Just this past week I heard from my dear reader Penny who is frustrated in the face of needing to purchase a new dishwasher. She writes: 

“Our dishwasher is more than 20 years old and every time I think I have decided on a new one and read the reviews, I back out. I know that you recently purchased new appliances. What brand dishwasher did you go with? How does one filter all the reviews, good or bad?”

IKEA dishwasher

My husband and I have just completed our big kitchen remodel. It’s been nearly a year since we started planning so you can be sure I’ve been researching appliances ad nauseam. 

Here’s my conclusion based on credible evidence, product reviews and long conversations with appliance professionals: They just don’t make ‘em like they used to! 

These days you won’t find a dishwasher with an expected lifespan of 20 years. The best we should expect from new dishwashers is 8 to 10 years, which is by design. Industry insiders call this “planned obsolescence.” And we have to assume that those will not necessarily be trouble-free years. It’s sad but true. 

Nearly all appliances these days come with a one-year warranty. Most appliances pros will tell you that if an appliance is going to fail, it is most likely to do that during the first 90-days, so a one-year warranty is supposed to be sufficient. Anything beyond that is called an extended warranty, which brings up another matter, altogether. Let’s just say it gets complicated.

Related: Best Inexpensive Stick Vacuum—Finally!

There are two brands I suggest you stay away from—Samsung and LG. While their appliances are lovely when they’re in good working condition, these companies do not have a solid infrastructure for service and repair in the U.S. That means you’ll have a difficult time finding someone to repair them whether they’re under warranty or not. And when you do, you could wait weeks for parts to arrive from overseas. 

On the other hand, the Whirlpool family of appliances (Whirlpool, Maytag, KitchenAid, Jenn-Air, Amana to name a few) are made in the U.S. Whirlpool has a reputation for making good appliances with repair, service, and parts readily available. 

With all that being said, I do have some really good news—and a solid recommendation, which may surprise you. Read more

As I glanced at the day’s news headlines, I flinched when I read that a prominent U.S. politician (who shall remain nameless) had 10 people show up at a recent town hall meeting. Ten! That’s what I call an empty room and the fear of every speaker—that no one shows up because no one is listening.

Before I bring up the subject of my email inbox, I need to tell you again how much I love to hear from my readers! I take every letter, note, and message as an affirmation that I’m not speaking to an empty room. I love your tips, stories, questions, corrections, and challenges.

Now about my inbox—it fills almost faster than I can read, so I create file folders for varying subjects. When a folder gets full I know it’s time to address that subject in an upcoming post. 

Once again, I’m working to clear out the folder labeled “Best Inexpensive Qs” where hundreds of messages land that go something like this: “Please tell me exactly which [fill-in-the-blank] is the Best Inexpensive™ option.”

Requests for Best Inexpensive (TM) options from dear readers depicted as file drawer in computer

 

ROOM DEHUMIDIFIER. If you live where it gets unbearably humid this time of year, the way to lower the humidity inside your home is with a good dehumidifier. My pick for the overall best inexpensive 70-pints-per-day unit is rated for up to 2,500 sq. ft. is FRIGIDAIRE Energy Star 70-Pint Dehumidifier It will keep your home comfortable and also protect it from mold, mildew and airborne particles that can make breathing difficult for some people. About $240.

More: Humidity—Not Too High, Not Too Low, But Just Right

SEWING MACHINE. Two choices here. For the beginner: Janome Mod-15 is a sweetheart of a basic mechanical machine ideal for a beginner of any age who shows great promise with sewing, but has not yet proven the need for a more advanced machine. About $150. For intermediate to advance: Janome Mod-100 is a remarkable top-of-the-line computerized model that has everything an advanced sewist would want, with a price you’d expect for a beginner machine. About $275.

HANDHELD GARMENT STEAMER.  Housmile garment steamer is a portable fabric steamer brush for clothes. Perfect for travel because it’s lightweight, comes with two styles of brush heads and produces excellent steam. I much prefer its performance over the more traditional style of garment steamer. It’s great! About $35.

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My referral links are below. If you click through and take action, I may be compensated. My full disclosure is here.

A couple of weeks ago with all the confidence in the world that winter had passed, I got everything ready for our first outdoor barbecue of the season. The weather was perfect, ditto for the menu.

bbq with sausages and red meat on the grill - male hands holding a plate and taking the meat off the grill before it is too late

 

I pulled the cover off the grill and got a shock—and not of the electrical kind. Actually, I was more embarrassed than anything. The grill was a mess—inside and out. Yuck!

My only explanation is that the cold days of fall prompted me to just throw the cover on while my inner procrastinator assured me that I’d clean it later.

Granted, our new grill is now three years old, but still. A dirty mess? You should have seen me fly into action. I grabbed a spray bottle of homemade degreaser (no time for more heavy duty options) and went to work. In no time at all, it was clean enough and we were back in business.

Assuming I’m not the only one who fails to do a deep clean on the outdoor grill after every use, today I have lots of really great grilling tips and tricks for cleaning and for great grilling, too.

Let’s hear it for summer—let the grilling begin!

Related: Outdoor Grilling that Won’t Bust the Budget Read more

I harbor a little-known secret. I only know a lot of the stuff I know because I’ve learned it from my kind and sharing readers. And the longer I do this thing I do, the more I learn.

The wealth of knowledge I have gained from you in nearly three decades of this relationship is awesome. And every day, it seems, I learn something new.

