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AARP's Fast-Action Guide to Replacing Appliances

When your home essentials break — and there's no time to lose — these shopping tips can help

spinner image washing machine filled with colorful clothes with soap suds spilling out onto the floor
AARP (Getty Images)

The refrigerator just went kaput, and you need to replace it ASAP. No need to worry. We’ve got you covered. It may have been a while since you last shopped for major home items — and a lot has changed. Use this shopper’s guide to get up to speed on the latest models and options for household essentials.


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spinner image front-loading washer and dryer side by side
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When washing machines give up the ghost, they typically leave you with a soggy mess. Even before that, a permanent bad smell might be a sign it’s time for a replacement; older units may lose the ability to adequately self-clean. And over time inner parts can loosen, causing the unit to lose its uniform spinning. Plus there’s lots of water involved with each load; leaks can emerge.

Once washers and dryers wear out, the typical path is to replace them with same-size units. But as kids move out and household activity evolves, consider downsizing your machines to save money, space and energy usage.

Top-loading is back

While most experts a decade ago would have recommended a front-loading model for maximum efficiency and the cleanest clothes, top-loading models have improved substantially in recent years, making the choice now one of personal preference, says Patric Richardson, a self-proclaimed laundry evangelist who hosts The Laundry Guy on Discovery+.

So are stackables

Stackable washers and dryers have also improved significantly in recent years, Richardson says, with many side-by-side models now built to stack as well. Another new space-saving design that is becoming more popular is the all-in-one machine, which can wash and dry your clothes without the need to move them.

Expect more sensors

Today’s washing machines can sense the level of dirt on clothes and the size of the load to determine the appropriate amount of water to use. That can be confusing at first for folks used to an older machine, who might wonder why the whole washing machine doesn’t fill with water. Dryers also now have sensors that automatically adjust the cycle time, based on the size and dampness of the load.

No need to agitate

Many of today’s models no longer have a vertical agitator in the middle of the cavity. “They have figured out how to circulate the clothes without an agitator, which is softer on clothes and uses less water,” says Andrew Morris, senior manager of policy and programs at the Alliance for Water Efficiency. “Those still work well, and they’re gentler.”

What you'll pay

A matching washer-and-dryer set typically runs $1,000 to $2,300, whether the units are stackable or side-by-side. If you need just one of the appliances, expect an average cost of $700 to $1,300 for a washing machine and $800 to $1,200 for a dryer, according to data from


spinner image a stainless-steel refrigerator
AARP (GE Appliances)


When your refrigerator stops running, you might have to scramble to buy a new one before your food spoils. Better yet, be proactive and look for symptoms of a dying unit, among them: increased or unusual noise, condensation on the door, frost on the inside, too-hot coils and food spoiling before its time. Nonwarranty repairs are expensive, so buying new is often the sensible approach once your fridge is more than eight years old.

There are plenty of new options when you’re in the market for your next fridge.

A different door

It’s easy to spot the innovations in refrigerators before you even open them. Today some front doors have windows so you can view the contents, while others boast a built-in computer screen (for grandkids’ artwork sans tape!). In general, expect to see more doors and drawers; higher-end units often have four or five separate ways to get in.

In-door icemakers have evolved as well, with higher-end versions offering ice in crescents, cubes, crushed, craft and other shapes for those who want choices when cooling their beverages.

High-tech cooling

For a price, you can have a fancier interior too. “You can find multipoint LED lighting, flexible shelving, multiple food-specific refrigeration zones and even ethylene gas filters, which remove the gas emitted by certain foods, like apples, so that the rest of your groceries don’t spoil as fast,” says Honey Homes general manager Andrew Perroy. You can even find models with internal cameras you can access via smartphone to check from the supermarket to see whether you’re out of milk.

Lower power needs

Despite all these new technologies, today’s refrigerators are more efficient than those sold five to 10 years ago. While fridges with an Energy Star rating are the most efficient, even a model with average energy efficiency (check the yellow Energy Guide tag on the model in the store) should deliver energy — and utility bill — savings if you’re upgrading from a model that’s more than a decade old, says Jill Notini, vice president of communications for the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers.

