We tend to take many of our appliances for granted, and it's easy to forget what life was like before them.
A well-designed appliance really can change our lives, freeing us from drudgery and giving us extra time and energy for more meaningful activities.
The washing machine freed us from slaving over a hot copper and mangle, reducing an entire day (or even days) dedicated to washing down to just a few hours. And dishwashers make short work of multiple loads of washing and drying the dishes by hand (while hiding the dirty dishes in the interim).
Vacuum cleaners did away with laborious sweeping and beating carpets, and fridges improved food safety and reduced the need to shop as frequently.
CHOICE experts deal with hundreds of appliances each year, so they've seen fads come and go. Here are the recent product innovations that they think are game-changers.
The very idea of induction cooktops sounds like something out of a 1960s sci-fi novel: an electro-magnetic force field that cooks your food but doesn't produce heat. What's next? A box that cooks your food by vibrating the water molecules? (Oh, wait – that's a microwave.)
But seriously, induction cooking is changing the way we cook and – importantly – the energy that we use to power our cooktops. Gas has typically been considered more environmentally friendly than burning wood or coal, but there's no getting around it: it's still a fossil fuel that creates greenhouse gases. And gas extraction methods also have significant environmental impacts, even before the gas is burned.
Recent research also points to gas appliances causing poor indoor air quality, which can have a nasty effect on your family's health.
Induction cooking delivers the responsiveness of gas cooking without those negative environmental and health impacts. (Obviously, induction cooktops still use electricity, but if you have solar panels or you're buying green power you can significantly reduce your environmental impact by using them.)
Induction cooktops actually heat pans faster than gas, and give you better temperature control. They're easier to clean and have safety features like automatic shut-off if a pan boils dry or you remove cookware from the cooking surface.
Want to know more about induction cooking? Our experts explain how to buy the best induction cooktop.
With the wild weather conditions of the last few years, dehumidifiers have been in high demand, and it's easy to see why: a damp home can quickly turn into a mouldy health hazard, so an appliance that reduces moisture in the air will make a big difference.
If you're renting or can't afford to renovate to improve ventilation and structural problems, a dehumidifier is a good investment. And if your home has been affected by a flood, leak or water damage, a dehumidifier can be your saving grace.
If you're renting or can't afford to renovate to improve ventilation and structural problems, a dehumidifier is a good investment
They're not cheap, though, and even some of the expensive ones can be hit-and-miss, so it's really important to make sure you're spending your money on a dehumidifier that works well.
Almost all of the models our experts recommend cost $500 or more, so if you want a good one, be prepared to spend anywhere from $500 to more than $1000. Unfortunately, the cheaper models we've tested tend to perform poorly, with the cheapest dehumidifier we tested scoring just 3% for water removal.
Can't afford one? If you already have air conditioning, you could use the 'dry' mode to remove some moisture from the air. Otherwise, ensuring good air flow using ceiling fans and pedestal fans will help. We've also analysed how effective DampRid is compared to a dehumidifier if you're on a tight budget and you only have a mild mould or damp issue.
Trying to justify the purchase? Your dehumidifier can also do an extra shift in the laundry after it's finished drying out your bathroom. "Besides the obvious first purpose, a good dehumidifier will dry a basket of wet clothes overnight in the laundry room, which has saved us a lot of hassle and dryer use during the wet months," says CHOICE staffer Tom.
CHOICE verifier Wendy uses a dehumidifier in concert with an air purifier at home. "They help keep the mould and allergens down in my house and have improved my indoor air quality so much," she says.
If instant coffee just doesn't hit the spot but you're choking on the cost of shop-bought coffee, a home espresso machine can save your weekly budget and your tastebuds. And getting your caffeine fix without getting out of your pyjamas is a big plus. Sign us up!
You can pick up a pretty good machine without overstretching your credit card – not to mention that in the long run you'll be spending much less by DIYing your brew. We calculated that you'll spend $1500 a year or even more if you buy just one coffee a day from your local cafe – that's not a cheap habit!
Investing in a home espresso machine can save you money over time.
