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Designing your laundry room? Here’s how to choose your appliances

simple laundry room with tile floor and appliances.
Laundry rooms are often multipurpose rooms that are used for storage and pet care in addition to washing and drying. But they’re typically designed around appliances, and appliances are what you should consider first during a laundry room design or remodel.

“Appliances are always the starting point, whether you’re designing the laundry room, a kitchen or outdoor cooking area,” says Charleston, S.C.-based designer Margaret Donaldson of Margaret Donaldson Interiors. “I always ask clients to determine which appliances they want first, because the cabinetry has to be built around that.”

Obviously, the most important appliances in a laundry area are the washer and dryer, but some thought should also be given to other laundry-care appliances, like garment steamers and iron. The design might include a fold-down ironing board or cabinet for a steamer. Here’s what else you should think about during the design phase:

  • Top-load or front-load? Both front- and top-load washers have their merits, though Donaldson says many of her clients are choosing top-load appliances. That fits with AHAM’s factory shipment data, which shows that top-load washers made up 76% of units shipped in 2015 and have been growing as a percentage of shipments since 2009. “The reason the front-loader came out was you could have a continuous counter going across,” Donaldson said. Sometimes, the choice comes down to the ease of loading and unloading. “Some people say they don’t want to bend down. The age of the person matters. Where are you in your lives? Designing for ease of access is a consideration for many who choose to pursue a universal design concept during a remodel. If extra counter space is important and you don’t mind bending over to load and unload your laundry, consider front-load models.
  • Agitator or not? You’ll also need to think about whether you want an agitator with your new washer. More of Donaldson’s clients are choosing to go without. Washers without agitators are also growing as a percentage of units shipped. Fifty-two percent of units shipped between January and July of 2016 had no agitator, up from 47 percent last year.
  • Colors: “What’s really hot right now is a platinum color,” Donaldson says. “I’m seeing it as a go-to color, either platinum or white.” Looking for something a little flashier? Some are going for red, though choosing a more exotic color could limit your options, Donaldson says. “Only certain brands offer fun colors like that.”
  • After washing and drying: Think about where you’ll store your other laundry-care appliances. Will you need to work in a cabinet for your steamer? Should you build the ironing board into the design? “A lot of people steam their clothing instead of ironing,” Donaldson says. “If they’re steaming, the steamers are usually on wheels. It doesn’t usually go into a cabinet, because you’re lifting up and down. You need to have a space in your laundry room that it rolls into, or a closet you can roll it in and out of. Typically, it’s a tall cabinet in the laundry room, not a closet. A closet is more expensive.” Other cleaning supplies, like vacuums, are often stored in a laundry room cabinet, Donaldson says.
  • Soaked: If your design didn’t include a laundry sink, you may want to consider a model with a sink already built in.

Designers: What trends are you seeing in laundry room spaces?  How has this space changed over the past 10 years? Tell us about your laundry redesign experiences!

No “nukes”: How to use your microwave oven for real cooking

Using microwave oven
Microwave ovens are in about 90 percent of American households. They’re great time savers and are regularly used to warm up leftovers, heat that morning cup of tea or defrost the evening’s main course. That’s their role in many homes. Their cooking capabilities, however, go well beyond reheating and defrosting. And if you take the time to learn, they’ll take your cooking to new levels of convenience.

We recently chatted with microwave cooking expert Jennipher Marshall-Jenkinson, chair of the United Kingdom-based Microwave Technologies Association and author of Microwave Magic: The Heart of 21st Century Cooking, to pick her brain on a microwave’s role in producing a home-cooked meal. Just as with using a range or oven, there’s a method to microwave cooking, she said. The trouble is that many simply focus on cooking time, not technique.

“The most important thing about basic cooking in the microwave is understanding what you’re doing,” Marshall-Jenkinson said. “You have to understand and think about the cooking technique behind it. You don’t cook everything in the microwave oven. You don’t make roast potatoes or put a crispy edge on your chicken. But anything with its own moisture cooks perfectly. It’s the perfect environment for saving time, energy and nutrients. In minutes, you can have a proper meal.”

So how does one progress beyond popcorn, break free of frozen meals and harness the real cooking power of a microwave? Marshall-Jenkinson has some advice:

Get to know your oven: Microwave cooking is a skill, and it’s going to take time and practice to perfect. Marshall-Jenkinson recommends starting with vegetables to set benchmarks for how long it takes to cook certain portions. She’s also a big fan of microwaving all types of sauces. “If you follow the instructions, those are guaranteed to be successful.” In addition, all microwaves aren’t created equal. They vary in size and wattage, both of which have impact cooking times. Knowing your wattage will help you get a sense of your oven’s capabilities.

