The Appliance Maintenance Holiday Survival Guide

appliance maintenance

Prepping your major appliances for the holiday workload

The holidays are almost here. It's the one time of year when you need peak performance from your major appliances. So be proactive. Do appliance maintenance now.

You certainly don't want to deal with the fallout right in the middle of the festivities.

The Dynamic Duo: Oven and Cooktop/Range Top

Your cooking appliances will get quite the holiday workout. There are things you can do right now to ensure you don't burn the cookies or undercook the turkey. Plus, you want to avoid setting off the smoke alarm when yucky old food build-up burns off. Or embarrassment when company spots those all-too visible greasy, grimy, baked-on spills.

Oven maintenance tips

  • Purchase a standalone oven thermometer and place it in the center of the oven. Just because the temperature dial indicates a certain internal temperature doesn't mean it's true. Heat up the oven and use that thermometer to see if there's an offset. Some ovens have the capability of adjusting accuracy, so read the appliance's manual to find out. Otherwise, rely on the oven thermometer.
  • Buy a food thermometer probe. It's common to follow suggested cooking times yet end up with less-than-perfect results. Checking the internal temperature is a lot more accurate and you'll have better baking and roasting results.
  • If your electric oven is having major heating issues, it might be the baking element. This can be replaced—often as DIY. The good news is there are replacement parts just as good as the original. Check your manual for the right part number then find the generic equivalent.

  • Make sure the gasket around the oven is clean, uncracked, and fits tightly. If cracked or loose, get it replaced. No point in making the kitchen hotter or wasting energy.

  • If your oven has a self-clean cycle, you can use it. But it can be hard on the oven and certainly consumes a lot of electricity. So, you might want to wait until after the holidays. That leaves old-school methods for now. You can use commercial oven-cleaning products but consider less-caustic methods. One home recipe calls for making a paste of baking soda or citrus/vinegar and soap mixed together. Apply, let sit, then scrub. And Better Homes and Gardens suggests placing a pan of water in the oven and heating the interior to 225°. Let sit for 15 minutes then turn the oven off. Let the water cool some then mix in some dishwashing soap. Dip in a sponge and scrub.

Cooktop/Range top maintenance tips

It's best to clean up after every use. Why? If you wipe down surfaces with a mild cleaner and a damp cloth each time, you'll avoid major scrubbing later. However, most of us don't do this. So, here are tips for the rest of us:

  • Soak stains with whatever the appliance manufacturer recommends. Then use a single-edge scraper at a 30 to 40° angle and carefully scrape.
  • Remove drip pans and drip bowls and let them soak in soapy water. Or you can use a one-to-one ratio of baking soda and dishwashing detergent to make a paste, coat the bowls, and then place in a zippered plastic bag for an hour. Carefully scrub and rinse. You can also boil them 10 to 15 minutes in water that's mixed with a half cup of baking soda.

  • If the drip pans are truly a lost cause, you can buy replacements. Check your manual to find out the correct style or type you need.
  • Electric coils can be carefully wiped down using a damp rag or nylon scrubber and a mild detergent. Coils on most modern stoves can easily be removed for a more thorough cleaning. Just don't wet the electrical contacts, and make sure the entire element is thoroughly dry before replacing.

  •  If your coils are no longer heating properly, these can be replaced as well. Just like the oven bake element, you can find factory-equivalent parts. Check your manual for right part number.
  • On gas stoves, make sure the electronic igniter is clean. Use a toothbrush to remove crumbs and food spills. If you don't have conventional drip pans, or simply want to make future cleanup easier, you can purchase Teflon®-like flexible liners. They can be cut to fit around the gas heads. When they get grungy, just lift them out and wipe clean.

  • Tough grunge on cast-iron burner grates can be cleaned with vinegar and baking soda. If they are really bad, use full-strength ammonia. Just make sure you put each grate in a zippered bag before you add 1/4 cup of the liquid ammonia. Put them outside (so you don't have to deal with the fumes) for several hours or overnight. Then wipe off. Remember, whenever working with cleaning chemicals, wear rubber gloves and open up your windows to protect your skin, your eyes, and your lungs.

Refrigerator Maintenance Tips

During the holidays, your refrigerator will be opened and closed a lot. Proper maintenance will ensure things stay cold.

  • Clean the refrigerator coils. When they're covered in dust, they don't work efficiently, making your refrigerator work harder. Coils are either behind the front kick plate or located around back. Use a coil cleaning brush or a soft, dust-brush attachment on your vacuum or handheld vac. If you have pets or deal with a lot of dust, do this every month. Otherwise once or twice a year is usually enough.
  • Inspect the refrigerator door gaskets. They are designed to create a tight seal. To check for that, place a dollar bill around the frame and shut the door. If you can remove the bill without resistance, the gasket is too loose. Test the sides, corners, top, and bottom. Gaskets also need to be kept clean. Use warm water and a sponge. Be careful not to scrub too hard or pull on the gasket. If it tears, it will need to be replaced. Dry with a soft towel. This should be done every three months.
  • Clean the interior with warm water. Add an all-purpose cleaner if needed. Wipe dry.

  • How cold are your refrigerator and freezer compartments? Place an appliance thermometer in the center of each. Ideally, refrigerator temperatures should range between 36°F and 39°F; the freezer at 0°F. Be aware that refrigerators can have warmer spots and extra-cold ones, so check for those too—just so you know.

  • If your refrigerator has a water filter, replace it before the holidays.

  • Clean the drip pan. Yes, your refrigerator has a drip pan on its underside. During the defrost cycle, water drains into it. Since the water must evaporate in a dark place, the drip pan is the perfect place for mold to set up shop.

  • Finally, make sure the refrigerator is level. This helps doors close and seal better, and maximizes refrigerant efficiency.

Here are some crucial don'ts:

  • Don't place your refrigerator near a heat source!
  • Don't place heavy items on top of it.
  • Don't overload the refrigerator or freezer. The air has to circulate freely.
  • Don't underfill it. It needs enough stuff in there to maintain low temperatures. If you routinely don't have much in there, store a few gallon containers of water.

  • Don't put in large portions of warm foods. Break them into smaller packages.
  • If you live in an area prone to power failures, freeze water in quart-size plastic bags and put them in your refrigerator and freezer. This will help keep things cold if the power fails. Under ideal conditions (this means NOT opening the doors), the freezer can hold foods for roughly up to 48 hours; the refrigerator up to four hours.

Keep your Cooking and Cooling Appliances Running at their Best

You don't want your appliances calling in sick or taking a vacation during the holidays. Use our home appliance maintenance tips and do your appliance maintenance now. You'll minimize the chance of a major breakdown.

We can't guarantee a no-stress holiday season. But at least the appliances won't be to blame!