Simple Fixes for Common Appliance Problems

At least a quarter of all appliance repair calls are resolved with no-brainer solutions like pushing a button or flipping a circuit breaker. Learn what to look for and how to avoid these expensive lessons.

Disposer

Look for a reset button

If your disposer won’t start, push the reset button and give it a spin.

Turn the blades to loosen a jam

Don’t put tea bags or too many potato peels all at once into your disposer. That’s a sure way to clog it.

All disposers have an overload feature that automatically shuts off the power when the motor becomes overloaded and gets too hot. Once the motor cools, simply push the reset button on the side of or under the unit.

On the other hand, if it hums but doesn’t spin, it may have something stuck in it. Switch the disposer off, then try working through it by turning the blades with a special disposer wrench (sold at home centers) or by turning a bottom bolt. Many disposers have an Allen wrench for that purpose, inset on the bottom of the machine.

Lights

Hit the reset button

If the circuit breaker hasn’t tripped, look for a GFCI.

When a light goes out or a switch doesn’t work, you should first check the main electrical panel for a tripped circuit breaker. But don’t stop there. Before you change out light bulbs and switches, see if a GFCI outlet (which may be upstream from the troubled light or outlet) has tripped. Sometimes all the bathrooms or the outside lights are powered through a single GFCI located in one bathroom or elsewhere, such as in a basement. Simply push the reset button on the GFCI and you could be back in business.

Refrigerator

Clogged coils

Clean the coils if your refrigerator isn’t cooling or conks out

Coil brush

Coil brushes are sold at appliance stores and home centers.

If your refrigerator conks out on a hot day and you have a cat or a dog, immediately check the coils for pet hair. Service pros find this problem on half of their refrigerator calls. The coils are the black tube-and-wire grid that cools the fluid in the compressor. A buildup of hair will cause the compressor to overheat and trigger the overload switch. On many fridges, you get to the coils by opening the grille at the bottom of the refrigerator. Then push a coil cleaning brush (sold at home centers) into the coils, pull it back and vacuum it clean.

If the coils are located on the back, pull out your fridge (it’s often on rollers) and brush them off. Bonus: The clean coils will cool more efficiently and save you money on your utility bill!

Once the overload switch is tripped, you may have to wait a few hours for it to cool. It will reset itself and turn the refrigerator back on.

Gas stove

Clean the igniter

If the burner won’t light, try cleaning the igniter.

Igniter closeup

Dirty igniters are the most common problem. It takes only a minute to clean them.

If your stove burner won’t come on, the likely culprit is the spaghetti sauce that boiled over a few days ago. Use a toothbrush to clean off food spills from the igniter. On an electronic ignition stove, it’s a little ceramic nub located either on the stovetop or under the ceramic seal strike plate. Also make sure that the round ceramic seal strike plate is properly seated on the burner.

Electric range

Burner prong problem

Spread the burner prongs a little to create a better electrical connection.

If your electric stove burner won’t heat, turn the burner off and pull it out from its socket. Then plug it in again and wiggle it around. If it feels loose, remove the burner again and gently bend the burner prongs slightly outward for a tighter connection. Easy does it. You could end up pushing the whole socket out of its bracket.

Standing pilot gas range

Pilot light hole

Try cleaning the pilot hole, then relight.

To access the ignition system in an older-style standard gas range, pop the lid. It’s usually hinged on the back side. If the pilot flame is out, poke a needle into the pilot hole to clean out soot (be careful not to ream it wider). Brush off any debris and clean the tube that leads from the pilot to the burner. Then relight the pilot.

Electronic oven controls

Programming snafu

Oven won’t heat? Check the clock and the timer setting. It doesn’t always do what you think you told it to do.

Blame it on the technology. It so happens that if you set the “time cook” function, the oven, much like a programmed VCR, won’t turn on until the appointed time. You may have done this inadvertently, but if your digital display reads “hold,” “delay” or “time cook,” then the timer is engaged. You’ll have to clear it first by pushing the “off” button. On ovens with dials, be sure the knob is turned to “manual.”

Washer

Level the front

Quiet a noisy washer by leveling it.

Leg adjustment

Turn the leg up or down, then lock it in place by tighting the locking nut.

