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Appliances that work hard to keep a house running need cleaning, too

The Washington Post
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Wiping down refrigerator shelves with warm soapy water should be part of a regular cleaning routine.

Your major appliances work hard for you. So why not pay some attention to your washer, dryer, dishwasher, fridge and stove?

“Lots of people think that the function of the washing machine or the dishwasher is to clean, so it must just clean itself,” says Melissa Maker, who runs a cleaning service in Toronto and the Clean My Space blog. “This isn’t the case. Over time, if you don’t keep these machines clean, there are things that can lead to their demise.”

First, dig out each appliance’s manual. If you’ve misplaced it, you can probably get a version of it online. You might be surprised at what you find. I just pulled out the manual for my seven-year-old KitchenAid dishwasher to see whether it had a filter I needed to clean (it doesn’t). While reading it, I discovered my flatware basket has holes to fit chopsticks.

“If you want your appliances to last longer, clean them,” says Becky Rapinchuk, cleaning expert and blogger at Clean Mama. “It doesn’t take long and in some cases, you just push a button and let it roll.”

We asked experts for ideas on the best ways to clean the major appliances in your home.

Washing machine

Many washing machines have cleaning or sanitizing cycles. You can use vinegar or washing machine cleaner (made by a number of companies including Tide and OxiClean) in that cycle to refresh your machine. Or just use those products and run a regular hot-water cycle.

“The internal parts of our appliances are often kind of disregarded or seem like they don’t need upkeep, but they do,” says Brendan Bosch, marketing director for Affresh, a washing-machine cleaning tablet made by Whirlpool. Cleaning the interiors is especially important in high- efficiency machines, because they use less water than conventional washers, and excess detergent and clothing fibers can build up inside and cause odors.

Jill Notini, a spokeswoman for the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers, says wiping down the gaskets with dish soap or vinegar is a good idea. She does not recommend bleach, because you might end up staining your clothes.

Dryer

If you’re not already emptying your lint trap after every load, vow to be better about it. Buildup will clog your dryer duct and, in extreme cases, could cause a fire. Meanwhile, if you haven’t had your vent cleaned recently (by you or a professional), do an inspection. Vacuum out any lint clogged in there that might be affecting your dryer’s performance.

Rapinchuk pours a bit of white vinegar on a cloth and wipes down the seals on the door of her dryer frequently. You can also use that to wipe the inside of the drum. It’s nice to rinse your lint catcher under running water once in a while.

Dishwasher

“The machine that cleans your everyday forks and spoons needs attention,” says Brian Sansoni, spokesman for the American Cleaning Institute. “Yes, the utensils look clean, but you want the device to be clean inside also.”

Dishwashers are not an appliance most of us think of cleaning. But models with stainless steel interiors in particular will look shiny and fresh if you wipe them down or use a dishwasher cleaning powder or tablet.

Some newer models have removable mesh filters that can clog with pieces of corn or a Lucky Charm, especially if you’re not a big prerinser. Pop out the filter and rinse under warm running water or gently brush with a toothbrush. If you see mineral deposit buildup inside your dishwasher, put two cups of vinegar in a glass container on the bottom rack facing up and run a hot cycle, says Nathan Kryglowski, senior product marketing manager at KitchenAid. This way it splashes out throughout the cycle and doesn’t immediately rinse down the drain. If your spray arms pop off, check the water jets to see whether they may be clogged with minerals and rinse them off as well, Notini says.

Refrigerator

Wiping down refrigerator shelves with warm soapy water should be part of a regular cleaning routine. But taking everything out of your refrigerator and giving it a larger dose of TLC is a worthwhile spring chore. “We’ve found on surveys that people don’t clean refrigerators enough,” Sansoni says. “It’s especially important to scrub out the shelves where you keep your meats.”

Pulling your refrigerator away from the wall and cleaning any debris or dust from the back of the unit and the floor is also important, Notini says. If there is a grill on the front of your refrigerator that can be removed, clean behind there and make sure air can freely flow through.

Range

If your oven has a self-cleaning cycle on it, activate it on a warm spring day when you can leave windows and doors open to air out your house during the several hours that it’s cleaning itself.

To remove that baked-on gunk from your removable metal stovetop burners, Rapinchuk says, run them through the dishwasher. Or you can soak them in hot soapy water and then scrub them with a paste of kosher salt, baking soda and dish soap. If you have a stainless steel stove top, Rapinchuck suggests wiping the surface using a sponge or a cloth dipped in warm soapy water and wrung out well. Avoid the gas burner holes. Notini says most ceramic stove tops can be cleaned with warm soapy water or a vinegar and baking soda paste. Check your manual for specifics.

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