One of the easiest ways to go green, or stay green, is to get the most out of your existing appliances. That means properly maintaining big-ticket items such as refrigerators, washers, dryers and dishwashers.
ProudGreenHome talked to Steve Ash, service manager for Partselect.com, to get the best tips on extending the lifespan of these appliances well past the warranty expiration date.
ProudGreenHome: What are the best ways to extend the life of a washer?
Steve Ash: The most important thing would be to not overload a washer. Moreso the case in a top-load washer than in a front-load washer, and primarily because a top-load washer has more mechanical stuff going on with the agitator, etc.
But with a front-load washer, even though you don't have all the mechanical apparatus, it does put some strain on the machine.
On a front-load machine, if you underload them you actually do more damage by that than you would by overloading them and it's mostly because of the axis it rotates on being horizontal versus vertical.
Also, don't use an extension cord on the washer unless it's an approved one for that purpose.
As far as maintenance items, there isn't a lot of maintenance to do on a washer other than keeping them clean. Nothing else will increase the life of them other than fixing small problems before they become big problems.
ProudGreenHome: How can you extend the life of a dryer?
Steve Ash: For a dryer, there are similar things to a washer as far as loading or overloading. Dryers are typically designed to handle one washer load, so if you don't overload your washer it should fit nicely in your dryer.
If you overload your dryer, you will notice an increased dry time to get the clothes dry. You have heat and air flow and a mechanical movement in that the clothes are tumbling. If you decrease any one of those, it will lengthen your dry time and affect the efficiency of the unit. If you overload the clothes, they don't tumble freely.
Under loading is a problem from an energy standpoint. If you throw only a couple of items in there, your heating element doesn't know the difference. It's going to waste energy.
Something I see most consumers doing for whatever reason is drying their clothes too long.
As far as maintenance items on a dryer, the biggest one is keeping the exhaust fans clean. Dryers produce lint. It needs to be maintained and cleaned because the actual vent cap itself will build up with damp lint, restricting air flow and causing long dry times.
ProudGreenHome: How can you extend the life of a refrigerator?
Steve Ash: Set it at the manufacturer's recommended settings. A typical refrigerator setting is about 38 degrees Fahrenheit, and 10 to 20 degrees Fahrenheit in the freezer.
The door seals or door gaskets, be sure and keep them clean because they're a vinyl product. You can coat the seals with thin film of silicone-based lubricant or petroleum jelly to keep them smooth and pliable and flexible.
Also, clean the coils on the fridge to extend the life. You can use a vacuum to do this.
ProudGreenHome: How do you make a dishwasher last longer than the warranty?
Steve Ash: To make them last longer, run fewer cycles with them. No half cycles. If you have only one meal's dishes in there, don't turn it on until it's full.
To maintain a dishwasher, if you live in an area where hard water is a concern, put a cup of white vinegar and cup of water mixed together, toss that in and run a short cycle and that will remove most of the calcium buildup.
If you have a door seal or gasket, make sure it's clean. You don't necessarily need to coat it with anything but it will build up with soap crud. Keeping those clean is about the only maintenance item you can do there. Keep an eye on the racks, which typically are vinyl or nylon coated.
Be careful and don't cut the vinyl on racks with utensils. They are very expensive, about $200 or so. Sometimes it's cheaper to buy a new dishwasher than replace the racks.
Listen for any unusual sounds in a dishwasher or if you go to empty a load and find you have broken glass. Typically, those little broken pieces will end up in a pump and will shred it to pieces if it isn't taken apart and pieces cleaned out. Also, keep sharp bones out of the dishwasher because they can have the same effect.
For more information, see our Energy Efficient Appliances Research Center.
Teena Hammond has published more than 2,000 articles in People and W magazines, Women's Wear Daily, and in dozens of newspapers and books. She also wrote a home improvement, remodeling and decor column that ran in Gannett newspapers nationwide. She's interested in all things green and would love to hear from you with your story ideas.