When your appliances are brand-new, they shine and glisten. The cook tops haven’t yet crusted over with dried tomato sauce, and the dryer runs so hot that you marvel at how quickly your clothes are ready to be folded.

Over time, however, cook tops lose their gleam and dryers lose their ability to awe. But it doesn’t have to be this way. With proper maintenance, your new appliance can perform like new for years to come.

Proper installation is the first step to ensuring reliability. “If the appliance is put into a square opening and the floor is level, walls are level and everything is square, it’s going to make servicing and maintenance that much easier,” says Gerry Reda, senior vice president of sales at Marvel Industries in Rock Island, Ill. “The appliance itself is going to work a lot better if it is in that kind of environment.”

GE Profile Refrigerator
GE Profile Refrigerator

Once the unit is installed, take a few minutes to read the owner’s manual. You’ll learn the dos and don’ts of your new appliance as well as maintenance tips that can help prevent annoying and costly repairs. Knowing how to operate your appliance will also help you get the most out of all its bells and whistles. “You buy this super-efficient refrigerator but then don’t read the manual and don’t know you need to clean the condenser coils,” says Andrew Sullivan, technical advisor with Liebherr Refrigeration, a worldwide leader in refrigerator. “That’s going to affect performance.” Also, take a minute to fill out the warranty card. This way you’ll be alerted of any recalls and will have your data on file if you need service during the warranty period.

Here are some tips to keep those appliances running optimally.

Refrigerator: Clean those Coils
Cleaning the condenser coils underneath your refrigerator is going to improve efficiency and keep the unit running strong, says Sullivan. “I’ve walked into homes where people say, ‘Condenser? What is that?’ The fridge is eight years old and they’ve never cleaned it,’” says Joe Gagnon, host of the “Appliance Doctor” on 1600 WAAM Radio in Ann Arbor, Mich. “I will reach under there and will pull out a garbage bag full of dirt and dust and dog and cat hair.”

The condenser has the crucial job of cooling the refrigerator. A dirty condenser can add up to $120 extra to your utility bill each year, Gagnon says, and can cause the unit to burn out prematurely.

To clean, use a specially designed condenser brush to pull out any debris from under your refrigerator and around the coils. Then, using your vacuum’s longest and skinniest attachment, suck up any remaining dust. Do this at least twice a year, especially if you have cats that like to nap right in front of the fridge door.

Also, take care when cleaning the inside of the refrigerator, Sullivan cautions. Avoid any ammonia-based cleaners which can break down internal plastic components. Use gentle dish soap instead. Your oven needs the same care. The self-clean function always leaves a few spots that need to be hand washed. But don’t use abrasive cleaners or sponges as they can harm the interior’s special coating. Instead, Gagnon recommends using vinegar and a soft cloth—not only will it clean your refrigerator, but it’s safer for the environment, as well.

Cook Top: TLC Required
Glass cook tops look fantastic when they’re shiny, new and clean. But dried-on spills can be tough to remove, especially if they’re sugar or worse—like a plastic bag that accidentally got too close to the heat source. “The big complaint with cook tops is the maintenance factor,” Gagnon says. “If you are going to get a

Thermador Cook Top
Thermador Cook Top

smooth top, you had better be an immaculate housekeeper. You can scrape off spills that you can’t get off with normal elbow grease, but then you have to use a special glazing compound to seal it off. We have a brand-new kitchen here and the cook top really shines, but my wife works so hard at maintaining it. That’s her biggest complaint.”

Purchase a cleaner specifically made for cook tops. Weiman Products of Gurnee, Ill., Cook Top Cleaner is guaranteed to clean without scratching and will help prevent future spills from sticking to the surface. If you do have a sugary spill (tomato sauce falls into this category), or if plastic or aluminum foil accidentally melt on the surface, remove it with the metal razor scraper that comes with the cook top. Permanent damage can occur if these kinds of stains are not cleaned immediately. Use oven mitts as the cook top will be hot.

