How to take care of your rice cooker (video)
A number of people have asked me how to take care of their rice cookers, most recently after I posted the rice cooking lesson for Japanese Cooking 101. I was all set out to write a long post about it, but then I discovered that Zojirushi America has posted this very handy video that explains things:
Keeping your inner bowl clean, not using metal implments inside the bowl, and so forth should be self-explanatory. The most critical part to the function of your rice cooker though is keeping the heating element clean. This is the inside of my rice cooker - I always give it a wipe right before I put the washed inner bowl back in. The heating element is that metal round thing in the center.
Keeping the heating element clean is especially important for less expensive rice cookers, which may have a tendency to boil over. If anything does boil and gets inside the cooker, be sure to wipe it clean before you use it again. Burned on rice goo is really hard to clean off.
If you've been neglecting your rice cooker for some time and have brown, burnt on stuff on the heating element that scrubbing with a kitchen sponge will not budge, try scraping it off very gently with a very fine sandpaper or fine mesh steel wool. But do try to clean it before it gets to that point though since this abrasive action may damage the element.
If your rice cooker is burning your rice even after cleaning the heating element, and you had a 'boil-over' accident previously, there's a good chance that the heating parts have gotten damaged. In which case you will have to either live with it or replace the cooker, unfortunately.
Given the proper care, a good rice cooker will last you for years, if not decades if you want it to. Good Japanese rice cookers are expensive outside of Japan (some are expensive in Japan too) so unless you have money to burn you probably want yours to last a long time. So, keep it clean and loved!
See also: Answering some rice cooker questions.