September 1, 2014

Dishwasher Buying Guide – Special Features You May – Or May Not Need

Dishwashers come with many options to help you get sparkling clean dishes. Some come standard on a basic machine and some will add considerably to the price of your new dishwasher. Read on to see what Consumer Reports had to say about these features.

Adjustable racks and loading aids
Racks that adjust up or down, adjustable tines, and silverware and stemware holders let you reconfigure the interior and organize the contents. Those devices increase flexibility, especially when you cook for a crowd, and they can help accommodate large and oddly shaped items.

Dirt sensor
It adjusts water use and cycle length to soil level. A dirt sensor can improve efficiency, but not all work well.

Rinse/hold cycle
It lets you rinse dirty dishes before you’re ready to start a full cycle. This cycle can reduce odors and prevents soil from setting while you accumulate enough dirty dishes for a full load.

Filters
These keep wash water free of food that could be redeposited on clean dishes. There are two types: self-cleaning and manual.
Most filters are self-cleaning; a grinder pulverizes the debris and flushes it down the drain. That’s convenient but noisy. Some models have a filter without a grinder. It’s quieter, but it needs periodic cleaning, a job that takes a few minutes. It’s your choice.

Special wash cycles
Most dishwashers come with at least three cycles: light, normal, and heavy (pots and pans). Some offer pot-scrubber, soak/scrub, steam clean, china/crystal, or sanitizing cycles as well. The three basic cycles should be enough for most chores–even for baked-on food. A sanitizing option that raises water temperature above the typical 140° F doesn’t necessarily clean better.

Stainless-steel tub
Steel is more durable than plastic, but models with a plastic tub tend to cost far less. While light-colored plastic might become discolored, gray-speckled plastic should resist staining. Even a plastic tub should last longer than most people keep a dishwasher.

Hidden touchpad controls
Controls mounted along the top edge of the door are strictly a styling touch. They’re hidden when the door is closed. You can’t see cycle progress at a glance. (Partially hidden controls are a good compromise. They show that the machine is running and often display remaining cycle time.)

Phosphate Free Dishwasher Detergent – The Saga Continues…

Back in July ’10 we published a story about sixteen states banning phosphates from dishwasher detergent. Detergent manufacturers have reacted to that ban by removing all but trace amounts of the chemical from their dishwasher detergents.

The response to that article has been loud and clear – the new formulas are a failure.

Phosphates are chemicals responsible for serious cleaning. Phosphorus debates in the cleaning industry began 40 years ago. By 1993, major manufacturers had stopped using it in laundry detergents, says Dennis Griesing of the American Cleaning Institute, a trade association in Washington, D.C. Automatic dishwasher detergents weren’t part of the change because phosphorous was more critical to the cleaning process.

“Phosphorus likes to bind to things,” Griesing explains. “It’s a very sociable element. It would hold soil from plates and glasses in suspension in the water and prevent redeposition.”

But in 2006, when the state of Washington first voted to limit phosphates in automatic dishwasher detergents, manufacturers saw the writing on the wall. Washington’s law, which reduced the allowable amount from nearly 9 percent to a mere one-half of 1 percent, became the standard for other states.

To get rid of residue on glasses and nonmetal dishes, the institute recommends placing two cups of white vinegar in a bowl on the bottom rack of the dishwasher and running the items through a cycle with no detergent. Rewash with detergent to remove residual vinegar.

Of course, this means using more water, another environmental no-no.

Consumer Reports has suggestions for frustrated consumers, besides doing testing to find the best low-phosphate detergents. Its tips to maximize the effectiveness of dishwashers include loading large items at the side and back so they don’t block water and detergent, placing the dirty side of a dish toward the center of the machine and placing items with baked-on food facedown and toward the sprayer in the bottom rack.

As for CR’s recommended detergents, they are:

Cascade Complete All-in-1 ActionPacs ($7.50, 26-count package)

Finish Powerball Tabs ($6, 20-count package)

Finish Quantum ($13, 45-count package)

Winter Weather Warning: CPSC and USFA Issue Home Heating Safety Alert

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) and the United States Fire Administration (USFA) are urging consumers to play it safe as winter weather blankets the United States.

