Buying guide to Home Appliances

Few people relish the thought of household chores, but they need doing all the same. Having the right tools for the job makes the whole thing that little bit easier. Every home has a vacuum cleaner and an iron, but there are plenty of other labour-saving devices available to give you more time for the things you enjoy.

So whether you need a small vacuum for the wood floors in your flat or a high-powered upright to combat the mess a busy family creates, our buyer’s guide will help you pick the perfect partner to help you with the housework.

Which iron?

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Unless you like the crinkled look, you can’t escape the ironing. But a good iron can make this tiresome chore a breeze.

Steam: Steam irons smooth out the creases in clothes by moistening and relaxing the fabric using jets of steam. Ideal for small loads of ironing, they make the job much quicker than a dry iron.

Steam Generator: For perfectionists who don’t want even a hint of a crease, steam generator irons which connect to a separate water tank base, are your best bet. With double the steam output than a standard iron, steam generator irons can remove the toughest of creases, especially in denim clothing, and cut down the time it takes to wade through the ironing pile.

Non-pressurised: Mid-range steam generator irons are non-pressurised and put out 80-108 grams of steam per minute – plenty for normal sized families with big piles of ironing.

Pressurised: For the quickest way to get through the ironing, choose a pressurised steam generator iron. With a steam output reading between 100-120 grams per minute, the steam also passes through the fabric more deeply than a non-pressurised iron, thus leaving clothes wrinkle-free in a fraction of the time.

Sole plates: Basic plates are made from aluminium, but could become sticky over time, so look for coated non-stick plates. For a smooth glide, choose stainless steel plates or ceramic plates which disperse the heat evenly over the plate.

Heaters & cooling

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Everyone wants a bit of warmth and comfort on those cold British nights and a portable heater is a sure fire way to get it. Heaters also help you save money by just warming heavily used rooms rather than sticking the central heating on

Fan heaters: For a quick blast of heat, ideal for smaller rooms, a fan heater might be just what you need. Oscillation heaters distribute warmth evenly across the room and most models also have a fan setting to blow out cool air for the summer months. Fan heaters are small, light and portable and can be used throughout the home.

Convector Heaters: Ideal for larger rooms, convector heaters give an even temperature throughout. They are quieter than fan heaters and are still small enough to move around the home.

Oil radiators: For adjustable heat, consider an oil-filled radiator which works like a conventional central heating radiator. Good for long-term use in large and small rooms alike, with compact models also available.

Oil-free radiators: If ’green’ is your middle name then choose an oil-free radiator for an environmentally friendly heating appliance. They will heat a room quicker and are more efficient and lighter than an oil-filled radiator.

Did you know?
Heat output is measured in watts, so for more power choose a higher wattage heater, but be aware that these will cost more to run.

Fans and air-conditioning

Fans come in a range of shapes and sizes, but all are designed to give you a cool blast of air and maintain a more comfortable temperature in your home. If you have limited space, choose a desk fan; pedestal fans are a good option for larger rooms.

Features that you may find useful include an oscillating head and fans with various speed settings which enable you to control the room temperature.

But if you want something more discreet, but just as practical, opt for a tower fan which can be pushed away into tight spots.

Air conditioners: Air conditioners remove the warm air from your home and recycle it back in as cool air. Working much like a fridge where air passes through the unit and over a cold evaporator coil, air conditioners can cool a whole room and keep the temperature at just the right level.
Most models feature a range of different programmes. Useful functions to look out for include a thermostat, a timer and a dehumidifier.

Air purifiers: Ideal for allergy sufferers, these clever gadgets clean and improve the air quality by removing dust, mould, pollen and viruses to keep your family healthy. It’s important to factor in the size of the room. Some purifiers suit rooms up to 21m2 and larger units are able to improve the air quality in rooms up to 48m2.

Dehumidifiers: Damp spaces or rooms prone to condensation can be tackled effectively with a dehumidifier. These remove excess moisture from the air and collect it in a tank, helping to combat mould and mildew in your home. They’re ideal to use in rooms where you dry a lot of clothes. It’s important to look at the water tank capacity, but two litres should suffice, and an automatic stop function when the tank is full is handy to prevent spills.

Hairstyling

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Hairdryers come with various speed and heat settings so for more control choose one with a range of settings. A hairdryer’s power is measured in watts and the usual principle applies – more power, more heat.

Speed vs style: For quick-drying results and all round performance a standard DC hairdryer with 1,500 watts will suffice, but for salon-style results choose an AC hairdryer with around 2,000w.

Diffusers: Curly locks? Choose a hairdryer with a diffuser attachment to tame curls with a gentler blast of air, meaning less frizz.

