Your Biggest Appliance Questions, Answered

When they’re operating as intended, we take our appliances for granted. But when they betray us—when they go on the fritz and send our lives into chaos—we stop and take notice, and suddenly we're filled with questions. Why is my appliance acting up? Is there a quick fix? How long should an appliance last, anyway? Read on for answers to these questions and more as we tackle the 15 biggest appliance questions.
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How Long Do Major Appliances Last?

High-quality appliances last longer—and perform better—than inexpensive ones, but in general, you can expect a dishwasher to last 9 years, a refrigerator 11 years, a dryer 10 years, and a range 15 years. A clothes washer should last around 13 years. Microwaves have shorter lifespans of around six years. Factors that affect an appliance’s lifespan include frequency of use and water quality (hard water can reduce dishwasher and clothes washer lifespans by up to four years).

Related: This Is How Long Each of Your Major Appliances Should Last

Why Doesn’t My Dishwasher Get My Dishes Clean?

If your dishwasher worked fine when new, but now at the end of the cycle bits of food remain and your glassware is covered in whitish film, there’s a good chance the holes in the spray arms are clogged. This can be fixed by removing the arms (consult your owner’s manual), cleaning them, and reinstalling them.

Why Is My Microwave Sparking?

You certainly know that putting metal objects in a microwave will cause sparking, but you may not know that sparking can also be triggered by food splatters that block the tiny holes in the waveguide cover (the snap-off cover on the inside wall). When this happens, the sparking singes the cover, and the problem will continue until the cover is replaced. Fortunately, replacing a waveguide cover is a simple DIY job.

Why Are My Clothes Sopping Wet After Washing?

When clothes are still wet when the washer stops, it’s usually because the load was off balance during the spin cycle. This can be caused by washing something too large—like a heavy rug—or overloading the machine. Try redistributing the items in the washer and then running the spin cycle again. If that doesn’t help, check to make sure the drain hose isn’t kinked. If the problem continues, the machine may need a new water inlet valve or drain pump.

Why Does My Washing Machine Walk Across the Floor?

If after a cycle you find your washing machine in a different spot than you left it, it’s an indication that the load was uneven during the spin cycle. An uneven load can cause the drum to spin erratically and bump against the side of the washer, creating a strong vibration that moves the machine across the floor. If you hear a knocking sound while the washer is operating, stop the machine, redistribute the load, and start the cycle again.

Related: 35 Things You Didn’t Know Your Home Appliances Can Do

Can My Dryer Cause a Fire?

According to the U.S. Fire Administration, 2,900 home clothes dryer fires are reported every year. To reduce the risk, have your dryer professionally installed and vented to the outdoors, always clean the lint trap before running a load of clothes, and follow all manufacturer safety warnings in your owner’s manual.

Why Doesn’t My Dryer Heat Up?

When a dryer runs but doesn’t get hot enough to dry clothes, a couple of things could be happening. The vent hose could be blocked with lint, which prevents air from flowing out of the dryer and in turn triggers the dryer’s safety heat shut-off feature. Alternatively, the dryer’s thermal fuse could be broken. While checking and clearing a block in the vent hose is a simple DIY task, replacing a thermal fuse is a job for a professional appliance technician.

Related: 9 Bad Habits That Are Killing Your Appliances

Why Does My Microwave Keep Flipping the Breaker?

Microwaves have become more powerful over the years, but they still come with standard electrical cords, and homeowners often set the appliance on a countertop and plug it into a wall outlet. Unfortunately, a number of other electric appliances are likely to be drawing from the same electrical circuit, and if a toaster is running at the same time as the microwave, it could flip the breaker. One way to remedy this problem is to have an electrician run a dedicated circuit to the outlet used for the microwave.

Why Isn’t My Fridge Cold?

To keep perishable foods safe, the temperature inside a fridge should be between 35 and 37 degrees. If the temperature is too warm, the problem could be faulty door seals that allow warm air to seep in, or it could be that food items are packed tightly against the airflow vents in the back of the fridge. Check both of these first. If neither one’s a problem, the culprit could be a faulty thermostat or dirty condenser coils.

Related: 9 Signs You Need to Replace Your Fridge

Why Is Water Standing in the Bottom of My Dishwasher?

It’s all too common to find standing water at the bottom of the dishwasher tub at the end of a wash cycle. This is often the result of food debris clogging the drain, but it can also be caused by a kinked drain hose. Clean the drain and then check under the sink cabinet where the dishwasher’s flexible hose connects to the sink drain to ensure the hose hasn’t been inadvertently kinked.

Related: These Are the Most Common Appliance Repairs

Why Is Ice Building Up Inside My Fridge?

Ice buildup in a fridge can be caused by a number of issues. First, check to ensure the door seals are making contact on all sides, and replace worn seals if necessary. Warm air that leaks into the fridge can make the compressor work overtime, causing frost to develop. Another possible cause is poor air circulation, so check to make sure that food items aren’t blocking the vents in the back of the fridge. If you’ve checked both potential causes and you still have ice in the fridge, the evaporator fan may have burned out, and you’ll need a qualified technician to replace it.

Can I Use Dishwashing Liquid in My Dishwasher?

It’s Murphy’s Law—right after you’ve loaded the dishwasher, you discover you’re out of dishwasher detergent. Facing just this situation, many a homeowner has filled the detergent dispenser with a squirt of dishwashing liquid, only to discover a foamy mess oozing out of the dishwasher about 15 minutes into the cycle. Unlike dishwasher detergent, which does not create suds, dishwashing liquid produces an abundance of lather, which soon finds its way out of the machine and onto your kitchen floor. Stick with the detergent!

Why Isn’t My Built-In Ice Maker Working?

Families come to depend on the convenience of built-in ice makers. When they stop working, it’s a minor catastrophe, but the fix is often simple. Open the ice maker panel and check that the metal arm is in the “down” position, which will reset the ice-making function. Or, if the ice maker has an on-off switch, switch it off and on again to reset the appliance. If neither fix works, the problem could be ice in the water line, which can usually be quickly thawed using a hair dryer.

Related: 9 Signs You Need to Replace Your Fridge

Why Doesn’t My Microwave Turntable Rotate?

Sometimes the turntable inside a microwave stops rotating. While this could mean that the motor that turns it has burned out, before you rush out to buy a new microwave, try removing the turntable and the roller ring beneath it and scrubbing them with soapy water and a nylon-bristle brush. Just getting rid of the hidden gunk can often get the turntable rotating again.

Why Won’t the Burner on My Gas Range Ignite?

Today’s gas stoves feature automatic igniters that make it a snap to light the burners, but occasionally a burner will fail to light. When this happens, try turning on the gas and lighting the burner with a match. If that works, the problem most likely lies in the wires that connect the igniter to the control knob. If you can’t light it with a match, food debris is probably clogging the gas valve, and after cleaning the valve (try a pipe cleaner), the gas should flow freely again.

Related: These Are the Most Common Appliance Repairs