An illustration of a person doing a simple home maintenance job on a washer and dryer.
Illustration: Rodrigo Damati

CR shares nine easy projects with big payoffs that you can do on your own. All of them can be done in a few hours, and will make your home safer and more functional.

For more DIY jobs, see our articles on how to declutter fast, make easy home upgrades, and get some outdoor home fixes done. For ideas on upgrading your outdoor space, read our easy tips to grow your garden and follow our advice on creating a backyard oasis.

Refresh Your Refrigerator

Time required: Up to 30 minutes

Your refrigerator’s condenser coils collect dust, dirt, and other debris that tax the compressor and could lead to a breakdown. To help prevent this, vacuum the coils every six months. (Check the manual for their location; they’re usually near the compressor beneath the refrigerator.)


Cleaning the door gasket and surrounding surfaces with a mild cleaner and damp sponge from time to time will ensure a good seal, preventing cold air from escaping the refrigerator, which makes the compressor work harder.

Another tip to keep your fridge humming along: “Don’t overpack the fridge or freezer,” says Larry Ciufo, Consumer Reports’ test engineer who evaluates refrigerators. “Jamming items in could keep the doors from closing properly, which, again, makes the compressor work harder. And never place items where they block the air vents along the back or side walls.”

Make Your Oven Sparkle

Time required: Up to a half-day

Most of us have been eating out a lot less, which means our ovens are getting pretty gunked up. If your oven has a self-clean mode, take some precautions.

“Turn on the exhaust fan and open windows before starting, and remember you can’t use the cooktop during the 3 to 5 hours it takes for the oven to self-clean,” says Tara Casaregola, who oversees range testing at Consumer Reports. Never use a spray-on oven cleaner in an oven with a self-cleaning mode: Its residue can damage the oven interior under high heat. For ovens without a self-cleaning function, scrub with a nonabrasive cleaner and sponge.

Make Over the Microwave

Time required: Up to 30 minutes

A clean, great-smelling microwave can be yours in three easy steps: (1) Wash the glass plate and the round rail it sits on with warm, soapy water. (2) For over-the-range models, remove the mesh grease filters from underneath the microwave and run them through the dishwasher if the manual says you can. Otherwise, soak them in soapy water and scrub them clean with a bristle brush. (3) Place a bowl of water with a quarter-cup of lemon juice in the microwave and run it on high for 1 minute. Remove the bowl and wipe the inside of the oven; the condensation should make it easy to get it clean.

Spruce Up Your Washer/Dryer

Time required: Up to 2 hours

If the rubber water hoses on the back of your washer look brittle, swap them out for durable, braided stainless steel versions that you can get from a home improvement store. (These should be replaced about every five years.)

To maintain the dryer: Carefully pull the unit away from the wall, disconnect the air duct from the back, and vacuum lint out of the duct and the port. Then clean both with a brush for dryer ducts and vacuum again. Doing this once a year will help prevent a lint fire, says Don Huber, director of product safety for Consumer Reports. If your dryer has an accordion-style vent, replace it with a rigid, smooth metal one that’s less prone to collecting lint.

Clean Your Filters

Time required: Up to 2 hours

It’s always a good idea to clean the filter in your dishwasher and change the water filter in your refrigerator (if it has one) from time to time. With the heavy use these appliances are getting now, they should be cleaned more often. Larry Ciufo, who tests dishwashers at CR, recommends rinsing food debris out of a dishwasher’s manual filter (located on the bottom of the tub) once a week instead of the usual once a month. You may also need to replace your refrigerator’s water filter more often than every six months, as most manufacturers recommend.

For window air conditioners, “check the filters at least once a month during periods of heavy use and clean as needed,” says Chris Regan, who oversees window air conditioner testing at Consumer Reports. “Vacuum off any larger debris and then wash the filter with warm, mildly soapy water. Then rinse and dry it completely.”

Change the filters in your central heating and cooling units as often as the filter manufacturer recommends, which is typically every three to 12 months.

Add Shower Power

Time required: Up to 2 hours

A clogged showerhead makes washing up far from invigorating. To clear the hard-water minerals that are probably the cause, remove the metal or plastic showerhead and let it sit submerged in a bowl of distilled white vinegar for an hour; then wipe it clean with a sponge. Repeat if necessary. For showerheads you can’t easily remove, fill a zip-top bag with vinegar. Open the bag around the showerhead and hold it in place with a zip tie; leave it for an hour.

Seal the Bathtub

Time required: Up to a half-day

Brighten your bathroom by replacing dingy or molding caulk around your tub or shower. It’s not difficult, but before you start you’ll need to have all of the following on hand: caulk (pure silicone or siliconized latex/acrylic), a caulk gun, a bottle of caulk remover, mildew remover spray, a utility knife, a putty knife, and painter’s tape. Soften the old caulk with caulk remover, then run a utility knife against the wall to lift it out. Use a putty knife to clear out any remaining bits of caulk, then spray the area with mildew remover and let it dry. For a clean line, put painter’s tape on either side of where you want the caulk to go. Load your caulk gun with the new caulk, and push out a ribbon wide enough to fill the joint, about ⅛ inch, working from one corner of the tub to the next. Run a wet finger along the caulk to smooth it out. Remove the painter’s tape before the caulk dries.

Rearm the Alarms

Time required: Up to 2 hours

You should press the test button on smoke alarms once a month, says CR’s Don Huber. “If you don’t hear any beeps, check the expiration date on the back to see whether you need a new one; if not, replace the batteries.” (Some detectors are designed to be replaced entirely when the batteries expire.) Consumer Reports suggests getting separate smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. Choose smoke detectors that detect both flaming and smoldering fires. Put them on the ceiling or wall (within 12 inches of the ceiling) right outside your kitchen doorway and in hallways, each bedroom, the basement, the attic (if it’s finished), and near an attached garage. Place carbon monoxide detectors in the same locations, except for the bedrooms.

Realign a Door

Time required: Up to 2 hours

Privacy is probably in short supply if everyone is home more. So being able to close a door is key. If you have a door that isn’t closing properly, the problem is probably a loose hinge screw or the door is out of plumb, says Robert Robillard, a remodeling contractor from Concord, Mass. First, find out whether a hinge is loose. If so, simply tightening the screws should fix the problem. If the screws spin in their holes, take them out, coat two or three toothpicks with wood glue, pound them into the screw hole and let them dry. Then replace the screw—the wood you added should give the screw threads something to bite into, pulling the door back into alignment.

Editor’s Note: A version of this article also appeared in the August 2020 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.