How Do My Appliances Work? | The Light Lab

How Do My Appliances Work?

We interact with our home appliances every day, and it’s easy to take them for granted until something goes wrong. If you live in an apartment, the landlord should take care of any heavy-duty maintenance for your appliances, but there are several basic steps you can take to help keep your equipment in better condition and decrease the chances of a major breakdown. Read on to learn more about how to make your home appliances work better for you.

How Do My Appliances Work? | The Light Lab


Dishwashers can save you from hours hunched over the sink, scrubbing dirty plates by hand. Conceptually, these useful devices work exactly the way you think they do: By spraying hot, soapy water on your bowls and glasses until they are clean. Behind the scenes, however, there are a lot of clever mechanics and electronics to get the temperature, timing, and water levels just right. You can help keep the dishwasher in your home in good condition by emptying the food trap at the bottom and, silly as it sounds, manually cleaning the interior from time to time to prevent the water holes from becoming clogged.


The refrigerator works in a counterintuitive fashion to keep your food and beverages cold. In lieu of cooling down the air, per se, the fridge actually uses a coolant to absorb the heat out of the interior of the appliance. The liquid coolant transforms into a gas as it picks up the heat. The gas gets pressurized by a compressor and then dissipates into the air via the coils on the back of the fridge before returning to its liquid state and starting the journey all over again. Simple maintenance tips for the fridge include cleaning the coils periodically, making sure that the freezer doesn’t get jammed with ice, and keeping enough goods inside the appliance to help maintain steady temperatures.

Kitchen Stove

Humans have been using stoves far longer than any other kitchen appliances, and while we don’t typically use wood for fuel anymore, the basic function has remained the same for hundreds of years – heat is applied to food to prepare a warm and delicious meal. Some stoves ignite natural gas to create a flame, while others use electricity to heat up the coils where you place your pots and pans. The oven follows the same principle, but warms up the air around your food instead of applying heat directly to the cookware. Make sure you keep your oven and stovetop clean to keep them working at maximum efficiency, prevent clogs in the fuel line and reduce the chances of a fire.

How Do My Appliances Work? | The Light Lab

Microwave Oven

Microwaves are a convenient, twentieth century upgrade to the classic kitchen stove. They aren’t as versatile as a good range-top and oven, but can heat up your food far more quickly, a real boon to busy families who don’t have a lot of time to spend preparing every meal. Believe it or not, microwaves work by producing waves very similar to those captured by your radio, just much smaller. Instead of transporting news and music over long distances, these waves bounce around the inside of the oven and heat up food quickly and evenly, inside and out. Take good care of your microwave by keeping it clean and avoiding the use of any non-microwave safe materials, especially metals.

Air Conditioner

It’s not easy enduring Texas summers without the chilling relief of an air conditioner. Your AC unit actually functions in a similar manner to the refrigerator, with a pressurized coolant drawing heat out of the air, but instead of just cooling down the inside of a box, it functions to keep the temperatures low in an entire room, or house, depending on if you have a window model or central air. All that heat is then dispersed outside so you can be comfortable indoors. Help improve the longevity of your air conditioner by keeping the outdoor section free of dirt and debris if you have access to it. If you have central air, you’ll want to replace the filter periodically to keep your air quality high and reduce strain on the blower.

Washing machine

Washing machines are a marvel, saving us hours and hours of time scouring our clothes by hand. Washers use a set of dual drums to work their magic, a bigger one that holds water, and a slightly smaller one inside where you put your clothes. Soapy water passes through the inner drum as it spins, carrying away the dirt and grime on the fabric, then another round of water is released to rinse the clothes. To maintain your washer in good working condition, follow the instructions to ensure you use the proper detergent and don’t overload the machine, and keep the interior clean and free of debris. If you have a front-loading washer, prop the door open when not in use to help moisture escape and prevent buildup of mildew or odors.

How Do My Appliances Work? | The Light Lab


Once you wash your clothes, you need to get rid of all that moisture before you can store them. Dryers work by using electricity or natural gas to heat up your garments, turning the water into vapor which is expelled from the house via the vent. The drum spins the clothes around to circulate air so all the clothes in the machine can experience its drying action. The most important piece of dryer maintenance you can perform is to clean the lint filter after every use, to keep air flowing freely and reduce the chances of a fire.

Hot Water Heater

If you live in an apartment you might never even see your hot water heater, but it performs the essential function of providing warm water for showers, laundry and washing the dishes. Water heaters can be powered by gas or electricity, but either way most essentially function in the same manner: water is stored in a tank and is heated by either flame or coil so it’s ready to go when you need it. Another type of hot water heater dispenses with the tank and just heats the water on-demand. If you rent an apartment with a shared water heater there’s little you can do yourself to maintain a water heater, but if you have access to yours it’s not a bad idea to keep an eye out for leaks so you can alert your landlord immediately if you spot a problem.

Finding Energy-Efficient Appliances

Not all home appliances are created equal. There are countless options to accommodate the needs of different consumers, with all manner of bells and whistles. One important point to consider, both in terms of your ecological footprint and how much money it will cost to run, is the energy efficiency of the device. Different appliances need varying amounts of water, electricity, gas and other inputs to do their jobs. One quick way to ensure you are using a more efficient device is to look for the Energy Star logo on the product that certifies that the equipment meets certain government-regulated standards, which in the long run could save you hundreds of dollars on utilities. When you’re checking out apartments, make sure you take a look at the efficiency of the appliances to prevent a nasty surprise when it’s time to pay the bills.

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