Q&A: Carolyn Forte of the Good Housekeeping Institute on taking care of hardworking appliances during the coronavirus pandemic

Mar 26, 2020

Carolyn Forte is the Good Housekeeping Institute's director of home appliances and cleaning products. Forte is a consumer products and testing expert who oversees testing, research and print and digital editorial content involving cleaning appliances, products and advice. And yes, she does her own house cleaning and laundry. Now that during our self-isolations we are all running our dishwashers, garbage disposals and washing machines much more often, what can we do to make sure they will keep on performing for us and what cleaning products are best to use? Forte can answer these questions and many more as you tackle more cleaning chores than ever.

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Welcome to Carolyn who knows so much about taking care of your home, especially during these stressful coronavirus pandemic times. Your home appliances are on overdrive and we need to give them TLC. Send in your questions. This is an important opportunity.

Thanks so much for having me today. I love talking about appliances and am happy to answer your questions!

I have a top-load washing machine. But right under the lip (where the water and detergent go through) there is always a residue. What’s the best way to remove it in the hard to reach spots?

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.  

Since I've been working from home, I've been running the dishwasher multiple times a day. Any tips on keeping it running smoothly?

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 odors 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! 

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.

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. Also put food in gradually, not all at once.  

I noticed my Kitchenaide fridge's auto temp was 41 degrees the other night. Usually it's at 38. I freaked out thinking it was going to crash. I then realized 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. I did vacuum the area underneath. Lots of cat hair in there!

Refrigerator temps 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. Fingers crossed, not!

Popped open a bottle of merlot last night, only to have our kitten knock it over. I blotted it up with club soda, but it’s still there. I was wondering what product you recommend to remove it.

Our favorite Good Housekeeping wine stain remover is Wine Away! I'm not sure what surfaces you are trying to clean, but it works great on fabrics, carpet and upholstery. For stains on hard surfaces, like counters, I would recommend a cleanser containing bleach, like Clorox Clean-Up or Soft Scrub Gel with Bleach. 

Our machine is going all the time. It's a front loading HE model. Do we need to keep the door open when it's not in use to prevent mold?

We do recommend keeping front-loading washer doors open or drying out at least the rubber door gasket to keep mold and odors down. Also, 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 and is a real solution to a pressing problem!  

Last summer I moved into a building that is about 30 years old. I believe the washer & dryer in my apartment are originals, and the dishwasher (which I am very grateful for now that I am working from home and creating so many dirty dishes!) may be a bit newer - maybe 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?

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!

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?

Good question! Just remember if the water can't reach it, it won't get clean! Here are some tips:

  • Face the dirty sides of dishes toward the center where the spray is strong.
  • Forks go up, knives down, and spoons up and down to prevent nesting.
  • Make sure bowls and cups are tilted and upside down and not blocking other items.

The coronavirus has been sending TV anchors and hosts home to broadcast. Roxanne Roberts and I did a roundup of what we're learning about their personal style. Like Craig Melvin's amazing Serena & Lilly Palm Tree wallpaper. Read our story here.

What cleaner should I use on my granite counters? I don’t have any Lysol or Vlorox wipes or spray.

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 1/2 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 5 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. 

Can the Coronavirus live in our refrigerators? Do I really have to wipe down every yogurt container?

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. Then 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. 

Im preparing food on about a 4x basis prior to being at home. Im using a ceramic skillet to prepare meat, eggs, and whatever else is needed. I don't have food stuck to it, but its getting some black streaks from the use. Do you have any recommendations to clean and keep clean?

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.

I always leave the door wide open after every load. The other day I noticed that there's mold around the water nozzle at the front/top of the inside. Also, the gasket around the door (on the machine side) folds in. I ran a damp cloth around it the other day and it was filled with what I assumed was mold! It was black and gunky. I do run a cleaner every month then run an empty load or two with hot water. Can you help?

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. I know this is extra work, but it will really keep mold from forming.

When we got ours replaced, the plumber said spaghetti and pasta (outside of Thanksgiving) is what they see the most with clogging up the disposal.

Thanks for sharing this! It's good to know and something I wouldn't have thought of, honestly. It makes sense though. Cooked pasta can be gummy and probably clogs up the works. Thanks again!

Discovered this hidden filter when my new machine began to not smell so wonderful - completely different than the moldy seal issue of old machines. This is actually from the water that is left in the drum from wash to wash. When I checked my manual, I found this filter cleaning had to be done 5 to 6 times a year! So just mentioning if you have a newer unit - check your manual.

Great advice! Newer machines do have parts that older machines likely don't and with that comes new procedures for keeping them clean. Reading the manual thoroughly is always a great idea. And if you've misplaced your manual, check online. It's likely on the manufacturer's website.

I have never replaced the water filter in my fridge and it's three years old. Should I just remove it? All its used for is the ice and I refuse to pay those high prices for it.

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 say they work in your fridge. Counterfeit filters can not only be ineffective, they can add chemicals to the water that shouldn't be there. Always buy your filter from your refrigerator's manufacturer.  

Should we be washing our towels more often ? How frequently?

Yes! Towels are getting used more than ever now that everyone is home. Change out bath towels every few days and hand and dish towels every other day or if they are super "busy" even every day if you have a big family. Make sure to hang towels up between uses so they dry.  

Don't put coffee grounds in the disposal! My plumber tells me they are bad.

You should also leave the detergent drawer open long enough to dry out. I once mistakenly poured detergent into the wrong section and when I pulled it out to clean there was mold all over the bottom. Yuck.

Wow who knew. Thanks so much.

My spouse had some coronavirus 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 would be the proper procedure? Thank you!

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. 

It was a pleasure chatting with all of you. Hope my tips were helpful and for additional cleaning information, productreviews and tips, please visit us at goodhousekeeping.com.

Stay healthy!

Thank you Carolyn. Such really useful and important information. We appreciate your taking the time to be on the chat. Next week Christina Stembel will be our guest to discuss how much flowers can help cheer us during this difficult time. She is the head of Farmgirl Flowers. Until then, be well and wash your hands.  

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Jura Koncius
Jura Koncius is a Washington Post staff writer who specializes in home and design. Read her daily Twitter feed @jurakoncius for the latest in decorating trends, shopping, decluttering and organizing.

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