When a washing machine cabinet rocks, it makes a horrible racket during the spin cycle. The solution is to simply readjust the legs. Screw the front legs up or down until the cabinet is level. When both legs are solid on the floor, tighten each leg’s locking nut. In most washers, to adjust the rear legs, gently tilt the machine forward and gently lower it down. The movement will self-adjust the rear legs.

Dryer

Wrong setting?

Before calling the repairman, check the dryer settings—just in case.

Dryer sheet residue

If your clothes are still damp after a normal cycle and you use dryer sheets, check the filter.

Our expert repairman responds to many “dryer-not- heating calls” only to find that the machine is set to “fluff air”—a non-heat setting. Avoid the embarrassment. Check the settings first.

Another common cause of poor drying is a clogged lint filter. The filter may look clean, but it may actually be covered by a nearly invisible film caused by dryer sheets. This film reduces airflow and forces the thermostat to shut off the heat before your clothes are dry. Test your filter by pouring water into it. If the filter holds water, it’s past time to clean it. Pull out the filter and scrub it in hot water with a little laundry detergent and a stiff kitchen brush.

Also check the outside dryer vent for any lint that may have built up there. The louver door–style vent covers are notorious for lint buildup, which traps heat and turns the heat off in the dryer. Pull the cover completely off to get to these clogs.

Air conditioner

Check the fuses

If your AC won’t come on, the thermostat may be saying no.

Fuse block

Pull the fuse block and have them tested at a hardware store.

If you turn your central air conditioner on, off and then on again in rapid order, chances are you’ll blow a fuse or shut off a circuit breaker or the air conditioner simply won’t respond. That’s because the compressor (in the outdoor condensing unit) may have stopped in a high compression mode, making it difficult to start until the compression releases. Older condensing units may switch the compressor on anyway, which causes the circuit to overload and blow a fuse. Newer, “smarter” condensing units will prevent this blunder by delaying the AC’s “on” function for a few minutes. It’s easy to mistake this delay with a faulty air conditioner. Be patient and give the air conditioner about five minutes to come back on.

To determine if you have a blown fuse, locate the special fuse block near the outside unit. Pull out the block and take the whole thing to the hardware store. A salesperson can test the cartridge fuses and tell you if you need to replace them.

Another simple reason your AC might not come on: You’ve signed up for a cost discount with your electric company in exchange for limited air conditioning during high-demand periods, and you’re in an “off” period. If you can’t remember, call your electric company to find out. You don’t want to pay the repair technician to drive out and explain this program to you!

Dishwasher

Clean out debris

Clean the filter and float switch if the dishes don’t come out clean.

When your dishwasher no longer gets your dishes clean, a food-filled filter is most often to blame. If it’s clogged, water can’t make it to the spray arms to clean the dishes in the top rack. The fix takes two minutes. Simply pull out the lower rack and remove the filter cover inside the dishwasher. (Check your owner’s manual if you can’t spot the filter.) Then use a wet vacuum to clean off the screen.

While you’re there, slide the nearby float switch up and down. If it’s jammed with mac and cheese, you won’t get any water. If the cover sticks, jiggle it up and down and clean it with water.

Healthy Appliance Tips

home-appliance-788x436Healthy Appliance Tip #1: For best dryer performance and to prevent possible fire, inspect outside vent weekly for lint obstruction and good air flow.

Healthy Appliance Tip #2: For best dishwasher performance, run water at the kitchen sink until hot just before starting your dishwasher. It’s also best to use soft water for improved washability as well as increasing the life of your appliance.

Healthy Appliance Tip #3: Using a small nylon mesh laundry bag for small articles, such as childrens socks, etc can prevent such items from entering your wash pump and causing damage. Always carefully check pockets and remove all items before washing such as keys, hair pins, safety pins, coins etc.

Healthy Appliance Tip #4: Using too much fabric softener can cause a build up over time that can actually affect your dryer’s performance. If using liquid fabric softener in the washer, use a very small amount, diluted. If your choice is a dryer sheet, appliance manufacturers now recommend cutting the dryer sheet in half. Not only will your dryer be happier, you’ll save money, too.