What you'll pay

A basic model will cost about $500; it’ll be much like basic units of the past, just more energy efficient. Higher-end, tech-enabled models in standard sizes often cost $2,000 to $3,500; top-end units designed to be built into the cabinetry can run as high as $10,000.


spinner image a flat-screen TV
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TVs don’t break so much as they become obsolete. Or consumers just want to upsize. Either way, TVs are one of America’s favorite splurges; some 40.9 million were sold in the U.S. last year, or roughly 1 for every 8 Americans. That’s in part due to their relatively low price and seemingly constant improvements. Pros suggest upgrading every four to six years. Like aging computers, older TVs have out-of-date technology that can affect viewing and performance; LED lights also can start losing brightness after four years. That said, most TVs can stay functional for 10 years.

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Prepare to upsize

Today the most commonly owned TV is 55 inches (as measured diagonally), but that’s rising fast; 85-inch TVs at home aren’t uncommon, thanks to better flat-screen technology. How big should you go? That’s based on the distance you’ll be sitting from the screen. Multiply the screen size (in inches) by 1.2; that’s the recommended viewing distance. For example, if you have a 55-inch TV, you’ll likely want to sit 6 feet from the screen.

Focus on two technical standards

TV technology can be a jumble of confusing acronyms: OLED, QLED, LCD, 4K, 8K, HDR and more. Focus on just two. The first is resolution (essentially, the number of pixels on the screen); today’s standard is 4K, which has four times the resolution of HDTV, the gold standard of years past. While the salesperson might try to steer you to a high-end 8K television, say “no thanks.” There’s really no content available in 8K today, and there won’t be for a long while. The other thing to look for is “high dynamic range”; TVs that qualify as HDR have much more vivid colors and crisp details. Once you choose a 4K HDR model, the other technical distinctions matter less, says John Couling, senior vice president of entertainment at Dolby Laboratories.

TV as internet gateway

A “smart TV” is simply a TV built to connect seamlessly (usually via Wi-Fi, so no cables needed) to your internet service, just as a computer or smartphone does. Smart is the way to go if you want to access any streaming service or view anything that is online. Smart TVs use third-party software, such as Roku or Amazon Fire, which help you navigate the huge range of available digital content, whether free or purchased. Each offers its own portfolio of content as well.

Expect some new brands

For years, shoppers were encouraged to go with Samsung, LG or Sony for quality sets. These days, the market has expanded, and brands from Amazon, Vizio, Hisense and TCL are respected and generally considered trustworthy as well. And often, they’re cheaper. If you can, look at the TVs side by side so you can determine which you prefer.

One negative: sound

While TV makers are obsessed with the visual quality of their products, few focus on sound, assuming you’ll likely need to buy a separate sound system, ranging from a simple soundbar that sits under the TV to elaborate, multispeaker systems.

What you'll pay

An excellent, well-equipped 55-inch 4K smart TV can easily be found for less than $500. Bigger size, better resolution or more features can add hundreds or even thousands to that. But “what were once capabilities found only in top-of-the-line TVs a few years ago are now core offerings in TVs at all prices,” says Couling.


spinner image a dishwasher with both drawers open and filled with dishes
AARP (GE Appliances)


You may be tempted to just wash dishes by hand if your dishwasher breaks. But that’s much less efficient — in terms of electricity and water — than replacing your old one. New dishwashers boast some big improvements.

Cycles are more efficient

The most efficient dishwashers now complete an entire wash using less than 3.5 gallons of water, far less than older models or what you’d use to wash those dishes by hand. “The amount of water that today’s dishwashers use is obscenely low, when you think about the level of cleanliness and sanitation that’s happening,” says Michael Cornell, innovation lab technologist with Asurion, an appliance-repair company based in Nashville, Tennessee.

But they also take longer

To get that efficiency, dishwashers use recirculation technology with pumps and filters to cut down on the amount of water they’re using and new technology for shorter drying cycles. That takes more time. A standard dishwasher cycle can now take upwards of two hours.

Seen and not heard

When it comes to noise, dishwashers have improved so much that homeowners can be standing in the kitchen and forget that the machine is running. In addition to better insulation around the unit, the lower noise level reflects a shift from a plastic tub to stainless steel, which better dampens the sound of jetting water.

Controls have gone all digital

Like most other home appliances, dishwasher controls have gone digital, with some featuring more futuristic LCD panels or a touch screen. You’ll need to decide whether you want the controls on the front of your dishwasher or on the top of the door, where they’re concealed when it’s closed. “Having them concealed looks nice,” says Angie Hicks, chief customer officer of Angi (formerly Angie’s List), the home-repair referral company. “But it’s also harder to see how much longer the dishwasher has to go when it’s running.”

