March 25, 2010 -- Not many people enjoy cleaning -- especially when it comes to cleaning kitchen appliances. Food gets stuck in hard-to-reach cracks and crevices, and cleaning it out can be time consuming.
However, experts recommend that you clean your refrigerator and oven at least once a year, if not twice a year.
The microwave is even more demanding, and should be clear of food before each and every use.
Cleaning your refrigerator, oven, and microwave can be a lot of work, but in the end it could help you save money by prolonging the life of your appliances and by lowering your electricity bill.
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Let's start with one of the biggest and costliest appliances in a kitchen -- the refrigerator.
People generally only think to keep the inside of the refrigerator clean, but in fact, it is the coils underneath that can prove to be the biggest beast of burden.
"They should be cleaned at least once a year, more often if you have pets," says Vernon Schmidt, who has been a repairman for almost 35 years and is the author of a self-published book, "Appliance Handbook for Women: Simple Enough Even a Man Can Understand."
"When the refrigerator is running, it pulls air through the bottom to keep the compressor from getting too hot," Schmidt says. "If you have pets, it also pulls in the pet hair and will clog up the coils." When the coils get dirty, the motor ends up working overtime. Without this extra work it can cause a strain on the refrigerator's life and, ultimately, a drain on your income.
Another way you can save energy and money is by maintaining the quality and cleanliness of the seal on your refrigerator door.
"Most refrigerator door seals will tear across the bottom," Schmidt says. "This is due to build up from things getting spilled either inside the refrigerator or on the floor and splashing up on the seal."
The result of the buildup is a brittle, cracked and even torn seal.
To prevent the problem, Schmidt recommends rubbing Vaseline around the seal.
"Just wipe a very thin amount on with a clean cloth," Schmidt says. "This keeps the seal soft and will prolong the life of it."
The Convection Oven
Many cooks are familiar with that button on an oven labeled "self cleaning mode" -- but do they actually use it? And if so, do they use it enough?
According to Schmidt, once a year is not enough. Two times a year is more like it, but actually three or four times is preferred for the frequent oven user. The alternative could be a smoke-filled house.
In order to get clean, the oven heats up to an extremely high temperature (approximately 900 degrees Fahrenheit) which allows it to burn away all the food buildup. The more food the oven has to burn, the greater potential for smoke. However, Schmidt does not advise a self-clean right before a big holiday.
In the self-clean process, the oven heats to such a high temperature that any weak part of the oven may give.
"If it's ever going to fail, it will then," says Schmidt.
However, not all consumers heed Schmidt's advice, and the holidays are one of busiest times of his year.
In terms of the oven racks, Schmidt says, generally people can leave them in while cleaning.
"Most oven racks just lose their shine," Schmidt says, "but then you don't have to clean them by hand."
However, make sure to read the oven's manual, because in some of the newer models the racks cannot be left inside while on cleaning mode.
Spills can cause another potential oven nightmare.
Your mom might have taught you to place aluminum foil on the bottom of the oven in order catch some of the overflow grease and juices. But, Schmidt cautions, "never line the bottom of a self cleaning oven with foil."
Instead, he recommends placing a cookie sheet on the rack below the one you are using to catch the spill. Aluminum foil can ruin the finish on newer ovens.
Because it is already hot, one way to save on energy costs is to clean the oven immediately after use.
How to Care for Your Microwave Oven
The microwave can be one of the most-used appliances for many people, and Schmidt says people don't clean their microwaves nearly enough.
"Every time you use your microwave and food is stuck inside, that food cooks and burns into the paint," he says. "This ruins the cavity of the microwave."
The dirtier the microwave, the harder it is to heat up a dish. Keeping the microwave clean not only can cut costs on the electricity bill, but it allows for more efficient use.
One way to get rid of that funky smell in your microwave is to fill a bowl with water and lemon juice, and nuke it in the microwave for a couple minutes. This will serve to deodorize the microwave and soften any spills to allow for an easier cleanup.