When we bought our house nearly 30 years ago, it came with an oven that was as old as I was. Not only was our brown Caloric double wall oven ugly, it was also only 30 inches, creating problems whenever we needed to feed a crowd. Worse yet, it wasn’t self-cleaning, which meant that every year I had the oh-so-enjoyable task of scraping dried gunk off my oven walls with a mini screwdriver and scouring the racks until they were absolutely pristine so that I could kasher it for Pesach. Every now and then it would malfunction, and we would call in our friendly neighborhood repairman, until one day when he informed us that the parts that we needed were no longer available, leaving us no choice but to replace it. If I had to venture a guess, I would say that that oven was 45-years-old when it finally baked its last pan of brownies and was relegated to the great big kitchen in the sky.
I would guess that if you told an appliance salesperson today that you want to buy an oven that will last for more than four decades you will get laughed out of the store (or off the website in today’s digital age.) Major appliances aren’t made the way they used to be and with the advent of computerized technology, our appliances may be smarter than ever, but far more prone to breakage – and their useful lifespans are certainly nothing to celebrate. Just how long can you expect your household appliance to last? According to Digital Trends, you can (hopefully) get nine years out of your dishwasher and microwave, eleven from a stand-alone freezer and twelve from a garbage disposal. The numbers are only marginally better for washers and dryers, which can last from ten to fourteen years, and ranges, which may survive for fourteen years. Your refrigerator will likely keep chugging along for anywhere from 14 to 19 years, with top freezer models and fridge-only units outlasting their side-by-side and French door counterparts.
It goes without saying that all of the above numbers depend on usage, and with our larger than average family sizes, we tend to be harder on our appliances than the typical American family. After all, even a typical Shabbos meal can rival the once a year Thanksgiving feast, our ovens may stay lit for two or even three full days of Yom Tov and don’t even get me started on the laundry, with our washers and dryers seeing above average usage, all of which can cause premature death in the appliances we depend on. So it makes sense to do whatever you can to take good care of those stalwart soldiers that get us through the day so that we can minimize the wear and tear and hopefully avoid expensive repairs while extending their useful lives.
Refrigerators: Dig out the manual that came with your fridge and locate the coils. Then, vacuum them regularly with a soft bristle brush attachment, not just when you are doing your annual pre-Pesach cleaning. Consumer Reports warns against packing your refrigerator so full of food that the air can’t circulate, which forces the compressor to work overtime. Wipe down your gaskets regularly with a mild soap and water solution, avoiding bleach as it can erode the rubber.
Stand alone freezers: An extra freezer can be a godsend for those who believe in cooking ahead for large events and yomim tovim. If you are about to purchase one, stand your ground when the salesperson recommends a manual defrost model. It is true that they do last longer, but having to defrost your freezer every few months when the ice starts to build up is a massive headache and I firmly believe that the convenience of automatic defrost is well worth sacrificing a year or two of longevity. While full freezers operate more efficiently than empty ones, jam packed ones do not, because as above, poor air circulation puts too much stress on the compressor. If possible, avoid keeping your freezer in an unheated garage, although I should mention that ours survived many a frosty New York winter in our attached garage, so if you are short on space that solution might work for you as well.
Washer and dryer: Be sure to empty all pockets and check for other items that can wreak havoc as they bounce around in your machines, such as coins and metal stays. Home guru Bob Vila recommends washing only full loads to extend your washer’s life, as well as cleaning any traps or filters that you can access, and replacing worn hoses. While it goes without saying that you should be cleaning our your lint filter after every dryer load, it is equally important to clean your exhaust duct at least once a year, to prevent potential lint build up which can cause a fire.
Ranges: Keeping the top and inside of your range clean isn’t just about aesthetics – food particles and burned on messes can affect your range’s functionality. Use a pin or a toothpick to scrape away any debris that is preventing your electronic ignition from lighting properly and break out the Easy Off or your favorite cleaner as needed to keep your oven’s interior looking good. Because a self cleaning cycle typically runs near 1000°F and can last for several hours, Vila recommends using it sparingly because it has been known to burn out fuses and create other problems that will end up needing expensive repairs.
Dishwashers: Ironically, one of the best maintenance tips for your dishwasher is to run it more often, not less, in order to keep the rubberized gaskets in better shape, protecting your machine’s inner workings. Check your manual to see if your filter is accessible and if so, find it and clean it every few months. When running your dishwasher, make sure nothing is blocking the rotating spray arms, whose many little holes should be cleaning with a toothpick or a pin if they have gotten clogged. Clean your dishwasher periodically by running it through a regular cycle with two cups of vinegar and wipe down the interior occasionally to keep everything clean, paying special attention to the areas around the door where a surprising amount of gunk can build up over time.
Microwaves: Surprisingly enough, microwaves are actually among the most durable appliances in your home. Keep yours clean, close the door gently and avoid putting metal in your microwave. Feel free to learn from my mistakes and make sure that your food is appropriately sized when using your microwave’s sensor cooking feature. I learned the hard way that overcooking a diet-sized sweet potato can nuke it into cosmic oblivion, while also filling the house with smoke, setting off the fire alarm and, sadly, frying my microwave.
Garbage disposal: While garbage disposals are a great way to minimize kitchen trash, there are certain items that should be avoided. Fibrous vegetables like kale, celery, rhubarb, onion skins and asparagus can get tangled in the blades and pasta and rice can cause clogs by absorbing extra water. Also on the don’t grind list are chicken bones and skins, oil, grease and fat, and be sure to run the cold water, not hot, with your disposal, to prevent grease from making its way into your pipes and clogging things up as it hardens.
On a final note, no matter how many preventive steps you take to extend the life of your appliances, the reality is that repairs are inevitable. If you are even the slightest bit handy and have a problem with an appliance, reach for Google or YouTube before calling a repairman. The problems are often easily fixable and can save you a nice chunk of change, money that you should put away for the future, because the sad truth is, your appliances are going to need to be replaced far sooner than anyone would like.
I never thought I would say this, but in some ways, I really do miss that old Caloric oven!