Every year the Survey Research team at Consumer Reports gets tens of thousands of responses from our members about problems they’ve had with their kitchen and laundry appliances. In our most recent surveys, we collected data on more than 381,000 kitchen and laundry appliances purchased between 2008 and 2018.

Here are the most commonly reported problem areas—let’s call them complaints—from finicky fridges to wishy-washy washing machines.

Our team of reporters also reached out to appliance repair pros across the country to find out which parts most often fail. See “What Breaks” in each section below, and "A Big Break" for a look at repairs you hope your appliance never needs.

Through our reporting we picked up a few tips on simple repairs you can do yourself to save some money on service calls.

Refrigerators

Biggest Complaints
17 percent: No water (or ice) coming out of dispenser
13 percent: Icemaker won’t make ice
7 percent: Buildup of ice in the fridge
6 percent: Water leaking
5 percent: Refrigerator not cooling
5 percent: Broken or faulty control panel or circuit board
4 percent: Not keeping food cold
3 percent: Blocked drain or outlet
3 percent: Broken or faulty compressor

More on Appliance Reliability

What Breaks
Icemaker: 
This appliance-within-an-appliance draws water into uniform ice molds. Once cubes form, the molds are heated or twisted to free the ice from the molds, and a sweep arm ejects them into a container to be dispensed on demand.
Evaporator fan motor: Moves air over evaporator coils, allowing refrigerant to absorb heat.
Thermostat: Regulates temperature in fresh-food and freezer compartments.

A Pro’s Perspective
“Icemaker failures have always been a problem, but now almost all refrigerators are sold with one,” says Dean Landers, president of Landers Appliance, a repair service in the Baltimore area. That means shops see more icemaker repairs—or requests for them. “We used to be able to repair icemakers,” Landers says. “Now everything is molded, flimsy, and cast, making it necessary to replace the entire unit.”

A Bad Break
“Compressors are the heart of a refrigeration system,” says Landers. Replacing one means removing the refrigerant following strict federal guidelines, using a blow torch to extract the failed unit, soldering in the new one, and recharging the system. “It is extremely costly to perform this repair,” he says.


Ranges

Biggest Complaints from CR Members
6 percent: 
Oven not heating up effectively
6 percent: Burners (gas) or cooktop elements (electric) not igniting or heating up
5 percent: Ignition breaking or not work­ing properly (gas models)
2 percent: Broken knobs
2 percent: Broken control panel button(s)

What Breaks
Ignition system: In gas ranges, this series of components generates a spark to light the gas.
Oven bake element: Produces heat for bake, roast, and broil functions in an electric oven.
Oven temperature sensor: Regulates temperature for both gas and electric ovens.
Burner: Controls the evenness and shape of the flame on a gas range.

A Pro’s Perspective
“There’s a lot consumers can do themselves to fix minor problems with their ranges,” says Paul Berry, owner of Mr. Appliance of San Antonio. And it starts with cleaning. Take the ignition system: If you can still hear it clicking when you turn the knob, it may just be blocked by residue from a boil-over or other debris. Burners can also get clogged with food—you’ll notice a weak flame. For both parts, Berry says, “scrub out any debris using dish soap and warm water.”


Dishwashers

Biggest Complaints
11 percent: Not cleaning properly
9 percent: Not drying properly
7 percent: 
Not draining properly
7 percent: Control panel breaking or not working properly
6 percent: Water leaking
5 percent: Dish rack(s) breaking

What Breaks
Inlet valve:
Controls the flow of water into the dishwasher.
Wash arm: Sends rippling streams of water into dish racks for washing and rinsing cycles.
Drain pump: Removes dirty wash and rinse water from the dishwasher, pumping it into the drain.
Circulation pump: Forces water out of spray arms and onto dirty dishes.

A Pro’s Perspective
You’re not going to notice most dishwasher problems right away, according to Chris Zeisler, technical service supervisor at RepairClinic.com, an online clearinghouse for appliance parts and do-it-yourself videos. “[Your dishwasher] will slowly not wash well until it gets to the point where you’re fed up and wondering what’s going on,” he says.

A Bad Break
The impeller is the part of the pump that generates the water pressure necessary to make the spray arms spin. It can get damaged if a seed, pit, or piece of glass gets into the pump. “You would want to address that as soon as possible,” says Zeisler. That’s because it can lead to water leaking into the motor and out onto your floor. How will you know your impeller is damaged? You’ll hear a loud growling.


Over-the-Range (OTR) Microwaves

Biggest Complaints
5 percent: 
Buttons on control panel breaking or not working properly
4 percent: Excessive noise
4 percent: Failing to heat food adequately
4 percent: Door not locking or closing properly
2 percent: Turntable not turning
2 percent: Exhaust fan not venting properly

What Breaks
Door latches: Redundant latches make it impossible for the microwave to run when the door is open or ajar.
Turntable tray: Rotates food for even heating.
Exhaust fan: Draws cooking fumes through the filters.
Control panel: Operates heating functions.
Magnetron: Creates the microwaves.
Grease filter: Though it doesn’t technically break, this part gets gunked with grease, preventing it from drawing cooking fumes out of your kitchen.

A Pro’s Perspective
“Anything wrong with the microwave door is potentially a safety concern, because it can release potentially harmful microwaves,” Zeisler says.


Washers

Biggest Complaints
14 percent: 
Appearance of mold (front-loaders)
6 percent: Drum not spinning properly or at all
5 percent: Machine failing to drain
4 percent: Dials, buttons, control panel breaking or not working
3 percent: Water leaking

What Breaks
Door or lid switch: Keeps the drum from spinning until the door or lid is closed.
Drain pump: Removes water from the drum.
Tub bearings: They hold the tub and allow it to spin smoothly.

A Pro’s Perspective
“Fix any squealing or knocking sounds as soon as possible,” says Wayne Archer, a technical expert at Sears Home Services, which conducts more than 7 million appliance repairs per year. “Continued use will only cause more damage and a higher repair bill.”

A Bad Break
“The electronic control board—the brain of the machine—and the motor are the most expensive parts to replace,” says Enrique Espinoza Jr., service manager at Nebraska Home Appliance, a repair service in Omaha. The control board communicates with sensors that set water volume and temperature, wash time, and drum speed. “It’s in control of everything,” Espinoza says. Replacing one isn’t cheap, so you’ll need to factor in how much you paid for the machine, how old it is, and how much a new model would cost.


Dryers

Biggest Complaints
10 percent: Clothes not drying
7 percent: Faulty drum rollers, belt, and/or motor

What Breaks
Thermal fuse: Keeps the appliance from overheating.
Heating element: A wire coil in an electric dryer or a burner in a gas dryer.
Drum seal: A continuous piece of felt around the rim of the drum that allows it to spin while controlling airflow.

A Pro’s Perspective
“There are very few dryer problems that can’t be fixed—it’s rare to have to completely replace the unit,” says Archer at Sears Home Services.

Editor's Note: This article also appeared in the August 2019 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.