When was the last time you had to salt your perishables, got dishpan hands, or beat your laundry against a washboard? Chances are, not recently. Your home appliances do so much for you, shouldn't you return the love? Here's how to keep your domestic machine in peak condition without putting on a tool belt.
Refrigerators are pretty basic machines; there are really only about five major components to them. And to know how to take care of them, it helps to first know how they work.
Refrigerators utilize a compressor pump to condense hot refrigerant vapor, and cycle it through a series of heat-exchanging condenser coils on the exterior of the machine, where the lower ambient air temperature dissipates the heat and cools the vapor back to a liquid. The refrigerant then flows through a series of internal heat exchangers, known as evaporator coils, where it sucks up thermal energy, expands back into a gas, gets pumped back out to the condenser coils, and the process restarts.
Long story short: The longer and more often the compressor runs, the faster it will wear out, so maintaining the fridge's thermal integrity (aka "close the door, you're letting all the cold air out") is essential.
Every three months, give the door seals a scrubbing with some warm, soapy water. While you're washing them, inspect the gaskets for wear or cracking. Also, give the fridge a once-over to make sure it's still level, and run a vacuum with a brush attachment over the fan and condenser air inlets to prevent dust bunnies from accumulating. If your fridge has one of those fancy in-door water dispensers, be sure to swap out the filter twice a year to prevent it from clogging, and empty the ice bucket monthly to prevent old cubes from absorbing odors.
Dishwashers spare your hands from scrubbing by heating a small basin of water to about 130 degrees F, and shooting it from water jets attached to a spinning arm in the bottom of the machine. Hot, sudsy water blasts your flatware clean before rinsing it in the same matter.
Like the refrigerator, making sure everything remains watertight is key. Once every three months or so, give the door gasket a good cleaning with a bit of warm soapy water to remove any grit or grime that might prevent it from sealing. Also, check that the water jets in the spinning arms are clear of obstructions. If they're not, clean out the goop with a toothpick or needle-nose pliers. And while you've got your head in the dishwasher, check the wastewater drain grill (it's under the spinning arms, in the floor of the washer) for obstructions, clearing them as necessary.
While washing machines are great at getting dirt out of your clothes, they aren't so great at getting the dirt they got out of your clothes out of themselves. If your clothes come out dingy after a cycle, it may be time to clean your cleaner.
For older top-load washers, let the clothing-free tub fill with a full load's worth of hot water, add a quart of bleach, and let it agitate for a minute before pausing the cycle. Let the bleach solution soak in for about an hour before you complete the wash cycle. Next, repeat the process with a quart of white vinegar (which removes odors).
For front-loading washers, dissolve four tablespoons of baking soda in four cups of warm water (you can also use a quarter cup of vinegar in a quart of water if you prefer). Soak a washcloth in this solution and go to town on the tub to remove dirt residue from the inside of the tub. Then, run a rinse cycle to finish.
The hoses that carry water into and out of the washer may be constructed from heavy gauge rubber but they aren't indestructible. Check them occasionally for signs of wear—blisters, cracks, sponginess—and replace them as necessary. Or don't, and just wait for one to burst and shower you with scalding water.
Finally, give the washer a nudge now and again to make sure that all four feet are flat on the ground to eliminate vibration. Most washers are equipped with adjustable, front leveling legs—just rotate the leg to adjust its height and secure it using a lock nut. Many washers also have self adjusting rear legs—tilt the machine forward on its front legs to automatically extend the rears.