A modern kitchen with stainless steel appliances

15 Ways You Need to Stop Abusing Your Appliances

Is it possible that without knowing it, you’re making damaging even dangerous mistakes with your household appliances? As I have been researching how to take care of our kitchen appliances so they will last longer, I’m learning about the most common appliance abuses that can lead to expensive repairs and even a shortened lifespan.

Modern luxury kitchen interior with stone countertop and stainless steel appliances


It’s true that these days household appliances just aren’t made to last for decades the way refrigerators, ranges, and other household appliances lasted back in our grandparents’ day. “Eight to ten years,” is what the salesman told us is what we could expect from our new refrigerator. He went on, “This machine is designed to stand up to years of use and ordinary wear and tear—assuming you don’t abuse it.”

Modern appliances are not made to deal with abuse, misuse, and mishaps that can damage them and lead to costly repairs. Are you making these damaging and potentially dangerous mistakes? Here are the most common appliance abuses and why you can’t put liquid soap in your dishwasher, open zippers in your washer, or too much food in your fridge.

Dishwasher mistakes

Washing items with labels

It seems logical to remove paper labels glued to jars and bottles by running them through the dishwasher. But the paper and glue will totally clog the filter and the pump. This can lead to very costly repairs and a shortened life.

Filthy filter

Dishwashers have filters that catch bits of solid debris to keep them from recirculating onto plates, pans, silverware after the water and detergent have washed them away. A dishwasher that does not have a self-cleaning filter (read the manual) must be cleaned at least once a month. Gel type automatic dishwasher detergents are notorious for creating a build-up of gooey slime on the filter, which can lead to all kinds of expensive trouble. Clean the filter monthly without fail, and you’ll head off trouble down the line.

Dishwashing liquid

Let’s get this straight: Automatic dishwasher detergent is NOT the same as dishwashing liquid. You might think it won’t hurt this one time, but you will be painfully wrong to make that substitution—and have a big repair bill to prove it. Dishwashers are not built top handle suds! Newer machines have a kill switch that will flip the motherboard into one big flashing red FAIL message in the presence of suds. This requires an authorized repairman with codes and new motherboards to fix this situation. Do not ask how I know this, just trust me. Use only automatic dishwasher detergent made for automatic dishwashers, and nothing else.

Pro tip: Finish Dishwasher Detergent wrapped tablets work fabulously without clogging the filter or tripping failure modes. I’ve tried them all and Finish is the Best Inexpensive option for my money. Hint: Drop the pod into the silverware basket instead of trying to jam it into the little detergent reservoir. You won’t end up with a partially dissolved pod.

Washer and dryer mistakes

Open zippers

It’s simple to do, easy to miss but mandatory that you catch. Zip up all zippers before putting those items into the laundry. Open zippers tumbling in a washer and or dryer are like little chainsaws that catch on other items in the tumble. The result is thread-pulls or worse, tiny holes in t-shirts and linens. Pull all zipper tabs all the way to the top, and do the same with bras and lingerie or other clothing with hooks.

Coins and other objects

They make a racket for sure, but coins and other type objects do more than that when left in pockets and sent through the laundry. They can beat up that drum and seriously damage the machine.

Refrigerator and freezer mistakes

Keeping fridge too full

Cramming too much food in the fridge cuts down on air circulation, which makes it impossible for the appliance to keep food cool enough. That creates a perfect environment for mold to build up. And it makes the motor work overtime which can lead to excessive wear and tear and an untimely fail. Like when you’re on vacation or holiday weekend.

Blocking freezer vents

It’s true that keeping a freezer full saves energy, but filling improperly so that the vents are blocked makes the motor and condenser work harder than they should, leading them to burn out way before their time. Make sure none of the vents are blocked.

Not cleaning condensers

When’s the last time you remembered to clean the condenser coils of your refrigerator and or free-standing freezer? These appliances are probably not the first spots in your house you think to clean regularly, but they need to be. Failure to do so is just asking for trouble. Clogged condensers have to work way too hard whih means more electricity is required to keep them going, and that leads to early appliance death. Clean the condensers about every six months.

