Appliance Maintenance

Posted on January 19, 2011


Man placing baking soda inside of a refrigerator

An open box of baking soda in the refrigerator will absorb odors for as long as three months. Image: Liz Foreman/HouseLogic

“Refrigerators cool faster and work more efficiently when the condenser coils can breathe,” explains Doug Rogers, president of the Mr. Appliance repair chain. Dirty and congested coils lead not only to higher energy bills, but also a shortened appliance lifespan.

Here’s a list of maintenance tips to make sure your refrigerator stays cool and calm:

  • Every three months, vacuum the fan and condenser coils on the rear or bottom of the appliance using the brush attachment. Families with shedding pets should clean the coils monthly.
  • Every three months, clean the door gasket with warm soapy water and towel dry. Inspect the seal for snugness all the way around. Replace when loose, cracked, or torn.
  • Every six months, replace the unit’s water filter (when present) to ensure clean water and ice, and to prevent clogs and leaks.
  • Always keep food covered to prevent odors from migrating throughout the fridge and freezer. An open box of baking soda ($1) will absorb odor-causing acids for up to three months.
  • Always maintain an adequate amount of clearance on all sides of the appliance except for those that are zero-clearance or front-vented.
  • Every month, empty out the icemaker bucket and start fresh, as old cubes can absorb odors.
  • Every three months, verify that the appliance is level both front to back and side to side to ensure both proper door movement and ice maker operation.

Water Heaters

Man maintaining a home water heaterInsulating your water heater with a fiberglass jacket will improve efficiency. Image: Mr. Rooter

Depending on a homeowner’s water quality, a hot water heater can be expected to last eight to 12 years, says Frank Czeronka, a licensed master plumber and Mr. Rooter franchise owner. Completing the following routine maintenance schedule, however, can greatly extend the unit’s lifespan.

Here’s a list of maintenance tips to keep your water heater running efficiently and reliably:

  • Always adjust the thermostat to 120 degrees to avoid the risk of scalding.
  • Always maintain 2 feet of clearance around the appliance unless the manual specifically states otherwise.
  • Annually, flush the heater to remove the sediment and debris in the bottom of the tank. Hook up a garden hose to the drain valve and run until the water is clear. This also makes the unit operate more quietly.
  • Annually, test the temperature-pressure relief valve by quickly discharging it two or three times. Following the testing, keep an eye out for small leaks from the valve.
  • Every three to five years, examine the sacrificial anode rod by loosening the hex head screw and removing it. If more than six inches of the core steel wire is exposed, replace the rod for abut $20.
  • Insulate older units with a fiberglass jacket to improve efficiency, being careful to avoid contact with the flue. Newer units already are optimized for peak energy efficiency.
  • When leaving town, adjust the thermostat on gas heaters to “Vacation” setting, which maintains the pilot light without heating the water.


Serviceman checking HVAC systemExperts recommend that you have your HVAC system professionally inspected every fall and spring. Image: Veer

“We recommend annual visits from an HVAC contractor each fall and spring,” says Richard Ciresi, owner of the Louisville Aire Serv franchise. In fall, the technician will clean and inspect the furnace blower, burners, and heat exchanger. In spring, he or she will clean indoor and outdoor condenser coils, verify refrigerant charge, and inspect wiring.

Here’s a list of maintenance tips to keep your heating and cooling system running efficiently and reliably:

  • Every 90 days, install a new one-inch pleated furnace filter. Families with shedding pets should replace the filter every month. Expect to pay $10 to $25 per filter.
  • Always maintain at least two feet of clearance around outdoor air conditioning units and heat pumps.
  • Weekly in summer, brush or blow off fallen debris from top and sides of outdoor air conditioning units and heat pumps. Do not allow the lawn mower to discharge grass clippings onto the unit.
  • Monthly, inspect insulation on refrigerant lines leading into house. Replace if missing or damaged.
  • Annually, ensure that outdoor air conditioning units and heat pumps are on firm and level ground or pads.
  • Annually in spring, pour a cup of bleach down the air conditioner condensate drain to prevent buildup of mold and algae, which can cause a clog.
  • In summer, shut off the water supply to the furnace humidifier. In fall, replace the humidifier wick filter, set the humidistat to between 35% and 40% relative humidity, and turn on the water supply.
  • Never close more than 20% of a home’s registers to avoid placing unnecessary strain on the HVAC system.
  • Each spring, wash and dry filters and vacuum condenser coils on all window air conditioning units placed into service.
  • Annually, replace the battery in your home’s carbon monoxide detector.

Washer & Dryer

Inspecting washing machine hoses for tight fittingsYou should inspect your washer and dryer monthly to make sure all fittings are still tight. Image: Alex Wilson/Digital Vision/Getty Images

Anything that affects a dryer’s airflow can cause the appliance to fail and possibly create a dangerous fire hazard, warns Doug Rogers, president of the Mr. Appliance repair chain. And when it comes to washing machines, the leading cause of costly home damage is hose failure.

Here’s a list of maintenance tips to keep your washer and dryer running smoothly and safely:

  • Replace vinyl dryer exhaust ducts with metal ductwork to reduce fire hazards.
  • Before every dryer load, clean out the lint filter.
  • Every three months, wash the lint filter with detergent to remove invisible chemical residues that can restrict airflow.
  • Every month, visually inspect the dryer exhaust duct for crimps, obstructions, and unnecessary bends.
  • Yearly, remove and clean out the entire exhaust duct line from dryer to exterior.
  • Replace rubber washing machine hoses with braided-metal ones to reduce the risk of bursting. Expect to pay about $8 per hose.
  • Monthly, inspect washing machine hoses for tight fittings, bulges, cracks, and leaks. Tighten loose fittings. Replace damaged hoses.
  • Always ensure that the washing machine is level and on firm footing.
  • Always use the proper type and amount of detergent for the machine and load.
  • To prevent washing machine odor in front-load machines, always allow the interior to dry before shutting the door. Families with small children, however, should not leave the door ajar. Instead, use products specifically intended to eliminate odor-causing residues.

Douglas Trattner has covered household appliances and home improvement for, DIYNetworks, and the Cleveland Plain Dealer. During the 10-year stewardship of his 1925 Colonial, he’s upgraded almost every household appliance. After lengthy deliberation, he recently replaced an aging top-load washing machine with an energy-efficient front-load unit.