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How to properly maintain your home appliances: Refrigerators, air conditioners, more

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If not properly maintained, household appliances can bleed money via expensive repairs and replacements. However, something as simple as cleaning a filter can help extend the life of your valuable machinery. We spoke with Marshall Brain, founder of Discovery Communications' tutorial site HowStuffWorks.com, and Monica Teague, spokeswoman for appliance manufacturer Whirlpool, to find out how to keep your household appliances running like new.

Refrigerators
You don't want to mess with the refrigerator, says Brain. It's one of the most expensive and most heavily-used appliances, so it's best to leave most of the maintenance to the professionals. However, there are some things you can do to keep it properly maintained. The rubbery gasket on its door, for instance, is prone to serious clogging. Use a counter-type cleaner such as Lysol and paper towels to eliminate any buildup. "Keeping that gasket clean is surprisingly one of the easiest things you can do," he says.

Once every three to six months, vacuum under and on the back of the fridge to keep the coils from getting dusty, advises Brain. This step will prevent the refrigerator's motor from overworking and reducing the refrigerator's efficiency.

Also, keep at least a couple of large bottles of water or a case of soda in the fridge to help maintain the proper thermal mass, he says.

Microwaves
Brain warns not to allow children to operate the microwave. "Kids will put crazy stuff in microwaves — they'll see how cool it is to put aluminum foil in it, a can of spray paint," he says. "That's another easy way to damage it."

Brain notes that microwave doors are lightweight and flimsy. "Be gentle with it," he says. "The easiest way to damage a microwave is to slam a door," Brain adds. "It has safety mechanisms and it won't turn on again."

Inside the unit, the klystron tube can get hot, so keep the microwave's vents clear. "Once it overheats, that's it," Brain says.

Whirlpool's Teague says if the microwave has a removable filter, you can wash it by hand or in the dishwasher and then reinstall it.

Dishwashers
Although the dishwasher cleans itself, you can take some steps to extend its life. Teague recommends using high heat and a rinse aid to help minimize white calcium deposits and spotting from hard water.

Brain advises measuring the unit every three to six months to make sure the dishwasher is level. "If it's not level, it can leak and cause a lot of damage," he says.

Use a spoon or your hand to clean particles from the drain to avoid foul smell and keep the water flowing freely, he says. In addition, use heavy-duty caulk to avoid rust from forming inside your dishwasher.

Air conditioner
Write a note on your calendar to replace or clean the filter, Brain advises. Otherwise, you won't be cooling the room and the unit will be working too hard. "Once those get gummed up, it really hurts the efficiency," he says. "All air conditioners have a drain for condensation water to come out," Brain explains. "If that thing gets clogged, it can create a giant mess."

Make sure air can flow through the unit without a problem. From the outside, use the hose to keep the dirt and leaves out of the coils to keep the air flowing, Brain says.

Washers
"Be sure to install new hoses with your new washer and then periodically check them for bulges or bare spots," Teague says. "Most hoses are meant to be replaced every five years."

Teague suggests shutting off the water running to the washer when you're not using it for long periods of time. "With the constant water pressure, any leak or hole in the hose could translate into a flooding disaster," she says.

Keep the entire rim clear, Brain advises. "If it gets gummed up with soap and residue, it gets disgusting and that can cause problems."

Dryers
"Clean the dryer lint trap after each load to maintain proper ventilation and heating, which can save you $34 annually," says Teague. She also recommends keeping the dryer's outside exhaust clean. "A clogged exhaust lengthens drying time and increases energy use," she says.

According to Brain, lint is highly flammable like flour or sawdust, so be cautious with it.

You also want to keep the vent pipe clean, Brain says. "That pipe can get full of lint, and then it will have to run a lot longer to dry clothes. Brain recommends taking a look at the vent pipe every six months or so. "Lint fires are one of those unfortunate facts of life if you don't keep it clean," Brain says.

Brian T. Horowitz

Please note that, although prices sometimes fluctuate or expire unexpectedly, all products and deals mentioned in this feature were available at the lowest total price we could find at the time of publication (unless otherwise specified).
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