How to Thrift Used Appliances and Restore Them to Working Order

How to Thrift Used Appliances and Restore Them to Working Order


Restoring used appliances can be a great way to save money while getting quality appliances. However, it does require some work and know-how to find bargains and get old appliances working properly again. This guide will walk you through the process of thrifting used appliances and bringing them back to life through repairs and restoration.

Finding Used Appliances to Restore

The first step is sourcing old appliances that have potential for restoration. Here are some tips on where to find bargains:

  • Yard/Garage Sales – Yard and garage sales can offer great deals on used appliances. Arrive early for the best selection. Inspect carefully and ask questions about condition and age.

  • Thrift Stores – Check thrift stores like Goodwill and Salvation Army for affordable washers, dryers, refrigerators and more. Test appliances in store if possible.

  • Online Listings – Browse sites like Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace and OfferUp for local listings of used appliances. Arrange to see items in person before purchasing.

  • Auctions – Storage unit and estate auctions can have appliances at heavily discounted prices. Inspect thoroughly and confirm electrical specs match your outlets.

  • Curbside Freebies – Keep an eye out for appliances left on curbs as “free” items. Though risks for issues are higher.

The key is examining each appliance carefully before acquiring it. Focus on high quality brands, and pass on items with substantial damage or rust.

Evaluating and Testing Used Appliances

Once I’ve sourced a potential used appliance, I thoroughly evaluate it to determine if it can be viably restored. Here are some tips:

  • Look for signs of damage – Dents, corrosion and broken parts may make repairs tedious or impossible. Minor surface rust can be remedied but deep rust indicates bigger issues.

  • Check for missing pieces – Are all the shelves, racks, drawers, etc there? Missing parts can be hard to replace. Make sure the essential components are intact.

  • Test functionality – Try to power on and run the appliance. On refrigerators, ensure the compressor turns on and the interior gets cold. For washers, check for leaks and that the drum spins properly.

  • Assess electrical systems – Make sure the power cord is intact and outlets/switches work. Appliances should not spark or short when plugged in.

  • Consider age and wear – Very old appliances likely need substantial repairs. Signs of heavy use like warped drums or significant interior stains also raise red flags.

I pass on appliances that are too far gone or require electrical work beyond my skill level. Focusing on quality brands in moderately used condition provides the best restoration candidates.

Cleaning Used Appliances

Once I’ve identified a solid thrift find, it’s time to clean it up. Thorough cleaning is key to making old appliances look and function like new again.

  • Wipe down exterior – Use a mild detergent and warm water to remove exterior grease and grime. For more stubborn spots, try baking soda, vinegar or ammonia-based cleaners. Avoid abrasive scouring pads.

  • Degrease the interior – Appliance interiors collect dirt, soap scum, grease and calcium deposits. Degrease these areas with warm water, dish soap, baking soda and vinegar.

  • Clean out debris – Vacuum out any dirt, dust and debris built up inside the appliance. Pay special attention to vents, filters, fans and drains.

  • Deodorize – Eliminate musty odors with baking soda. For refrigerators, place a box in the interior for several days to absorb smells.

  • Sanitize surfaces – After cleaning, sanitize the interior and exterior using disinfectant, bleach or distilled white vinegar. This helps kill mold and bacteria.

  • Polish and protect – Apply stainless steel polish to any stainless steel surfaces to restore shine. Coat other areas with appliance wax to create a protective barrier.

Thorough cleaning removes health hazards and makes the appliances look great again. Now they are ready for any needed repairs.

Common Appliance Repairs and Maintenance

Here are some of the most frequent appliance repairs I make on thrifted machines:


  • Replace door gaskets – Faulty seals let cold air escape. Measure gasket size and install new ones with adhesive.

  • Unclog drains – Use a pipe cleaner to clear debris from defrost drains. Prevent leaks and overflow.

  • Replace control boards – If the compressor doesn’t run, the start relay or control board likely needs replacing. Swap in new ones.

  • Recharge refrigerant – Low refrigerant levels make cooling inefficient. Have HVAC professional recharge to proper level.

Washing Machines

  • Clean or replace hoses – Inspect fill hoses and drain pipes for cracks. Replace any worn parts.

  • Unclog water pump filter – Access and clean out pump to improve drainage. Removes collected lint, coins, etc.

  • Replace drive belts – Loose or broken drive belts prevent the washer drum from turning. Get new belts of the right size and install.

  • Replace control boards – If washer won’t start, first check for power. If power is on, replace faulty control boards.


  • Replace igniters – Weak igniters won’t allow gas burners to light. Replace stove top or oven igniter as needed.

  • Adjust oven temperature – If oven cooks too hot or cold, recalibrate the thermostat offset to fix temperature.

  • Replace valves and regulators – Faulty gas valves and regulators are hazardous. Have a professional install new ones.

  • Replace heating elements – Burned out elements in electric ovens prevent heating. Unplug oven and swap in new elements.

With some basic mechanical skills and proper precautions, many appliance repairs can be DIY. For complex electrical issues, it’s safest to hire an appliance repair technician.

Restoring Appearance and Upgrading Features

Beyond repairs, I take additional steps to upgrade thrifted appliances’ appearance and functionality:

  • Add new handles – Replace worn or dated handles and knobs with newer, modern ones. Brushed nickel and matte black are popular options.

  • Install hidden hinges – For fridge doors with exposed hinges, install hidden hinges for a seamless look. Choose hinges that match your refrigerator model.

  • Apply appliance paint – Touch up chips and rust spots using appliance-specific high heat paint in a matching color.

  • Install rollout shelves – Replace interior wire racks with smooth glide rollout shelves for easier access. Measure carefully for proper fit.

  • Add door protection – Install clear door guard protectors on front of fridges to prevent future dents and scratches. Self-adhesive guards fit most models.

  • Upgrade to stainless – Apply stainless steel peel and stick film or paint to give appliances a modern stainless steel look.

With these upgrades, I can make dated appliances look brand new again while adding useful features. Taking this extra time really maximizes the value I get out of each thrifted find.


Restoring used appliances found at yard sales, auctions and thrift stores is an extremely cost-effective way to outfit your home. With careful inspection, cleaning and targeted repairs, even old appliances can get a new lease on life. Combining essential maintenance with appearance upgrades allows you to save money while still getting high-performing, great-looking appliances. With some perseverance and DIY skills, your home can benefit from quality appliances at thrift store prices.