Buying household appliances was stressful enough before the COVID-19 pandemic threw global supply chains into complete and utter chaos. If you’re lucky enough to find something you like and can actually afford, it’s probably either discontinued, backordered, or hanging out in logistics limbo.
For this reason and many others, people are increasingly choosing used appliances over new ones. But hunting down the perfect pre-owned fridge, washing machine, dryer, or stove isn’t much easier than buying new—it’s a whole other kind of overwhelming. Here’s how to find what you need without losing your mind.
Why used appliances are worth a look
Price is the most obvious plus to buying used appliances. According to a November 2020 Consumer Reports blog post—which is an excellent, thorough guide to the whole process—you can often get barely-used appliances for 50-75% off list price. If you’re willing to buy something a little older, you can get an even better deal.
Older appliances (think pre-Internet of things) have more going for them than their price tags. They typically have fewer components than modern versions, which gives them fewer opportunities to break. Also, those components tend to be both sturdy and easily replaceable, so when they do fail, they don’t take the entire machine with them. Old appliances can still run up repair bills and flood your kitchen—they just don’t break in the extremely stupid, unnecessary, often permanent ways that computerized ones do. (Plus, a surprise repair bill stings less on a $250 used fridge than a $3000 new one.)
Recalibrate your expectations
Before you dive in, you should know that only some used appliances are easy to come by. If you’re looking for a range, fridge, freezer, washer, or dryer, you can probably find a solid used model without much trouble. Used dishwashers definitely exist, but can be a little harder to track down; smaller items like microwaves are so rare to find in good used condition that you’re better off buying new.
Where style and aesthetics are concerned, your options will depend on what’s popular in your region—or, more accurately, what was popular in your region until recently. Most used appliance dealers get their stock from remodels, so expect to see lots of stuff that’s pretty close to brand new, lots of stuff that went out fashion a few years ago, and not a whole lot else.
Learn the average lifespan of your appliance
Unexpected breakdowns are always possible, particularly with used appliances that have seen better days. Before you buy anything, research its average lifespan so you know what you’re getting into. Generally, the more moving parts an appliance has and the more water it’s exposed to, the faster it’ll wear out. This is why washing machines and dishwashers usually crap out several years before dryers, refrigerators, ovens, and stoves.
That’s about as specific as it gets, unfortunately. Websites like Consumer Reports and This Old House list average lifespans for different categories of appliances, but these are guidelines, not hard-and-fast rules. The lifespan of an individual appliance depends on its make, model, age, and most importantly, its condition: How heavily has it been used? How well was it cleaned and maintained? Has it been exposed to harsh conditions like hard water, extreme temperatures, or detergent buildup? These are just some of the factors that influence its lifespan; the only way to tell is to take a good look, up close and in person.
Always shop for used appliances in person
As with all used goods, you should only buy used appliances from people who know what they’re doing. This means sticking to reputable local dealers and repair shops and avoiding Facebook Marketplace and Craigslist. (Unless you know how to repair appliances yourself, in which case, go for it.) Good shops only sell properly repaired and/or refurbished appliances, usually with some type of warranty—neither of which you’ll get from a Craigslist rando.
Lots of places put their inventory online these days, so browse around to get a feel for prices, selection, and warranties. (Don’t forget to look up pickup, delivery, and installation.) But when it’s time to shop, do it in person. It’s important to test everything out as thoroughly as you can: Ask to plug the appliance in and make sure that every knob, dial, and setting works as intended. You can also ask what kind of repairs it took to get it ready for the sales floor. Be sure to check for cosmetic damage, weird smells, and worrying sounds, too, along with anything else that makes an appliance harder to use.
Between the background research and the actual shopping, finding a good used appliance can take some time. But with a little patience and some luck, you can get something that works like new, for a fraction of the price.