Refrigerators

Refrigerators are one of the most common appliances to break down. One day you reach into the fridge, and your milk just doesn’t feel cold. Or you head to the freezer to grab some ice cream, only to find it all melted. What makes a broken fridge even more of an emergency is that most of the food in your fridge and freezer can’t go for very long without being kept cold. So it is often only a matter of days or even hours before you would have to start tossing perfectly good food. With that kind of pressure, it is no surprise that refrigerators take the cake when it comes to emergency appliance repair calls.

Dirty Coils

But there are things you can do before you call the repair technician to troubleshoot your fridge. First, take a look at the coils either under or behind your fridge. If the coils are covered in dust bunnies, they may not be working as efficiently as they should. Those coils contain coolant. The coolant passes through the winding tubes and gives off heat as it does. But if the coils are dirty, they can’t give off as much heat, and your fridge won’t cool as well as it should. So try cleaning off the coils and see if that makes a difference.

Blocked Vents

Most people don’t really understand how a freezer-fridge cools. You may be surprised to learn that the refrigerator often has no cooling. Instead, the cooling comes from the freezer, and vents pass the cold air on to the fridge. If those vents get blocked, it can keep your fridge from cooling. Very often, a broken fridge is really just an overstuffed fridge. Try clearing some space to unblock the vents and make room for cold air to circulate.

Besides an overstuffed fridge, ice can block the vents from the freezer side. If the vents on the fridge side aren’t blocked, and the refrigerator isn’t cooling, take some of the stuff out of the freezer until you can see all the way to the back. Look for built-up ice that could partially or entirely cover the vents. If that’s the problem, the only long-term solution is to defrost the fridge. That requires removing all of your food and leaving the fridge open and unplugged until it completely thaws. It’s inconvenient, but it may be necessary. If there’s no time for that, you can try removing some of the ice by hand, but avoid using anything strong or sharp on the ice. Icy buildup in a freezer is usually pretty dense, and it is easy to break the freezer or injure yourself using tools to chip away ice.

General Refrigerator Maintenance

The best thing you can do for your fridge is to keep it clean. Clear out old food to keep your fridge from becoming too packed. You should always maintain airflow to let cold air circulate around your food. 

The gaskets on the door are also a critical component of your fridge’s ability to stay cold. Clean the gaskets a few times a month or whenever they are dirty. Use a damp cloth and a q-tip if you need to get into the crevices. Rubbing them with a thin layer of petroleum jelly can keep the gaskets from drying and cracking.

Clean the coils underneath or on the back of your fridge at least once a month to keep them from building up dirt and grime. And keep the area around your fridge clear to let heat escape from the coils.

Dishwashers

When dishwashers break, it can really be a hassle. If you’re used to filling the dishwasher and letting it do your dishes, a sudden switch to hand washing can be a pain. But many common dishwasher problems are easy to fix.

Dishes Don’t Come Out Clean

A dishwasher cleans your dishes a little differently than a washing machine cleans clothes. Instead of filling with hot water and sloshing everything around, it used just a bit of water, 2-3 gallons. The water pools in the bottom of the dishwasher where a heating element heats it up hotter than your water heater, about 140-160 degrees. That hot water mixes with the detergent and is sucked up and sprayed all over your dishes by rotating sprayer arms. And that’s where the problem often lies. Open up your dishwasher and take a look at the sprayer arms. Give them a twirl to make sure they are spinning freely. Next, check the holes where the water comes out. Bits of food can get stuck and keep the water from spraying correctly. If a hole is plugged, use a toothpick to clean it out.

Another reason for dirty dishes is overloading or misloading the dishwasher. Make sure that you aren’t stuffing in dishes so that they are blocked from the jets of hot water. Also, check your detergent. While it may seem like all detergents are the same, they are not. If your dishes aren’t getting clean, try another detergent. It’s a relatively inexpensive and very simple experiment that could save you lots of time and money.

If your dishes come out with stains or a film, try using a rinsing agent. The rinsing agent helps the water roll off your dishes when the wash cycle is done, so you don’t get stains during the dry cycle. This is especially helpful if you have hard water in your home.

Water Is Leaking

A leaky dishwasher is a huge mess and no fun at all. But it’s often simple to fix. Open the dishwasher and take a close look at the gasket that seals the door. If it is dry, cracked, or torn, that’s your problem. You can sometimes revive a dry gasket with petroleum jelly, but if it is really damaged, you may need a new one. Replacing the gasket is cheap and relatively simple. You can find instructions here.

If the gasket looks okay, the next place to look is at the alignment of the door. Close the door and look for any gaps. Sometimes the door can get jammed or knocked off alignment. If that’s the case, you can sometimes correct the alignment by tightening the latch plate. You can find the latch plate inside the washer at the top, in the center, where the door latches. Tighten and adjust the latch in small increments until the seal is tight but not so tight you need to use force to open the door or tighten the latch.

General Maintenance

The best way to keep your dishwasher running properly is to keep it clean. Dishwashers have a filter in the bottom to catch bits of food and prevent them from getting into the moving parts of the dishwasher. The filter is usually easy to remove with just a few screws. Every month or two, unscrew the spray arm, remove the filter, and clean it out. Keeping your gasket clean will also help extend the life of your dishwasher. Using a dishwasher cleaning solution about once a month can prevent food buildup and foul odors, leaving your dishes cleaner.

Washing Machine and Dryer

When a washing machine breaks, it is often best to call a TrustDALE certified appliance repair technician. But they say that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, which is certainly true for large appliances. The best way to keep the repair person away is to follow a good maintenance schedule. For the most part, washers and dryers are very low maintenance. However, a few best practices will keep your washer and dryer functioning correctly.

Dryer Maintenance

First, make sure your dryer is on even ground. A dryer that is even a little uneven can start to rattle and shake as it spins a load of laundry. The extra shaking can prematurely age the moving parts, leading to more repairs sooner. Also, ensure that the dryer vent duct is sealed at the dryer and at the vent to the outdoors and that it is never blocked.

Washing Machine Maintenance

Top-loading washing machines are uncomplicated and require almost no maintenance. But if you have a front-loading machine, you can do a few things to extend its life. First, make sure to leave the door open when the machine isn’t in use. This lets the machine dry out between loads and prevents mold and foul odors. Also, treat the gasket like the gaskets on your refrigerator and dishwasher. Clean them with a damp cloth and a gentle detergent. If the gaskets are drying out, use petroleum jelly to keep them supple. And run a load with a washing machine cleaner every month or as directed on the packaging.

While it may be tempting to save time with larger loads, overloading your washing machine can damage it over time. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for maximum load size. Make sure that you also follow the maximum load size for your dryer. There’s no point in washing a load you can’t dry, and overloading your dryer will also shorten its life.

When You Need to Call a Repair Technician

While there are some quick fixes to the most common large appliance issues, they don’t always work. If you find yourself with a broken or malfunctioning appliance you can’t fix, don’t start taking things apart. If you try to make repairs beyond what you know how to do, you could damage your appliances even more. That’s why it is always best to call a skilled TrustDALE certified appliance repair technician. Every TrustDALE member business is backed by Dale’s trademark $10,000 Make-It-Right™ Guarantee.