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Robotic Evolution: New features enhance autonomous floor care

Are you looking to outsource some of your floor care duties to a robot? You aren’t alone. These autonomous appliances are rolling into the floor care plan of more and more homes. Sales of robotic vacuums are expected to go from $1.49 billion in 2016 to more than $2.4 billion by the end of 2021.

If you are looking to turn a robotic vacuum loose in your home, you’ll have many choices, and manufacturers are constantly adding new features to their models. Some of the features aim to help the robot find its way around your home. Others improve interactivity, safety or your ability to control the robot. All of the features, however, work together toward the goal of more thorough cleaning.

Features will vary depending on the price and manufacturer. Here’s a sampling of some of the newer tools being incorporated into robotic vacuums:

Advanced navigation: Many of today’s models have the ability to map a home and remember how to get around objects and stay out of tough spots. You can also program the robots to vacuum specific areas of the home. If you happen to get in the way, some models can tell you are human and will ask you—politely, no doubt—to move out of the way so they can continue to work.

Mopping ability: Robots are evolving into floor care multitaskers. In addition to vacuuming, some models now have the ability to mop, both wet and dry.

Voice control: Robotic vacuums can now respond to voice commands, either directly or through an outside system like Amazon Alexa.

Remote operation: Start, stop or control your robotic vacuum with your mobile device.

Cameras: Cameras have been incorporated into some models to help the robot map the room and allow you to get a robot’s eye view of cleaning and keep an eye on your house while you’re away. Some allow you to take photos and/or videos.

Fall prevention: Even with all of the new features and technological advances, robotic vacuums still have not gained the ability to climb stairs. Many models, however, now utilize sensors to prevent themselves from taking a tumble down the stairs or off a higher level.

Robotic vacuums have earned their place as a floor-care fixture, and the innovations will continue. What other appliance do you think could benefit from robotic features? (Are refrigerators next?)

Vacuum features, settings and technique: Expert advice

Vacuums are one of your go-to appliances as you strive to keep your home clear of dirt, dust, pet hair and allergens. There’s a good chance vacuuming is part of your daily or weekly routine. A 2013 global survey by AHAM member Electrolux found that 33% of respondents vacuumed 2-5 times per week, 13% vacuumed daily and 3% more than once a day.

How you vacuum, not just how much you vacuum, is an important factor as you strive to conquer household dust. The various settings and features incorporated into many vacuum models, combined with the proper technique, will help you maximize your vacuum’s ability to keep your home free from dust and dirt.

Features

The features vacuums offer vary, but adjustable height, “full-bag” sensors and variable motor speed are common. All of them affect your vacuum’s performance.

Adjustable height: Many models allow you to adjust the height of the vacuum as you clean different surfaces. But vacuum owners often don’t realize that a lower height setting doesn’t necessarily mean a deeper clean. “If it’s too low, it won’t clean properly,” says vacuum guru Tom Gasko, curator of the Vacuum Cleaner Museum in St. James, Missouri. So how do you know which height is right? “Recline the handle and start the vacuum in its highest position,” Gasko says. “Turn it one notch down until you hear the change in sound—it will become a deeper, throatier sound.” That sound means the brush is sweeping correctly. The team at BISSELL, an AHAM member, recommends a higher setting for thicker, plush carpets, and a lower height for low-pile carpet or bare floor.

Speed settings: Another common assumption is that high speed equals better cleaning. The appropriate speed depends on the surface you’re vacuuming. “If you’re cleaning an area rug, the high speed tends to bunch it under a nozzle,” Gasko says. “The lower speeds work better. Let’s say you have a woolen area rug. Don’t use high speed. You’ll drag the carpet and it will destroy the nap of the rug. Your draperies don’t need near the suction of the shag rug. On your sofa, it can tear the fabric.”

 

“Empty bag” indicator: A “full bag” indicator is great for telling you when it’s time to change the bag. “If that [indicator] window is three-quarters of the way full, that bag is three-quarters of the way through. If you’re vacuuming three rooms and you have a shedding dog, you might want to change the bag.” Bissell recommends emptying bagless vacuums frequently so they don’t overfill. This leads to fewer clogs and better performance. And check your brush, too: hair on the brush roll can decrease its effectiveness and cause stress on the vacuum’s belt. Clean the brush regularly for the best performance.

