Inside The Real Repair Shop 2

Practical vacuum cleaner maintenance advice from the workshop!

I have 5 vacuum cleaners, each kept for specific tasks, as you can imagine.  No, seriously I love vacuum cleaners.  From friendly faced Henrys and Hettys to ‘frickin’ Sharks, I love ‘em all.  Why you ask? Well I guess that using a hoover is sheer joy to me.  You take your machine to a grubby area, run it around the floor, and you are rewarded with instant gratification! The carpet is returned to near pristine condition.  Better still, with many machines, you can see all the muck that was once on the carpet, swirling around in mesmerizing dust-storms, in the see-through debris collection bin!  Cosmic stuff.

Decent vacuum cleaners cost a few quid and far too many repairable machines end up at tips across the country, prematurely.

I suspect that many machines could be saved with basic skills. Most people could manage light servicing with basic tools and a small dusting of knowledge so here are some top tips to help you keep your hoover running well for longer.

Models vary, but you are likely to need the following: 

  • Big flat-head screwdriver
  • a cross-head screwdriver
  • damp cloth bowl of hot soapy suds

Before you start work on any appliance, always unplug from the mains. 

Brush heads: Upright vacuum cleaners probably have a rotating brush head. Remove any dog, cat, child hair, Lego etc from the brushes, especially the stuff stuck at the sides, where it can cause damage to things like bearings.  Use a knife or some old scissors to cut-away trapped hair etc.  This will improve performance and prevent damage. 

FixItWorkshop, Worthing, January’21, Dyson DC07 brush head- looking clean.

Filters:  Many vacuum cleaners have at least one, sometimes three filters to prevent dust entering back into the environment it was sucked-up from, preventing sneezes.  Usually all you need to do is see where the filters are located and to remove any retaining clips/covers.  Some machines use screws to hold the filters in-situ, so you’ll need to familiarise yourself with your instructions. 

If you’ve held on to your instructions, well done.  If you’re like most people and have chucked the instructions away, you might need to Google your model and download them. These filters need to be cleaned every three months in warm soapy water and left to dry for at least 24 hours or until bone dry.  Clean filters not only prevent dust build-up in the air, but are essential for the free flow of air into your machine and out again.

A blocked motor filter could cause overheating and damage to the motor bearings and brushes.  Suction can be reduced by a blocked cylinder filter. HEPA filters need to be replaced and can’t be cleaned, however eBay is awash with good quality, cheap alternative filters, so there’s no excuse for not lavishing your machine with some filter-love to let your machine breathe easy.

FixItWorkshop, Worthing, January’21, old and new filters.

Seals:  All vacuum cleaners rely on good seals between joints to ensure perfect performance.  Rubber and foam seals need to be cleaned regularly to prevent the build-up of dirt. Get a bowl of hot soapy water and an old cloth to clean up joints and seal-like surfaces, no special skills required.  Don’t scrub too hard as you might damage the smooth surfaces, just a gentle clean is all that’s needed.  Remember, dirty seals equal vacuum loss.

FixItWorkshop, Worthing, January’21, keep seals clean with a damp sponge or cloth.

Just a small tune-up in the way of basic servicing will mean that your trusty vacuum runs sweeter for longer, saving you time, money and valuable resources.  You’ll also bond with your machine, which is a good thing.

After all that cleaning, you’ve earned yourself a cup of tea. Time to put the kettle on, make a brew and grab a custard cream.

Inside The Real Repair Shop 1

They do make them like they used to. You just have to know where to look.

Think back 30 years, and if you can’t, ask anyone over the age of 42. In the place you grew up, how old was the kettle? It might seem a strange question, but as a (slightly odd) child, I noticed stuff like that. I can fondly remember my parents’ own Russell Hobbs K2 kettle, which had been given to them as a wedding gift and was still going strong after they divorced, 25 years later. Unlike their marriage, the kettle was well engineered, robust and easy to mend.

Russell Hobbs advert for the seminal K2 kettle, familiar to many. Image taken from Google Images, FixItWorkshop is not the copyright owner.

Not long ago, long service was expected from appliances and my friends and relatives had similar experiences. Trust me, I’ve asked them. Buying spare parts was also a thing. You could easily repair kettles of that vintage with basic tools and without the need of a yet-to-be-invented online video. Hardware shops would stock cost-effective spare parts like elements and rubber seals to keep your kettle running for longer, but over time, this type of thing has become the reserve of nerds like myself.

During the last 40 years, the market for small appliances such as vacuum cleaners, toasters, kettles and much more has become congested with laughably cheap goods, and while the prices can make items accessible, it’s usually a case of ‘buy cheap, buy twice’. 

Manufacturers have perfected built-in obsolescence to such a degree that they can time your product to fail, just after the warranty expires. Bad for many reasons, but the main thing is that a £15 toaster thrown out after two years will probably end up as landfill. There are free, environmentally kinder disposal routes available from your local council in the UK, but many people just don’t bother.  Sad, but true.