Dear Mary: I highly recommend De-Solv-It. It is a citrus oil-based degreaser and sticker remover that I have used over the past several years. It is non-toxic. Here is a recent example, I purchased a used softcover library book at Half Price Books (a wonderful chain, by the way) which had tape covering the spine and on the cover. I put a small amount on the edges of the tape and allowed it to seep in overnight. The next morning I was able to peel it over pretty easily with no discernible damage to the cover.  Thank you for all of the good advice over the years. Ted

Dear Ted: I raced to get me a small spray bottle of De-Solv-It to test before mentioning this find to my dear readers. Wow! You are right about how well De-Solv-It works to remove all kinds of icky sticky stuff (not that I have a houseful of icky stuff needing removal or anything, ha!) I should have opted for the better-value 12-oz. size De-Solv-It from the get-go. This is exactly the kind of product I need in my arsenal of home rescue products. Thanks for this great recommendation.

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You know it’s a good day for me when my “inner shopper” gets to come out and play.

Researching, reviewing and testing the things that you, My Dear Readers, request is like a license to shop till I drop—all the joys without the horrible side effects of overspending. Coming up with solid recommendations for the best inexpensive options is one of the most satisfying things I get to do. I’d say we have a good thing going on.

DISH DRAINER

I’m one who relies heavily on a dishwasher, which means I haven’t owned a dish drainer or even thought about that until just recently when I heard from Pam:

I recently replaced my wire dish drainer rack and couldn’t find anything but small replacements drainers with small drainboards. What’s going on? Any ideas where to find a bigger dish drainer (NOT plastic) and drain board?

Pam’s right. Huge, metal dish drainers are a thing of the past. But not to worry. After a bit of searching, trial and some error—and tremendous need now that I do have a dishwasher (we’re remodeling!)—I’m excited to reveal my Best Inexpensive™ pick, which I absolutely love.

POLDER DISH RACK AND TRAY. I love this dish drainer because it is stainless steel, elegantly designed and includes both a drain try and separate drying tray. That effectively doubles the space of the rack itself—and the drying tray stores beneath the rack when not needed. That makes this Polder Dish Rack and Tray versatile. About $40. 

Polder Dish Rack Drainer

Still plenty of time: 24 Fabulous Ideas for Mother’s Day Gifts

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Many commercial household cleaning products—glass and window cleaner for example—routinely come in a bottle with a handy sprayer. And we love that, as long as it works the way we expect that it should.

First, there’s the problem of a bottle design that makes it impossible to spray out every last bit of product because that tube doesn’t go all the way to the bottom. Or the mother of all frustrations: When the nozzle clogs up or for some other reason the thing just refuses to spray. Grrrrr!

Angry young woman because spray bottle won't spray

There’s no way to fix that bottle design, but with a little diligence you should be able to get the sprayer unclogged and working again for at least as long as it takes to use up the product (hot water, a paper clip to clear the nozzle, taking it all apart).

The sad truth is the nifty sprayer that comes with that window cleaner or all-purpose cleaner is meant to be disposable. It was designed to die about the time you need to buy more cleaner. Think of these sprayers as you do cottage cheese containers and screw-cap soda bottles. They’re considered single-purpose, one-and-done. Know this going in and you’ll save yourself a lot of frustration.

The solution is to stop relying on cheap, disposable sprayers. Understand the difference between disposable and quality spray bottles, then choose to own a few of the latter.

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I could not even venture a guess for how many umbrellas I’ve purchased in my life. It’s not so much that I lose them, it’s that they turn out to be junk.

The frame collapses, the ribs get tweaked causing them to bend the wrong way or the ligaments snap apart—all of which encourages it to turn itself inside out leaving to wrestle it back into cooperation and end up soaking wet. Don’t you hate when that happens?

Young-person-fighting-in-wind-with-umbrella

My experience, together with lots of research and testing have brought me to the conclusion that regardless the promises made by manufacturers, no umbrella is 100% windproof. That’s because “wind” can range from a slight breeze to hurricane strength, the latter of which would cause any umbrella to fail.

What we should expect in an umbrella is for it to be waterproof, sturdy, and above all, reliable under moderately windy situations. It must be of a decent size. And if something goes wrong—even those hurricane-strength winds—we want reliable customer service that will make things right.

My picks for Best Inexpensive™ umbrellas below meet all of my expectations—including being large enough to keep both my husband and me dry when, in a pinch, we’re forced to share an umbrella.

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I cannot begin to tell you all that I’ve learned over the last few months about kitchen appliances—both major and small. My husband is remodeling our kitchen (yes, lucky me). Now, wouldn’t you assume that selecting new appliances would be the easy, fun part of the planning process? It’s not! In fact, it’s been rather mind-numbing.

rows-stoves-appliance-store

Oh, what I have learned—and do intend to share with you in the very near future—is epic. Let me just say that I’m more convinced now than ever that determining the “best inexpensive” option in every category is the way to go; that “most expensive” does not guarantee better longevity or trouble-free performance.

For today, and due to popular demand, let’s tackle basic countertop appliances that toast, roast, bake and broil.

cuisinart-toaster-white-plastic

TOASTER. The goal here is to find the Best Inexpensive traditional toaster where you put slices of bread in the slots and in a few minutes up pops toast that is perfectly toasted on both sides. Sounds simple enough, right? Well, not really because there are so many options and many of them not good. That’s why you need me to test, research, review and narrow this down to the best, which in this case is also the most inexpensive.

My pick is Cuisinart Compact Plastic Toaster, which comes in a 2-slice option and also 4-slice. The slots are wide enough to accommodate bagels, English muffins, Texas toast but also regular-width slices of bread.This toaster is just the right size, toasts effortlessly and looks nice in any decor. Don’t let the “plastic” part scare you. The toaster remains cool to the touch and is super easy to clean. Cuisinart Compact Plastic Toaster, 2-Slice, about $30; 4-Slice, about $40.

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