Left unattended, a burst washing-machine hose can spill hundreds of gallons of water an hour. Likewise, a dryer can erupt in flame if lint is allowed to build up inside the machine or its ducts. In 1999 (the most recent data available), dryers caused 14,600 fires, 20 deaths, and $86.8 million in property damage in the United States.

Preventing such mishaps is as easy as replacing a washer’s old rubber hoses, ideally with steel-jacketed ones that can’t split open. Or discarding the dryer’s flimsy — and flammable — vinyl duct and putting a metal one in its place. (Regular lint-trap cleaning, while necessary, won’t keep lint from collecting in the duct.)

Once you’ve made those two major upgrades, as shown on the following pages, get in the habit of checking hoses and cleaning ducts every six months or so. Hoses should be replaced every five years; tag them with the date you installed them so you won’t forget. Your appliances will last longer, run better, and use less energy. Here, Richie Isaacson of Affordable Appliance, in Randolph, Massachusetts, shows how to keep a washer and dryer running safely and efficiently.

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Household appliances help you keep a clean and productive home, but they’re also investments, and, like anything with moving parts, sometimes they need a little maintenance. Here are a few common problems and some easy tips on how to fix them.

In the warm months of summer, your fridge is often working on double duty to keep your food cool or frozen against intense temperatures. So, try these three tricks to keep things running as energy-friendly as possible.

  • Reseal the gasket: the rubber seal around the refrigerator or freezer door creates a tight seal that keeps everything cool inside. If you’ve noticed lots of frost or ice crystals on the food or wall of your freezer, or condensation or liquid building up in your fridge, you probably don’t have a tight seal. It might need replaced, but before you start tearing things apart, try rubbing a thin, even layer of Vaseline (petroleum jelly) over all the matting surfaces. This re-moistens the plastic or rubber seal, expanding it to fill it the spaces.
  • Clean the coils: if your fridge appears to be leaking, the drain or condensation coil is likely clogged or dirty. Pull out the refrigerator and vacuum or wipe up any dust under and behind the fridge. Then, use a wooden skewer or pipe cleaner to clear out the tube. You can also blow air through the tube to clean it out. Lastly, rinse with rubbing alcohol to prevent new clogs and build-up.
Garbage Disposal

If your sink isn’t operating as usual, try cleaning your drain and resetting the disposal.

  • With the power off (you can switch it off at the breaker, if desired), use tongs or your hands to remove any solid materials in the drain. Physically turn the blades to get things moving.
  • If it still won’t turn, go under the sink and press the reset button on the bottom of the disposal. The reset will be the only button on the whole unit, so there’s no need to guess. You may need to use an Allen wrench to turn the disposal blades and get things moving. The socket is on the bottom.
  • Lastly, finish up by making a science class-style volcano in the drain to clear the residue and any undesirable smells. Sprinkle a 1/4 cup of baking soda in the disposal; then pour in some white vinegar. Turn on the disposal, and run a few cups of water down the drain to clear everything out.

Washing Machine and Dryer

  • If your washer is filling but not going into the wash cycle, your machine might be reading the lid as open. Use a screwdriver to tighten the hardware and lid switch on the inside lip of the washer lid.
  • If your dryer motor runs, but the drum doesn’t rotate, you likely need a new belt. Simply locate the motor, remove the belt and find a replacement at your appliance, hardware, or even an auto parts store.

Oven and Range

  • If you electric burner doesn’t seem to be getting as hot as usual, unplug the burners and cleaning the terminals, plug and connections. Then, wiggle in the burner again to create a strong connection with plenty of points of contact.
  • If your gas range doesn’t want to light or burn consistently, clean off the igniter and the gas line with a brush or scrub pad.


Quick Fix For Your Appliance


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

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

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 Gas Pilot Range

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.

Oven Controls

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.”


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.


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.