According to USFA, home fires spike in winter months. Cooking and home heating are the leading causes of residential building fires during the winter. The risk of fires also increases with the use of supplemental heating, such as space heaters.

CPSC estimates that home heating was associated with an average of 33,300 fires and 180 fire deaths per year from 2005 to 2007.

Carbon monoxide (CO) is also a serious threat in the winter months. Any fuel-burning appliances in the home, including furnaces and fireplaces, are a potential CO source. Carbon monoxide is called the “invisible killer,” because it is an odorless, colorless and poisonous gas.

There has been an increasing trend in unintentional, non-fire CO deaths associated with consumer products since 1999. CPSC staff estimates there were 184 CO poisoning deaths on average per year from 2005-2007 compared to 122 deaths per year from 1999-2001. Since 1999, the majority of CO deaths have been associated with heating systems and portable generators.

Smoke and carbon monoxide alarms are an important line of defense in the home, and they give consumers valuable escape time. About two-thirds of fire deaths occur in homes with no smoke alarms, or in homes where consumers have removed the alarm’s batteries or where the batteries are dead. Recently, there were tragic deaths in homes where alarms could have made a difference:

* In Citra, Fla., a fire killed five children on November 8. Their home did not have smoke alarms.
* In Penfield, N.Y., a 54-year-old man died of CO poisoning in November. Prior to his death, the home’s CO alarms reportedly beeped and were removed from the house.

CPSC and USFA recommend that in addition to having working smoke and CO alarms, consumers should follow these safety tips to prevent fires and CO poisoning:

Preventing Fires:

* Place space heaters on a floor that is flat and level. Do not put space heaters on rugs or carpets. Keep the heater at least three feet from bedding, drapes, furniture, and other flammable materials; and place space heaters out of the flow of foot traffic. Keep children and pets away from space heaters.
* To prevent the risk of fire, NEVER leave a space heater on when you go to sleep or place a space heater close to any sleeping person. Turn the heater off when you leave the area. See CPSC’s electric space heater safety alert for more space heater safety tips (pdf).
* Never use gasoline in a kerosene space heater. Even small amounts of gasoline mixed with kerosene can increase the risk of a fire.
* Have fireplace flues and chimneys inspected for leakage and blockage from creosote or debris every year.
* Open the fireplace damper before lighting a fire, and keep it open until the ashes are cool. An open damper may help prevent build-up of poisonous gases inside the home.
* Store fireplace ashes in a fire-resistant container, and cover the container with a lid. Keep the container outdoors and away from combustibles. Dispose of ashes carefully, keeping them away from dry leaves, trash or other combustible materials.

Preventing CO poisoning:

* Schedule a yearly professional inspection of all fuel-burning home heating systems, including furnaces, boilers, fireplaces, wood stoves, water heaters, chimneys, flues and vents.
* NEVER operate a portable gasoline-powered generator in an enclosed space, such as a garage, shed, or crawlspace, or in the home.
* Keep portable generators as far away from your home and your neighbors’ homes as possible – away from open doors, windows or vents that could allow deadly carbon monoxide into the home.
* When purchasing a space heater, ask the salesperson whether the heater has been safety-certified. A certified heater will have a safety certification mark. These heaters will have the most up-to-date safety features. An unvented gas space heater that meets current safety standards will shut off if oxygen levels fall too low.
* Do not use portable propane space heaters indoors or in any confined space, unless they are designed specifically for indoor use. Always follow the manufacturer’s directions for proper use.
* Never use gas or electric stoves to heat the home. They are not intended for that purpose and can pose a CO or fire hazard.

More information can be found in CPSC’s Safety Alert, Reducing Fire Hazards for Portable Electric Heaters (pdf)

Tips for Working with an Appliance Repair Technician

Appliance repair is something people generally like to avoid. Break downs never occur at a convenient time. Appliances fail when they are being used or are needed. In addition to not being able to use the appliance, people now have to find an appliance repair service and schedule an appointment. Continental Appliance, a San Francisco appliance repair and sales store, offers advice for working with an appliance repair service.

Below are some guidelines for working with an appliance repair service:

1. Gather necessary information before calling the appliance repair service, including availability, warranty information, brand name, model, and serial number of the appliance.

