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Vacuum Bags, Belts and History: Advice from the Curator of the Vacuum Cleaner Museum

Tom Gasko was about eight years old and walking to school when he found his first vacuum. It was a GE Roll-Easy from 1956. He was immediately fascinated.

“It looked like a barrel,” Gasko recalls. “Somebody had thrown it away. My mom said ‘That thing probably has bugs in it.’ I thought it was very interesting.” Gasko took the vacuum apart and figured out how it worked. Friends and neighbors, hearing of his interest, began giving him their old vacuums. He followed his passion into a successful career in vacuum sales, repair and design, and ultimately to his current role as curator and manager of the Vacuum Cleaner Museum and Factory Outlet.

Gasko’s vacuum collection, which began with the GE model, has now grown to nearly 800 and includes nearly every model ever made. To him, the individuality of vacuums makes them stand out among home appliances.

“Every dryer you buy is a square box with a rotating drum,” he says. “The design is pretty much the same. Vacuum cleaners are completely unique. Then, you add on top of that the passion of the door-to-door sales. It’s passion that you have with no other appliance.”

Visitors to the Vacuum Cleaner museum can get a guided tour through Gasko’s collection, and he’ll share details about each model and note how their design reflected the events of the time.

He might point out the Atlas vacuum, released in 1957, whose design evokes the classic Chevy model of the same year.

He’ll show you models from the 1960s, the age of the race to the moon, Star Trek and Lost in Space. This Fairfax model, Gasko says, was designed to resemble Rosie, the robotic maid from “The Jetsons.”

1960sFairfax
The 1970s, the era of Saturday Night Fever can is reflected by this Kirby model. The rake on the front is designed to tackle the strands of that iconic relic of the time, shag carpet.

1976Kirby
It’s safe to say that Gasko is one of the world’s vacuum experts. That designation means he gets a lot of questions from consumers about which vacuum they should buy. There’s no easy answer, as it depends on the home’s flooring, carpet style and cleaning needs.

Vacuums are relatively easy to care for, but Gasko sees widespread misunderstanding among consumers who aren’t aware of the simple steps they can take to keep their vacuum…well, sucking.

“They don’t understand that the removing of the dirt from the machine and filters, and changing the bag, is the best thing they can do to lengthen the life of their machine,” Gasko says. Upright vacuums without bags are common models, he said, but their owners often neglect basic maintenance. “Just because it doesn’t have a bag doesn’t mean it doesn’t have filters,” Gasko says. “Most people don’t know where the filters are or how to clean it. They don’t realize there are one, or two, or in some cases, three filters.” If you don’t clean your vacuum filters, eventually, the suction will disappear. Gasko estimates that about half of the vacuums put out with the trash work just fine. But their owners have failed to clean the filters and believe the vacuum no longer works.

Most filters are washable, Gasko says. He recommends removing the filter every time you empty the canister. Simply rinse it off and allow it to dry for 24 hours before you put it back into the vacuum.

Another simple maintenance step you can take is to change the belt every two years. “I’d estimate 50 percent of vacuums in people’s closets have worn out belts. Everyone waits until it breaks.” Belts usually cost about two dollars, Gasko says. A worn belt means the vacuum’s rotating brush won’t turn at the correct speed, limiting its cleaning power.

Vacuum owners also tend to neglect the attachments that come with the cleaner, Gasko says. “If it’s an upright, it has an onboard hose attachment, an extension wand, a crevice tool, a dusting tool and a furniture tool.” A canister vacuum will have a power head and rotating brush. The attachments can greatly expand the vacuums ability to clean and allow it to tackle different surfaces, like mattresses and furniture. But they too often sit unused in the closet, the casualties of their owners’ reluctance to read an instruction manual, Gasko says.

If you’re in the market, Gasko firmly believes that cordless vacuums are the future of the industry. It’s a safe bet he already has some in his collection. But he’s still on the hunt for a Hoover Model O.  “They only made 239 of them,” he says. Do you have one? Let us know!

Smash through the heat dome with this air conditioning advice

Days of the oppressive heat dome have left people across the country feeling more than a little hot under the collar. Your air conditioner may be your best ally during a string of hot summer days, turning a stuffy space into an oasis from the heat. These tips apply to both portable and room air conditioners.

