By Nathaniel Sillin
‘Tis the season for overflowing refrigerators, never-ending loads of laundry and, hopefully, visiting family who will lend a hand. Many people ask their appliances to work a little harder than normal during the holidays, and proper maintenance throughout the year might be the key to avoiding an untimely breakdown.
Here are a few maintenance tips for refrigerators, dishwashers, laundry machines and dryers. Each of these major appliances has an average lifespan of 10 to 13 years, and you might want to start budgeting for your next purchase around the nine-year mark.
There are many factors that contribute to a particular machine’s lifespan. However, regular maintainance could help ensure your appliance’s longevity, let you avoid expensive service calls and lead to lower utility bills.
Clean the coils to keep the fridge efficient and cool. We mostly expect refrigerators to keep working. But imagine having a house full of holiday guests and waking up to find that it stopped. Not only are you stuck paying for repairs ($220 to $270 on average), or a new fridge (anywhere from $350 to over $2,500), but you might be making an expensive trip to the store to replace all the spoiled food.
The most important part of refrigerator maintenance is keeping the condenser coils clean. A dirty coil won’t release heat as well, causing the compressor to work harder, which in turn shortens its life and can cost you money in higher utility bills. Luckily, the process takes about 15 minutes and only needs to be done once or twice a year.
Start by unplugging your refrigerator. Units that have coils underneath them will likely have a cover that needs to be removed and a condenser fan that should be cleaned. Other units have uncovered coils on the back. Using a brush or vacuum carefully clean off the dirt and dust. If you use a vacuum, check for and empty or dry out the drip pan, which is common on units with a built-in defroster.
The inside of a dishwasher needs cleaning as well. Your dishwasher might not be a necessity, but it sure is nice to spend time with visiting family and friends rather than washing dishes by hand. In fact, during one recent family visit, we ran our dishwasher multiple times per day.
It’s important to clean the inside of the dishwasher as mineral deposits and leftover food scraps can build up, leading to clogged or leaky components and nose-turning smells. Running an unloaded dishwasher on a cleaning cycle with white vinegar could do the trick. You may also need to scrub the walls by hand and clean out the filter, which is often found at the bottom of the machine.
Next, gently wipe down and inspect the plastic gasket around the door, a break or leak could lead to an expensive mess. While gaskets cost about $10, labor costs can be between $75 and $150 an hour and damage from the water could be significantly more.
Respect the load limits of your washer and dryer. I’m always shocked by the piles of laundry that build up when you have a full house. While the extra towels, sheets and clothes from visiting guests might make it tempting, don’t overload your machines.
Too much weight can cause parts to wear out and break prematurely. Plus, you could wind up with detergent residue on clothes and need to rerun the cycle (a waste of time, water and energy), or damp clothes that still need to be dried.
Also, gently close washer and dryer doors. Too much force could break the switch — the small part that signals to the machine the door is closed. The average cost to fix common washing machine problems is $50 to $150, while dryers’ more expensive parts push repairs costs to about $100 to $400.
Consider DIY repairs if something breaks. Even with proper maintenance, appliances can break. Unless you have a repairman in the family, you will likely spend $75-plus an hour to hire one. You might consider trying to save a little money by doing the repairs yourself.
The job in question, your comfort level, experience and access to tools will influence which repairs you should attempt, but you won’t necessarily be completely on your own. Appliance manufacturers, appliance parts dealers and independent handymen post helpful video guides with step-by-step instructions that you can follow.
Bottom line: While every appliance will eventually need to be replaced, keeping the components clean and handling machines with care can help extend their lifespan. Make it a regular habit and you’ll set yourself up for fewer repair calls and less frequent appliance purchases as well as a better chance to spend time with loved ones, uninterrupted by inconvenient and expensive appliance issues.
Nathaniel Sillin directs Visa’s financial education programs. To follow Practical Money Skills on Twitter: www.twitter.com/PracticalMoney