Appliances are meant to make our lives easier, which they usually do. Until, that is, they start leaking, heating imperfectly, burning toast they were supposed to brown, and generally malfunctioning. Although they may seem complicated, most home appliances work on fairly basic principles. And while there is a common sentiment these days that it is less expensive to simply buy a new appliance than to have it repaired, many of the minor problems that plague these devices can be dealt with using a minimum of time and effort. Here are some quick solutions for dishwashers and garbage disposals. Excerpted from the Popular Mechanics book When Duct Tape Just Isn’t Enough, published by Hearst Books/Sterling Publishing. The good news is that Fido doesn’t have a problem, the bad news is that all the foam and water on the floor are from the dishwasher. THE QUICK FIX
When it’s just water leaking from the dishwasher, you either have a misaligned door or bad door gasket. But if there is foam in the water, someone has loaded the dishwasher with liquid dish detergent under the mistaken notion that it is the same as dishwasher detergent. It isn’t. Clean the soap dispenser and whatever residue you can out of the dishwasher, and dry the door gasket. Then run the dishwasher empty, without soap, for a couple of cycles. 6:143 || STANDING WATER: The dishwasher won’t drain. THE QUICK FIX
If you look inside the appliance, at the bottom of the swamp, you’ll find what looks to be an upside-down cup. That’s the “float” that controls the flow of water into–and more importantly, out of–the dishwasher. This can become stuck when it’s jammed with food debris or the errant piece of silverware. Clear the float so that it can move up and down freely. With free movement the float will activate the float switch properly. In turn, this activates the appliance’s pump and the water will drain away. 6:144 || DISH-GUSTING!: Your dishwasher isn’t living up to its advertised power–there are caked-on stains, your glassware doesn’t sparkle, and you can’t see yourself in your dishes. THE QUICK FIX
Although this could be a sign of a defective pump– requiring the services of a pro–more than likely it is a case of under heated water or clogged holes in the spray arm. Preheat the dishwasher water by running the kitchen sink hot water for a couple of minutes before starting the dishwasher. Periodically clear the spray arm holes by removing the lower rack to access the arms and gently cleaning the holes with a steel skewer or awl. (Don’t use wood or plastic probes because they might break and clog the holes.) 6:151 || TRASHED SINK: The kitchen garbage disposal mechanism has frozen. THE QUICK FIX
“Ninety-five percent of garbage disposals have a reset button on the motor,” says Chris Hall, a former appliance repairman and founder of RepairClinic.com. “No other appliance has this, so people assume they need to call a technician. I’ve answered literally dozens of calls that just needed someone to hit the reset.” The button is small, usually red or black, and located on the bottom of the disposal unit under the sink. 6:152 || FREE JAM: Your garbage disposal is busy humming but it won’t do its job. THE QUICK FIX
Periodically, a disposal will jam and the blades need to be freed. Turn the disposal off at the fuse box and use a broomstick or the handle of a plunger to crank the blades free. 6:153 || SHARPER EDGE: It makes a lot of noise, but your garbage disposal just ain’t cutting it. THE QUICK FIX
Sharpen disposal blades by letting them work on a load of ice cubes. Freeze lemon peels in the ice cube trays and you’ll leave the disposal smelling fresh and clean. SAFE AND SOUND:
Whenever you are dealing with a disposal problem, it’s wise to shut off power at the fuse box because there’s just too much potential that the switch will get bumped, or that a jam will free and a unit you thought was turned off will surprise you with a quick movement of the blades. FIX OR DITCH?
With the fast pace of appliance innovations–new styles, new features, and new price tags–it’s sometimes hard to make the judgment between fixing an older appliance and ditching it for a new unit. Although the decision is largely an economic one, it is also affected by intangibles such as how comfortable you are making repairs, and whether you want to upgrade as part of remodeling. >> DISHWASHER
Ditch if … you are energy conscious. Newer dishwashers use less heated water and have more efficient pump motors, resulting in modest energy savings (slightly more if you choose an Energy Star appliance). Also a plus: quieter motors and more noise-dampening insulation. Fix if … the “total” cost is too great. Before you base your decision on appliance sticker price alone, look into installation costs. Plumbing and electrical hookups can tack on substantial costs, and that’s if you can reuse the old water supply line. If not, you’ll pay more.