Don’t go too low: Your air conditioner doesn’t need to be set at a high level if nobody is going to be in the room for a while. Set it at 75-80 degrees if you’re going out. You’ll keep the room cooler and cut power consumption.

Keep it steady: While oppressive heat will make you want to crank up the AC, it’s inefficient to try to cool the room all at once by setting your AC to the maximum level. Start earlier in the day when the temperature outside is lower and allow the room to cool slowly.

Block out the sun: Give your AC unit some help by drawing the shades or blinds to keep the sun—and the heat—out of the room.

Clean equals cooler: Check your air filter twice a month and clean it when necessary. Excess dirt and debris can reduce the efficiency of your air conditioner. Filters can be cleaned with lukewarm water and mild dish detergent. Accessible parts can be carefully cleaned with a vacuum and brush attachment.

Stick with cooler activities: Make it easier for your AC unit to do its job, and avoid activities that heat up the house, like cooking or laundry, during the hottest hours.

Let nature do some of the work: Has the temperature outside dropped? Take advantage of the break in the heat, turn off your air conditioner and open the windows. Use the unit fan and portable fans to bring the cooler outside air inside.

If your air conditioner still doesn’t seem to be keeping the room cool, it’s possible that your AC unit may be too small for the size of the room. Grab a tape measure, paper and a calculator and use AHAM’s online room air conditioner worksheet to find out how powerful a unit you’ll need.

If you’re in the market for a new air conditioner, learn the differences between room and portable air conditioners.

Still sick of the heat? Autumn is less than eight weeks away. You’ll be dusting off your heater soon enough!

Universal design: How to select appliances

Universal design started as a concept aimed primarily at creating accessible, barrier-free homes for people with disabilities. But it has evolved into the concept of creating a comfortable, accessible space for all members of the household, and there are number of reasons why a homeowner may decide to pursue it during a remodel or renovation.

“Aging in place is a huge thing,” said Chris Salas, owner of Cocina Interior Design in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, and a Certified Master Kitchen and Bath Designer. “Multiple generations may be living in one home. You may have small children and older parents living under one roof and need flexibility in the spaces according to who’s using them. Resale is also a big factor. You aren’t ruling anybody out.”

Many appliances already incorporate universal design concepts and are easy for anyone to use, Salas said. But if you’re looking to build a kitchen that’s accessible to people of all sizes and physical abilities, there are certain features and elements you should consider when choosing your appliances. Salas, who has more than two decades of design experience, shared her insight on what homeowners who are pursuing a universal design concept should keep in mind.

Cooking

A traditional oven/range has limits to where and at what height it can be installed. Wall-mount ovens and microwaves can be mounted and placed at different heights according to the needs and abilities of the user, so they may be preferable. How the oven opens is also a factor. “Side-opening ovens are handy for everybody,” Salas said. Think about how all household members will reach the controls, not just those for cooking. For example, you may choose to put the fan control at counter level rather than at the rear of or above the range, or use a remote-operated fan. Many cooking appliances already have safety features in place that are appropriate for universal design concepts, Salas said. “A lot of cooktops and ranges have an indicator showing that the surface is still hot. Some even have a lock-out so you can’t turn on the cooktop without knowing how.”

Dishwashers

You’ll need adequate space and access to load and unload dishes as well as put them away. Salas has designed kitchens with all dish storage on the same side of the dishwasher door so those who are unloading the dishes don’t have to go around the open door. Dishwashers with single or double pull-out doors rather than a standard design may make opening, closing, loading and unloading easier.

Refrigerators

Consider the width of the door swing and whether all parts of the refrigerator are reachable. “It might be hard to get out of the way of a 36-inch door,” Salas said. “The smaller doors come in handy. The French door is probably the best invention for universal design.” Keep the height in mind as well. “The door swings may not be as big as a one-door model, but you might not be able to reach half the fridge because it’s tall.” Salas recommends testing appliances before you buy them. “Some fridges have a really good feel but may be difficult to open,” she said. “The bells and whistles might look or sound cool, but once you’re living with it, it might not add value. Get out and try these things to make sure they work.”

