Man on floor looking at base of a refrigerator

How to Prevent Appliance Breakdowns

Updated June 2, 2021 . AmFam Team

Keep your appliances in tip-top condition with these suggestions. Sometimes just a little regular maintenance can save the day.

You rely on your appliances, like your refrigerator, dishwasher and washing machine every day. In fact, you probably don't even realize how important they are to you until they break down. Often, sticking to good maintenance habits is the key to avoiding the headache and expense of appliance failure. So what do you need to know about keeping your appliances in tip-top condition? Let's take a look.

Appliance Care and Maintenance Tips

It's easy to plug them in and forget about them, but following these general guidelines will get you headed in the right direction with appliance maintenance. Make it a habit and you'll be happy you did!

Read the instruction manual. While it's not the most exciting read, it is very informative. Going through the entire manual ensures you're using the appliance correctly from the get go. Improper use decreases an appliance's effectiveness and lifespan, so this is a key first step.

Set up a maintenance schedule. As you read the manual, you'll see the manufacturer has suggested some maintenance tips. Keep a household calendar and schedule dates for those projects. Whether you plan one day to do several projects or you tackle one at a time, you'll keep your appliances in great working condition by following maintenance procedures.

Regular and spring cleaning. Dusting your appliances when you're doing your routine household cleaning will prevent the build-up of dust, hair and gunk.

When it's time for more thorough spring cleaning, you should pay some serious attention to your appliances. Vacuum out ducts and clear filters and pull out and clean behind appliances. This is a great time to make everything sparkle like new again.

Check the filters. If your appliance has a filter, the owner's manual will include a suggested filter replacement cycle. But each home is different and the more dirt, dust, people and pets you have, the dirtier your filters get. Make it a habit to inspect them regularly so you can gauge your home's replacement schedule. Then stay on top of it. Dirty and clogged filters can quickly decrease the life and effectiveness of your appliances.

Turn it off. When you're not using an appliance, turn it off and unplug it to conserve energy and preserve the appliance.

Maintenance for Specific Appliances

Now let's dig a little deeper and look at regular maintenance for the appliances you use most often. Because you rely on them to manage your day-to-day activities, a break-down can interrupt your household. It's well worth the extra effort to keep these appliances in the best condition possible.

Maintenance for washers and dryers

An unexpected trip to the laundromat is probably not part of your plan for the week. Keeping this pair of appliances in good working order is a priority in your busy life.

  • Check pockets. Change and other objects can work their way out of clothing pockets and into your machines, causing major repair issues.
  • Clean hoses. The dryer exhaust and hose — tubing from the back of the machine to the wall — should be cleaned at least two times a year. If you discover that yours are really clogged, then you probably need more frequent cleanings. The more laundry you do, the more lint you create. And be sure to clear the lint trap after every load.
  • Replace hoses. Hoses should to be replaced every five years. While they may look fine on the outside, there could be internal cracks. Replacing hoses is an easy way to prevent washing machine water damage.
  • Never overload. One of the best tips for your washer and dryer — don't overload them. You might think it's saving time at the moment, but it can cost the lifespan of your appliances and their efficiency in the long run. Ever wonder where your socks go? If you overload the washer, your socks can float over the basket and get sucked into the pump.

Maintenance for refrigerators

Waiting even one day for refrigerator repairs can cost you a lot in spoiled food. This hard-working appliance doesn't require a lot of maintenance but it still needs some attention.

  • Clean condenser coils. This is probably the most important maintenance tip for your refrigerator and the one that people most often neglect. Your condenser coils are vital to the efficient function of your fridge, so they deserve a yearly cleaning. For safety, shut off power to the fridge or unplug it before cleaning. This is a dusty, dirty task, so wear a mask to protect your airways. Usually coils are in the front or back, tucked behind a protective grate. Remove the grate and gently brush off dust, hair and lint with a stiff wire brush. Then use a vacuum to clean around it and in the coils.
  • Clean refrigerator gaskets. The gasket is the flexible, elastic strip that surrounds the outer edge of your refrigerator and freezer. It serves as a barrier and keeps a tight seal with the door. If your gasket gets sticky with food spills, it doesn't work efficiently and can pull away from the fridge. Wipe up spills and clean the gasket with warm water and a damp rag to prevent sticky doors.
  • Temperature controls. Set the temperature controls in the mid-range to use less energy and extend your refrigerator's life.
  • Defrost the freezer. Accumulated ice in your freezer decreases its lifespan and efficiency. If your freezer doesn't have an auto-defrost feature, keep it frost-free by defrosting and cleaning it when there's build-up.

Maintenance for ovens and stoves

Whether you're a home gourmand or just an occasional cook, your oven and stove need regular attention. These tips will help you stay on top of regular cleanings and more involved ones.

  • Clean the outside. The exterior of your oven and stove need regular cleaning to prevent a buildup of grime that decreases efficiency and can pose a fire hazard. If you have a glass cook top, sugary substances can pit the glass. Be sure to clean sugar spills up as soon as possible. Use a razor blade to scrape off build-up and then scrub with hot water and dish soap.
  • Clean the inside. Try to get in the habit of cleaning the inside of your oven at least two times a year. Most ovens have a self-cleaning feature that heats the residue and turns it to ash. This feature can get hot and smelly, so make sure you open a window for ventilation. Check the manufacturer recommendations for your oven's self-cleaning program, but typically you should let it cool for at least six hours before wiping down the remaining ash.
  • Keep the knobs in place. It's tempting, but don't remove temperature knobs or spray cleaning fluid behind them. This is a direct link to your stove's electrical system and any fluid can cause a short circuit.
  • Check coil burners. Carefully inspect your coils for damage. Look for spots that are redder when cooking or hot and replace them immediately.
  • Guard against spillovers. If something has the potential to spill over, like a pie or casserole, place a small cookie sheet lined with tinfoil on the bottom rack to catch the spillover. If you have a spill, clean it as soon as it's cool enough. The longer it's allowed to be in the stove, the longer it has to burn and damage the interior.

Maintenance for dishwashers

This appliance is such a convenience but, too often, it's tasked with doing more than it can. Follow these tips to keep it working at its highest potential for longer.

  • Scraping and rinsing. Cleaning food off your dishes before loading is an easy step that's vital to good performance. Large food bits block mechanisms inside your machine and clog the lines, while smaller food scraps promote bacterial growth.
  • Clean the filter screen. Check under the bottom sprayer arm to find the filter. It should pop up and out fairly easily so you can regularly give it a good rinsing.
  • Don't use too much soap. Use only the recommended amount of detergent to prevent soapy build-up. If you feel you've already got a significant soapy film in your machine, look for dishwasher cleaning products designed to cut through soap residue.
  • Just the right size. Overloading and underloading your dishwasher not only decreases its efficiency, it taxes the mechanics and can cause a breakdown.

It doesn't take a lot of effort to stick to a routine maintenance schedule with your appliances. And it's so worth the effort! If you'd like to be proactive about everything in your home, connect with your American Family Insurance agent (Opens in a new tab) to review your homeowners insurance and make sure your policy is up to date with Equipment Breakdown coverage, which offers protection should your appliances, home systems or smart home devices be damaged due to mechanical, electrical or pressure systems breakdown.

As you're finding ways to take care of your appliances, make sure you're thinking about the rest of your home, too! Head to our home maintenance hub for more resources on taking care of your home throughout the year.

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