Here’s Why These 4 Appliances Break Most Often (and How to Save Yours)

These four appliances go to appliance heaven sooner rather than later. But there are steps you can take to prevent their premature demise.

woman dealing with broken microwave

Appliances don’t last forever, but some tend to break down more often than others. A recent survey by Sears Home Services reveals which appliances are most likely to need either major repairs or replacement. “Washing machines, refrigerators, dryers, and microwaves are the top four appliances that need to be either replaced or fixed due to malfunctions, based on our research,” says Daniel Pidgeon, CEO of Sears Home Services. When asked which of their appliances had malfunctioned, respondents identified the following four as most likely to break down:

  • Washing Machine: 49.9%
  • Refrigerator: 41.6%
  • Dryer: 37.0%
  • Microwave: 36.6%

Thanks to the pandemic, malfunctions may be happening at an even faster rate: “There’s no doubt that the excessive time we’re spending indoors is also causing additional wear and tear on our appliances,” explains Ron Shimek, president of Mr. Appliance, a leading appliance repair franchise. “In fact, we saw a 90 percent increase in the number of freezer repairs compared to the six months pre-pandemic, and about 12,000 more refrigerator repairs in summer of 2020 compared to summer 2019—a 15 percent increase.”

But if there’s a silver lining, it’s the fact that you can actually prolong the lifespan of your hardworking machines. “Although these appliances malfunction the most, roughly 60 percent of Americans admit they don’t perform routine maintenance for them,” Pidgeon says. In order to keep your four most finicky appliances running as long as possible, you need to know why they tend to break and what you can do to ensure their health. Here’s the rundown.

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Washing Machines

close up of washing machine hose

Washing machines need to work hard to clean your dirty clothes and bedding, but don’t make them work harder than they have to. According to Jeff Milligan, an Electronic Restoration Services franchise owner in North Carolina, it’s important to make sure that your washing machine is level. “If the leveling feet are accurate, your washing machine works most efficiently and doesn’t move or vibrate.” If you have a front-loading machine, Milligan also recommends keeping the rubber gasket as clean as possible.

Obstructions are yet another source of problems. “If your washer isn’t draining adequately, detach the hose and check for lint, hair, paper, or fabric,” advises Benjamin Joseph, cofounder of Liberty Home Guard, a home warranty company. “If the drum won’t turn, open the cabinet to check for any objects.”

User error can also cause malfunctions. “Avoid overloading your machine, which not only can cause your clothes not to get clean (since there’s not enough room for them to agitate), but can also damage the machine,” Joseph explains.


back of a refrigerator with dusty coils

The refrigerator is one of the hardest working machines in any home. According to Shimek, cleaning the refrigerator coils is the most important maintenance task to avoid refrigerator and freezer repairs. “Over time, the coils collect dirt, hair, grease, grime, and other debris that reduce refrigeration efficiency and will eventually cause the appliance to overheat and break down.” So, how do you clean them? “To access the coils, remove the grille from the bottom or back of the fridge, depending on your appliance’s design, then vacuum the coils with the brush attachment to remove any buildup,” he says.

Shimek also recommends cleaning the door gasket because a grimy gasket hinders the door from sealing properly, and this can cause your fridge to run longer and wear out sooner. “Over time, the gasket may become so grimy that it glues the door shut, causing the gasket to tear when you yank the door open.” Fortunately, the gasket is easy to clean: Just wipe it with a damp cloth, but don’t use detergents, which Shimek says could damage the gasket.

Another way to extend the life of your refrigerator is by giving it room—literally. “Refrigerators require proper airflow to stay cool, and pushing the fridge too close to the wall or allowing dust to accumulate can impair ventilation,” Joseph explains. He also advises against overfilling the fridge or blocking the vents, either of which can restrict airflow and force the appliance to work harder.

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close up of dryer vent

As with your washing machine, Milligan recommends ensuring that your dryer is level. Aside from that, a dryer doesn’t require a lot of maintenance. “Keeping it from breaking down primarily consists of cleaning the lint screen after every load as well as removing debris from around the dryer itself.” In addition, he recommends that the dryer vent be cleaned out at least once a year. “This is to prevent possible fire issues as well as maximize efficiency because if the lint trap or vent gets largely clogged, the appliance won’t dry properly.”


hand cleaning microwave

Food particles stuck in your microwave are unappealing, but they also pose a more serious problem. “Over time, they can actually become dangerous, as they will most likely turn rock hard and can even burn the walls of your microwave,” warns Shimek. He recommends regularly wiping out the microwave’s interior with an all-purpose cleaner.

You will, however, need to take precautions when cleaning your microwave. “Be careful spraying chemical cleaners on the inside; you don’t want the chemicals to get into the vents, as they can corrode the components and pose a fire risk,” says Milligan. He recommends just wiping up spills as they occur. “If you do need to do a deep clean, spray cleaning solution onto a rag or towel first and then wipe down thereafter.”

Also, always be sure to check that you actually have food in the microwave before turning it on. If you continue to power it on while empty, Joseph warns that you’ll end up with a faulty magnetron, and the microwave will stop heating.

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