Appliances: What you need to know
The Arizona Republic
More and more front-loading clothes washers are on the market; almost every appliance, from refrigerators to ovens to dishwashers and more, has a high-tech circuit board; many more refrigerators have freezers on the bottom of the unit instead of the top.
In general, new appliances are much more efficient, using less electricity, than the old models. They often wash clothes or dishes with less water. They can be purchased in wild colors or stainless steel instead of the conventional white or black for a decorator statement in kitchens and utility rooms.
So are these innovative appliances worth the money and what can you expect once you buy? Here are a few key questions and answers:
How do the new front-loaders perform compared to top-loading machines?
Front-loaders are definitely attractive and more environmentally sound. But Annette Little of Frost Appliances, a Phoenix repair firm, told us many of her customers experience mold and mildew build-up on the window-door seal on front-loaders. That leads to odor problems. She recommends OdoBan, sold in hardware stores and some supermarkets, for use while washing clothes. You can also add a cup of vinegar to laundry without harming your wash. Also keep the door open when you aren’t using the machine.
Other customers complain that front-loaders do not clean as well, she said. That could be because these machines use less water than top-loaders. “The soap you put in the laundry binds to the dirt and helps lift it off more easily,” she said. “But water is the universal solvent, and you need a lot of water to wash the dirt away.”
In her front-loader, she uses additional chemicals besides detergents -- products like spot removers and deodorizers. From a repair standpoint, the parts in front-loaders that tend to break more often are soap and liquid dispensers, she noted.
What is the lifespan in the 21st century for appliances? Has it gotten shorter in the past few years?
Once upon a time a consumer could get 20 years out of a refrigerator or dishwasher or clothes washer. Now repair services tell us it’s more like eight years with the best of the newest models. This is generally less than the 15 years that manufacturers predict. Ranges and ovens are generally more long-lasting. When you look at appliances, ask the salesperson about the possible lifespan of the model you find interesting.
How do you get dishwashers to clean well and what can you do to be sure that your dishwasher lasts longer?
Spraying mechanisms in dishwashers are more powerful now, because the holes in the spraying arms are smaller and that creates more pressure. But many homeowners complain that their dishwashers do not clean properly. That may be because they trust all the TV ads that say you can put very dirty dishes in a dishwasher and take them out later in spotless shape. If you have a unit that does that, I’d sure appreciate you letting me know what it is. Extensive testing at our house verifies that a machine like that hasn’t been invented yet.
Before loading the machine, rinse dishes thoroughly to remove both large and small food particles. This means dishes will come out cleaner; after all, you’ll be washing those dishes in cleaner water. It also prevents food debris from clogging the filter and causing an expensive repair.
Some newer dishwashers do have a sanitizing cycle that takes the water temperature to more than 140 degrees if you worry about germs.
Powdered dishwasher detergent is preferable to liquid as it cleans delicate dishes more efficiently and doesn’t leave a film behind. Use less detergent rather than more.
Another problem for dishes and dishwashers in Arizona is our hard water. Until several years ago, dishwashing detergents contained phosphates that helped soften the water and decreased mineral buildup. This buildup can clog dishwasher spray devices and leave a film on dishes. However, phosphates were banned by more than a dozen states for environmental reasons; in response, detergent manufacturers have removed phosphates nationwide.
Installing a water softener in your home can handle this hard water problem. Others recommend using Finish Glass Magic or Lemi-Shine regularly in dishwashers. Or after emptying out the dishes, you can put a cup of white vinegar in the bottom of your dishwasher and run a full cycle without detergent.
How do your improve the lifespan of other appliances?
With refrigerators, be sure to vacuum the coils regularly, particularly in our hot and dusty climate. Keep refrigerator seals clean and check for cracks.
Never use a clothes dryer without a lint screen and clean the screen every time you dry a load of clothing. If your dryer vents to the roof of your house, have a service come out regularly to clean out the vent. If you use softener sheets in your dryer, be sure to clean off the lint screen regularly with mild soap and water so it works properly.
Make sure your washing machine is level – front to back and side to side. Install stainless steel, burst-resistant water hoses to prevent a disaster.
Will paying more for an appliance mean fewer repairs?
Not necessarily. Generally speaking, the fewer fancy doodads on an appliance, the less trouble in future.
Computer boards are often the first thing to break on appliances. Machines that had mechanical controls did last longer and were cheaper to repair. But it’s clear computerized appliances are here to stay; hopefully, their performance will improve as time goes on.
What should you do before you buy?
If you’re interested in a front-loading washing machine or any other new appliance, do some homework. Don’t go on appearance or price alone.
Consult a trusted repair service about their experience with the product you are considering. Ask about any issues in getting parts or replacing the circuit boards for the machines. Find out what brands your repair service recommends and which are more expensive to repair. You could ask how long you will have to wait for replacement parts for any appliance you are considering.
Some appliance repair services simply will not work on some brands, particularly foreign-made or high-end brands. Go online to find out who repairs what.
Next week: Are you a newcomer to Arizona? Many new residents arrive here in August. We’ll give you key advice about how to survive in your new home and what to expect.
For more do-it-yourself tips, go to rosieonthehouse.com. An Arizona home building and remodeling industry expert for 35 years, Rosie Romero is the host of the Rosie on the House radio program from 8-11 a.m. Saturdays on KTAR-FM (92.3) in Phoenix, KQNA-AM (1130) in Prescott and KAZM-AM (780) in Sedona, KAFF-AM (930) in Flagstaff and KNST-AM (790) in Tucson. Call 888-767-4348.