Bob Vila’s Guide to Kitchen Appliance Care

Your kitchen appliances work hard for you—they wash, chill, grind, freeze, heat, broil and bake—so do your part keep them in good working order.

Appliance Care

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Your kitchen contains more appliances than any other room in the house. When the units are in good condition, there’s not a single meal that can’t be mixed, baked, fried, frozen, or disposed of. But keeping your appliances humming along requires know-how—and some care and maintenance. Familiarize yourself with the ins and outs of these crucial kitchen helpers to keep them in ideal working condition throughout their lifespans.

Dishwashers

Refrigerators

Garbage Disposals

Ovens and Cooktops

Range Hoods

 

DISHWASHERS
Dishwashers are not only a great modern convenience, but it also turns out that they can use less water than it takes to wash dishes by hand. To get this eco-benefit, however, you need to run your dishwasher only when it’s full and make sure to maintain it properly. Here are the basics of routine dishwasher maintenance (for unit-specific repairs, consult your owner’s manual):

  • Check hoses for loose connections, clogs, or leaks, and replace if needed.
  • Remove buildup inside the spinning arms using a slender tool, such as needle-nose pliers or a toothpick.
  • Regularly wipe the gasket (the rubber or plastic seal around the door), edges, and underside of the door to ensure a clean seal.
  • Inspect the inside bottom of the washer, where wastewater exits the appliance. If you suspect there is buildup inside the drain, consult your manual to disassemble the cover and clean inside the drain.

REFRIGERATORS
The average lifespan of a fridge is 10 to 15 years, but that number can vary widely depending on how well the appliance is taken care of. If you must buy a new fridge, it’s important to consider the depth, door swing, style (for example, French door, bottom freezer, or top freezer), and special features that you might want, in addition to aesthetic choices like color. Follow these tips to promote the longevity of this valuable appliance:

  • Clean the interior shelves and shell of your refrigerator every few months.
  • Regularly remove debris from the drain hole and drip tray of your fridge; check the owner’s manual for instructions.
  • Once or twice a year, unplug the fridge, pull it away from the wall, and clean the coils with a vacuum cleaner.
  • Check the gaskets (door seals) regularly, wipe them down, and give them the “dollar bill test”: Close the door on a dollar bill; if you can easily remove it, the seal isn’t tight enough. If this is the case, call a professional to repair the gasket.

GARBAGE DISPOSALS
Installing a garbage disposal is not so difficult for a moderately skilled DIYer, and you can expect that the average disposal will last 10 to 12 years. Ensure a long life by running the garbage disposal frequently and heeding these tips:

  • Run water during use and for at least 20 seconds after you finish. Cold water causes grease and oils to solidify so they can be chopped up before reaching the trap.
  • Items like chicken bones and coffee grounds will dull the blades quickly and shorten the lifespan of your appliance, so take care not to put any hard materials (or corrosive chemicals) down the disposal. For a more complete list of the dos and don’ts, consult these guidelines and your owner’s manual.

OVENS AND COOKTOPS
Ovens come in a variety of options, such as gas or electric, conventional or convection, freestanding or built-in, as do cooktops—think gas, electric, or induction; smoothtop or coils. Because of this variation, always consult your owner’s manual before attempting any maintenance or repairs, and always unplug the unit or cut off power at the service panel.

  • If your oven is a standard, non-self-cleaning model, you’ll need to ventilate well, protect your skin and eyes, and spend some quality time with a scrub brush and a heavy-duty oven cleaner.
  • If your oven is a self-cleaning model, you just need to run it through the cleaning cycle and wipe up the resulting ash with a damp cloth. Manufacturers often recommend removing the racks first to keep them from discoloring; consult your manual. Do not clean a self-cleaning oven the old-fashioned way.

RANGE HOODS
Range hoods prevent smells, smoke, heat, and grease from floating around the kitchen. There are several types available, each one with its own benefits and drawbacks.

  • Vented hoods are ducted to the outside to completely remove smells, smoke, and heat from the room. The length of your exhaust duct will affect your choice of hood. If your hood will be mounted to an exterior wall, your duct can be short; if it will be mounted to an interior wall, the duct will probably be longer and you’ll need a more powerful hood. Vent hoods use aluminum filters to trap grease, which need to be washed (in a dishwasher or by hand) once a month, on average.
  • Non-vented hoods (also known as ductless or recirculating hoods) pull air through a charcoal filter before pumping it back into the kitchen. It’s important to change these filters every few months.
  • Hoods come in a variety of installation styles, including undercabinet, chimney, pro, island, downdraft, and power packs (inserts). Conduct thorough research before deciding which style is the right fit for your kitchen.