Fixing Your Toaster

I have an old Radiant Control Sunbeam that belonged to my parents. I used it for a while, but it quit on me, and because I couldn't bear to get rid of it, I put it in the garage. I was looking online for information on how to buy another one, and found your site with instructions on adjusting the screw on the bottom. A quarter turn was all it took!

I can't tell you how happy I am. I'm 84 now, and I remember the toaster from years ago. I've tried modern toasters and none of them even come close to being as good.

Thanks again.


Sunbeam Radiant Control toasters were made to last a lifetime. It's not unusual at all to find one that has been in daily service for 50 years and is still going strong. Try that with one of those plastic WalMart toasters!

There are two common problems that can happen with these toasters, and they're related. First is a failure of the toast rack to rise all the way up when you remove the toast, with the result that the trigger that lowers the toast is never reset. In essence, the toaster believes it still has bread in the slots. When you put a piece of bread in, it doesn't go down because the toaster thinks it's the same bread that was in there the day before.

You can confirm this is what's happening by using a wooden spoon handle to lift the toast rack all the way up on the "one slice" side. Do that, then put in your bread. If it goes down like normal then that's your problem.

A similar problem is the rack coming all the way up, but with so much tension that putting bread in the slot doesn't trip the lowering mechanism. In this case the toaster thinks there's no bread in the slot even when there is.

At this point, with either problem, most people resort to slamming their bread in as hard as they can. This can fix either problem, as sometimes the bread bounces up and resets the trigger (fixing the first problem) and sometimes you put it in with enough force that it activates the lowering mechanism (fixing the second problem).

Fortunately, there's a simpler solution to both of these problems.

There's an adjustment you can make yourself will usually fix these problems. If you turn the toaster over and open the crumb tray on the bottom there's an adjustment screw right in the middle of the opening, on a piece of metal that goes between the two bread slots. Turning that screw one way tightens the mechanism inside, and turning it the other way loosens it up. Depending on what is causing your problem, you might need to be either tighter or looser. The problem is knowing which way to go.

What I recommend to people is that they turn that screw clockwise 1/4 turn, then try the toaster. If it still doesn't work, turn the screw another 1/4 turn and try again. Keep doing that until you've turned the screw two or three full times.

If it isn't working better, turn the screw counterclockwise back to its original position, then start going 1/4 turn counterclockwise and trying the toaster. Keep doing that until you've gone a couple turns counterclockwise.

Usually in the process of doing this you'll discover the toaster is starting to work better (or worse). That confirms you're going in the right (or wrong) direction. Then it's just a matter of making the adjustment until it's just right.

It's also possible for crumbs to clog up the works. Emptying the crumb tray and shaking the toaster (over the sink or the wastebasket!) will get the loose crumbs out. Of course you don't want to flush it out with water or anything like that. Just shake it a bit.

Believe it or not, this simple screw, hidden for 50 years under the crumb tray door, fixes 95% of the problems people have with these toasters. Unfortunately it's not labeled on the older units and many have wound up in the trash that could probably be easily fixed.

(We've heard that this adjustment screw may be located under the handle that is opposite the power cord on some models. Again, very small changes are all that is needed.)

If this doesn't fix your problem, sometimes a good cleaning will help. You can remove the screws on the bottom of the toaster to remove the bakelite base, then remove the screws in the tabs along the bottom of the sides to remove the single chrome piece that forms the front, back, and top of the toaster. This will give you access to most of the moving parts. 

Make sure you make a note of which slot is the "one slice" slot so you can reorient the chrome case correctly when you put it back on. I've "fixed" a few of these toasters by simply rotating the case to put the "one slice" label over the correct slot.

You should be able to brush or scrape any accumulated debris off the moving parts and operate the mechanism manually to detect any places where it's hanging up. Use water and solvents with care; you definitely don't want to immerse the whole thing in water. Use pressurized air with care, as you could blow small parts right off the toaster.

When replacing the chrome case make sure you orient the "one slice" slot over the correct side.

If you can't get yours to work there are a couple places to try:

Dave's Repair (www.davesrepair.com) does vintage appliance repair and might be able to help you. You might also check Toaster Central (www.toastercentral.com) though he does mostly sales of refurbished units not repairs. In the end you might be better off to just purchase a new one on eBay.