Attachments: Many vacuums come with a variety of attachments. Some of the more common are crevice tools, turbo brushes, extension wands and dusting brushes. “Use crevice tools and turbo brushes to vacuum upholstery and get in between cushions on the couch,” the BISSELL team says. “Use extension wands to reach dust on ceiling fans, cobwebs in high corners, etc. Dusting brushes can be used to reach around books and items on shelves. Gentle bristles won’t scratch delicate wood surfaces.”

Technique

When you vacuum, do pull back harder than you push? Many people naturally do. They’re unknowingly leaving dirt on the floor. Why?

“Vacuums are designed to be pushed at a specific speed,” Gasko says. “They’re to be propelled forward at 12 inches per second, backwards at six inches per second. Your backward pull has to be slower than your forward push.” Brushes on vacuums rotate forward, from the back to the front. “If you pull it back at half the speed, the brush has time to groom the carpet and sweep all the dirt out of the carpet because you’re going against the direction the brush turns.”

If your vacuum includes swivel, use it to reach those tight areas and corners, BISSELL recommends.

If you’re using a stick vacuum on a bare floor, it’s also a good idea to slow down and give your vacuum enough time to remove the dirt. “People think they can get through their kitchen in less than a minute,” Gasko says. “A bare floor doesn’t mean you can push the vacuum faster.” BISSELL recommends turning off the brush roll when vacuuming hard floors so that debris don’t scatter and brushes don’t damage delicate floors.

How you push the vacuum also matters. You may be using too much arm.

“People will stand and make star-shaped patterns with their arm,” Gasko says. “You’re supposed to hold the vacuum in your hand with your arm not bent.” He recommends walking forward at about 12 inches per second and backing up at half that speed for maximum dirt removal. “Make two passes, one forward and back, at the proper speed. Using your shoulder and elbow is inefficient, and your carpet will be cleaner.” Don’t go too fast, and be methodical in your pace when cleaning high-traffic areas of the home, BISSELL recommends.

Do you use a canister vacuum? If you tend to pull on the hose to get the canister to follow you around the room, there may be a better way. Proper technique involves wrapping the hose around the small of your back and holding it in your left hand. This will allow you to move the canister without pulling on the full length of the hose, Gasko says.

Are you cleaning drapes, furniture, shelves and other higher-up areas? BISSELL suggests cleaning those first, before you vacuum the floor. That way, if dust drifts from the higher spots, you’ll only have to vacuum the floor once.

Keep laundry detergent packets out of sight and out of reach

What’s your preferred laundry detergent? Are you one of the many who choose the convenience of laundry detergent packets over the more traditional powder or liquid? If so, it’s important to store them out of the reach of children.

The danger is that children may come across the brightly colored pods or packets and mistake them for a food or toy. Detergent inside the packets is highly concentrated, and serious injury or death can result if children swallow or come into contact with the detergent inside.

The best way to prevent incidents is to store packets out of sight and out of reach. But many who use packets don’t: According to the American Cleaning Institute (ACI), which is running the Packets Up! campaign to encourage proper storage of laundry detergent packets, 43% of families with children under four report that their children can see laundry packets when laundry isn’t being done. In addition, 19% of families with children under four reported that they store liquid laundry packets on an open shelf.

Preventing accidents is a simple as keeping the laundry detergent packets out of sight and high enough so they’re out of reach of young children, ACI says. Avoid storing packets on top of the washing machine or counter, and never let children play with packets.

ACI’s research also found that 15% of the families surveyed let their children take part in putting the liquid laundry packets into the washing machine. Children should never handle or hold laundry packets. But that doesn’t mean children can’t help out with laundry. Keep their involvement to more kid-friendly chores, like sorting colors or folding and pairing clothes.

Learn more about ACI’s Packets Up! campaign, including how you can get a laundry cling to remind you to safely store detergent.