Watch your turns: Many microwaves have turntables to rotate food and help it cook more evenly. If yours doesn’t, you’ll likely have to manually turn the dish at 90-degree angles and stir the food during cooking.

Put a lid on it: Microwaves cook foods in their own moisture, and a lid or cover will help it retain that moisture to improve cooking. “If it’s allowed to evaporate, you won’t end up with cooked food whatsoever,” Marshall-Jenkinson said.

Make use of different power settings: Many microwave users simply default to full power for everything they cook. That’s a bad move and can result in poor quality cooking. Find out what’s best for the dish you’re preparing. “I would never cook a cake or baked sponge pudding on full power,” Marshall-Jenkinson said. “I would cook that on a medium-power setting. That means the heat developed within the dish as it’s cooking has a chance to even out before you put another burst of energy in there.” Remember, you’re cooking, not just heating. “You can make a great casserole by bringing it to a boil on high and reducing the power to 10 percent and cooking at 10 percent for an hour and a half.”

Be adventuresome: Don’t be afraid to experiment with your microwave. Search out recipes and cooking techniques. “It’s there to make your life easier. Use it instead of just heating up a cup of coffee in it.”

Now that you know the basics, what should be your first microwave-prepared meal? “Any dish that is cooked for your family or makes your life easier,” Marshall-Jenkinson suggest. She’s a fan of the microwave’s ability to quickly produce baked treats. “I’m a cake lover myself,” she said. “A lovely sponge cake is going to take 3-4 minutes in comparison to 25 minutes.”

Ready to give microwave cooking a shot? This recipe for microwave mac and cheese cups (with a gluten-free option included) from MOMables will help you prepare a quick, tasty meal for the kids:

Ingredients:

1/3 cup pasta, uncooked

1/2 cup + 1/8 cup water

1/4 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese

2 teaspoons milk

Instructions

  1. Add pasta and water into large soup bowl or mug
  2. For regular noodles: Microwave for 6 minutes. Stop and stir at the 2 ½ minute mark, then stir every 45 seconds to 1 minute thereafter.
  3. For gluten-free noodles (corn-based pasta), microwave for 5 minutes. Stop and stir at the 2 ½ minute mark, then stir every 45 seconds to 1 minute thereafter.
  4. After the microwaving is complete, add in the cheese. Stir.
  5. Microwave again for 25 seconds.
  6. Add the milk, stir and serve.

What’s your favorite microwave recipe?

Easy ways you can prevent cooking fires

There are more than 100 million ranges and cooktops in use in the U.S. today, and most are operated safely and without incident. When fires do occur, they’re usually preventable through a few simple steps. AHAM has partnered with UL, the National Association of State Fire Marshals, and the National Safety Council to develop its Recipe for Safer Cooking. These preventive measures will help you greatly reduce the chances that a cooking fire will occur in your home:

  • Stay in the kitchen when you’re cooking. Unattended cooking is the leading cause of cooking fires.
  • Wear short or close-fitting sleeves when you cook. Loose-fitting clothing can catch fire.
  • Keep an eye on children in the kitchen. When they’re old enough to cook, teach them how to do it safely.
  • Keep your cooking areas clean. Food and grease build-up can increase the risk of fire.
  • Keep curtains, towels, pot holders and other fabrics away from hot surfaces.
  • Store solvents and flammable cleaners away from heat sources. Never keep gasoline in the house.
  • Turn pan handles inward to prevent food spills that can result in serious burns.

Unfortunately, fires sometimes happen even when preventive measures are taken. Memorize these steps so you and your family are ready if a fire happens:

  • Immediately call your local fire department. Have the department’s emergency number on hand, as calling 911 will instead direct you to a central emergency services center. That means the response time could be slightly longer.
  • If a grease fire breaks out, put a lid on the pot to smother the flames, then turn off the heat and leave the lid in place while the pan cools.
  • Use baking soda to extinguish cooking fires.
  • If a fire starts inside the oven or broiler, keep the door closed and turn off the heat to smother the fire.
  • Keep a fire extinguisher in the kitchen and know how to use it. Contact your local fire department for training.
  • Keep a working smoke detector in your home and test it every month.

AHAM and appliance manufacturers are attacking the problem of unattended cooking fires through the technical advances to cut down on the potential for fires, and through consumer awareness initiatives like the Recipe for Safer Cooking. Visit AHAM’s store to order copies of the Recipe for Safer Cooking and other fire-prevention information.

