Tips to Make Your Kitchen Disappear

Built-In Beauty
As floor plans open up, integrated appliances help make spaces look like extended parts of the living areas. What appears to be a serving buffet actually conceals a dishwasher and an undercounter refrigerator. Many appliance manufacturers offer the option of custom fronts that can be matched to surrounding cabinets and furniture, making workhorse appliances virtually disappear from view.

Minimalist Essentials
With its basic white-on-white scheme, demure black countertops, and stainless steel accents, this modern kitchen in Berlin is calm and quiet. The real heros are the frameless Euro-style cabinets with touch-latch doors — an absence of pulls and knobs helps keep the small kitchen from looking too busy.

The Pretty (and Practical) Pantry
No need for a walk-in pantry when you have a cleverly designed cabinet like this one. Every inch — including the back of the doors — gets put to good use hiding small appliances, stashing jars of spices and condiments, and storing utensils.

Undercounter Cool
Drawer-type refrigerators let you squeeze fridges and freezers into lower cabinets. Great for small kitchens or to sneak an extra refrigerator right next to a busy workspace. Add drawer fronts that match surrounding cabinetry for a sleek, modern look.

Hide-Able Doors
Streamlined simplicity is the theme with this bank of built-in cabinets, aided by doors that swing open, then slide back to disappear inside the cabinet body. That kind of versatility lets you create an open-shelf look, or close everything up to hide small appliances and knicknacks behind a smooth, nearly seamless facade.

Or Not!
Hideaway kitchens and camouflaged appliances may be Euro traditions we love, but so are those wonderfully big rustic stoves that evoke images of fabulous meals at a country estate in Provence (not that we’ve been!) Beauties such as this Swedish-made AGA feature every modern convenience, including five ovens.

Cleaning Your Kitchen Appliances the Easy Way

Nothing makes a kitchen sparkle like clean appliances. So show your appliances a little cleaning love, and they’ll thank you by looking and performing better.

Your Refrigerator

The space behind your refrigerator is arguably the dirtiest couple of square feet in your house. It’s a meeting place for dust, gunk, and a host of other stuff that’s fallen behind the big guy.

To clean, pull out the refrigerator and mop up whatever you find. Then, vacuum refrigerator coils behind or beneath your fridge, which will put less stress on the fridge’s motor and prolong its life.

Replace loose door gaskets — check your owner’s manual for replacement part numbers and find new gaskets at home improvement centers or by searching online. You’ll get the added benefit of saving energy with a tighter seal. Monthly, wipe gaskets down with warm, soapy water; rinse and dry.

A little soapy water or a 50-50 solution of water and white vinegar will clean and shine the inside and outside of your fridge. Wipe down shelves and crispers weekly, or whenever you spot a spill. Remove fingerprints on stainless steel exteriors with a damp cloth.

Your Stovetop and Oven

Most ovens have self-cleaning options. We heartily recommend letting the oven do the work for you. But there are a few spots the self-clean option doesn’t reach, such as the gunk around door hinges and frames, and the crumb-catching space between double ovens. You can wipe them up with vinegar or soapy water.

Baked on crud comes off with a little baking soda on a sponge, or a spritz of commercial oven cleaner. (Make sure you open a window before your spray, so you don’t choke on fumes.) Make a habit of wiping spills quickly after using the oven, and you may never have to scrub it again.

To clean your stovetop:

Fill your sink with hot, soapy water; soak burners, knobs, and hood vents (if they fit) for a couple of hours; then scrub. Repeat if necessary.
Replace stained metal drip plates if they’re beyond the help of steel wool.
Vacuum crumbs that have fallen in cracks between the stovetop and counter. Use the sofa attachment on your vacuum to get into those cracks.

Your Dishwasher

You’d think you wouldn’t need to clean your dishwasher because it cleans itself every time you use it. But you should check the drain in the bottom of the machine for debris, and wipe the gaskets around the door to ensure a tight seal.

Once each week, deodorize it by placing a bowl of white vinegar on the top rack and running it, empty, for a full cycle.

Your Microwave

The best way to remove baked-on food is to fill a microwave-safe container with water, microwave it until the water boils, and let it sit for a few minutes while steam loosens any gunk. Wipe clean.

Your Toaster

Unplug your toaster, pull out and wash its crumb catcher, and shake the machine over the sink to get rid of food. Dry thoroughly before plugging back in.

Your Coffee Machine

To remove mineral deposits that can clog your machine, pour a solution of two parts water and one part white vinegar into the water chamber, insert a coffee filter, and run the solution through the machine. Then run clear water through twice to remove the vinegary taste.

When to Repair or Replace Your Appliance

When an appliance is old and isn’t working efficiently, it’s easy to decide to replace rather than repair the machine — may it rest in peace.

But appliances often break before their time, making the repair-or-replace decision harder.

If money is tight, you may have to repair the appliance and hope for the best. But if you’ve got some coin, then replacing with a new, energy-efficient model often is the better way to go.

That’s a lot of ifs, and the repair-or-replace dilemma often is hard to resolve. Here are some guidelines that will help you decide.

Is It Really Broken?

When appliances stop working, we get so rattled that the obvious escapes us. Before you panic, make sure:

The appliance is plugged in.
Circuit breakers haven’t tripped. (I once replaced a blender only to discover that the circuit needed resetting.)
Flooring hasn’t become uneven, which can stop some appliances from turning on.
Vents and filters aren’t clogged with lint and dust.

Is It Still Under Warranty?