Is it worth buying a home espresso machine? Our cost analysis says yes.
With the cost of living skyrocketing along with the price of coffee, we predict that more and more Australians will try their hand at home-brewed coffee.
You don't need to be a barista to produce a tasty coffee at home. Depending on your budget, skill level and just how involved you want to be in the process, you can find the right machine for you, from a basic pod machine to a hands-on manual machine to an automatic machine that does all the work with the press of a button.
To get you started, our experts explain how to buy a great coffee machine. And then when you're ready to take the plunge (lol), here are the best coffee machines under $600. Or you can read our full home espresso coffee machine reviews to find your perfect match.
Doing the vacuuming used to mean dragging out a heavy, cumbersome upright vac and heaving it around the room while gradually becoming industrially deaf from the noisy motor. At least it was a good workout, right?
Stick vacs have revolutionised the way we clean, making quick clean-ups of high-traffic areas possible in less time than it'd take to lug out your heavy vacuum, plug it in and put it away again.
You can nab a decent stick vac for under $200.
They're also light and generally easy to manoeuvre, which means that cleaning the kitchen won't wipe you out, so you'll have more energy for other housekeeping tasks (or better yet, leisure activities).
While you can spend well over $1000 on a stick vacuum, there are cheaper models out there that well and truly deliver suck for your buck. We've rounded up three of the best stick vacs under $200 to help free you from a corded vacuum on the cheap.
"A stick vac with a turbo brush head has made spot cleaning much easier for me – particularly for picking up cat fur and stray bits of cat litter, both of which appear in far greater amounts than seems possible!" says CHOICE expert Chris Barnes.
An appliance that makes light work of boring housework? That's definitely a game-changer in our book!
First, there was the slow cooker: it revolutionised the way we cook by taking care of dinner while you're out of the house, meaning you could come home to a hot meal after doing some basic prep in the morning.
CHOICE's kitchen experts still swear by slow cookers: they make cooking healthy, cheap, flavoursome meals a cinch; they're affordable to buy and run; and they'll save you money because they're great for batch cooking so you can always pull something out of the freezer instead of buying expensive takeaway.
Most multi-cookers now include plenty of other functions too, including steaming, searing, rice cooking, yoghurt making and more
If a slow cooker was already a game-changer, the invention of the multi-cooker really took things to the next level. The clever fusion of a slow cooker and a pressure cooker, the multi-cooker is one of the most versatile kitchen appliances you can own, giving you the option to cook low and slow or to bash out dinner quick smart.
Most multi-cookers now include plenty of other functions too, including steaming, searing, rice cooking, yoghurt making and more. And some air fryers now have multi-cooker functions, so we can add air frying to that list. There's not much a multi-cooker can't do!
Our experts put multi-cookers under the microscope in our kitchen lab, assessing their ability to cook chilli beef, lamb shanks, white rice and brown rice, and how easy they are to use and clean – so you can find the best multi-cooker to revolutionise how you cook.
What about air fryers?
You might've noticed that we haven't included air fryers in this list. While air fryers have a loyal and proud fanbase, CHOICE experts still aren't convinced that they're a necessity.
You can get pretty much the same results from a regular oven as you can from an air fryer – they're basically just small fan-forced ovens.
Of course, being smaller means that they use less power and they heat up faster, so you can use them to quickly and cheaply cook or reheat a meal, which makes them good for smaller households. But they take up a lot of bench space for the amount of food they can cook, and they do require more effort than you'd expect.
We're not saying they're rubbish – far from it – just that they have some limitations and they're perhaps not quite as life-changing as some may claim. We're not completely convinced that they've earned a spot on our list of game-changing products, but if you're keen to learn more, we answer the question: Should you buy an air fryer?
If you're ready to join the air fryer club, though, make sure you check our reviews to find the best air fryers.
Smart lights aren't just for taking movie nights to the next level, or for those who don't want to get out of bed to turn the lights on.
