The first time I realized that vacuum cleaners had bags that eventually filled with dirt and had to be cleaned out, I was 12. Before the age of 12, I believed vacuum cleaners were magical portals that sucked up dust bunnies and food crumbs and transported said things to another dimension where we never had to see them again. But when I turned 12, we were cleaning the house for the holidays and I became befuddled when the magical-portal vacuum stopped sucking up dust bunnies.
“This is broken,” I told my mom.
“Just change out the bag,” my mom replied.
“What bag?” I asked.
Mom gazed at me with the “what have I done wrong” expression that so many mothers throughout history have worn, and explained the process to me. This was my earliest introduction to the unseen aspects of home maintenance. We can all spot the highly visible parts of our to-do lists, like laundry piles and dirty kitchen countertops. But the under-the-radar home maintenance jobs often get ignored. Here are a few to remember, and maybe make a list to put on the front of your fridge (especially since changing that water filter ranks right at the top).
Fridge Water Filter
The first time I realized refrigerator water filters existed can be summed up in two words: smelly ice. If you notice a blinking red light, ice that smells weird, water that tastes less than fresh, or it’s been more than six months since you changed or cleaned your filter, it’s time to tackle this hidden home task. Filter locations and specifics vary according to model and brand, so refer to your appliance manuals for specifics. You may not need a new one if it’s not too far gone, and many opt to clean the existing filters with liquid soap or vinegar.
The dishwasher is the workhorse of our kitchens, and arguably one appliance that makes the biggest difference in our daily workload. It seems counterintuitive that the thing that cleans our dishes needs its own bath from time to time, but it does. Clean out any debris from the base of the dishwasher, place a cup of white vinegar on the top rack, and then run a cycle without dishes on the hottest setting.
Garage Door Maintenance
This is a tougher one, at least for me, because there are levels of maintenance I’m confident in, and others I would rather punt to a knowledgeable handyman. Checking chain and belt tension and replacing the battery backup are necessary tasks, and likely something a confident homeowner would have no problem figuring out. I, however, have discovered that half the battle to adulting appropriately is learning my own strengths and weaknesses, so my bi-yearly garage maintenance consists of keeping the rollers and other moving parts well lubricated with grease, and making sure the eye sensors on either side of the door aren’t blocked and are aligned correctly (they usually have lights that show when they are squared up with each other properly).
Vacuum Dryer Duct
Most of us are well-seasoned dryer-vent-emptiers. After every load in my dryer, I pull the vent tray out and discover a myriad of interesting items, like candy wrappers and whatever other magpie-ish treats my children left in their pockets. But keeping your dryer fire-safe goes beyond that little vent, and requires cleaning out the ductwork that feeds all the hot air to the outside of your home. Using a handy hose extension (like this one), vacuum as much of the duct from the inside as you can. Then go outside and remove the exterior vent cover, and vacuum from that end as well.
Clean the Garbage Disposal
The other day I was doing dishes and caught a whiff of something unpleasant. I’ll spare you the details, except to say that I needed to clean out my garbage disposal. The poor thing has taken a lot of abuse since my kids and I moved in, including one unfortunate incident with a plastic spoon that melted.
WHATEVER YOU DO (and that’s in all caps for a reason), disconnect power before you clean it. Sometimes you can unplug it from the power supply under the sink. If not, go to the breaker box and cut the power by flipping the appropriate circuit. Then get your flashlight and a pair of tongs ready, because you’ll likely have to reach down into the depths to pull things out that you don’t want to touch with your bare hands (like melted spoons covered in old broccoli).
Some people swear by lemon slices, but I stick to vinegar and baking soda. I pour it down the drain and let it do its bacteria-killing work for 10 or 15 minutes. If you want to get fancy, you can add a toothbrush into the mix and scrub things. If you keep up biweekly cleaning (with ice and vinegar) you can usually forgo these kinds of invasive cleaning sessions. Unless your kid drops a plastic fork down the drain, again.
My previous home had one side of the house that never saw direct sunlight. As a result, it was a veritable haven for all things mold. After avoiding that problem for a couple of years, it took a lot of power washing to clean it up. And by “a lot” I mean it took a power wash extension, spray cleaner, and then finally caving and hiring a professional to really get it clean. The moral of the story is; do not let dirty siding go. Clean it, or have it cleaned, regularly, or it’s a task that will come back to bite you in an unpleasant location.
Kitchen Exhaust Fan Filters
Most of us forget to clean our kitchen exhaust fan filters, mostly because we’re never actually looking at them. It’s easy to forget they’re there. But if you peer down under your vent, you’re likely going to see a greasy situation that requires more regular attention. There are several ways to keep them clean, whether it’s soaking them in piping hot water filled with dish soap, or rinsing them and running them through the dishwasher. But whatever cleaning method you choose, don’t forget to clean this vent every month or two.
If life were truly just, vacuum cleaners would be portals for dust, and mold would never grow on vinyl siding. But, alas, these under-the-radar chores aren’t going to fix themselves. So, make a list, be on the lookout for smelly ice, and whatever you do, hide plastic spoons from your children.
For more tips on house cleaning and maintenance, cleck out the “How Often Guide.”