One of the great conveniences of modern life is the array of appliances we use every day in our homes. Generally, these time-savers will work trouble-free for years, and we tend to take their reliability for granted.
Here are some tips to help avoid breakdowns and costly service calls:
* Disposer jam:
Shut off the main power to the unit panel and use a broom handle or disposer wrench (available at most hardware stores) to force the cutting wheel to move in either direction until it moves freely.
Reach in and remove the offending object.
Some units come with an unjamming keyway under them that allows you to use a quarter-inch hex wrench to move the cutting wheel.
Most disposers get overused, which results in drain stoppages at the kitchen sink. Generally, use only for food debris that falls into the sink during cooking and cleaning.
Avoid using it as a trash receptacle and you'll save a lot of headaches.
* Gas burners that don't light automatically:
On the side of the burner unit are a few holes the size of a pinhead that allow the burner to light from the pilot. These holes easily clog with food debris from boil-overs, preventing the burner from lighting. Use a straightened paper clip to reopen them.
* Dishwasher woes:
Problems with dishwashers that do not clean properly often can be solved. Make sure you are washing with hot enough water by running the hot water at the tap until it's really hot before turning on the machine.
Use liquid instead of powdered soap, as it doesn't cake up in the soap dispenser. Use Jet Dry or a similar product to keep glassware from spotting.
Finally, check the drain screen at the bottom of the machine for food clogs and clean it if needed.
* Refrigerators that don't keep cool:
Make sure the coils are clean. This is critical. Dirty coils can cause the compressor to burn out, resulting in a very costly repair.
Every other month, use a vacuum-cleaner hose to remove accumulated lint from the cooling coils. You'll find the coils behind a grill on the bottom or top of the unit, or on the back of the box.
* Clothes dryers that don't dry:
One of the most common complaints about dryers is excessive drying time. This is often the result of lint buildup. Be sure to clean the lint screen after every load and make sure the exhaust duct behind the machine is not bent or kinked.
Before calling for help, try removing the exhaust duct behind the machine and cleaning it of accumulated lint with a vacuum.
* Washing machine matters:
Washing machines that do not fill with water quickly often have clogged hose-filter screens. Shut the water valves on the wall and remove the hoses.
You will find cone-shaped metallic mesh screens wedged into the end of each hose or into the fitting on the back of the machine. Pry them out and clean debris with an old toothbrush and running water.
Gary Abrams is a general contractor who has written about home improvement for The Times for 10 years. Comments and questions can be sent to P.O. Box 711, Thousand Oaks, CA 91319. Please include a self-addressed stamped envelope.