2. Be home when the appliance repairman shows up. Though it can be frustrating to be given a two to four hour time window, this is often the best they can do. The appliance repairman cannot always be expected to know exactly how long each job is going to take.

3. Don’t put off appliance repair when something is going wrong. If the appliance is making a grinding noise but still seems to work ok, chances are the repair will be relatively inexpensive if addressed right away. Ignoring the problem could lead to a more expensive problem.

4. Owners often like to watch the technician at work, but be considerate. Keep pets and children out of the way. The repairman doesn’t need a dog licking his face or children playing with his tools.

5. Payment is expected at the time of service. Do not wait until the job is complete then tell the appliance repairman to send a bill.

As expensive as it seems, appliance repair fees are generally reasonable when considering the time and money it takes to travel around fixing appliances, to keep up with advancing technologies and new products, and the convenience afforded. Imagine if the appliance has to be taken to the shop.

Ten Money Saving Tips – Read This Before You Buy

Here are some handy tips to consider if you really want to save money on your next appliance purchase:

1. Buy Last Year’s Model
If you don’t mind owning last year’s model, you can shave hundreds of dollars off of your appliance purchase. Best time to shop: September and October when stores are under pressure to clear space for the new arrivals.

2. Shop the Scratch and Dents
A small scratch or dent could become your best friend if you’re on a tight budget. Ask the sales associate if they have any damaged appliances for sale. Then, survey the damaged models to decide what you are willing to live with – even the smallest blemish can net big savings.

3. Buy What You Need
Have you ever noticed how the most expensive appliance models are typically the first that you come to in the store? No coincidence, I assure you. To keep yourself from falling for the latest bells and whistles, make a list of what you need before you venture into the stores. Then, buy the cheapest model that meets those needs. Just remember: that refrigerator with the built-in TV isn’t going to keep your food any colder.

4. Do a Trade-In
It’s no secret that trading in your car can save you money on a new car purchase, but did you know that you can sometimes do the same thing with your appliances? Check with appliance dealers in your area to see if any accept trade-ins. Then, find out how much your current appliance is worth. It could just be your ticket to a bargain.

5. Shop the Sales
Find something you like, but not thrilled with the price? Ask a sales associate when your pick is scheduled to go on sale. Waiting a week or two could be all it takes to reduce your purchase price by 25%. September and October are the best months to make major purchases but the second-best time is during the holidays. Merchants offer deep discounts at Christmas, when consumers want to spiff up their homes for the holidays. Also keep an eye out for sales on the less-celebrated weekends, like Memorial Day, Mother’s Day and Labor Day.

6. Look for a Package Deal
Need a washer and dryer or all new appliances for your kitchen? If so, an appliance package could be your biggest source of savings. Retailers frequently bundle appliances to boost sales, and these packages can offer significant savings over the price of purchasing each item individually.

7. Buy a Floor Model
Do you mind if your new appliance comes without a box? If not, consider purchasing a floor model. You’ll enjoy the same warranty that you’d get with a new-in-box item, without the new-in-box price. Sacrifice a little cardboard and save a lot.


8. Shop Box Stores

Shopping warehouse and box stores can be hit or miss. Sometimes you get a great deal and other times you may pay more. When it comes to appliances, however, you may be surprised at the bargains you can find. Such stores don’t usually honor price matches so what you see is what you get. Before hitting these cut-rate stores, research prices and quality online.

9. Avoid Rentals
It’s tempting to pay just $20 a week for a new refrigerator, but the interest you’ll pay for a rent-to-own appliance means you end up paying much more than the purchase price. These retailers thrive on consumers who pay the minimum amount each month or end up reneging on payments and losing the appliance.

10. Surf Craigslist
Keep an eye on the appliances section for low prices on brand new appliances. Dealers sometimes advertise their overstocks on Craigslist. Look for “dealer” notations to know if you’re working with a store and not a private seller. Realtors and remodeling contractors also offer new or nearly new appliances. You’ll likely have to manage your own delivery and installation, however.

Credit to about.com and couponshepa.com

Winter Safety Tip – How to Prevent Dryer Fires

One of the ways that dryers can start household fires is by igniting the excess lint that accumulates around the motor, burner shroud (for gas dryers) and cabinet interior. Lint is composed of very small, dry clothing particles which includes cotton and polyesters–both very good fires starters. Polyesters are particularly pernicious fires starters and are very difficult to extinguish once they ignite. Polyesters, vinyl in particular, pose another fire hazard when used as vent hoses, which we’ll talk more about later.