It’s still possible to buy something well-designed and robust that will be supported by a responsible manufacturer, you just need to know what to look for.

Do you really need it?

Just because your friend has a kettle with an interactive disco display controlled by their iPhone, do you need one?  Probably not.  No one does. Google ‘the best kettle’ and you’ll find products that have more knobs and whistles than a power station.  This makes them more complicated and likely to go wrong in the future and contain more precious metals, increasing their environmental impact.  Remember what you need the product to do. Keep it simple.

How long will it last, will it be any good?

This is a tricky one to quantify as lots of things affect that.  But ask yourself, is a kettle costing a tenner going to be a family heirloom to hand-down?  Probably not.  It will boil water, it will make a lot of noise, it will be inefficient.  Take  customer reviews on Amazon with a pinch of salt. Trust organisations such as ‘Which’ to guide you on matters of performance and longevity before handing over your hard-earned wedge.

Can I get help when I need it?

Many retailers and manufacturers are not set up to take care of your product once it’s in your hands.  At the end of your twelve-month warranty, is there a local agent or are there spares available to fix your product, when you need it?  Before making a purchase, do some online research on your chosen toaster manufacturer.  Do they have a help desk, can they supply reasonably priced parts, are there engineers out there who can help repair your item? Responsible manufacturers are out there…

Russell Hobbs K65, Henry HVR160 vacuum cleaner, Kenwood Kmix KMX750 Dualit classic toaster. What do they all have in common? All have reasonable support from the manufacturer, after purchase.

Give yourself time to work this stuff out, and you’ll end up replacing your appliance less often.  Better still, you’ll be able to fix it when it goes wrong, saving it from becoming waste. You’ll also be able to pass it on when the time comes, which is a far better thing to do.  If buying new isn’t an option, don’t be afraid to buy quality appliances second-hand from places like eBay, Facebook and Gumtree.  It might not come in a new box with a receipt, but it’ll still be decent, without costing the earth.

Matt or Fixitworkshop is not affiliated with any of the products shown in this article.  The items displayed are for illustration only, but were chosen with care based on Matt’s own repair knowledge and experiences.

A flying barbecue problem

A rusty barbecue lives to cook another day.

My dad kindly donated an elderly Homebase Sorrento gas barbecue a few years ago and each summer since, it’s cooked a good few bangers and steaks in the garden.  Nice.  However, during the winter this year, the barbecue nearly met an unfortunate end.  The barbecue is always kept lightly sprayed with WD-40 when not in use and always covered with a generic tarpaulin, to keep the rain out.  However, one particularly windy day during the winter of 2018, the cover that was meant to protect the outdoor cooker turned in to a handy sail and briefly lifted it a few feet in to the air and then down again with a crash.  Oh dear.

IMG_5736
FixItWorkshop, May’18, Worthing, Homebase Sorrento/ Campingaz Eldorado.

At first glance, all appeared to be well but on further inspection it seemed that the gas burner within the main ‘charcoal’ area had taken quite a hit.  Years of use and damp storage had taken their toll and the rusty burner within had finally shattered and was no longer in good serviceable condition.  In fact, using the barbecue in this state could literally be explosive, since the gas would be flowing out all over the place, potentially un-burned.

Not holding out much hope for spares, I took to Google to see what parts were available for the nearly 20-year-old appliance.  It turns out that there are many spare parts available for gas barbecues, from spare handles to gas valves to replacement grilles, including burners of just about every variant.  With a bit more research, it appears that my Homebase Sorrento is in fact a re-badged Campingaz Eldorado.  As Campingaz is a well-known brand, the burner was readily available at a very reasonable £23.00, including delivery from Hamilton Gas Products www.gasproducts.co.uk.

Hamilton supplied the parts quickly and the part fitted as easily as the existing one, as it was a like for like spare part, more or less.  I had to cut-off the existing screw, as it was beyond help and replace it with something similar, once fitted and the height adjusted with a washer and nut or two, the burner was once again ready to cook.

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However, before I could sit back with a cool beer and admire my work, I decided to tackle the piezo push-button ignition, which had stopped working a while ago.  The wiring had broken away from the main spark anode and to be honest, even I nearly binned it.  I hate to be beaten by silly problems like this, so I soldered the wire to the base of the spark anode and then re-attached the bracket back to the barbecue.  After a little tinker time, the spark was close enough to light the gas, pretty much every time.  I was well pleased!

IMG_5743
FixItWorkshop, May’18, Worthing, Homebase Sorrento/ Campingaz Eldorado.  Re-attached wiring.

So, if your gas barbecue needs parts, don’t assume it’s not worth repairing.  There is a wealth of direct replacement and generic spares that will get yours working again, cost effectively.

Cost of a replacement barbecue:  £100 upwards (although the range could be as dramatic as £30- £5000).  Cost of repair:  £23.00 for the burner and £1.00 for the nuts, bolts and washers (which I had already).