Regularly maintain your household appliances to save money and maximize their efficiency.

Many common household appliance problems can be avoided by following basic maintenance routines. In addition to minimizing the chances of breakdowns and saving you money on costly repairs, regular maintenance will extend the lifespan of your appliances and ensure they’re operating at peak efficiency. Consider the following maintenance tips:

Know what the manufacturer recommends. “When you get a new appliance, read the booklet that comes with it,” advises Mike Patterson, sales associate at Martin & Harris Appliances in San Rafael. “Learn the specific advice the manufacturer offers for care, operation, cleaning and maintenance, and follow their recommendations to get the most life and use out of your appliances.” Be aware that you can void some warranties by not following manufacturer recommendations for care and operation.

Keep it clean. “The number one thing homeowners overlook when it comes to appliances is keeping them clean,” says Mr. Patterson. “For example, with dishwashers, food particles can collect over time and cause odors to build up. An old trick is to add a cup of vinegar and then run the machine. The enzymes in the vinegar clean the inside and flush out the system.”

Don’t forget routine maintenance. “Maintenance is especially critical today, because the average lifespan of appliances has been cut way back from what it was 40 years ago,” says Mr. Patterson. “We don’t get 25 to 30 years out of appliances anymore—we hope to get 10 to 12 years. Regularly maintaining your appliances will help you achieve that longer lifespan.”

To extend the lifespan of your appliances:
• Inspect any seals (including those on doors) for wear.
• Don’t allow hard water scale, food particles or dirt to build up.
• Never overfill washing machines or clothes dryers. Smaller loads can mean cleaner clothes and longer-lasting machines.
• Use suggested detergents and cleaning solutions for each machine.
• Make small repairs and replacements—seals, gaskets, belts and hoses—when required. Waiting too long to replace aging parts can force your appliances to work harder and drastically reduce their lifespan.

Use your appliances. “It may sound obvious, but most home appliances are designed to be used regularly,” says Mr. Patterson. “If you rarely use an appliance, that doesn’t help it. For example, many sealed systems within appliances can deactivate and dry out if they aren’t used. Then, when you turn them on, they start to fall apart. You should be using your appliances at least once a week.”

When in doubt, get professional advice. If you have questions about your appliances, call a professional. They can give you care and maintenance advice and even help you when you’re thinking about buying new appliances.