How to Extend the Life of Your Appliances

November 17, 2014

I went to use my iron a few months ago and realized it wasn’t working anymore. It had to have been at least fifteen years old. It got me wondering: How long are irons supposed to last? Is there anything I could have done to extend its life? This iron was probably a lower-end model. Would a higher-priced iron have lasted longer? What could I expect the lifespan to be for my other small appliances, and is fixing a broken one always better than buying new?

After conducting extensive research, this is what I found:

Irons

Average lifespan: 7 years*

Irons run the gamut in pricing from as low as $20 up to about $180. Generally, the higher the wattage, the more expensive the iron is. The amount of wattage the iron uses determines how hot the iron can get. The hotter it gets, the less time you’ll spend ironing each item. If you want a cordless iron, or one with an automatic shut-off feature in the event you forget to turn it off, that will also have an effect on the price. When shopping for an iron, consider the features you really want. In this case, more expensive doesn’t necessarily mean higher quality.

Tips for getting the most out of your iron:

If you notice your iron not heating up as well as it used to, you will want to check the soleplate – the flat, metal surface, for limescale deposits. If you see crusty deposits, take a dry cloth and dip it in white vinegar then baking soda. In small circles, scrub the soleplate until it’s clean.

If your iron has a steam function, but it’s not steaming well, the holes may be clogged. Using a pipe cleaner or cotton swab, poke the holes in the soleplate to displace any blockage. When you’re finished, take a cloth dipped in vinegar and clean the soleplate.

If the iron stops working because the heating element went out, generally it’s more cost effective to just buy a new iron.

Coffeemakers

Average lifespan: 6 years*

When it comes to coffee makers, usually the less moving parts, the higher the likelihood it will last. The new coffee makers with the digital readouts and programmable brewing times are great, but don’t expect them to last as long as your basic coffee maker. Simply put, if the bells and whistles don’t matter to you, the basic coffee makers will be just as good if not better.

Tips for getting the most out of your coffee maker:

The newer models may turn off automatically if not used for an hour or so, but the older models may require you to manually turn it off or unplug it. Allowing it to sit on all day may decrease its shelf life.

Filling the water reservoir beyond the fill line will create a minor annoyance when it overflows. More importantly, if the overflow causes water to get near the electronic components, that could be the end of your coffee pot.

Clean your coffee maker no less than once a month. Run a solution of equal parts vinegar and water through the coffee maker. After that, run water through it to ensure the vinegar solution is gone. It’s also recommended that you should clean the coffee pot after every use with dishwashing liquid.

Blenders

Average lifespan: 7 years*

Have you been blender shopping recently? If not, be prepared for sticker shock. Countertop blenders start at about $15 and go up to $500 or more for the ones you see being hawked at Costco and Williams-Sonoma. It all comes down to what you’re putting in the blender. If you intend on using the blender twice a year to make margaritas for your friends, go the less expensive route. On the other hand, if you intend on using the blender to mince whole pineapples, whip up peanut butter or puree meals every week, viewing the blender as an investment and thus spending more money might be worth it to you in the long run.

There are other things to consider when purchasing a blender of any price. Can you stash it in a cupboard when you’re not using it or is it so large that it will have to sit on your counter all the time? How noisy will it be? Do you have to hand-wash it, or is it dishwasher-safe? Is the container glass, stainless steel or plastic? There are pros and cons to each material. What is the warranty? A one-year warranty is the absolute minimum. The more expensive or commercial-grade blenders should include a longer warranty.

Tips for getting the most out of your blender:

Clean the container and base after every use, but don’t immerse the base in water. Using anything more than a damp washcloth with soap may damage the electrical components in the base. Use a toothbrush to clean the buttons if you suspect food particles got in.

When washing the container, take it apart, and wash the individual pieces. If they are plastic or rubber, it’s better to hand-wash them as the heat of the dishwasher may cause warping. As for the rubber gasket that acts as a seal: After washing it, rub it with vegetable oil. This will help prevent cracking and ensure it keeps its texture.

