Appliances lend a helping hand with everything from fresh laundry to a home-cooked meal. For how much we lean on them, it’s easy to forget that our dishwashers, refrigerators, HVAC systems and washing machines need regular care and maintenance to do their jobs well.

Whether your appliances are working overtime or you just use them occasionally, these tips can help you stay ahead of unexpected issues and extend their overall life.

1. Load your washing machine correctly. Detergent streaks on your clothes, funky-smelling fabric or leaking water are all signs that your washing machine is too full. Overloading also puts a strain on the ball bearings and motor, which can cause lasting damage. Avoid this by following manufacturer instructions on how much you can fill up the machine. If you aren’t sure, a good rule of thumb is three-quarters of the way, whether you have a top- or front-loading washer. If taken care of, this appliance can last anywhere from 10 to 14 years.

2. Clean or change filters in your dishwasher, fridge and HVAC. A build-up of dust, dirt or grime can slow down or stop your appliances from working correctly. Sometimes, the issue is clear: If you’re loading your dishwasher properly but notice things aren’t getting as clean as they should, check the filter. Remove any food stuck inside. Then, clean the dishwasher before putting in a new load. Other filters that need to be cleaned or replaced may not be as obvious. For example: A family of four who regularly uses water and ice from the refrigerator should replace the water filter every six months. The air you breathe needs cleaning, too. You should change your air filter every 6–12 months, and if you have pets, every 60 days or so.

“Now people who are single want freezers, and people in apartments think they need a freezer,” says Jim Estill, chief executive of Danby. The brand’s 3.8-cubic-foot chest freezer is about 25 inches wide. (Danby Appliances)
Your guide to buying a stand-alone freezer — if you can find one.

3. Keep your refrigerator cool. The fridge is one of the most important appliances in your home. Before you notice signs of a problem — like your freezer transforming into the North Pole, or food spoiling quickly in the fridge — give the coils a look. These are usually located on the back of the fridge, but some newer models have them closer to the bottom of the unit. A visual inspection can tell you what you need to know. Are there cobwebs, pet hair or other debris? If so, it’s time to clean it all out. Dirty coils can make your fridge work harder, overheating it and lowering its effectiveness. Every six months to a year, vacuum or use a coil cleaning brush to keep your fridge running at top efficiency.

4. Teach your kids how to care for the appliances. There’s a lot of maintenance to remember, and some parts of it require all hands on deck. While your children might not be able to help you with more difficult tasks, like cleaning the oven or the hood filter, they can assist with smaller tasks. Depending on their age, ask them to help with regularly cleaning the lint trap in the dryer, washing their dishes before putting them in the dishwasher and emptying the vacuum bag. In addition to teaching important life skills, enlisting their help can help you maximize the use and lifespan of the appliances that keep your home life running smoothly.