Outside the kitchen: Laundry

The height of the appliance relative to the user’s needs is also a factor in choosing and installing clothes washers and dryers, Salas said. “Keep flexibility in mind,” she said. “The washer and dryer can be on a pedestal. You can build them up onto your custom platform. It’s all about the user’s height. The front load is optimum for anybody to use.”

Stay cooking with these kitchen appliance safety tips

An excited mother and her happy children cooking a roast together in the kitchen

When used properly, home appliances have a proven and extensive track record of safety. Appliances are rigorously tested for safety long before they make it to retailers’ shelves. Many of the accidents that involve appliances are easily preventable.

John Drengenberg, consumer safety director for UL, has been involved in the appliance safety and testing business for more than 50 years, earning the informal title of “Mr. Safety.” He recently spoke with AHAM and shared some of the kitchen appliance safety knowledge he’s gained over more than a half century spent in and around appliance testing.

Don’t touch hot surfaces: Manufacturers design portable appliances to be carried and handled in a way to reduce the risk of injury. In the case of cooking appliances, handles and knobs are often designed to stay cooler than other parts of the appliance when the appliance is in use. “All crock pots come with two handles, and that’s the way you should carry it,” Drengenberg said. If a knob or handle breaks, contact the manufacturer for a replacement. Only the manufacturer’s parts will have been tested with that appliance, and improvising or using one intended for a different model could create a risk.

Unplug your appliances…: Any appliance, regardless of whether it’s turned on, poses the risk of electrical shock. Unplugging the appliance when it isn’t in use will drop that risk to nearly zero.

…but don’t let that cord hang: “Cords are a snagging hazard,” Drengenberg said. A child can be injured by a falling appliance or burned by cooking appliances like crockpots or deep fryers. Some models include breakaway connectors to reduce the chance that an appliance will fall if the cord is pulled.

Don’t toast your toaster: Toasters and other portable appliances shouldn’t be stored near ranges. The heat from the stove can melt or damage the outer surface of the appliance. That both damages the appliance and could create other hazards if the inner components are exposed, Drengenberg said.

Keep  plugged-in appliances away from the sink: Plugged-in appliances used near the sink might fall into the sink, creating an electric shock risk. “Now it’s turned on, in a sink full of water, in a metal sink,” Drengenberg said. “It’s a perfect storm.”

Treat blades as knives: Most food processors include interlocks to stop the blade from rotating when the appliance is taken apart for cleaning, Drengenberg said. But the blades on blenders and food processors are sharp and should be handled with care during cleaning. “When you’re washing the blender or blade, it’s a sharp cutting tool,” he said.

Set the proper microwave cooking time: Care for a potato or some popcorn? Cooking those two foods for too long is a common cause of fires in microwaves, Drengenberg said. When fires happen, it’s often because the user mistakenly put too much time on the microwave and forgot the food was cooking, he said. Manufacturers have installed sensors in many models to shut the oven off in case of fire. If there’s a fire in your microwave, turn it off and keep the door closed. Opening the door could make the fire worse.

Watch what’s cooking: Most of the more than 100 million ranges and cooktops in use in the U.S. are used safely. But unattended cooking remains a leading cause of household fires in the U.S. and the leading cause of cooking fires. Monitor what you’re cooking when your range or oven is in use. AHAM, appliance manufacturers and UL are working to reduce cooking fires through technical developments and consumer education.

Prevent range tipping: Never use the oven door for support or as a step. Check to see that an anti-tip device has been installed on your range.

Read your manual: The instruction manual for your appliance should include ways to reduce hazards. Appliance safety standards from UL contain a list of “important safeguards” that are to be included in instruction manuals, Drengenberg said.

Do you have a question about kitchen appliance safety? Ask us in the comment section, and we’ll get an answer from “Mr. Safety.”

Tips to keep your dryer running safely

 

Hand holding a clothes dryer lint filter that is covered with lint.
Hand holding a clothes dryer lint filter that is covered with lint.