For that super sleek look, a hair straightener is a must. Straighteners allow you to create a range of styles – poker straight, waves, curls, shape and body.
Most straighteners come with ceramic-coated plates which run over your hair easily, leaving behind shiny, silky tresses with no risk of burning.
Since these must-have devices first hit the market, heat-up times have reduced to as little at 30 seconds with temperatures reaching 200C plus.

Electric toothbrushes

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Electric toothbrushes are an easy way to achieve a cleaner, whiter smile and they require less arm strength too!

Most electric toothbrushes come with a built-in timer meaning you’re more likely to brush your teeth for longer, thus removing more plaque and keeping those sparklers pearly white.

Fitted with small brush heads to reach the tricky spots, the heads are gentler on your gums than manual brushing. Oscillating brushes rotate in both directions with standard electric toothbrushes rotating in just one direction. Speeds range from 1,000 vibrations per minute to a dizzying 27,000 per minute, but these are more expensive.

Men's electric shavers

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Looking for a quick and close shave? Then it’s time to invest in an electric shaver. They offer a faster, easier and essentially cheaper alternative to a wet shave. But with different shaver styles, heads and powers it can be hard to make the right choice. And then, of course, there’s personal choice; whether you need a shaver for speed or different hair types, thick or fine, this guide will help find the best one for you.

What to look for:

The main advantage of an electric shaver is convenience. They take the hassle out of using water and shaving gels, and you won’t need to stick toilet paper to your face either as they come with a safety cap that stops you cutting yourself.

If you’re a ’shave-and-go’ type man, then the main thing to look for is an electric shaver with a long battery life, one speed and one shaving head, offering a no-fuss approach to your daily grooming.

Coarse hair: Your best option is a shaver with a rotating triple head which will work to the shape of your face. Double blades will give you a closer, smoother shave.

Sole plates: Basic plates are made from aluminium, but could become sticky over time, so look for coated non-stick plates. For a smooth glide, choose stainless steel plates or ceramic plates which disperse the heat evenly over the plate.

Styles:

Single foi: Basic shavers have a single foil design with straight or rotating blades. They’re fine for fine hair and should cause minimal irritation.

Double foil: For a quicker shave opt for a double foil model which has two moving heads and will give a smoother shave than a single foil shaver. These are more suited to men with thicker facial hair.

Triple foil: If you like to leave your beard to grow for a few days before deciding to whip it off, a triple foil model will be ideal for you. With three cutting elements, it gives you an extremely close shave and will even reach those tricky bits.

Power: Shavers which only work with a plug point are less flexible than rechargeable models as you’re restricted by the length of the cord and will always need a power socket.

Rechargeable models are the most common, but mains rechargeables are probably more practical as they can be used either when they’re charging or off the battery. Shavers which just run off the battery are more suited for travelling as they will run down quickly with everyday use and replacement batteries can be costly.

Hair trimmers can be bought separately or some shavers have them in-built. Most shavers come with a beard/precision trimmer which is practical for moustaches, side-burns and stubble.

Kitchen appliances

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Kettles:

With kettles likely to stand on your work surface rather than hidden away in the cupboard, it’s important to get the style right to co-ordinate with the rest of your kitchen. So put your feet up while we list the important things to look for.

Cord vs cordless: Most kettles are now cordless so you’re not restricted by power points or cord length. And a 360 degrees swivel base means you can place the kettle in any direction, suiting left and right-handed people. Cordless kettles are more useful if your power point is not near your sink.

Capacity: Ranging between 1.5 to 1.7 litres, most kettles on full capacity will make between 6 to 7 cups. Remember to only fill it with as much water as you need to keep those electricity bills down.

Power: They say a watched kettle never boils. But if you opt for a more powerful model – around 3kW – it’ll boil pretty quickly.

Weight: Plastic kettles are lighter and therefore easier to lift but metal and stainless steel are often perceived to be more modern and stylish.

Illumination: Most kettles will have a little illuminator to indicate when the kettle is boiling. Recently, modern kettles have light up water gauges or even glowing transparent bodies in a variety of colours - adding to the style of your kitchen. There’s little worse than waiting five minutes for a kettle to boil and then realising it was never switched on.

Other features: An anti-limescale filter is the little mesh piece in the sprout of a kettle and it helps give you a better tasting cuppa by stopping foreign particles entering your cup. Some are built-in with others removable and washable.

As some of us can be quite bleary-eyed first thing, a safety cut-off is a useful feature for anyone who’s ever forgotten to fill up the kettle before flicking the switch.

Toasters:

Easier, faster and less faff than switching on the grill, toasters are indispensible kitchen gadgets. Whether you like your bread lightly toasted or fully crisped, toasters come with a variety of settings to golden your doorstep.