Healthy Appliance Tip #5: Adding a product called “Finish Glass Magic” to your dishwasher may increase the cleaning performance. Pour “Finish Glass Magic” into the bottom of the dishwasher tub. Then, add your favorite detergent to the dispenser as you normally would. There are several Finish products, but it must have the words “Glass Magic” on the box. Recently, phosphates have been removed from all dishwasher detergents and many people are calling us to report that their dishwasher is no longer getting dishes clean and/or leaving a white residue on dishes, particularly plastic items. You may need to soak the items in a vinegar solution to remove the residue. Then, use the “Finish Glass Magic” with each wash. Another product that is very useful with kitchen and laundry appliances is “20 Mule Team Borax”. Simply pour 1/4 cup of “20 Mule Team Borax” in the bottom of the dishwasher tub for each load.

10 Maintenance Tips You Can Do In Under 10 Minutes

Many people think of cleaning as a chore, but periodic maintenance of your household appliances can potentially save you from a list of repairs. Regular upkeep, such as replacing worn appliance parts, will improve the appliance’s efficiency while also keeping more money in your wallet. Take 10 minutes out of your schedule to try one of these 10 quick and easy maintenance tips.

Verify Oven Door Has Tight Seal:
Over 20% of your oven’s heat can escape if the door is not sealed properly.
Open the oven door and locate the rubber gasket around the perimeter of the door.
Feel for any broken, torn or deformed areas on your seal. Close the door and see if you can find any leaks.
Replace the gasket if necessary.

Clean or Replace Dirty Vent Filters:
Metal-mesh grease filters can be washed by hand in soapy water or you can put them in your dishwasher for a thorough cleaning.
Don’t attempt to wash charcoal or paper filters; they need to be replaced.

Clean Stovetop Drip Bowls:
Remove drip bowls from underneath your burner elements.
Presoak the drip bowls in a cleaning solution for 5 minutes. Then wash, clean and replace.
Remember to clean drip bowls immediately after spills. If spills burn into the bowls you may need to replace them.

Clean Coils In Your Refrigerator:
Depending on your model, the coils are either behind the kickplate or at the rear of the fridge.
Use a shop or handheld vacuum to suck up any loose particles.
Vacuum every 6-12 months.

Change Refrigerator Water Filter:
Filters that don’t efficiently remove contaminants and impurities may expose you to harmful water.
Follow water filter instructions, as all water filters are different depending on model. However, most are as easy as turning the filter one quarter inch and popping it out or locking it in place.
Change the filter every 3-6 months depending on water condition and usage.

Fix Rusty Dishrack Tines:
If your tines are rusty, the rust can adhere to and ruin your dishes and silverware.
Purchase a tine repair kit.
Use a sealant to adhere the tips over any rusty or chipped tines.
Let dry for at least 24 hours before running your dishwasher.

Clean and Deodorize Garbage Disposal:
Make sure the unit has been turned off.
Look down the drain for any large, stuck items. Don’t stick your hands in the disposal. Use tongs or another tool to fish items out.
Prepare a mixture of ice cubes and salt (or vinegar) and pour it down the drain. Run cold water over it for 10 seconds and then turn the unit on.
To deodorize, place a handful of citrus peels in the disposal, run cold water and turn it on.

Clean Dryer Exhaust:
Lint in your dryer exhaust is a fire hazard; clean the exhaust annually.
Loosen the clamp and pull the exhaust off the back of the dryer.
Remove clumps of lint from the tubing and the hole in the back of the dryer. Use a coat hanger to carefully remove any large clumps that you can’t reach with your hands.
Vacuum all the small lint.
Reattach exhaust.

Inspect Washing Machine Hoses:
Most washing machine floods are caused by leaks in the hose.
Remove the panel on your washing machine.
Search for any cracks, leaks or weak spots on your hoses.
Replace the hose if needed.

Clean Your Air Conditioner Filter:
Pop off the front panel of your unit.
Replace disposable filter or vacuum re-usable filter to remove as much dirt as possible.
Clean your filter every 2-4 weeks.

ESTIMATING APPLIANCE AND HOME ELECTRONIC ENERGY USE

Determining how much electricity your appliances and home electronics use can help you understand how much money you are spending to use them. Use the information below to estimate how much electricity an appliance is using and how much the electricity costs so you can decide whether to invest in a more energy-efficient appliance.

There are several ways to estimate how much electricity your appliances and home electronics use:

Reviewing the Energy Guide label. The label provides an estimate of the average energy consumption and cost to operate the specific model of the appliance you are using. Note that all not all appliances or home electronics are required to have an Energy Guide.
Using an electricity usage monitor to get readings of how much electricity an appliance is using
Calculating annual energy consumption and costs using the formulas provided below
Installing a whole house energy monitoring system.