When used and maintained properly, clothes dryers are extremely safe appliances. But accidents still happen. In 2010, nearly 15,500 fires occurred that involved clothes dryers, according to the National Fire Prevention Association. And the NFPA says that failure to clean the clothes dryer is the leading cause of fires involving dryers. When failure to clean a dryer was a cause, the fires led to $44 million in direct property damage.

Regular cleaning of your dryer both improves performance and reduces the risk of fires. There are four areas of your dryer that need regular cleaning: the lint filter, the interior and venting system, and the rear of the dryer. Here’s how to keep each clean:

  • Lint filter: This easily accessible and removable piece should be cleaned after each time you use the dryer. The lint can usually be removed by hand. The filter should also be periodically cleaned with a nylon brush and hot, soapy water to remove residue. Don’t use your dryer if the lint filter is blocked, damaged or missing. Contact your dryer’s manufacturer or a licensed service technician to ask about a replacement filter.
  • Interior and venting system: This is the venting material that leads from your dryer to your dryer vent, which typically is outside the home. The system should be cleaned once a year by a qualified service technician. It can become blocked if it isn’t cleaned regularly, leading to longer drying times. If you’re noticing clothes are taking longer to dry, it may be time for cleaning.
  • Behind the dryer: Lint can build up behind your dryer as well. Check the rear of your appliance regularly and remove any trapped lint.
  • Drum: Remove any lint that has collected in and around the drum.

Cleaning is important to prevent fires, but there’s more you can do to reduce your dryer fire risk. Keep these items out of your dryer:

  • Anything that has come into contact with flammable liquid: This includes materials that have been used to clean up gasoline, alcohol, solvents, cooking oil or other types of flammable material. Most can’t be completely removed in a wash cycle, meaning the flammable material remains in the fabric. Dry these items outdoors away from heat. Even if the item makes it through a drying cycle, a fire risk remains for hours afterward.
  • Foam, rubber, plastic or other heat-sensitive material: These materials aren’t made to withstand the heat of a dryer cycle. They should be line-dried. If you are using a dryer, use a no-heat cycle.
  • Glass fiber materials: Follow the manufacturer’s care instructions.

Proper installation can also reduce your risk. Are you installing a dryer or having one installed? Follow this advice from AHAM and UL:

  • Use rigid or semi-rigid sheet metal venting material. This will reduce airflow and reduce dryer times.
  • Use the shortest, straightest possible vent length, and use a louvered or box hood-style to cap your outside vent.
  • Check the air flow. You should be able to feel the air flowing out of the dryer vent to the outdoors when the dryer is on.
  • Regularly inspect the venting system behind the dryer. Replace any damaged or crushed pieces.

Get AHAM and UL’s pamphlet, “Helpful hints for using your clothes dryer safely and effectively.”

Do your part to prevent range-tipping

Ikea’s voluntary recall of tens of millions of chests and dressers in North America after a number of children were injured or killed as a result of tip-over accidents has thrust both the risk of tip-over accidents and the importance of prevention into the spotlight. The risk of tip-overs, while low, also exists for kitchen ranges. Typically, range-tipping accidents occur when a child climbs on to the open door of a range which has not been secured to the floor or wall by an anti-tip bracket and the child’s weight causes the range to tip over onto the child. This can cause death or serious injury from the weight of the range, plus burns and scalding injuries from hot food and liquids that fall from the cooktop.

According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, 70% of tip-over accidents involve televisions and furniture, 26% involve dressers and tables and 4% involve appliances. Tip-over accidents occur in most rooms in the home, but only 4% occur in kitchens. That’s compared to 45% in bedrooms, 24% in living rooms and 29% in other areas of the home.

Range-tipping is easily prevented, and taking right measures can reduce the risk to almost zero. Here’s what you can do to remove the risk of a range-tipping tragedy from your home:

  • Have an anti-tip device installed: S. safety organizations, including UL, require that manufacturers include an easily installable anti-tip device with every new range. The devices prevent tip-over accidents by securing ranges to the floor or wall. All AHAM members that manufacture ranges adhere to the safety and stability requirements. The devices anchor the range so that it will not tip over. Manufacturers also require that anti-tip devices be included as part of installation. Check with your installer to make sure this is being done. Contact your range manufacturer, appliance dealer or an authorized service agent if you aren’t sure whether anti-tip device was installed or if you think you need a replacement anti-tip device.
  • Keep the door closed: Keep the range door closed when the appliance isn’t in use.
  • Talk to your children: Educate your children on the proper, safe use of the range. Tell them that the open door should never be used as a step.
  • Keep the weight off: Never use the door of the range as a step or to support other objects, such heavy pans that may be inside the oven cooking.
  • Check your range for an anti-tip device: If you don’t know whether an anti-tip device has been installed on your range, it’s easy to find out. Take a look under the range to see if it’s anchored to the floor, or pull gently on the back of the range to see if you’re able to pull it off the floor. If you aren’t, it’s likely that an anti-tip device is installed.

Appliance manufacturers include the installation of range-tipping devices in their instruction manuals. But ultimately, it is the responsibility of the consumer and the professionals who install the ranges to make sure the anti-tip devices are installed.

AHAM has been a leading voice for the prevention of range-tipping accidents. Its extensive public education campaign led to manufacturers including information on preventing range tipping in their manuals. AHAM has also worked to educate building inspectors and code officials, federal housing officials, building managers, landlords and insurance companies.

Get AHAM’s brochure on how to protect against range tipping.

The Facts on PACs and RACs: Should you choose a portable or room air conditioner?

Should you buy a portable air conditioner (PAC) or a room air conditioner (RAC)? Both will keep you cool, but it’s important to understand the differences so you can choose which will best help you keep your home comfortable.

Here are five points to consider when deciding whether to buy a PAC or RAC:

How much space do you have available? This goes for window and floor space. If you’re considering a RAC, measure your window to see if it’s large enough to accommodate the unit and can handle the unit’s weight. If you’re considering a portable air conditioner, check the unit’s dimensions to see if you have enough floor space available.

Does your neighborhood allow window units? Many neighborhoods and condominiums don’t allow residents to install window units because of aesthetic or security concerns. If you live in an area governed by homeowner or condominium association, check the rules in advance before you purchase a window unit.

Where are you trying to cool? While both RACs and PACs are often used to supplement a primary air conditioning system, RACs will likely remain installed in the same place for longer. Many who use portable units move them from room to room depending on their cooling needs.

How’s your view? While both portable and room air conditioners require windows for installation, RACs tend to block more of the view than PACs and can’t be moved as easily.

How much power do you need? Regardless of whether you choose a RAC or PAC, you’ll need a model that’s powerful enough to cool the room. Use this calculator to determine how many BTUs you’ll need based on the square footage of the area you’re trying to cool.

If you’ve decided on a room air conditioner, look for one with the AHAM Verifide® label to give you the peace of mind that it will meet its claimed cooling capacity. AHAM doesn’t conduct verification on portable air conditioners.

Cooking in your dishwasher: A bad idea

Pretty, young woman in her modern and well equiped kitchen putting cups into the dishwasher - an appliance that helps her keep the home tidy

A number of cooking and lifestyle blogs have reported on the novelty of using a dishwasher to cook food. Recipes might include salmon, eggs, chicken and other foods. It’s a unique concept that most people probably haven’t considered. It’s also a bad idea, and appliance manufacturers don’t recommend it.

Many of the articles tout the alleged energy savings, ease of cleanup and unique cooking approach as reasons to try dishwasher cooking. But there has been little said about the risks, and there are many, including:

Harmful bacteria: Would you like a side of E. coli or salmonella bacteria with your dishwasher-cooked meal? Probably not. But that’s what you might end up with. Many factors, including water supply, determine how hot it gets in a dishwasher during a cycle. That means it may not reach the 140-degree minimum cooking temperature the U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends to kill potentially harmful microorganisms. You could end up giving harmful bacteria an environment they can thrive in, as they tend to multiply at temperatures between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit.

Contamination: Regardless of how food is sealed, even a tiny opening will allow spray from the dishwasher and possibly detergent to reach the food. Like dishes, food can move during a cycle, and that movement may cause punctures or tears in water-tight wrapping.

Fire: Food could become dislodged during the wash cycle and end up on the dishwasher’s heating element, potentially causing a fire.

It’s a waste of energy: While dishwashers have reduced their water use more than 41 percent since 2005, they still require about five gallons of water per cycle to effectively clean dishes.