Check your owner’s manual or records to see if the sick appliance is still under warranty. Most warranties on major appliances cover labor and parts for a year; some extend coverage of parts for two years. If it’s still covered, schedule a service call.

Is It Truly at the End of Its Useful Life?

Appliances have an average useful life — the typical lifespan after which the machine is running on borrowed time. The closer your appliance is to its hypothetical past due date, the wiser it is to replace, rather than repair.

How to Follow the 50% Rule

In 2014, the average cost to repair an appliance was $254 to $275. Should you pay it?

If an appliance is more than 50% through its lifespan, and if the cost of one repair is more than 50% of the cost of buying new, then you should replace rather than repair.

To do the math, you’ll have to know the typical lifespan (see above), and get a repair estimate. Most service companies charge a “trip charge” to diagnose the problem. These charges vary widely, so be sure to ask when you arrange the appointment. If the company repairs the appliance, the trip charge typically is waived.

DIY Whenever Possible

If you know your way around a socket wrench, you may be able to make simple appliance repairs yourself and save labor fees. YouTube has lots of DIY repair videos, and user manuals can help you troubleshoot.

Can’t find your manual? Search online for “manual” along with your appliance brand and model number. Most manufacturers provide free downloadable PDFs of appliance manuals, and there are several online sites that specialize in nothing but manuals.

However, there is a downside to repairing appliances yourself.

Many electrical replacement parts are non-refundable, so if you misdiagnose the problem, you’ve wasted money.
Large appliances are heavy and bulky. You risk injury if you don’t know how to move, open, and lift the machine property.
Some appliance warranties are voided when you mess with the machine yourself.
If you forget to unplug the machine before making repairs, you can electrocute yourself (making the money you save a moot point).
How to Calculate Whether Energy Efficiency is Cost Effective

New water-saving and energy-efficient appliances can be cost effective: A modern refrigerator, for instance, uses roughly half the electricity of one built 20 years ago.

But replacing energy clunkers that still have miles left on them may not be a money-wise move. You might spend thousands on an appliance in order to save hundreds (if you’re lucky) on your energy bill.

Jill A. Notini of the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers says if you’re planning on staying in your home for 10 to 15 years, upgrading appliances is a good idea. However, if you’re planning on moving soon, you’ll save money by keeping your older appliances, and letting the new owners upgrade to energy-efficient models.

Are There Hidden Costs When Replacing Old Appliances?

The cost of replacing an appliance may include more than just the price of the machine. In fact, the price tag could be the least of the money you’ll spend to upgrade an appliance.

A new refrigerator may not fit in the old spot. You could have to modify cabinetry to fit the new appliance (be sure to measure accurately).
Gas ovens and ranges will save money only if your home already has gas connections. If not, you could spend thousands bringing a gas line into your home or hundreds rerouting the lines you already have.
Upgrading from a simple gas range to one with all the bells and whistles may require upgrading or adding electrical wiring and circuits.

How to Help Your Appliances Last Longer

maxresdefaultIs it just me or does it seem that appliances don’t last as long as they’re supposed to?

Our dryer died after 11 years (two years before a typical dryer’s lifespan is up), and we repaired our refrigerator three times before it reached its 12th birthday (it’s supposed to live for 13 years).

Full disclosure: I wouldn’t give myself an A in appliance care. But in the future, I vow to keep up on regular maintenance that’ll keep my new dryer running longer than my last one.

Rob Carpenter, owner of a Mr. Handyman franchise in Maryland, shares some insider tips about how to extend the life of home appliances.

Refrigerators That Last

Refrigerators break down when doors don’t close tightly, forcing motors to work overtime to keep food cold. To test your door seal, close the door on a dollar bill: If the bill slips, you’ve got a problem that requires refrigerator maintenance.

Magnetic strips embedded in gaskets around refrigerator doors make doors close snugly, but they routinely wear out and should be replaced or re-magnetized every couple of years. If you’re handy, re-magnetizing is a DIY job — just run a powerful magnet along each side of the gasket, in the same direction, about 50 times.

If messing around with the refrigerator door is beyond your pay grade, call a professional. Pros typically charge around $242 to repair door problems.

Washing Machine Endurance

Loose change banging around your washer drum can cause dents, chipped paint, and rust, so make sure to empty pockets before washing clothes.

Also, maintain your washing machine by regularly cleaning or replacing filters that trap water sediment before it enters your machine. Filters, which look like thimbles, are located in the back where supply hoses attach to the machine. Remove hoses and either poke out debris with a tip of a flathead screwdriver, then remove and wash the filter, or replace it.

Dryers That Keep on Drying

In addition to regularly cleaning out your dryer’s lint trap and exhaust hose, inspect the exterior vent — hot air must escape your house unimpeded.

Make sure the hinged exterior vent pops open when the dryer runs. If it doesn’t, open the cover and scrape out lint with the end of a hanger or dryer vent brush ($13). If your vent is louvered, clean slats with an old toothbrush.

When my dryer recently lost its heat, we called a repair guy who discovered a family of sparrows living in the vent. He sucked the birds out (poor birdies), and then we covered the vent opening with a wire mesh.

Dishwasher Extenders

Here are ways to keep your dishwasher stress-free and long-lasting:

Prime your dishwasher by running the hot water in your sink before you begin the cycle. This will clean your dishes with hot water from the very start of the cycle.
Once a week, run your dishwasher empty except for a cup of vinegar, which will keep it shining and smelling fresh.
Clean out food traps regularly.
Wipe clean the seals around dishwasher doors.