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

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How to Decide When to Replace a Refrigerator

[Some refrigerators can cost more to repair than to replace.]


How Much Does It Cost to Fix a Refrigerator Compressor?
Know When Your Refrigerator Is Broken
What Happens When a Compressor Is Going Out in a Refrigerator?
Repair for a Freezer That Is Running But Not Freezing

A good refrigerator can last for years, but at some point all refrigerators begin to break down or become burdensome. The decision of whether or not to replace your old refrigerator rests on multiple factors, including the amount of disrepair, the environmental impact and your own personal needs.

Age

A typical refrigerator has a 10- to 20-year lifespan. The longer you have had your refrigerator, the greater the potential repair cost. If the refrigerator is less than eight years old, consider repair. If the refrigerator is more than 15 years old, consider replacement. If the fridge is between eight and 15 years old, you must take other factors into consideration, such as the type of refrigerator and its environmental efficiency.

Type of Refrigerator

Some types of refrigerators are more difficult and costly to repair than others. For instance, built-in refrigerators are usually less expensive to repair, according to Consumer Reports, but side-by-side refrigerators may be good candidates for replacement if they are well over five years old. Faulty bottom freezers should be repaired within seven years and considered for replacement after that. Faulty top freezers should usually be replaced if more than seven years old.

Energy Efficiency

Your refrigerator can cost you money in more ways than just repairs. You could be sucking up unnecessary power and facing high electric bills. A 10-year-old fridge uses twice the energy of an Energy Star-related fridge, according to the Energy Star website. If you have an old refrigerator, you may want to invest in an Energy Star rated refrigerator just to cut back on electricity usage and costs. This can benefit your wallet and the environment. The type of fridge also makes a difference in terms of energy usage. For instance, manual defrost units use less energy than automatic defrost units, if properly maintained, and units with top-mounted freezers typically use less energy than units with bottom freezers or side freezers.

Overall Assessment

The amount of damage to your current unit must also be considered. If you have multiple faulty parts or if the unit is just very old, it's time to replace. If you still have an extended service plan or warranty in effect, always try to make a claim before throwing out the fridge, but if you have had the unit for close to a decade or more, you most likely have no active warranties. If you still can't decide, contact an appliance repair expert for an estimate. You can then determine whether the cost of repair would justify keeping your current unit or investing in a new one.

Is it better to replace my washing machine or repair it?


It's Saturday morning. A week's worth of towels and the kids' school clothes are piled up and it's time to refresh the bed linens. You've filled the washing machine with the first load of laundry but nothing happens when you push the start button. Panic and frustration set in after a few minutes of tinkering around with no success. You consider your options -- replace it or repair it? The answer would be obvious if it were something smaller and less pricey, like a toaster. But with a little research, introspection and basic math you can reach a sound decision.

As with other investments, asking yourself a few questions about your budget, values and personality can help you decide whether to call it a day and go appliance shopping -- or not. Your first step is to find out what's gone wrong with your washer and how much it would cost to fix. Then there's the issue of dealing with the hassle and stress of the matter.

If your appliance is still under warranty, you may not have to shell out any cash. Unfortunately, if your washer is out of warranty, it's all on you. You may find an appliance repair company willing to diagnose the problem by phone, though. Other technicians charge a fee just for coming out and diagnosing the problem, but they may deduct that cost from the total price of the repair job. Be prepared to pay extra for same-day, weekend or after-hours appointments.

One popular take goes like this: If fixing the appliance costs 50 percent or more of the original purchase price then you should replace it [source: Consumer Reports]. Other folks have a lower threshold and recommend getting rid of a major appliance if repair costs are at least 40 percent of what you paid when you bought the machine.