Make sure to ask about extras

An adjustable upper rack provides flexibility with loads made up of different-sized dishes. If one doesn’t come standard, it’s worth asking if this feature is available. Also consider an option for a quick-wash cycle. While these are less energy efficient, they can be helpful when you’re in a time crunch.

What you'll pay

Prices for most models fall between $400 and $1,200. Expect to pay more for bells and whistles like Wi-Fi connectivity, dual-drawer design or a third rack for utensils.


spinner image a white toilet
AARP (Getty Images)


No one wants to think about replacing a toilet. It’s a hassle and kind of gross. But when a toilet craps out, you can replace an old one with a newer model with upgrades. Plus new toilets use less water, potentially saving you big bucks on your monthly water bill.

A smaller flush

No wonder the biggest innovations in toilets the past decade have been in water efficiency; new toilets use about a quarter of the water that older toilets once used. “Low-flow, initially found only in higher-end toilets, is almost ubiquitous these days,” Perroy says. You can cut water usage even more by looking for the WaterSense label, which indicates that the toilet uses only 1.28 gallons per flush. The federal standard is 1.6 gallons; toilets made before 1992 used 3.5 gallons or more.

Height choices

The standard toilet height is about 15 inches, but today you may find toilets labeled as “comfort,” “chair” or “easy” height that rise a couple of inches higher. “The higher a toilet is, the easier it is to get on and off,” says Mark Collins, chief executive officer of 1-800-Plumber + Air. “If someone has bad knees or a bad back or other physical challenges, it would be recommended to go with a taller toilet.”

And for a price, accessories

Today’s toilets can come with everything from built-in bidets to heated seats and even lighting. You can find models that play music, have motion-activated lids or automatic flushing. And of course, toilets come in endless styles, making it easier to find a toilet design that might match your home’s decor. The question is, are they worth the extra hundreds?

One key choice

This much hasn’t changed: You can purchase either a one-piece toilet or one with a separate bowl and tank. A one-piece model may cost more, but this style is less prone to leaks over time, since there are fewer seals and gaskets that might fail, Collins says.

What you'll pay

Basic toilets cost about $300. But if you’re interested in one from a premier brand, such as Toto or Kohler, that combines high design with a variety of features, be prepared to spend upwards of $2,000, Perroy says.



Think vacuuming is tedious? That’s especially the case when the machine starts losing suction or malfunctions. The sign you need a new one? It simply doesn’t pick up the dirt as well as it should (and you’ve verified that’s not due to a clog). Replacement choices have changed dramatically in recent years — and you can even offload the work to the machine itself.

Enter the robots

Today robot vacuums are the high-tech stars of floor cleaning. New models can more accurately map your home to know where — and where not — to clean, avoid more floor flotsam and jetsam, provide more powerful suction, empty themselves and even lightly mop the floor. Best of all, robo vacs, such as various iRobot Roombas, Ecovac Deebots, Eufy and Roborock models, “can be set to run while you’re not even home,” says CNN technology contributor Andrea Smith. “Grandkids left a mess of Cheerios? You can start the robot with one press and send it to the area that needs attention.”

Cordless backups

“Even the most high-tech robot can’t cover every corner and will likely not completely replace your canister or stick vacuum,” Smith says. Rather, a robot vac can keep things tidy between deeper floor cleanings. And for those, you’ll need a more standard vacuum. In this category, the innovations have been in cordless stick vacuums, says Cory Hankins, CEO of Clean at the House of Vacuums based in Highpoint, North Carolina. Newer units run on longer-lasting rechargeable batteries, offer myriad power and surface-specific settings, include a wider variety of cleaning-specific attachments, and include better dust particle filters to keep the air and your lungs clear. Plus, with no cord, there’s far less chance of tripping. “None of them have the same power as a plug-in vacuum cleaner,” Hankins admits, “but they are very close to getting there.” Top cordless models to consider come from Miele, Riccar, Dyson and Tineco, he says.

What you'll pay

A basic corded vacuum can be had for as little as $50; better units get into the low hundreds. Cordless vacuums run between $100 and $400. Solid-quality robot vacuums start around $500. At the high end, the most feature-laden self-emptying robo vac equipped with mopping capabilities can run as high as $1,500.

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