Are you looking for more ways to make your kitchen safer? Take this kitchen appliance safety advice from John Drengenberg, also known as “Mr. Safety.”

AHAM shipment research: What’s hot in major appliances

While we can’t tell you which appliances are the coolest among your neighbors, AHAM is the leading authority for major appliance shipping trends. That means we CAN tell you what styles and features you might see when you go shopping for new appliances. Here are a few of the trends we’re seeing in cooking, refrigerator/freezers, dishwashers and laundry:

Induction cooking is catching on: Consumers, perhaps attracted by its potential to deliver shorter heating times and more precise temperature control, continue to show interest in induction cooking. Last year, 16% of electric surface units shipped included at least one induction cooking unit, up from 8% in 2010. So far, the percentage is holding steady, as 15% of electric surface units shipped between January and July of 2016 had at least one induction unit.

Taking a shine to stainless steel: Seventy-six percent of bottom-mount refrigerators shipped in 2015 had a stainless steel finish. That number has been growing steadily since 2009, when just 44% of units shipped were stainless steel. The trend can also be seen in dishwashers, of which more than half shipped last year—57%—had a stainless steel finish, a trend that has been on an upward climb since 2007. AHAM’s shipping numbers also show growth in stainless steel being used as a tub material in dishwashers. Forty-four percent of units shipped in 2015 had a stainless steel tub, a number that has remained steady through the first six months of 2016.

Bottom-mount stays cool: Bottom-mount refrigerators, which have the freezer on the bottom, continue to gain popularity. Total shipments of bottom-mount models doubled between 2009 and 2015, while 2015 shipments of side-by-side models are similar to their 2015 numbers. AHAM’s shipping numbers also suggest that consumers want more doors in their refrigerators. Last year, 17% of bottom-mount refrigerators had four or more doors. That percentage has grown from 11% in 2012, when AHAM started tracking the shipments of four-door models.

Laundry on top: Top-load washers as a percentage of units shipped have been growing steadily since 2009. Top-load washers made up 76% of units shipped in 2015, up from 62% six years earlier. More consumers continue to be drawn to units without agitators. Fifty-two percent of units shipped between January and July of 2016 had no agitator, up from 47 percent last year.

Physicians share their allergy prevention advice

Ragweed. Pet dander. Tree pollen. Mountain cedar. Regardless of what’s causing your allergy symptoms, the sniffling, coughing, sneezing and itching are a major downer any time of the year. Before you reach for the antihistamines, look around the house. Odds are you already have many of the tools—your appliances—that can reduce the level of allergens in your home and help you breathe a bit easier.

AHAM spoke with two allergy experts, Corinna Bowser, M.D., of Narberth Allergy & Asthma in Narbeth, Pa., and Sakina Bajowala, M.D., of Kaneland Allergy in North Aurora, Ill., who shared their advice on how your appliances can help you find allergy relief:

Vacuum: Vacuums with HEPA filters can be helpful in removing both ground allergens, like dust mites, and airborne allergens like pollen. A stick vacuum may be a convenient option to help you remove dust mites from the hard surfaces in your home between regular cleaning sessions.  Finally, consider having someone who doesn’t suffer from allergies do the vacuuming.

Room air cleaner: Air cleaners also utilize HEPA filters to remove allergens from the air. Do you have pets? Keep an air cleaner running in the room or area where the pets spend their most time and in the room where the allergic person sleeps. “Running a HEPA filter can help to reduce the levels of allergens in the air by up to 50 percent,” Bajowala said. “The air filters can help trap a lot of the allergens and make the air more suitable for asthmatic or allergic patients to breathe.”

Air conditioner: Air conditioners will help filter outdoor allergens and keep them outside. Combine them with a room air cleaner for an extra layer of protection. “Many patients with asthma and allergies do a lot better in air conditioned environments,” Bajowala said. “Both room and portable air conditioners can be helpful.”

Dehumidifier: The dreaded dust mite thrives in a human environment. “The more people, animals and humidity, the more dust mites,” Bowser said. Dust mites live year round, which means you have to take year-round precautions. Dehumidifiers can help reduce the humidity in your home and give the mites a less-favorable environment. “The recommended humidity is under 50 percent,” Bowser said. Bajowala recommends purchasing a humidity monitor to check your levels. Keep in mind that any appliance that uses water has the potential to grow mold, so follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for cleaning.

Washing machine: Dust mites tend to thrive in mattresses. You can help kill the mites by washing your linens in hot water. Washing machines will also help remove outdoor allergens like pollen from your clothes. “The pollen that covers cars is the same stuff that settles in our hair and clothes,” Bowser said. “It can become airborne again.”