Safety, security, warranty: Why it’s important to have your appliances repaired by authorized providers

Every day, you rely on your appliances to keep yourself and your family safe, clean, fed and comfortable. It’s a disruption when one of them suddenly stops working. When a refrigerator breaks down, it can mean spoiled or unsafe food. A heater or air conditioner that malfunctions means you can be left to suffer through extreme heat or cold. Laundry appliances breaking down mean the clothes start to pile up. The scenarios are at best inconvenient, and at worst put your health or safety at risk.
Regardless of what went wrong, you probably want to have your appliance repaired as quickly as possible. You may call around to a few repair shops to compare prices, availability and expertise. Most will have staff that can repair a refrigerator, clothes washer, range or other appliances. But you also need to make sure they’ve gone through the necessary training to get the job done.

Does it really matter who fixes my appliance?

It does. Authorized service providers have been trained by the appliance manufacturer to service your appliance. This means they have access to both the knowledge and the necessary parts, technical information and, in some cases, software that’s specific to your appliance. Your choice of service providers can have major implications for your appliance’s safety, security and warranty.

Safety: Authorized service providers are required to make repairs with parts and equipment that have been tested and meet specific safety and reliability requirements. Service providers that are not authorized may use substitutes that don’t meet the same rigorous requirements. That, combined with the fact that the service provider may not have proper training on installation, can create safety risks.

Security: Manufacturers, through the development of smart and connected appliances, are bringing consumers to new levels of comfort and convenience. However, as with any connected device, they’re also requiring consumers to pay careful attention to their electronic security. Servicing smart and connected appliances requires special training and access to information that manufacturers make available to authorized providers only. Anyone servicing a smart or connected appliance could potentially have a gateway to the appliance owner’s electronic network. It’s critical that this work be left to authorized providers, who will take the measures necessary to limit exposure.

Warranty: If you still aren’t convinced of the importance of using authorized repair providers, here’s another reason: If you allow an unauthorized repair provider to work on your appliance, or if you attempt to make the repair yourself, you could void your appliance’s warranty. That means that the cost of any future repairs that might have been covered under your warranty will now be your responsibility.

Your appliance’s use and care manual or manufacturer’s website will likely provide information on how you can locate an authorized service provider. In the long run, authorized repairs will likely save you time, increase your peace of mind, and help keep your appliances in top shape.

On the Juice: What to consider before you buy a juicer

A juicer is sometimes the go-to appliance for people who are looking to add more fruits and vegetables to their diet. A quick search will turn up the websites of countless devotees who swear by juicing and credit it for dramatic health turnarounds.

If you are ready to jump into the world of juicing, there are countless models available across a broad price range. They might have different capacity, attachments or speeds. In general, juicers fall into one of three categories depending on the manner in which they extract juice from the fruits and vegetables. centrifugal, masticating and triturating.

While all three types are more than capable of filling your glass, they have different ways of getting there. Here’s a look at some of the pros and cons of each.

Centrifugal 

Pros: They’re easy to use and extract juice quickly. “Less than a minute in most cases,” says Garrick Dee, who runs the juicer review and recipe website Juicing With G. They also don’t require as much prep work, but Garrick recommends looking for one with a wide mouth to accommodate more produce.

Cons: Centrifugal juicers tend to be louder and, in Garrick’s opinion, don’t do as good of a job extracting juice from leafy greens.

Masticating

Pros: Masticating juicers do a good job on leafy greens, are quieter and produce a better yield than centrifugal juicers, Garrick says.

Cons: Juicing with a masticating juicer requires more prep time and takes longer, Garrick says. They also tend to cost more than centrifugal juicers.

Triturating

Pros: Triturating juicers, Garrick says, yield more juice from both fruits and vegetables because of an adjustable cap that controls back pressure. “They’re another great tool for leafy greens.”

Cons: They often are the most expensive option, and they take up a lot of space. They may require some hands-on assembly. “The twin gears have to be assembled in a specific order, so there is a learning curve involved,” Garrick says. And, more parts means more cleaning is involved.