Moving it improperly

Never lay a refrigerator or freezer on its side or back. That can cause oil from the compressor to get into the cooling lines which will lead to fouled up drainage and an appliance headed to the junk yard. If you need to move a refrigerator or freezer remove all of its contents. Then strap it tightly closed and transport it standing up in the exact manner it needs to stand in your next kitchen or garage.

Vacuum cleaner mistakes

Dirtbag too full

It’s a pain to stop and dump out the vacuum cleaner bag before, after, or during your vacuuming, but you should. Let the bag or dust cup get too full, and your vacuum will strain to pick up debris. All that strain will force dust and debris into moving parts that must be kept free of that stuff in order to perform well. Certainly that kind of abuse will shorten its usable life. Always clean out the bag after every use and keep an eye on its level while using it to avoid the dreaded vacuum cleaner abuse.

Dirty filters

Emptying the dirtbag or debris cup is a must. But don’t forget the filters. Check the owner manual to know exactly where they are, how to clean and maintain them, and when they need to be replaced. A vacuum cleaner needs to be able to “breathe” freely. Dirty filters, in essence, will eventually smother a vacuum’s motor.

Lamps, lights mistake

Wrong size lightbulbs

Need more light? Just put in a higher watt lightbulb, right? Wrong! Lamps or light sockets have a wattage limit that tells you the size bulb you can use and still be operating safely. If you use a light bulb with a wattage that’s too high, it will use more power and get hotter, potentially overheating or causing a fire. Before screwing in a light bulb, be sure to check for the correct wattage.

Small appliances mistakes

Leaving toaster plugged in

This is one kitchen appliance you should always unplug when not in use. Sometimes, according to ConsumerAffairs, toasters can catch fire with no warning. So don’t leave it alone while it’s in use and always unplug your toaster when you’re not using it. If your toaster ever does flare up, unplug it immediately. Out of an abundance of caution, treat your toaster oven in the same way. Unplug when not in use.

Never descaling a coffee maker

Limescale is a hard white substance consisting of calcium carbonate, deposited by water on the inside of pipes. It’s a hard substance that when allowed to build up over time, can cause a machine to fail long before it might have if that limescale had been removed. Read your machine’s manual then follow the routine de-scaling protocol. In nearly every case, running a pot full of white vinegar through the coffeemaking cycle, followed by several cycles with plain water to rinse it away, will do the trick.

Not fond of the smell of hot white vinegar? Bar Keepers Friend Coffee Maker Cleaner is a great product that will remove all the oily residue, tannins, and stains.

Garbage disposal BIG mistake

The wrong stuff

Garbage disposals are designed to take a lot of abuse, but nowhere near what some people put them through. As magical as they seem, garbage disposals do have their limits. If used improperly, you can do a lot of expensive damage to your plumbing. All of us know that certain things don’t belong in a garbage disposal, but it’s surprisingly hard to get a straight answer about what exactly those things are.

For sure, never put any non-food items into a garbage disposal—not glass, metal, or even paper. Peel off stickers and labels from produce or new kitchen gadgets and throw them in the garbage. Never stringy or tough stuff— fruit pits, bones, raw meat, and fruit or nutshells simply will not break down well enough to allow the disposal to do its job. No large quantities of grease or oil.

According to our friends over at This Old House, just because your disposal can grind something doesn’t mean it should. Eggshells are a great example of this: most disposals will eventually break them down, but they pose more danger to your pipes than to the disposal itself. The shards don’t dissolve in water, so they’re prone to building up over time and even clogging your pipes.

The same holds true for coffee grounds. While coffee grounds do not cause any damage to the disposal—actually, they are a good material to grind to sharpen and clean the grinding components—they can cause really bad clogs in the pipeline, which is why coffee grounds should NOT be thrown down a garbage disposal. They can collect on the floor of pipes, eventually stopping the flow of water altogether.