They can also be life-changing for people with disabilities and mobility challenges: not having to get up to switch the lights on or off means you can conserve your energy for other tasks and minimise pain flare-ups. And using voice commands makes things easier for people with limited dexterity. If you're non-speaking, you can control everything through a phone or tablet instead.
If you're light-sensitive, you can dial down the brightness with your phone or even change the light to a warmer hue in preparation for bedtime.
Smart lights can be life-changing for people with disabilities and mobility challenges
You can also use smart lights as a safety feature: switch them on when you're coming home so you're not walking into a dark house, or set them to turn on at dusk when you're away from home to deter burglars.
"I live in an old house and my bedroom has limited natural light, so I program my lights to turn on with my alarm," says CHOICE tech expert Peter Zaluzny. "It helps me get up in the morning."
They're also good for the other end of the day: CHOICE verifier Wendy uses hers on a timer to remind her it's time to go to bed. "Plus I don't have to bother turning them all off at bedtime either – one less annoying thing to do!" she says.
Peter also uses them to set the scene for movie nights. "Turning the lights on or off without having to get up is great. It also means I can easily adjust the light to suit the environment, including different colours. It really helps the atmosphere during movie nights," he says.
And while they deliver in terms of convenience, they're surprisingly affordable to run. You can compare purchase prices, running costs and more in our review of the best smart lights.
Smart lights allow you to control the lighting in your home with the click of a button.
The products that have changed CHOICErs' lives
We asked CHOICE testers and staff to tell us which products have made the biggest impact on their lives. Here's what they said.
- It's a steam mop for me. No more big buckets of soapy water and a wet floor that takes hours to dry. – Laura
- My Vitamix. I use it every single day, multiple times a day, and it's a godsend especially if you're on a health kick or have little kids. I use it to make purees, smoothies and popsicles, to whizz up berries for yoghurt or porridge, and for making soup. It's great to help you get a wider variety of ingredients into your diet, and it's so powerful that everything is blitzed in seconds. – Pru
- I have two favourite products, and both are for the same reason: speed. My portable induction cooktop boils a saucepan of water or heats a frypan so much faster than our old electric cooktop elements. And when you have hungry children at dinnertime, an air fryer is a saviour as it cuts down the cooking time dramatically. – Danny
- The auto-doser on my washing machine was a real game-changer and the absence of one would now be a deal-breaker if we had to replace this machine. It's not just the convenience of not having to dose it manually each time, it was more about the chemical safety and spillage aspect if you have younger children. Having the auto-doser meant I could delegate the kids to do their own washing while they were still fairly young… what a time-saver that's been! – Deanna
- A good-quality coffee grinder is a must-have for me. Yes, it's an additional cost and a whole extra appliance sitting on your bench but you just cannot beat freshly ground coffee vs pod or pre-ground. And it's still way cheaper than buying a coffee every day! – Rebekah
- I used to loathe cleaning windows or any kind of glass but my window vac makes it so much faster and simpler. It never leaves streaks and cuts the job down to about a third of the time. – Chris
- My electric toothbrush – it pulses every 30 seconds so I move to a different quadrant and get the full two minutes of brushing without having to time myself. Is that incredibly dorky? – Marg
- My husband loves the smart tap timer. It checks whether it's going to rain and if sufficient rain is likely, it lets you know that the sprinklers won't run. But you can override this via the phone app, and you don't even have to be anywhere nearby – you can do it from the pub or while out to dinner! – Deanna
- Blenders are a game-changer because they allow you to take in a lot of fruit, vegetables and protein in smoothie form. – Vincent
- Stick blenders with interchangeable attachments are essentially several appliances in one. They're more cost-effective, easier to clean and take up way less space than having a food processor, stick blender and stand mixer in the kitchen. – Rebekah
- Getting mesh Wi-Fi saved us in my former sharehouse during lockdown. – Rafi
- The one for us is the carpet shampooer. With toilet training and two dogs, it has been the best. It's oddly satisfying to see how much dirt comes out. – Amanda
- In terms of tech, simply being able to share and sync dates and appointments in each other's calendars has been a big home-life admin upgrade. – Tracy
Stock images: Getty, unless otherwise stated.