What to consider when shopping

There are three broad questions you should consider when you’re looking for a juicer:

  1. How often will you use the machine?
  2. What type of produce are you juicing?
  3. How much are you willing to spend?

“If you’re juicing lots of leafy greens, you can go with a horizontal auger juicer,” Garrick says. “It won’t clog up like a vertical auger juicer. The pulp ejection port of a horizontal juicer is straight, so there’s very little risk of clogging, while a vertical juicer has an L-shaped port that can clog if you don’t chop fibrous greens like celery.” However, a vertical juicer might work well for you if you’re juicing more fruits, or an equal amount of fruits and vegetables, Garrick says.

Care 

Like any appliance, juicers need regular cleaning and care. “Make sure to wash it immediately after using it,” Garrick says. You might be able to put some parts in the dishwasher, but others may have to be washed by hand. Consult your juicer’s use and care manual for specific cleaning instructions.

Safety 

Dee suggests you look for a juicer with these safety features:

  • Locking arms: “Look for something with a locking arm that locks the blade, bowl and cover in place and will prevent the motor from starting when it isn’t locked,” Garrick says.
  • Overload protection: Some juicers include features that shut off the motor if there’s an overload.
  • Food pusher: “Make sure the juicer has a food pusher that pushes ingredients through the feed chute down to the blade or auger,” Garrick says. “The last thing you want is dangling your fingers in those areas.” 

Other routes to juice

Juicing has countless advocates who swear by its health benefits, and it is one way to add more fruits and vegetables to your diet. Other appliances can help put you on the road to healthier eating, too.

How do you like your toast? Take our one-question personality quiz.

 

You probably have a go-to setting for your toaster, and anything lighter or darker can have a deep and lasting impact on the quality of your breakfast.

You probably haven’t given much thought to how appliance manufacturers make sure that toasters toast at the proper level. This guide—developed by AHAM and still used by appliance manufacturers as part of AHAM’s T-1 performance standard for toasters—shows just how toasted your toast should be, depending on where you set your toaster. It’s how manufacturers make sure your toast will turn out looking like “5” if you set the toaster to that level.

We bet you also didn’t realize that how you take your toast is a window into your personality. Take our one-question personality quiz to find out what your preferred level of toast says about you.

Of course, there’s no science behind these traits. But there’s plenty that goes into the development of T-1 and the numerous standards that appliance manufacturers use to develop and design all home appliances so they’re safe, efficient and functional.

Now, back to the most important question you will answer today: How do you like your toast?

Vacuum away indoor and outdoor allergens

Autumn leaves

Allergies tend to grab our attention when the seasons change and symptoms rear their ugly heads. In the fall, tree pollen tends to get the blame for our respiratory misery. Other common allergens like dust mites can cause trouble all year long. Regardless of whether your allergy symptoms are seasonal, regular and proper vacuuming should be part of your allergy prevention strategy.

We have one piece of advice allergy sufferers might love: If possible, somebody who doesn’t have allergies should do the vacuuming. But these tips will help cut down on the amount of allergens in your home no matter who is behind the vacuum.

Use an effective filter: HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filters remove more than 99 percent of allergens with particles larger than .3 microns. They can be helpful in removing common allergens like dust mites and pollen. Micro-lined, two-ply vacuum cleaner bags will help prevent those dust particles from blowing back into the air.

Vacuum more than just the floor: Vacuum upholstered furniture, mattresses and drapes regularly. All can harbor allergens.

Don’t forget about the hard surfaces: Use a stick vacuum to remove pollen and dust mites that might have settled onto hard, non-carpeted surfaces.

Other appliances can help, too: Pollen comes out in the wash, and washing your clothes in hot water can remove dust mites. Your dehumidifier, air conditioner and room air cleaner can also help you get the upper hand on both outdoor and indoor allergens.

Essential appliances to dry out your home after a flood

Cleaning up your home after a flood can quickly become overwhelming. In addition to property damage, flooding increases the possibility of mold and mildew and can bring other contaminants into the home. You can speed up the drying process by lowering the humidity with dehumidifiers, fans and room air conditioners.

