Troubleshooting Problems With Common Household Appliances

Woman Fixing Her Own Dishwasher

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When a household appliance such as the refrigerator, microwave, or washing machine is broken, what is your first instinct? If you're like most homeowners, you pick up the phone or search an online repair service to get a repair technician to show up, pronto. But did you know that an overwhelming number of appliance problems are simple enough that you can fix them by yourself? Plus, most fixes require only basic tools that you may already have on hand. So pull out your toolbox and get ready to consider yourself an appliance genius after you tackle these jobs and save both time and money.

  • 01 of 06

    Washing Machine

    Washing machine repairman

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    If your washing machine will not work or will not agitate, drain, or clean the clothes, a simple fix may be all that is needed.

    When your front loader will not turn on, check the lid strike switch on the door frame, as it needs to move freely. With top loading machines, turn the machine on, then, with the top lid open, push into the receiving hole (on the machine) with the blunt end of a pen. This will loosen any debris clogging this strike area, plus it should trigger the water to begin filling the tub.

    For machines that will not agitate, check your owner's manual for reset procedures. Broken directional cogs (also called "dogs") located in the plastic cone-shaped agitator may also be the reason.

    Non-draining washing machines often have debris or a piece of torn fabric clogging the pump that mechanically drains the unit.

    For machines that aren't adequately cleaning, try loading the machine with fewer clothes to provide a higher ratio of rinse water to clothing. Also, try using less detergent, as too much detergent will just re-deposit lint and other particles back onto the clothing.

  • 02 of 06


    Man Fixing His Own Refrigerator

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    When your fridge light won't turn on, it's frustrating but not an earth-shattering event. Unstick the plunger switch on the fridge frame and clean with warm water. With a noisy refrigerator, just re-level the unit or place it on a special, dense soundproofing mat.

    After that, everything ramps up in severity. A leaking refrigerator can rapidly damage kitchen floors and underlying subflooring. A faulty door seal works against you in two ways. First, it allows warm air to enter the fridge, creating condensation. Second, it does nothing to prevent that water from leaking out. Clean your door gasket with soapy warm water or, if necessary, replace it entirely.

    You might also have a clogged drainage tube at the bottom of the unit. Clear this by flushing with a mixture of 1 teaspoon of baking soda and 2 cups of warm water.

  • 03 of 06


    Homeowner Fixing Clothes Dryer

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    Clothes dryers that do not work properly, such as not starting or not generating enough heat, are usually easy fixes. But first, be mindful of your safety, as dryers double up on their voltage (240 volts). Before repairing, unplug the machine and, for good measure, flip off the circuit breaker to this outlet.

    When the dryer will not start, it's especially important to first check the circuit breaker. Due to dryers' huge power draw, breakers are prone to flipping off. The door actuator, a spring-loaded rod that pushes against the door switch, may need to be replaced. This is a very inexpensive part and is easy to replace.

    When the dryer will not heat high enough, or at all, take the obvious first step and make sure that the dial is turned to a heat cycle, not an air-only cycle. A clogged lint filter will impede the drying process (shake it out and replace), as well as a clogged vent tube. Remove the tube and knock it free of any debris.

  • 04 of 06


    Man Fixing His Own Microwave

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    When you have a problem with your microwave not powering up, try these fixes:

    • First, reset the GFCI outlet by pressing the reset button located on the outlet itself. If this does not do it, your microwave may have a blown fuse.
    • Unplug the unit and turn off the circuit breaker. Then access the fuse from either the front or the back (every model differs) and replace it with the appropriately sized fuse. Fuses are cheap and readily available through online appliance parts suppliers.
    Continue to 5 of 6 below.
  • 05 of 06


    Woman Fixing Her Own Dishwasher

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    Given the amount of work they do, it is expected that dishwashers should give you problems every so often.

    When the dishwasher door is leaking, the cure is often as easy as clearing obstructions that overtly or imperceptibly prevent the door from closing all the way. If this doesn't do it, try cleaning the door gasket with soapy warm water, as built-up food particles can compromise the seal. If the seal is broken or cracked, replace it entirely.

    The number one cause of dishwashers pooling up with water and not draining is a clogged filter. Located at the bottom of the tub, filters can be cleaned by hand. If you cannot get to all of the particles, remove the filter and shake it out over the sink, then soak in a vinegar solution.

  • 06 of 06

    Air Conditioner

    Air Conditioner A/C Window Unit

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    Window unit air conditioners (A/Cs) are lifesavers in the dead of summer. But due to the amount of air they handle, along with the water they extract from the air, A/Cs are especially prone to breaking down. When water is dripping from the front panel, the fix is to realign the unit so that its slope points downward, toward the exterior.

    When the unit keeps tripping the circuit breaker in the service panel, this usually means that the breaker is being overtaxed. If you have other services that run off of the same circuit (lights, TVs, other A/Cs, etc.), turn off those services for awhile and see if that corrects the problem. If not, the circuit breaker itself may need to be replaced. Circuit breakers are inexpensive and easy to replace.