ELECTRICITY USAGE MONITORS
Electricity usage monitors are easy to use and can measure the electricity usage of any device that runs on 120 volts. (But it can’t be used with large appliances that use 220 volts, such as electric clothes dryers, central air conditioners, or water heaters.) You can buy electricity usage monitors at most hardware stores for around $25-$50. Before using a monitor, read the user manual.

To find out how many watts of electricity a device is using, just plug the monitor into the electrical outlet the device uses, and then plug the device into the monitor. It will display how many watts the device uses. If you want to know how many kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity the devices uses in an hour, or a day, or longer, just leave everything set up and read the display later.

Monitors are especially useful for finding the amount of kWh used over any period of time for devices that don’t run constantly, like refrigerators. Some monitors will let you enter the amount your utility charges per kilowatt-hour and provide an estimate how much it cost to run the device since it was plugged into the monitor.

Many appliances continue to draw a small amount of stand-by power when they are switched “off.” These “phantom loads” occur in most appliances that use electricity, such as televisions, stereos, computers, and kitchen appliances. Most phantom loads will increase the appliance’s energy consumption a few watt-hours, and you can use a monitor to estimate those too. These loads can be avoided by unplugging the appliance or using a power strip and using the switch on the power strip to cut all power to the appliance.

CALCULATING ANNUAL ELECTRICITY CONSUMPTION AND COSTS
Follow these steps for finding the annual energy consumption of a product, as well as the cost to operate it.

Estimate the number of hours per day an appliance runs. There are two ways to do this:
– Rough estimate
If you know about how much you use an appliance every day, you can roughly estimate the number of hours it runs. For example, if you know you normally watch about 4 hours of television every day, you can use that number. If you know you run your whole house fan 4 hours every night before shutting it off, you can use that number. To estimate the number of hours that a refrigerator actually operates at its maximum wattage, divide the total time the refrigerator is plugged in by three. Refrigerators, although turned “on” all the time, actually cycle on and off as needed to maintain interior temperatures.

– Keep a log
It may be practical for you to keep a usage log for some appliances. For example, you could record the cooking time each time you use your microwave, work on your computer, watch your television, or leave a light on in a room or outdoors.

Find the wattage of the product. There are three ways to find the wattage an appliance uses:
– Stamped on the appliance
The wattage of most appliances is usually stamped on the bottom or back of the appliance, or on its nameplate. The wattage listed is the maximum power drawn by the appliance. Many appliances have a range of settings, so the actual amount of power an appliance may consume depends on the setting being used. For example, a radio set at high volume uses more power than one set at low volume. A fan set at a higher speed uses more power than one set at a lower speed.

– Multiply the appliance ampere usage by the appliance voltage usage
If the wattage is not listed on the appliance, you can still estimate it by finding the electrical current draw (in amperes) and multiplying that by the voltage used by the appliance. Most appliances in the United States use 120 volts. Larger appliances, such as clothes dryers and electric cooktops, use 240 volts. The amperes might be stamped on the unit in place of the wattage, or listed in the owner’s manual or specification sheet.

– Use online sources to find typical wattages or the wattage of specific products you are considering purchasing. The following links are good options:

The Home Energy Saver provides a list of appliances with their estimated wattage and their annual energy use, along with other characteristics (including annual energy use, based on “typical” usage patterns. Continue using the equations here if you want to find energy use based on your own usage patterns).

ENERGY STAR offers energy-use information on specific products that have earned the ENERGY STAR. The information varies across products, but if you are considering purchasing a new, efficient product,

ENERGY STAR allows you to select and compare specific models. In some cases, you can use the provided information to do your own estimates using the equations here. The information may also help you compare your current appliances with more efficient models, so you understand potential savings from upgrading to a more efficient appliance.

Find the daily energy consumption using the following formula:
(Wattage × Hours Used Per Day) ÷ 1000 = Daily Kilowatt-hour (kWh) consumption

Find the annual energy consumption using the following formula:

Daily kWh consumption × number of days used per year = annual energy consumption

Find the annual cost to run the appliance using the following formula:
Annual energy consumption × utility rate per kWh = annual cost to run appliance