Removing grease and other residue from your vent hood will keep your unit both working and looking great. For stainless-steel hoods, use a liquid non-abrasive degreasing detergent and a soft terry cloth to clean without dulling the shine, says Arcadio Lainez, director of marketing for vent hood manufacturer Zephyr Corp. of San Francisco, Calif. Glass hoods require a simple glass cleaner such as Windex, but use caution not to get that product on the stainless steel as it can leave spots.

And don’t forget about your vent’s filters. Metal mesh and baffle filters should be soaked in warm, soapy water once every two to three months, Lainez says. Charcoal filters should be replaced every three to six months, depending on the manufacturer recommendation.

Microwave filters also need TLC. Soak the grease filters in soapy water and then scrub them clean. Wait until the filter is dry to reinstall it, and remember not to use the microwave without the filter in place.

Clothes Dryer: Beware of Lint
Clear out the lint from the vent line twice a year. This will keep your dryer

Whirlpool’s Duet Washer and Dryer uses a metallic green colored called Aspen as a detour from standard white appliances.
Whirlpool’s Duet Washer and Dryer uses a metallic green colored called Aspen as a detour from standard white appliances.

running hot, thus saving you money on your utility bills. It will also help make your home safer. Each year there is an average of 15,000 dryer fires in the United States, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

“I have pulled out blankets of lint, which is compressed and built up inside the bottom of the dryer,” Gagnon says. “All you got to do is touch that with a little spark and you have got a fire.”

You can call a service technician to clean out the lint. Or, you can try Gagnon’s fix: Take a leaf blower and insert it into the vent line. This will push all that lint right out of the system. And make sure that you are not using a plastic or tin foil vent line. Lint easily gets trapped in crevices, creating a fire hazard.

Washing machines also require routine maintenance. Odor is the main problem. Run an empty machine with bleach and hot water once a month to eliminate mildew odors. Whirlpool Corp. of Benton Harbor, Mich., recommends using Affresh washer cleaner tablets monthly to get rid of odors in its Duet series of front-loader washing machines. The tablets are more effective than bleach because they remove the residue that can form behind the washer drum.

Dishwasher: Remove Soap Buildup
The jets inside your dishwasher will stop working effectively over time because of soapy buildup on the motor and spouts, Gagnon says. And if you use well water, you might have another problem: unsightly brown stains on the interior of the dishwasher. The solution here is a simple one: Tang. The breakfast drink contains citric acid that can break down that soap and brown residue. Start your dishwasher and allow the unit to fill with water. Then open the door and throw in an entire canister of powdered Tang. Once the wash cycle is done, your glasses will be ready to sparkle again.

Fisher & Paykel DishDrawer
Fisher & Paykel DishDrawer

Outdoor Appliances: Choose Wisely
The first rule here is to only use appliances outdoors that were engineered to withstand the elements. This includes rain and snow as well as blowing sand and salt air, depending on your locale. Outdoor appliances should be made with rust-resistant stainless steel. This includes not just the finish, Reda says, but also each hinge, screw and bolt. Also, in colder climates, you might want or need to move appliances indoors, so keep that in mind as you are designing your outdoor kitchen.

When Repairs are Necessary
Call the manufacturer if your unit is still under warranty. If the warranty has expired, how much you can do yourself depends on your skill level. Many appliances are digitized nowadays, so diagnosing and fixing a problem is not as easy as it once was. But if, for example, you know for sure a circuit board has failed, you can probably do the repair. “If you’re adept at putting a video card into your own computer, you can do that kind of replacement yourself,” Sullivan says. If the repair is beyond your skill level and your warranty has expired, it’s time to call in a professional repairperson.

Ideally, you should not have to repair any new appliance during the first five years, Sullivan says. The odds of that being true increase if you properly maintain your appliances.

Credit: Renovate with Tommy Mac