Troubleshooting Modern Appliances

This has not been a good year for us with major appliances.  During the summer our refrigerator died and the weekend before Thanksgiving, our dishwasher died a long, drawn-out death.

guy connecting copper tubing to refrigerator with kitten helping

Jon is hooking up the water line for the ice maker on our fridge when we bought it 11 years ago.

We firmly believe in the FOUR R’s – Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and Repair. Therefore, before we decided to throw in the towel on either appliance, we decided to take a stab at repairing them. 

Repairing the Refrigerator

When our refrigerator died our first instinct was to get out the coolers, fill them up, and get all the freezer things into the basement freezer. It was a great opportunity to clear out old things. We noticed that all the indicator lights were out on the control panel, but the lights for the interior were still on. This indicated that something was wrong with the controller.  A controller is essentially a specialized computer.  Therefore, once we had the fridge empty, I decided to treat it like a difficult computer and “reseat” and “discharge” it. 

Perhaps I haven’t mentioned it, but both Jonathan and I spent many years as computer and network consultants at MIT. I know that pulling a power cord or network cable all the way out and then putting it back in does wonders for a machine sometimes.  Users don’t like to hear that, so we tell them to “reseat” their device.  Reseating the fridge didn’t work, so we decided to unplug it for a while.  In our case we unplugged it overnight, but anything more than 30 minutes would likely have done the trick.

After we unplugged the refrigerator we started doing research on what fridge we should buy. Luckily, we plugged it back in the next day and voila! A working refrigerator. All the indicator lights were back on and the compressor kicked in. Since it was empty, we decided to wash it out and re-arrange the shelves.  By the time we were done cleaning it had cooled down pretty well, so we loaded it back up. 

It has been running with no trouble since July (knock on wood), but we are on pins and needles that it will die again.  However, this gives us the chance to plan and do research. We’ve been noticing what we like about our friends’ fridges and we have been looking into which styles are more energy efficient and reliable. 

If you have a major appliance where it seems that the controller or computer seems to not be working correctly, we recommend unplugging it for at least 30 minutes and then plug it back in and try again. Some signs that it might be the controller are that the display is odd, blinking lights on the display or no lights on the display, but there seems to be power to the machine.

Repairing the Dishwasher

picture of dishwasher display with 9 on it

Our failing dishwasher flashing 9 instead of cleaning the dishes

The weekend before Thanksgiving our dishwasher started to act wonky. Jon tried to run the dishwasher one evening, it started to run and then after about 10 minutes it stopped and was blinking “9”.  We were flummoxed, but decided to unplug it and see if we could reset it. We REALLY don’t like washing dishes by hand! After leaving it unplugged for a little while, we plugged it in, started a cycle and went to bed. We woke up to clean dishes, but a flashing 9. When we tried to run another load we only got about 10 minutes in before we had the same problem.

We don’t have all day to sit around babysitting dishwashers, so I can’t tell you the exact sequence of events, but we started researching new dishwashers while we proceeded to troubleshoot. We also unplugged the dishwasher after every load and we were able to run several loads over the next few days while we researched. It looked like a computer problem and I discovered that a new controller would be about $120 and that this model dishwasher had this sort of trouble a lot about 4-5 years ago when it was new. 

new dishwasher about to be installed with door open

Our new dishwasher including recycled fabric sound insulation.

On Saturday, Jon took the dishwasher door apart. He was able to see that there might be a little water damage near the controller, but nothing obvious.  He also found some of the seals had cracked which accounted for the occasional water leaking out of the dishwasher, and might be why there was a problem with the computer. We discovered that replacing the part of the door that needs replacing would cost $100.  Jonathan attempted to fix it with flexible caulk, but then we discovered that it was supposed to take 10-14 DAYS to dry completely and shouldn’t be used where it would be submerged.

At that point we decided to throw in the towel and buy a new dishwasher. We realized that we could either put $100-$220 into it and it still might not work, or we could purchase a new more efficienct dishwasher.  We decided to look at the bright side of getting a new dishwasher.  It would be quieter (we had a pretty noisy dishwasher) and it would be more efficient, using less water and less energy than this dishwasher.

While we decided to buy a new dishwasher, we were able to keep it running an extra five days by unplugging it after every load and plugging it back in when we needed to run it. 

All Appliances

There are a few things you can check on your appliances – refrigerator, dishwasher, clothes washer, dryer, etc., before calling a repair man or shopping for a new one. 

– Plug & unplug – for a long time – more than 30 minutes.

– Notice any error messages or blinking lights and google them.  I like to google “brand model name error message.”  Sometimes you can find instructions on running a self diagnostic.  We were able to do this on our dishwasher which confirmed a problem with the memory on the controller board.

– Make sure any filters are cleaned, particularly on dryers and refrigerators

If you do need a new appliance, for the sake of our planet, get an Energy Star labeled appliance.

Happy Greening,




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  1. Appliances are the best product that saves our time and gives a perfect work but many time it’s problem make us worried . The blog is defining well the points . Some tips like proper maintenance , cleaning , balanced power supply can move this problems .

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