Appliances are designed to perform specific tasks quickly and efficiently. So, take the advice of the people who make the dishwashers, and leave the cooking to ranges and ovens.

How do manufacturers measure your oven’s baking ability? It’s a piece of cake.

 

Homemade cake "Red Velvet" decorated with cream.

Your oven’s baking ability has already been tested long before it makes it to your kitchen. Appliance manufacturers put ranges and ovens through a rigorous series of tests to make sure they’re capable of churning out a steady stream of treats for you and your family.

AHAM’s ER-1 standard for household electric ranges offers a specific recipe that manufacturers use to test their baking/browning performance.
• 1 cup (185 g) hydrogenated vegetable oil shortening
• 2 teaspoons (10 cc) vanilla extract
• 2 cups (400 g) granulated sugar
• 4 eggs (192 g) (Note: Mix 4 eggs, but use only 192 g)
• 1 ½ cups (352 cc) whole milk
• 4 ½ cups (425 g) sifted soft wheat cake flour
• 4 ½ teaspoons (16 g) double-acting baking powder
• 1 teaspoon (5 g) salt

After providing a detailed mixing process, AHAM’s standard instructs testers to place four, 22 gauge aluminum 8 inch (200 mm) round cake pans, 7 5/8 inches (190 mm) in diameter (bottom) by 1 1/2 inches (40 mm) deep, each containing 0.8 lb. (363 g) of cake batter, in an oven which has been pre‐heated to 375 degrees. The cake pans’ surfaces should not be discolored to affect performance.

After 25 to 30 minutes of baking and 10 minutes of standing, and cooling to room temperature on a cake rack, the cake is judged not on the taste, but on the consistency of color across on the top and bottom of the cake.

A consistent and effective baking performance has a major impact on how your foods taste and look. Uniform heat distribution, which is measured as part of the standard, plays a critical role in your baking success.

While AHAM’s recipe may not result in the fanciest, or tastiest cake, it provides product testers with consistency in the testing process. And consistency, as any baker knows, can make or break a recipe.

11 tips for buying the right major appliance

Man Looking inside the washing machine

Are you getting ready to buy a major appliance, like a refrigerator, washer, dryer, oven, dishwasher or room air conditioner? It’s a big decision that likely will play a role in your day-to-day life and routine for years to come. It’s essential that you do the necessary research to find the appliance you need. Here are 11 tips to make sure your next major appliance fits the bill:

• Get the specs. Ask your dealer for specification sheets from several manufacturers who build the type of appliance or appliances you plan to purchase. Compare available features, designs and capacities.

• Know what you need, and what you might need later. Decide which features you will really use, and what you might need down the line. Some appliances may include the options of adding features later, like installing an icemaker in a refrigerator.

• What’s your price range? Compare prices in relation to what the appliance offers, which will vary by model. Price tends to increase as features are added.

• Decide on the size. How much clothing needs to fit in your new washer? Will the refrigerator hold enough food? Is the room air conditioner powerful enough to cool the room? Know what size and strength you’ll need so you can select a model with sufficient capacity.

• Consider the care. Ask your dealer for the appliance’s use and care manual and read it carefully before you buy the appliance. The manuals for the floor models should be available. Reading the manual will give you a better idea of how the appliance tell you about any special care it needs.

• Will it fit? Check the space available for the appliance to make sure your new appliance will fit, and make sure halls and doorways allow clearance for entry and installation.

• How is it getting there? Ask the dealer about the cost of delivery and installation. Are they included in the price?

• Find the fix. Make sure authorized factory service is available in your area for the brand you select.

• How does it fit your routine? Check the product’s design carefully to make sure it meets your needs and accommodates your habits and favorite cookware.

• Check the power. Avoid overloaded circuits by making sure your house has adequate electrical service for the appliance. Check for adequately grounded, three-hole receptacles.

• Do a little light reading. Read the warranty before finalizing your decision. Does the warranty cover the entire product? Only certain parts? Is labor included? How long does the warranty last?

The number of options you’ll have may seem overwhelming, but following these tips will help you find the appliance you need. Good luck in your search!