Pro tip

Anything that swells and absorbs water—rice, pasta, grains, potato peels, and flour; anything that doesn’t break down quickly in water—is far too risky to place in a garbage disposal. These materials can blow up like a balloon in the drain and pipes, causing one major-league appliance abuse, if not a total failure.

First published:10-25-19; Updated with new info: 9-2-20

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11 replies
  1. ALICIA WRIGHT says:

    Great put up, very informative. I wonder why the other experts of this sector don’t realize this. You should continue your writing. I am confident, you have got a huge readers’ base already.

  2. Linda says:

    Thanks for the Bar Keepers Friend coffee pot cleaner tip. I have been using a product called Brew Rite coffee pot cleaner for years that I bought at Walmart. It is a powder formula and works excellent. I still have 2 of them that I had bought in Illinois because you cant always find the stuff. I have not seen it in TN but haven’t looked for it either.

  3. Angie says:

    On a related, albeit gross note, let’s talk about not flushing things down the toilet.

    We’ve paid way more to plumbers over the years than we should have, until the last one made this statement. He said “Tampons and flushable wipes are putting my daughters through Stanford.”

    Just because it says flushable doesn’t mean you should. Technically, my watch is flushable, but it’s a bad idea.

    Tampons and wipes get snagged on roots that grow into sewer pipes, as well as any irregularities or unevenness in your pipes. They stop other items coming along, and eventually you’ll get a huge clog.


  4. Don says:

    I don’t intentionally put anything down our garbage disposal. I compost what I can, and scrape everything else off into the trash can. Make sure everyone, especially kids, understands that what goes down the disposal also has to go all the way through the drain pipes, and often creates clogs..

  5. Charlyn Jensen says:

    Hi Mary,
    I used to use and love the Finish dishwasher pods you mentioned but a couple years ago they changed the formula and now they don’t work nearly as well as they did. I’m now using Costco’s Kirkland pods and they work well. Sometimes the allowed ingredients for items are state specific so readers who aren’t in crazy California might not experience what I did.

  6. Patricia Bloom says:

    Hi Mary! To reduce our family’s plastic use of carbonated beverages, I purchased a soda stream machine. It’s great except that the tiny bottles of flavorings (which the company calls “infusions,”) are ridiculously expensive. Furthermore, unless one puts in lots of flavoring, you can hardly tell there’s any there. So we go through these little expensive bottles fast. Can you come up with a flavoring we can make at home? Thanks — for all your hard work and wonderfully helpful tips and recommendations.

  7. Pam Albrecht says:

    I agree about the garbage disposer; they are more trouble than they are worth. When we had a new sink installed last year we had it removed as I would have had to pay to have it removed and reinstalled.

  8. Joanne says:

    Right you are, Mary. We actually removed our garbage disposal when the pipes got clogged and backed up into the dishwasher a couple of times. No thanks. Since we have a garden, we decided to compost appropriate kitchen scraps (not onions and citrus peels because we have vermiculture).

  9. Maggie Morgan says:

    The garbage-disposal warnings reminded me of an incident long ago, when I mistakenly put carrot peels down my disposal. Only a few at a time, with lots of water, but still enough to clog the pipes below the disposal. I had a wonderful plumber, and, when he came to clear the pipes, he cautioned about thin peelings like carrots and potatoes. I said, “Crimony, Kenny. I can’t put down coffee grounds, celery, potato peels, carrot peels, egg shells. What CAN I run through my disposal??” He said, “Well, ice cubes are good.” Soon after, I had the disposal removed (it was old anyway) and have not had one for more than 30 years. I never miss it.

  10. Gina Stevens says:

    This is another great and informative article. Thanks Mary. All new appliances come with new rules and not understanding them is costly. Back when 3-way bulbs went away, I bought expensive dimmable lamps and didn’t get the rules. When the dimmable bulb burned out, I replaced it with a regular bulb and RUINED the dimmable feature.


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