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Overwhelmed by appliance reviews? Here’s how to get what you need

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There’s no shortage of home appliance reviews or of people looking to share their opinion. A simple Google search for a product you’re thinking of buying, whether it’s a washing machine, vacuum or mixer, will likely produce more reviews than you can wrap your head around. Maybe some are positive, some not so much. So how do you know which to believe?

We talked to an expert in product reviews to get her take on how to get the most out of a product review. Carolyn Forte, a 35-year veteran of Good Housekeeping and director of the Good Housekeeping Institute’s Home Appliances, Cleaning Products and Textiles Lab, is one of the people who has a say in whether a product receives the coveted Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval. She says product reviews need to be read with a critical eye, and you need to look beyond the number of stars an appliance receives.

Keep in mind that consumer reviews are based on one user’s experience with a product, not on a full-scale test of the product’s performance.

“Look at what’s behind the reviews,” she said. “These are consumer reviews, so keep those in perspective. Look for scientific, performance-based reviews. Start with those and look at other online reviews from users. Don’t look at one without looking at both.”

The most valuable consumer reviews will likely come from a reviewer whose situation is similar to yours. For example, if you’re shopping for a vacuum and don’t have a pet, you might not want to form an opinion on a product based on a review written by somebody who shares a home with three cats. Their cleaning needs will be very different from yours. If you have children and live in a house in the country, a review written by a single, urban apartment-dweller will offer a different perspective.

Read the details about the reviewer’s experience, not just their overall impression of the product. “What are they complaining about?” Forte says. “If it’s a particular feature, maybe that’s important. Discount those who seem to be ranting and put it into context. If it’s negative, be skeptical with an eye toward why it’s negative.”

Product reviews conducted by media should also be read thoroughly and critically, Forte says. Consider how they reached their conclusion. They should be transparent about their testing process. “Look for places that are upfront about how they test,” she says.

Want to hear more from Carolyn? Next month, she’ll launch her new column, “Ask Carolyn,” in which she’ll put her decade of expertise to work by offering advice on what you need to know to make your household chores quicker and easier!