Hurricane Harvey Impacts

Note: Only use appliances that have not been damaged by flood waters. Appliances may look normal after a flood, but using any that have been immersed in water creates the risk for electric shock and fire.

The American Red Cross offers these tips to reduce humidity in your home during flood recovery:

  • Use a dehumidifier: Dehumidifiers remove excess moisture from the air. Position it in a dry area of the house at least six inches from any wall. Make sure the dehumidifier is protected by a ground-fault circuit interrupter and avoid using extension cords, as spilled water creates a shock hazard. Set the humidistat to extra dry to remove moisture from room furnishings.
  • Open the house: Open windows when weather permits, if there’s lower humidity outside than inside.
  • Turn on the AC: A room air conditioner can help reduce humidity in the home. Avoid using central air conditioning. If systems are contaminated by dirt, silt or other materials, they’ll spread it around your home.
  • Use fans: Fans will help move humid air outside your home.

Storm preparation: How to keep frozen and refrigerated food safe

If you’re preparing for a major storm like Hurricane Irma, stocking up on enough food and water should be part of your plan. And it’s also essential to have a plan to keep your food safe to eat during and in the wake of the storm, especially if you lose power.

Eating food that hasn’t been stored properly can lead to a number of foodborne illnesses. Those can be serious under normal circumstances, but the potential lack of access to medical care during a severe storm makes avoiding illness even more important. Additionally, many foodborne illnesses can cause vomiting and diarrhea, which can lead to dehydration. The condition can quickly become life threatening if you don’t have access to sufficient water.

Hurricane season lasts into November, and winter storms blow in soon after. Be prepared to keep your food safe during any serious storm with these important safety tips from the Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

  • Use a thermometer: Monitor the temperatures in your refrigerator and freezer. Refrigerators should be kept at between 34 and 40 degrees Fahrenheit, freezers at 0 degrees Fahrenheit. If the temperature in the freezer is 40 degrees Fahrenheit or lower, the food is safe to eat or refreeze. Any perishable foods that have been refrigerated and kept at temperatures above 40 degrees Fahrenheit for more than two hours should be thrown away. Hint: Look for a thermometer that sends the temperature directly to your mobile device or can be monitored remotely. Otherwise, don’t open the door to check the temperature until the power is back on.
  • Make and store ice: If your freezer can make ice, make as much as you can starting days before the storm is set to arrive. You can use the ice to help keep the food cool if you lose power, or use it in a cooler. You may also freeze containers of water. The ice will help keep food in the freezer cold, and you may also drink the water when it melts if your water supply is cut off. Tip: Buy dry or block ice to keep the refrigerator cold for extended periods. Fifty pounds of dry ice keeps an 18-cubic-foot, fully stocked freezer cold for two days, according to FDA.
  • Move food to the freezer: Leftovers, milk, fresh meat and other foods that can be frozen should be moved from the refrigerator to the freezer. They’ll last longer if the power goes out.
  • Keep coolers handy (and the ice to fill them): Food will stay safe in refrigerators for about four hours after a power outage. Move them to ice-filled coolers if the power is off or is expected to be off for longer.
  • Keep refrigerator and freezer doors closed: Only open them when necessary when a power outage is a possibility, even if you haven’t lost power. This will help keep the temperatures in both down.
  • Keep the freezer full: A full freezer will keep food frozen for about 48 hours if it isn’t opened. That time is cut in half, to 24 hours, if the freezer is only half-full.

What to keep, what to toss

The CDC offers these tips to help you decide what is safe to eat and what should be discarded:

  • Any food that has come into contact with flood or storm water should be thrown away. This includes containers with screw caps, snap lids, crimped caps,twist caps, flip tops, snap-open, and home canned foods.
  • Throw away any food that has an unusual odor, color or texture.
  • Thawed food that still contains ice crystals may be eaten or refrozen.
  • Throw away any canned foods that are bulging, opened or damaged. Cans that have come into contact with flood or storm water should be washed in a solution of 1 cup bleach and 5 gallons of water.
  • Never use potentially contaminated water to wash dishes, brush your teeth, wash your hands, wash or prepare food or prepare baby formula.