Don’t fill the blender beyond what’s called the fill line. If you do, the engine is working harder than it is designed to and may burn out prematurely.

Not all blenders are designed to crush ice. If it doesn’t have a ‘crush ice’ function, then don’t put ice in it. Just because a blender can handle a whole pineapple doesn’t mean it should all the time. Occasionally cutting food into manageable pieces before you put it in the blender will help it last longer.

Microwaves

Average lifespan: 8 years*

For the amount of technology that is found in microwaves, they are surprisingly affordable. Ranging from $40 to $260, you can probably find one with the features you want at a price you can afford.

When looking at microwaves, they should all display their wattage. 1000 watts is what you should shoot for. Anything under that and your food may not cook evenly and will take longer to heat. Consider the interior capacity of the microwave. Bring your largest microwave-safe dish to the store to see if the microwave will accommodate it. If not, you might want to consider a larger model. Note: Just because a microwave is larger on the outside doesn’t mean it offers more capacity. Lastly, where are you going to put it? Countertop models are the least expensive followed by over-the-range and built-in microwaves.

If you have young children, consider buying a model with child-proof measures, e.g., a 4-digit code has to be entered correctly to use it. Do you want the microwave to automatically adjust the temperature or time so it doesn’t overcook the food? That’s an extra cost. Do you want pre-programmed buttons for popcorn, soup and baked potatoes? That’ll be extra, too.

Tips for getting the most out of your microwave:

To clean your microwave, heat a bowl of water in it for 2-3 minutes. Wait 5-10 minutes for it to cool down, remove the bowl and the interior can be easily cleaned with a damp cloth.

Don’t use abrasive scrubbers or powders to clean the microwave. A soft cloth or paper towel will do the trick.

Using the timer function on your microwave is fine, but don’t run the microwave without food in it. This can cause damage resulting in a costly repair.

If your microwave has a filter, consult the owner’s manual to determine if and when it should be replaced.

Vacuums

Average lifespan: 7 years*

Vacuums can range from very affordable to taking out a second mortgage-expensive. Why the chasm in price? Features, quality of construction and efficiency can have a tremendous effect on the dollar amount. When purchasing a vacuum, consider the following questions: Are the floors bare, carpet or a combination? Are there pet allergens? Do you need a HEPA filter? Are there stairs in your home, and if so, can you pick up the vacuum with ease? Do you want a vacuum with bags or do you prefer the bagless variety?

Vacuums are absolutely one of those items you want to test-drive in the store. Throw some paper or dirt on the floor and see how it handles it. Take note of the type of flooring the vacuum does best on. Some are better on carpet, others on hardwood. Consider that generally, the less expensive the vacuum, the more plastic is used in construction and plastic tends to break easier. Good for your dorm room when you’re on a budget, maybe not for your new house when you’re thinking long term. Some people prefer vacuums with disposable bags because throwing away the bag is easy. Bagless vacuums are great because you don’t need to buy additional bags, but emptying them can create a mess if you aren’t careful.

Tips for getting the most out of your vacuum:

Clean the air filter according to the owner’s manual. It could be as easy as washing it every so often, or buying a replacement.

As with all appliances with a cord, grab the thick part near the prongs when pulling it out of the socket. Don’t try to pull it out of the wall from 15 feet away. This could bend the prongs or tear the cord.

Don’t wait until the bag or canister has reached capacity to empty it. If you do wait, the vacuum is working harder than if it wasn’t full and could overheat.

A few more tips 

If an appliance does stop working, check to see what the warranty covers and for how long. Next, crunch your numbers to see if it makes sense to fix it or buy a new one. A general rule of thumb is not to spend more than 50% of the cost of a new appliance to repair an old one. Lastly, by taking simple steps to care for your appliances as they age, you can save a lot of money in the long run.

In the second of this two part series, we’ll take a look at appliances the typical homeowner may own e.g., refrigerators, dishwashers, washers and dryers, etc.

*Source: Appliance Magazine Market Research/UBM Canon