Virtually every year, stories about making household chores easier—and ways to get the most out of your home appliances—top the list. And 2017 was no exception.

Read on for the best vacuums for hardwood floors and pet hair, a look at portable air conditioners, CR's take on the ever-popular Instant Pot, the most reliable washing machine brands, and more.

Least and Most Reliable Washing Machine Brands

Someone folding laundry in a laundry room

We asked more than 67,000 of our subscribers about their experiences with washing machines that they bought new between 2009 and 2016 that are not covered by a service contract. We also asked readers about repair costs. Unlike our breakage data, our repair-cost data doesn't factor in the age of the washer or the number of loads run per week. Here's what we found.

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Best Setting for Your Central Air Conditioning

Someone setting the thermostat as part of Consumer Reports' top Appliance stories of the year

More people fight over the thermostat than the remote, and those battles become more pitched during periods of extreme heat. The disputes aren’t just about comfort, they’re about money, too. That's because every time you lower the thermostat in hot weather it raises your electric bill. So what’s the best setting for your central air conditioner? Well, that depends on whether you care more about keeping cool or keeping your utility bill in check. Fortunately, there’s a happy medium.

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Best Vacuums for Hardwood Floors

A cat knocking over a plant on hardwood floors

Hardwood flooring is hot. In 2016, 35 percent of designers expected to install more of it, making it flooring's highest growth category, according to the National Kitchen & Bath Association. And the amount spent on wood flooring in the U.S. was up roughly 400 percent from 20 years ago, reports the National Wood Flooring Association.   

So what's the best way to care for all that hardwood? Vacuum manufacturers are answering the question with machines and features designed for wood floors. Here are several standouts from Consumer Reports' tests

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When a Counter-Depth Refrigerator Is the Best Fit

A counter-depth refrigerator

Refrigerators have gotten a lot bigger in recent years. That’s good for food storage but not so much for space efficiency, especially in smaller kitchens, where a mammoth fridge might jut out 10 inches or more past the countertop. Counter-depth (also referred to as cabinet depth) refrigerators are a slimmer option that provides a more streamlined look. And thanks to improvements in refrigerator design, some of the best examples in our latest refrigerator ratings can hold a lot more food than previous generations.

Here are several strong picks to consider from the various configurations we tested.

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Are Portable Air Conditioners a Lot of Hot Air?

A portable air-conditioner

Portable air conditioners are intended for homes where window configurations or building regulations prevent the installation of window units. But is getting one a compromise you want to make?

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Best Vacuums for Pet Hair

A dog sitting next to a vacuum cleaner

As far as we know there’s no vacuum called the Golden Retriever Fur Reliever, but there are a lot of vacuums that make fuzzy claims and use “pet” in the model name. Do they work?

Well, some are capable vacuums overall, but others are good at pet-hair pickup and little else. To test such claims, CR devised a very tough pet-hair test.

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Laundry Products That Waste Loads of Money

Pouring laundry detergent into a washer

Consumer Reports' tests have revealed laundry detergents that clean only slightly better than water, washers that use lots of water yet leave clothes dingy and dirty, and dryers that have a tough time doing their job, too, taking longer than usual to complete a load.

To help you steer clear of laundry products that don't work as promised, here's a list of the worst ones from our tests. They scored 40 or lower overall out of 100. 

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How to Load a Dishwasher

Glasses in a disherwasher

Even the best dishwashers won’t get the job done if they’re loaded improperly. Chances are you’re doing at least one thing wrong—cramming too many dishes in there or putting the silverware and large platters in the wrong place. Although it always pays to check the owner's manual for any special instructions, the following steps on how to load a dishwasher will deliver the best results in most machines.

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Countertop Face-Off: Can the Instant Pot Replace All Those Other Appliances?

An Instant Pot

Can the Instant Pot really replace seven countertop appliances? Our testers headed back to our lab kitchen to pit each of the Instant Pot’s functions against the device it’s claimed to replace. Here's what we found.

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Most Reliable Central Air Conditioning Systems

A central air-conditioning system

In our latest survey, 14,452 of our readers told us about the central air conditioning system they purchased new between 2009 and 2016. This year we also asked them how satisfied they are with the central air system they purchased, the cost of their most recent repair, and which parts broke. Here’s what we found.

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