Never rely on a food’s smell or taste to determine whether it’s safe to eat. When in doubt, throw it out.

Expert Dishwasher Tips to Make Your Dishes Shine

 

Over their more than 130-year history, dishwashers have radically altered the post-meal ritual of “doing the dishes.” Besides taking most of the work out of scrubbing and drying, dishwashers use far less water than it takes to do the work by hand. They also sanitize dishes and can even rinse away food allergens.

Loading and unloading the dishwasher is part of the kitchen routine, and many dishwasher users habitually select the same cycles and settings every time they wash the dishes. That’s okay if you generally wash the same number of dishes that require the same level of cleaning. But if your needs change—say you need to wash pots instead of dishes, or you’re cleaning up after a particularly messy meal—taking advantage of different cycles can help save you time, effort and energy. Your dishwasher can most likely handle most food-related messes — they’re tested to deal with the worst.

Navigating the seemingly endless options of dishwasher models and features can be daunting, and it helps to have a guide. We reached out to Carolyn Forte, Good Housekeeping’s director of home appliances, cleaning products and textiles and a longtime friend of AHAM, who has worked with hundreds of dishwashers over the course of her career.

Cycles

Most dishwashers come with a variety of cycles to allow you to adjust the level of wash depending on what you’re washing, and how much cleaning is needed.

  • Rinse: Appropriate for very light cleaning jobs
  • Quick: These may range from a half hour to about an hour, Forte says. They’re made to tackle lighter cleaning jobs.
  • Normal: For your day-to-day, average dish needs
  • Pots and pans: For larger, perhaps more heavily soiled cookware

On many models, you’ll also find specialized cycles, like anti-bacterial, sani-rinse and others.

Choosing the right cycle

Your use and care manual will offer a description of the capabilities of each cycle. “If you have lightly soiled dishes, normal or quick wash should be fine,” Forte says. “If you have stuff that’s baked or dried on or it’s after a normal meal, you should do an auto cycle. If you have really baked-on stuff or cookware, go for the pots and pans cycle. Know what you’re putting in and use the features to get the best clean.”

Racks

While you’ll still find plenty of models with two racks, some manufacturers have added third racks to handle certain types of dishes and flatware. “One area dishwashers have distinguished themselves is racks,” Forte says. “You’ll find folding racks, clips to hold plastic lids, special jets for water bottles. If you do wash those, they’re also very helpful.”

Smart and connected features

Like many other appliances, dishwashers are steadily incorporating smart and connected features that offer functions like remote operability and repair diagnosis. Forte has worked with models that allow users to start or stop the dishwasher with their mobile device, and others that report when something in they cycle has gone wrong, like a blocked spray arm. Some models offer leak alerts and may even shut off when a leak is detected. Voice controls are also arriving. “Were seeing dishwashers that are Alexa-enabled,” Forte says. “You can start and stop it remotely.”

Get the best wash

Now that you know about dishwasher features, it’s time to talk technique. How can you minimize the dishwasher headaches like dishes that don’t quite get clean, cups that flip over and collect water, and dishes being knocked around during the cycle? How you load the dishes matters. “Some people are meticulous, some don’t care,” Forte says. “You have to load it right. If the water can’t reach it, it won’t get clean. Look at what the manual recommends. Make sure nothing is blocking anything else.”

  • Pots and pans should go on the bottom, upside down, Forte says. “Make sure they aren’t blocking each other.
  • Bowls can go on the bottom or top.
  • Glasses should go on the top rack. “Rest them against the tines, don’t put them over the tines,” Forte says. “It can put spots on the glasses or stress the glass.”
  • Spoons should be placed alternately up and down in the flatware basket. If you have a grid over the basked, they can all be placed with the handles facing down.

More dishwashing tips

“Make sure you use enough detergent, but not more than you need,” Forte says. “If you have hard water, you might need more detergent.” And you might not have realized that your dishwasher needs to be cleaned once in a while, too. Clean the filter regularly to dislodge any food waste. Look for detergent specially made to clean dishwashers, and follow the instructions in your use and care manual.