Angie's List: Regular appliance maintenance

Most major appliances should hum along doing their heating, cooling, washing, drying and grinding for a decade or more. When they do crash and burn, the consumer review website, Angie's List, says it's likely operator error. It's time to dust off your manual, read up and help keep your appliances in top shape.

Manuals may not be riveting reads but properly caring for your appliances can save you hundreds in repair bills and will reduce the stress of having one break down on you.

If you have to make a call to a repair man, Angie's List has some helpful information. Angie Hicks, creator of Angie's List, says "consumers can expect to pay between $60 and $100 for the actual service call to diagnose the problem. The parts and the labor are going to be in addition to that, but keep in mind many service companies will deduct that service call fee if you hire them to do the work. So don't be afraid to ask."

In many cases, a call to the repair man is avoidable if you're performing regular maintenance on your appliances. Angie's List offers these tips for homeowners:

Refrigerator and Freezer care:

  • DO clean the condenser coils. For most people, it's an easy vacuum cleaning job and will help the fridge run efficiently. However, built-in refrigerators may require a service call.
  • DO check the seal. If the seal on your refrigerator is not tight, you could be losing efficiency and your food won't be properly chilled. To test your seal, close the door on a thin sheet of paper. If the paper slips, the seal likely needs to be replaced.

Dishwasher care:

  • DO clean your dishwasher's filter to remove particles and debris. The location of the filter will vary on different models, so check your owner's manual if you are having trouble finding it.
  • DO use the right amount of soap. Your owner's manual should provide you with that information. If you use the wrong soap, you could damage the pump.

Garbage disposal care:

  • DON'T stuff the disposal full of waste and then turn it on.
  • DO run cold water for 10 seconds before feeding in small bits of waste. You should also keep the water running for thirty seconds after the waste disappears.

Oven care:

  • DO check your oven's temperature gauge. You can easily test this by baking a cake according to the directions on a basic mix. If the cake isn't properly baked, you may need a service call to fix the oven.
  • DON'T use a self-cleaner before important meals. Self-cleaning cycles require ovens to run at extremely high temperatures and often cause the oven's electric components to fail.

Washing machine care:

  • DON'T stuff too many clothes in the machine. Overloading your unit will cause it to prematurely wear out.
  • DO set the water level at the appropriate setting for the amount of clothes being washed.
  • DO empty pockets and put lingerie in mesh bags before washing. Repair specialists report finding all sorts of small items inside machines that would have spun happily for years. Among the troublemaking items are bra under wires, golf tees, baby spoons and coins.

Clothes dryer care:

  • DO clean the vent with every load. A clogged vent will slow down the dry-time of your cycle and increase the potential for a dryer fire.
  • DO have the outside vent inspected annually and cleaned yearly. Most cleanings cost less than $100 and can make your dryer run as good as new.