As it turns out, the secret to keeping appliances running smoothly is cleanliness-or at least that's what Kirby Mills, owner of At Your Service Appliance Repair in Kansas City, Missouri, tells The New York Times, having seen hundreds of appliances malfunction due to "goo, dust, and gunk" every year. I learned this the hard way a couple months ago when my dishwasher stopped working, only to discover later (following a very expensive visit from a repairman) that the problem was simply a filter that needed to be rinsed. It really doesn't take much time or effort to clean appliances, and doing so can extend their lifespan by years. Here's a re-cap of how to best go about this:
Dishwasher: Take out the racks. Check the corners and the rubber lining around the door for cracks and food residue. Clean out both with a sponge and plastic-bristled brush (don't use metal as it can damage the machine). Consult the owner's manual and remove the spray arms and wash them with soap and water. If you've got a filter basket at the base of your dishwasher, carefully remove the filter itself and give it a rinse as well. Slide your hand in the filter hole and check for debris. Put the pieces back together and run the machine empty with a bit of detergent.
Refrigerator: The coils underneath the machine tend to get clogged with dust, which can make it hard for the compressor fan to circulate fresh air. To make sure they're all clear, unplug the machine, get down on the floor, and pull out the vent plate that covers the coils. Then use a vacuum hose to clean the coils. It's also good to wipe down the door gasket as with a warm damp cloth to make sure there's no sticky build-up there, which can cause the gasket to tear (and inhibit your fridge's ability to refrigerate).
Air conditioner: Similar to refrigerators, air conditioner coils need to be cleaned every once in a while-now, a.ka. the beginning of the season, is a particularly good time to do this. Remove the filter cover and run a vacuum brush over the coils. While you're at it, pull out the filter and clean or replace it, depending on what kind of model you have.
Vacuum: This is one of the most oft-neglected household gadgets. Filters and bags need to be swapped out at least annually. If you have a bagless model, wipe out the canister with a sponge. Test it's suction power: try to vacuum up a bit of sand, and see if your vac sucks up the majority of it (if so, it's in good shape-if not, take it to a local repair shop to see if it's just a question of changing out a part. If you've got motor issues, it's probably more cost effective to buy a new vacuum).
Ceiling fan: If you notice the blades on yours are wobbling, you're in for trouble-this wears out the motor a lot faster. Dust off the tops of the blades and tighten the screws to make sure everything is locked into place.
Stove and oven: Gas stoves in particular need to be kept clean to ensure burners and igniters will keep on for years. A warm cloth and a bit of dish soap is all you need to get them spic and span. Mr. Fleshman from Fleshman Appliance Repair tells The New York Times that the self-cleaning feature should be avoided, since the super-high-temperature can be hard on your oven's wiring and electrical components. Instead, after you've used your oven, wait until it's cool enough to touch but still warm, and wipe it down with a moist cloth. Fleshman also says not to worry about stains, "always tell my customers, if people are looking in your oven and complaining about it being dirty, you shouldn't have those people in your home."