Dishwashers: This isn’t related to seasonal allergies, but Bajowala recommends that anyone who lives in a home where someone suffers from food allergies wash their dishes on a sanitize cycle. “It does a better job of cleaning the surface and not transferring [allergens] from dish to dish. Hand washing can leave food protein behind.”

Finally, it’s important to visit a doctor to see if you can find out what’s causing your symptoms. “It helps to get tested and see what you’re allergic to,” Bowser said. “You can then focus more on what’s causing it and get the right advice.”

Advice from a dietitian on how your appliances can help you eat healthier

From your oven and ranges, to your refrigerator and freezer, to your blender, your appliances, when used properly, can be one of your best tools in your efforts to eat healthier. Much of healthy eating comes down to planning and preparation, says Tamara Melton, MS, RDN, LD, founder of LaCarte Wellness, a corporate wellness consultation firm in Atlanta. Melton is not only a registered and licensed dietician, she’s also a busy working mom who loves to cook and regularly puts the meal prep tips she offers her clients into action for her family.

“You don’t have to have the fanciest appliances, but having high-quality appliances that you know how to use can aid someone who is trying to eat healthier,” Melton said. “They help store your food and cook it well. It’s really important.”

While your appliances can’t do all of the work for you, they’ll make your path to a healthy lifestyle much easier. You’ll have to put in the prep time, though, so Melton recommends carving some time out of your week to prepare the foods you’ll eat. Melton offered her advice on how to take advantage of your kitchen appliances:

Refrigerator: If you organize your food for easy access, you’ll be less tempted to grab your phone and order takeout. Put your food in easy-to-access containers so the ingredients are easy to grab when you’re making the next meal. Slice up vegetables and fruit and store them in sandwich bags for snacks. Keep snacks for the kids within their reach on the lower shelves of the refrigerator. Want to save time in the morning? Boil eggs in advance and store them in your refrigerator until you’re ready to eat.

Freezer: Melton bakes muffins and quick bread and stores them in the freezer, defrosting them in the microwave for 15-30 seconds for an on-the-go breakfast. She’ll also freeze extra portions of spaghetti, chili and other dishes to take for lunch or serve as leftovers.

Rice cooker: The rice cooker gets a lot of use in Melton’s home and is a cornerstone of her cooking. “I cook most of our grains in there,” she said. She regularly takes advantage of the rice cooker’s convenience to prepare grains like couscous, quinoa, bulgur and farro. “I’ll put rice in with chicken broth, coconut milk, cilantro. I’ve made quinoa that I’ll take out and make into a Greek quinoa salad.”

Oven and range: “I like to make a lot of one-pot dishes,” Melton said. “We do a lot of roasted veggies.” The range and oven are used to prepare healthy foods for that night and later in the week. “I can walk away from it, and prepare some for the rest of the week.” Pay attention to your cookware and invest in quality saucepans, sauté pans, roasting dishes and dutch ovens, Melton recommends.

Microwave: The microwave oven can be the best friend in the kitchen for busy parents. Melton has a large microwave that she uses to quickly steam vegetables and defrost proteins. “We have steamed veggies as a snack,” she said. “Now that school’s back in, I steam veggies three times a week. The microwave is really important.”

Blender: The blender is an essential tool for making healthy smoothies and juices that can get the kids to eat their fruits and vegetables without them even knowing. Try one of her favorites: ½ a cup to a cup of cottage cheese, a cup of frozen berries, a cup of orange juice and a bit of honey. Add a hard- boiled egg (from the refrigerator), a muffin or quick bread (from the freezer, defrosted in the microwave) and coffee, and you have a convenient, healthy breakfast.

Toaster oven: Take advantage of your toaster oven to reheat leftovers with a smaller appliance and cut down on food waste, Melton recommends. It’s may be a more efficient option than your oven for reheating smaller portions.

How you arrange your appliances can also affect how willing you are to cook a healthy meal, Melton said. She recommends keeping the appliances you use regularly within easy reach. Make sure you reserve enough prep space as well.

5 things to consider when buying a vacuum

If you’re serious about keeping your carpets clean and your floors shining, just any vacuum won’t do. The type, features and design of the vacuum are important, but the type of floors and the level of cleaning they’ll require should be your focus when making a decision. Do you have hardwood floors? Standard or ultra-soft carpet? Area rugs? Pets? People with specific allergies in the house? Do you vacuum every day or once a week? Make the wrong decision and you could end up with more of a mess and a vacuum that just takes up space.

