A Director of Good Housekeeping Institute on caring for hard-working appliances during COVID-19

THE WASHINGTON POST – Carolyn Forte, director of home appliances and cleaning products at the Good Housekeeping Institute, joined staff writer Jura Koncius for The Washington Post’s Home Front online chat. Here is an edited excerpt.

Q: Since I’ve been working from home, I’ve been running the dishwasher multiple times a day. Any tips on keeping it running smoothly?
A: Dishwashers are easy to clean, but they do need cleaning. Here’s what to do:
– If your filter comes out, remove it and rinse it under hot running water. Use a soft toothbrush to nudge off any stuck-on food bits.
– Always remove any food particles you see from the bottom of the dishwasher.
– While you don’t have to pre-rinse dishes, do run a rinse-only cycle if you dishes will be sitting in there awhile. This will keep odours down and make food easier to remove.
– Once per month, run a cleaning cycle with a product like Affresh or Cascade dishwasher cleaner. Both carry our Good Housekeeping Seal!

Q: I have a top-load washing machine. There’s always residue right under the lip, where the water and detergent go. What’s the best way to remove it in the hard to reach spots?
A: You are right to think about cleaning these hidden spaces, if possible. Most dispensers are removable for cleaning, so I would do that. To get under the rim, there are washing machine cleaning wipes, like Affresh, that make it easy to clean tight spaces. Also, you can run a full machine cleaning cycle with a cleaning tablet, powder, or bleach in an empty machine and hot water.

Q: I’m preparing food about four times more than usual at home. I’m using a ceramic skillet to prepare meat, eggs and whatever else is needed. Food isn’t getting stuck to it, but it’s getting some black streaks from use. How do I clean the streaks and keep the skillet clean?
A: Ceramic skillets are usually pretty easy to keep clean. If you are using any metal utensils, they may be causing the black marks. To remove them, try sprinkling on some baking soda and scrubbing the pan with a delicate scrubbing sponge. Baking soda is a mild abrasive and should be able to remove these marks without damaging the pan. It may take
several applications.

Q: Our garbage disposal is being used all day long. What rules can I give to my family for what goes in there and what doesn’t?
A: They are pretty sturdy appliances and can handle lots of messes, but I would stay away from anything too tough or stringy that could clog or jam the blades. Celery and tough rinds, like squash or corn on the cob, could be problematic. Coffee grinds, leftover cooked foods, eggshells, liquids and veggies peels should be fine. Put food in gradually, not all at once.

Q: I noticed my KitchenAide refrigerator’s auto temperature was 41 degrees the other night, when it’s usually 38. I freaked out thinking it was going to crash. I then realised it was from us opening it so much while being home. I have been remiss in vacuuming the coils but am leery to pull it out now while it’s fully stocked to do that cleaning.
A: Refrigerator temperatures do fluctuate based on when the defrost cycle kicks in. You may have opened it just at that time. I’ve done that myself and gotten a little worried, too. It is best to keep the door closed as much as possible and ask family not to stand if front of it with the door open while deciding what they want to eat. Vacuuming the coils is the right move. Maybe when your stock goes down a bit, you can pull it out to clean it. Keep an eye on the temperature. If it continues to rise, you may have to call for service.

Q: Our front-loading HE model washing machine is going all the time. Do we need to keep the door open when it’s not in use to prevent mold?
A: We do recommend keeping front-loading washer doors open or drying out at least the rubber door gasket to keep mold and odours down. Running a monthly cleaning cycle helps, too. Of course, if you have small children or pets in the house, make sure your laundry room door is locked, you lock the control panel or made this area off limits to them when you do this. New to the market and a new GH Seal holder is the GE Washer with UltraFresh Vent. It’s an option that comes on at the end of a cycle to pull in fresh air to dry the drum without having to leave the door open. It worked great in our GH Cleaning Lab tests.