Size: Two, four, six... Toasters usually come with two-slice or four-slice slots and some even with six. Families may find, despite the added initial expense, that a four-slice toaster is more convenient. In a variety of styles; plastic, stainless steel and coloured, there’s sure to be one to suit your kitchen decor.

Some four-slice toasters come with a setting which allows you to just heat up two slots, if preferred, thus saving energy.

If you like chunky bread, look for a toaster with deep slots and a big heating element so the top of your toast isn’t left out.

Useful features: Defrost functions first thaw out your bread and then toast it so you don’t have to alter the browning control settings. And a removable crumb tray makes it easier to get rid of all those left over bits. Look for one with a smooth sliding action so the crumbs don’t end up all over the floor! To avoid burnt fingertips, choose a toaster with a high-lift function, which is especially ideal for removing smaller breads such as crumpets and bagels.

Reheat: Getting the timings right to match the rest of your pots and pans can be tricky, so a reheat setting is handy if you find your toast pops up too quickly.

Slow cookers:

These handy devices are essentially electrically-heated pots, ideal for cooking stews, curries and soups. Giving meat that fall-off-the-bone texture, slow cookers range in size from 1.5 to 7 litres. Smaller pots are good for one-portion meals while families should look for at least a 3-litre capacity.

Power: Measured in watts ranging from 250w to 1,000w - larger pots will need more power. A key thing to look at is the settings. Some come with up to three different heat settings, but if you just want to turn it on and leave it, look for one with an ‘automatic’ or ‘keep warm’ setting.

Larger models may not be easy to clean so look for one with a removable internal pot which is dishwasher safe. Stay-cool handles are useful to avoid accidents and glass lids let you see how your dinner is getting along.

Coffee machines:

If you really love coffee, instant just won’t do. And investing in a quality coffee machine means you can enjoy the real thing every day. Before buying a coffee machine you need to decide on which type of coffee you prefer; filter, espresso, latte or cappuccino; and how much you’re going to drink. Prices vary wildly from inexpensive manual machines for occasional use to expensive professional-style units that wouldn’t look out of place at your favourite Italian coffee bar.

Percolators: If you’re willing to wait for the perfect pot of coffee, a percolator is a good choice. These all-in-one devices are simple to use, heating up the water before it is drawn up a tube and dripped through the coffee grounds to create a perfect brew.

Filter coffee makers: For ease of use, choose a filter coffee maker. They work by dripping hot water through ground coffee into a glass pot which is kept warm on a hot plate or in a thermos pot – and there’s no need to boil the water first.

Six cups or 12?: Different filter coffee machines have different capacities, so consider how many cups you’re going to need, or want. Some come with permanent filters while others have disposable paper holders. While permanent filters save money in the long-run, disposable filters are cleaner and less hassle to use. Some also use ‘pods’ which hold the pre-ground coffee in a foil casing which are easier and cleaner to use, but may be tied to certain brands.

Pump or steam?: Pump machines are more expensive, but give you a better cup of coffee with that added foam for cappuccino lovers. They heat the water and a motor-driven pump forces it through the coffee grounds at the optimum bar pressure. The higher the bar pressure (14 bar matching that of coffee shops), the better your coffee will taste. A thermoblock will heat up the water to the correct 85-90C temperature to ensure the coffee beans or grounds are not burnt.

Steam-pressure machines work by heating the water to boiling point and using the pressure (steam) to force the water through the coffee. Ideal if you just make one or two cups of coffee at a time.

What to look for?

A good bar pressure is essential if you want a ‘frothy’ coffee and the better the bar pressure the less bitter your coffee will taste. Aim for around 9 to 11 bar. For quicker boiling times look for a more powerful model.

Power: The grills, made famous by the evergreen George Foreman, offer a healthier alternative to cooking meat, fish and vegetables.

Health grills and bread makers:

Simple to use, these grills feature non-stick plates, a drip tray to collect run-off fat, a timer and safety cut-off switch.

They come in a variety of sizes and your choice should be determined by the number of mouths you need to feed.

Breadmakers take the hassle out of kneading your own bread and making sure your dough is at the correct consistency. With the bread paddles doing all the hard work, they’re quicker too, and you can determine how much salt, for example, goes into your bread.

Breadmakers usually make 1lb loafs but some have settings to make 1.6 and 2.2lb loafs – good for large families. Cheaper models will just have the one loaf size setting.

The machines can be quite big and bulky so look at the dimensions to see how it will fit on your work surfaces and if you want to wake up to that fresh bread smell, opt for one with a delay start timer.

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