Left unattended, a burst washing-machine hose can spill hundreds of gallons of water an hour. Likewise, a dryer can erupt in flame if lint is allowed to build up inside the machine or its ducts. In 1999 (the most recent data available), dryers caused 14,600 fires, 20 deaths, and $86.8 million in property damage in the United States.
Preventing such mishaps is as easy as replacing a washer's old rubber hoses, ideally with steel-jacketed ones that can't split open. Or discarding the dryer's flimsy — and flammable — vinyl duct and putting a metal one in its place. (Regular lint-trap cleaning, while necessary, won't keep lint from collecting in the duct.)
Once you've made those two major upgrades, as shown on the following pages, get in the habit of checking hoses and cleaning ducts every six months or so. Hoses should be replaced every five years; tag them with the date you installed them so you won't forget. Your appliances will last longer, run better, and use less energy. Here, Richie Isaacson of Affordable Appliance, in Randolph, Massachusetts, shows how to keep a washer and dryer running safely and efficiently.