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How Long Do Appliances Last?

Typically a decade or more, but less if you don't take care of them

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You probably remember (or still have) an old refrigerator in your garage that was made during the Eisenhower administration. Most appliances don’t last that long anymore.

“The short, unnuanced answer is that appliances will generally last around 12 years,” says Matthew Schmitz, managing editor at HomeServe, a company that sells home repair plans. “Studies have shown that higher-end models will, indeed, last longer and perform better, but this is what buyers can use as a rule of thumb.”

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Why are appliance lifespans shorter now than they were in years past? “If you compare them to the appliances of 10, 20, 30 years ago, [appliances have] a lot more features now, a lot more electronics, and they're all more efficient too,” says Chris Doscher, director of communications for the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers (AHAM).

All those cool little programs and dials on new appliances are very handy, but the electronics don’t mix well with the moisture typically present in the average dishwasher, refrigerator or washing machine. In addition, many more parts of your new household machines are plastic, a material that's less durable than, say, steel or copper.

Because new appliances have more bells and whistles, take the time to read the manual, Doscher says. “It'll have specific recommendations to that model and the features that it has,” he says. Even if you’ve owned the same type of appliance before, the manual might show you helpful features you weren’t aware of.  

Eventually, all appliances — even garage-bound beer fridges — will stop working, so it’s good to build in replacement costs for your appliances into your household budget. True, it’s not easy to predict exactly when the dishwasher will slop its soapy water onto the kitchen floor or when the fridge will freeze no more. But if you’re taking a mental inventory of what could be the next kitchen casualty, here’s how long you can expect most major appliances to live, according to the experts we consulted, and what you can do to prolong their lives.

Refrigerators: 11 (side-by-side) to 14 years (top freezer)

To make your fridge last longer, vacuum the condenser coils. Dust makes the fridge less efficient. Check your manual for the location of the coils – typically in the back or at the bottom – and safety tips. Vacuum at least twice a year. If you have a water dispenser, replace the filters twice a year, too. And don’t forget this rule of thumb: your refrigerator’s coils should be at least the length of your thumb from the wall to allow the machine to disperse heat correctly, HomeServe's Schmitz says. 

Stoves and ranges: 12 (electric) to 14 years (gas)

Cooks tend to bicker about the virtues of gas stovetops versus electric ones. Gas ranges tend to last longer than electric, however, in part because they have simpler mechanisms.

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Whether you have a gas or electric oven, make sure you clean it regularly. “An oven that's not clean can affect performance,” Doscher says. A dirty stove can affect how the food tastes too. If you don’t have a self-cleaning oven, follow the manufacturer's cleaning instructions. Alternatively, try warm soap and water or a white vinegar solution to clean the oven. Don’t forget to clean the cooktop and burners, too. Consider using a baking-soda-and-water paste to do the job, Schmitz recommends.

Washing machine: 9 (front loading) to 11 years (top loading)

Top-load washers tend to last longer than front-loaders, but front-loaders tend to need less upkeep than top-loaders. They also use less water.

Washing machines should be cleaned monthly to prevent mold. “Homeownership can sometimes seem like an endless cycle of cleaning things that clean other things,” Schmitz says. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for washing your washing machine – typically, warm vinegar, bleach or special cleaning tablets are the best solution.

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Dryer: 13 years

Dryers tend to be durable and relatively simple, and they need relatively little maintenance. That doesn’t mean they need no maintenance. Clean the lint filter before each cycle, and clean the vent at least once a year. Tackle the task yourself, according to the manual's instructions, or hire a qualified technician to clean the vent.

Dishwasher: 12 years

As with most appliances, heavy use will reduce the lifespan of your dishwasher. A family of four will probably run the dishwasher more frequently than a family of two will, and that means the family of four will replace their dishwasher more frequently, too.

The kindest thing you can do for your dishwasher: Clean the filter. Some people may not be aware that your dishwasher has a reusable filter at the bottom, but it does. Read the manual to see how to remove it, rinse it and replace it. (You can find plenty of helpful videos on YouTube as well.) The filter traps the larger debris from the wash cycle, and if you clean the filter regularly, you won’t see bits of last Friday’s dinner party stuck to your dishes on Monday.

Water heater: 10 years

Life with no hot water is no fun, particularly if the contents of the water heater wind up on the basement floor. The best thing you can do for your water heater, according to Schmitz, is to flush it once a year, which will get rid of the sediment in the tank that has built up around the heating element, making the heater less efficient. You’ll need a hose. Follow the safety instructions in the owner's manual.

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