Q: Last summer I moved into a building that is about 30 years old. I believe the washer and dryer in my apartment are originals, and the dishwasher is maybe only about 20 years old. Should I be dealing with these differently than I would with newer appliances? What’s the best way to clean the washer, which does smell a bit funky at times?
A: There really is no need to deal any differently with these older appliances than you would with newer ones. In fact, they use a lot more water than newer ones do, so residues may not build up as quickly. I would recommend giving them a good cleaning, inside and out. Use a washing machine or dishwasher cleaning tablet. You may have to do two or three cycles depending on how dirty they are. Then I would go over the outsides, doors, ledges, and any nooks and crannies you see with a sudsy cloth, just to clean and freshen them. Then rinse and let them dry. This will remove any residues and stuck-on debris and make the appliance look cleaner, too. If all else is working fine and you are getting good cleaning results, you should be good to go.

Q: Everybody is piling their dishes in the dishwasher and I am not sure they are getting cleaned well. What tips can I give my family for proper dishwasher loading?
A: Remember it won’t get clean if the water can’t reach it. Here are some tips: face the dirty sides of dishes toward the centre where the spray is strong; put forks up and knives down and spoons up and down to prevent nesting; and make sure bowls and cups are tilted, upside down and not blocking other items.

Q: What cleaner should I use on my granite counters? I don’t have any Lysol or Clorox wipes or spray.
A: Usually we recommend only cleaning granite with a product that safe for the stone, like Weiman Granite Cleaner, but I’m sure you are looking for a way to disinfect. You can safely use a mix of half-cup Clorox bleach and one gallon of water in place of wipes or spray. Apply the mixture to sealed granite with a cloth and allow it to remain wet for five minutes to disinfect and air dry. Since counters can be food contact surfaces, rinse the counter again with clear water and let it air dry again.

Q: Can the COVID-19 live in our refrigerators? Do I really have to wipe down every yogurt container?
A: While we don’t know exactly how and where the virus survives, taking extra precautions now is not a bad idea and will likely make you feel better even though it’s unlikely you will get sick from touching grocery items. You can wash cans, jars, bottles and other packages with a sudsy cloth. Rinse and dry them with a paper towel. Just like washing your hands, this will help remove any germs and residues that may concern you.

Q: I always leave the door of my front-loading washing machine wide open after every load. But the other day I noticed that there’s mold around the water nozzle at the front/top of the inside. The gasket around the door (on the machine side) also folds in. I ran a damp cloth around it the other day and it was filled with black and gunky stuff, which I assume was mold. I run a cleaner every month then run an empty load or two with hot water. Can
you help?
A: The gaskets, dispensers and nozzles are particularly problematic when it comes to mold in front-load washers. Cleaning cycles and products work well in the drum and internal parts, but may not reach some of these crevices. Unfortunately, it seems like with your machine the best thing to do is dry out the gasket with a cloth after you have finished doing laundry for the day. Also, wipe around the nozzle and every few weeks take out the dispenser drawer and give it a good scrubbing, too. This is extra work, but it will keep mold from forming.

Q: I have never replaced the water filter in my fridge and it’s three years old. Should I just remove it? All it’s used for is ice and I refuse to pay those high prices for it.
A: I know they can be expensive, but it really is important to change the filter. I’m sure you want your ice to be as pure as possible. And don’t be tempted to buy no-name or unbranded filters online, even if they are advertised as being able to work in your fridge. Counterfeit filters can be not only ineffective but can also add chemicals to the water that shouldn’t be there. Always buy your filter from your refrigerator’s manufacturer.

Q: My spouse had some COVID-19 symptoms a few weeks ago before testing was available. I am wondering about toothbrush safety. After cases of strep, it is recommended to throw them away or dishwash them. What’s the proper procedure here?
A: In this case, I would recommend just tossing your husband’s toothbrush for safety. If you do want to clean it at other times, instead of the dishwasher, soak it in hydrogen peroxide for several minutes.