Top tips to keep your dishwasher and washing machine in tip top shape and avoid breakdowns
We depend so much on household appliances that taking a few precautionary steps to prevent breakdowns is well worth it.
Having to fix a broken-down dishwasher, washing machine or tumble dryer might well rank somewhere on the list of First World problems, but the hassle it causes often seems disproportionate given how much we depend on these appliances.
Let's face it, if they break down, the chances are those sinks and baskets will quickly start groaning under the weight of dirty cups, plates, football kit, knickers, socks and, unless the sun is shining or a decent breeze blowing outside, turn your household into a highly undignified, damp-smelling nuclear bomb site with wet jumpers, bras and jeans - not to mention the blouse you need for work tomorrow - draped over anything with a hook in a desperate bid to dry them before the morning.
But no matter how automatic and self-sufficient today's appliances might seem, even the modern ones need regular preventative maintenance to stop them breaking down unexpectedly or well before the end of their useful lives.
Here are some basic tips to keep these appliances running smoothly and for as long as possible.
Of the three appliances that we're looking at here, the dishwasher probably requires the most day-to-day attention to keep it running well.
The most basic tip has to be to make sure that you scrap your plates and pans of large pieces of food or any kind of sticky or hard-to-remove residue before you stick them in. Even the best machines will struggle to remove dried risotto remains, never mind the burnt Bolognese sauce off the bottom of your venerable Le Creuset pan. These large chunks of food or other residue will clog your dishwasher's drain or filter.
It might seem very satisfying - even a challenge - to cram every possible dirty item into your dishwasher so that you don't have to hand-wash anything. But you know what we're going to say: you will run the risk of having to re-run all or most of an entire load because things were too tightly packed.
It's worth remembering, too, that today's dishwashers have a huge variety of programmes, including super-fast ones. It can be tempting to use a shorter, lighter setting to save on time and water bills, but make sure you're washing all your super dirty dishes by hand if that's the case.
They also have warning lights to let you know if you are running low on salt or rinse aid, but older machines might not have these, so remember you if you use your machine at least once every day, you'll need to top up with salt and rinse aid more than, like, once a year - more like every month.
Once a month, you also should also roll up your sleeves, remove the bottom rack and get right down there into no man's land, under the bottom sprayer, and extract the removable filter or trap. You'll usually find bits of food that didn't make it out the drain.
Sometimes the tray comes out fully so it can be rinsed in the sink; sometimes a towel is needed to remove the gunk build-up.
Every few months or so, your dishwasher will accumulate a little bit of sticky residue around the rubber gasket in the door as well and often around the soap door.
Make sure to give them a once-over with a damp towel to keep the grime down.
Most modern dishwashers have self-cleaning cycles, but if you're not sure, just pour some vinegar into the bottom of the machine and run a normal cycle. It cleans out old food particles to keep your dishwasher smelling fresh.
There's a little less work needed to keep a washing machine running like clockwork, but there are still a few useful tips you should bear in mind.
Is there any gloop in your machine's detergent drawer? (There is in ours, but I'm strangely reluctant to bother cleaning it out for some reason). Not cleaning it on a regular basis could cause blockages that could damage the machine and stop the clothes being properly cleaned, according to laundry products firm Ariel.
Is the inside of your machine drum a bit whiffy? Ariel also advises that you clean it once a month setting an empty wash for 60 degrees "using a detergent that contains oxygen bleach".
If it's still smelly, others suggest using a combination of vinegar (in the detergent drawer) and baking soda directly in the drum and running it on the hottest cycle and with an extra rinse.
It's also worth following the manufacturer's recommendations regarding the type of detergent you should use, and exactly how much to put in.
Dumping in too much detergent won't get your clothes any cleaner and may end up doing your machine more harm than good. For machines that are more energy-efficient and use less water, less detergent is recommended anyway.
To help prevent the build up of mould and mildew, it's highly recommended to remove finished loads immediately. Leaving damp clothes to sit in a machine creates the ideal breeding environment for musty smells. In addition, leave the door open when not in use to improve air circulation.
Clean out the washer's door rubber seal every so often and remove any bits of hair or fabric you may find. These can end up creating smells and breed mould.
Don't be tempted to overload the drum, as clothes won't get washed properly and will put extra wear and tear on the machine's inner parts and shorten its lifespan.
Lastly, don't forget to clean out the drain pump filter every so often. This is usually located at the front of most machines behind a small trap door.
When it comes to tumble dryers, if you remember nothing else from this advice, regularly empty out the lint filter, which filters out the fluff and dust from your clothes. How often you should do so depends on how often you use the dryer, but it's very easy to do. The filter is usually found at the bottom of the door on the inside of the frame.
If your tumble dryer uses a sensor (which automatically detects when a load is dry and stops when it is), you'll need to wipe the drum every few months with white vinegar or stainless-steel cleaner to keep the sensor working well.
If you own a condenser-type dryer, which is a tumble dryer without a vent, you should regularly remove the heat exchanger (which turns steam back into water) and run it under the tap or a shower head to remove built-up dirt or hair.
And lastly, empty the water reservoir after each load, otherwise you'll have to stop the machine halfway through the next cycle to empty the tank.