There are three things you can do to prevent the threat of fire from accumulated lint inside your dryer. First, clean your lint filter before every load. This will minimize the lint blow-by around the filter and save energy by helping the dryer run more efficiently.

Second, inspect your lint filter each time you pull it out. If you see any rips or distortions in the screen, replace the filter immediately.

Finally, have your dryer professionally disassembled and cleaned annually. A thorough professional cleaning removes accumulated lint and dirt from the dryer cabinet interior, motor, and burner or heating elements. In addition to substantially reducing the risk of dryer fires, this type of regular cleaning will help the drum bearings and rollers last longer, preventing or minimizing future service calls.

Many dryer installations use the common, cheap white vinyl vent hose for the dryer exhaust. These hoses were never UL-approved for dryer installations and are increasingly being recognized by local building codes as fire hazards. The American Household Appliance Manufacturers Association (AHAM) recommends the use of either rigid aluminum or steel duct or spiral-wound aluminum flex hose–NOT the white vinyl hose. For any dryer, but especially gas dryers, white vinyl vent hose should never be used and if yours has this installed on it, replace it ASAP with UL-approved materials.

One of the biggest causes of vent hose fires is the ignition of accumulated lint inside the vent hose. Lint gets caught in the folds and creases and sticks there because of the humidity. Over time, the lint builds up to such a degree that the dryer cannot exhaust properly. This results in increased drying times initially and, ultimately, in a fire. Once a fire starts in a vinyl vent hose, the hose itself ignites and burns vigorously creating a fire that is very difficult to extinguish.

Read original post here.

Space Heater Safety – Keep Your Loved Ones Safe

A portable electric heater can be a great convenience in cold weather, but if not used properly can be a fire or electric shock hazard. The Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers (AHAM) has developed this helpful list of tips for safely using a portable electric heater. Take time to review the information in
this guide, as well as the use and care manual provided by the manufacturer.

These safety tips apply to all types of portable electric heaters.

    Read the manufacturer’s instructions and warning labels before using your portable electric heater.
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    DO NOT leave operating heater unattended and always unplug heater when not in use.

    DO NOT use your heater with a power strip or extension cord. Overheating of a power strip or extension cord could result in a fire.

    String out cords on top of area rugs or carpeting. Placing anything, including furniture, on top of the cord may damage it.

    Keep combustible materials, such as furniture, pillows, bedding, papers, clothes and curtains at least three feet from the front of the heater and away from the sides and rear. DO NOT block heater’s air intake or exhaust source.

    Keep flammable materials away from the heater.

    Unless the heater is designed for outdoor use or in bathrooms, DO NOT use in damp or wet areas. Parts in the heater may be damaged by moisture.

    Check periodically for a secure plug/outlet fit. If the plug does not fit snugly into the outlet or if the plug becomes very hot, the outlet may need to be replaced. Check with a qualified electrician to replace the outlet.

    Unplug the heater when not in use by pulling the plug straight out from the outlet. Inspect the heater’s cord periodically. DO NOT use a heater with a damaged cord.

    DO NOT plug any other electrical device into the same outlet as your heater. This could result in overheating.

    Heaters should be kept away from children and not be placed in a child’s room without supervision.

    Place heater on a level, flat surface. Only use heater on table tops when specified by the manufacturer. DO NOT place your heater on furniture. It could fall, dislodging or breaking parts in the heater.

Getting the Dishwasher Clean

We rely on our dishwashers to provide us with sparkling clean dishes, but if the inside is lined with hard water deposits and detergent residue, we are making its job more difficult.

Use this simple method from Heloise to get your dishwasher in shape:

Turn on the dishwasher when it is empty; don’t use any dishwasher detergent.

Let the bottom of the washer fill with water, stop the cycle, then pour in 2 to 3 cups of plain white or apple-cider vinegar. Let the dishwasher finish the cycle. You might need to repeat if you have extremely stubborn hard-water stains inside.

Do this periodically to keep the dishwasher clean and fresh.