Walk into an appliance retail store and you’re likely to come face to face with a plethora of vacuum models. They can be broken down into seven categories:

Lower half of a man wearing shorts vacuuming a tan rug with an upright vacuum as part of his housecleaning chores..
Upright: An upright is likely what comes to mind when you think of a vacuum. It’s a traditional, full-size, pushable format with or without a mechanical brush roll. It will work well and provide deep cleaning capability on many types of carpets, but it often is not the best choice for a house with only hardwood or other bare floors. Most will include attachments like a dusting brush, crevice tool and upholstery cleaner. Some may also include detachable handheld or smaller vacuum units. The key to cleaning carpeted floors is to have suction, air flow and good filtration. It is important to agitate the carpet with a mechanical brush roller at the same time the suction and air flow pick up the dirt and move it into the receptacle or bag.

Woman cleaning with vacuum cleaner, baby sitting on floor and biscuits all around
Canister: Unlike the upright, you won’t push the whole vacuum when using a canister, though they do need to be pulled. Unlike the upright, the canister can be maneuvered for stairs and difficult to reach places. The body is separate from the wand and floor tool, connected by a hose. They’re designed for the ability to be lighter weight when doing above floor cleaning (dusting, crevice cleaning, upholstery cleaning, etc.), but can also provide deep cleaning for carpet.

Man vacuuming and woman on sofa
Stick: Think of these as the everyday cleanup tool for mealtimes, pet hair and spills on hard surfaces and area rugs, but not as much for heavy carpet cleaning. They’re available in both corded and cordless, though there’s a trend toward cordless models.

The female hand holds a portable vacuum cleaner
Handheld: Handheld vacuums are made for smaller clean-ups. They’re often light enough to be operated with one hand, but some larger models may include hoses or attachments to tackle bigger messes. Again, they are available in both corded and cordless, although the cordless ones are more prominent.

Home vacuum cleaning robot in action on genuine wooden floor. Selective focus on robot.
Robotic: They’ll do the cleaning for you. Robotic vacuums are growing in popularity. They can be set to clean for a certain time and some are capable of following certain patterns or mapping a house or room. They don’t have the capacity of the other types of vacuums. They can clean carpets or hard surfaces, but may not have the deep-cleaning power of an upright or canister vacuum.

Wet-Dry: These vacuums are often reserved for the garage or basement but can be used in many places to mop up water spills or to clean up after wet cleaning on concrete or other hard surfaces. The vacuum is specially constructed to be used around water so that the user will not receive an electric shock when used in accordance with the instructions.

Central: These vacuums are installed in one place in the home and a tube is embedded in the walls of a home for routing to the central unit in the garage or basement. Central vacuums use ports located at intervals in the home to access the vacuum. A hose and floor tool can be connected to the ports. The advantage is that all the vacuumed dirt and dust are directed out of the living space of the home.

Now that you know the types of vacuums available, here are five factors you should consider when shopping for a new vacuum:

Ease of pushing: Vacuuming is a physical activity, and you’ll need to think about how much weight you want to push around while cleaning. Some vacuums are light and easy to push. Some will have heavy suction for cleaning deep in the carpet, but may have adjustments to make them easier to operate. Others are heavier and may require more force. If it’s too hard to push, you won’t want to clean. You should also think about how you’ll feel carrying it up and down stairs. Some vacuums use a motorized brush roller that helps to move the vacuum on the floor. Many vacuums make turning around furniture easier through their design. Ask your retailer if you can try it out before you buy it.

Bag or no bag? Bagless and bagged vacuums require somewhat the same level of maintenance. Both must be emptied regularly. A bagless vacuum will free you from having to stock up on vacuum bags, but they still contain one or two filters that need to be cleaned. Bagged vacuums trap the dirt and debris inside a bag and can be carried out for disposal.

Your level of dirt: Do you have pets? You’ll likely need to clean up more hair than anything else. Pet owners often own two vacuums—one for routine cleaning and a separate model for frequent deeper cleaning of pet hair from the surfaces and the right attachments like a turbo brush and crevice tool.

Allergen removal: Both allergy sufferers and pet owners should consider buying a vacuum with a sealed air system that prevents dirt, dander and allergens from escaping the vacuum.

Reliability and durability: Some retailers will have carpet available in store for you to try out a vacuum. Others may allow you to take a model home and try it out. Ask for a demonstration. But in case a demo isn’t possible, study online consumer reviews in advance and look for descriptions of how the vacuum performed on the types of flooring that you have in your home.

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.”

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.