Appliances make modern life possible. But if your washer is smelling like mold, or you’re wondering whether it’s safe to leave the dryer on when you leave the house, or you simply want to make sure your dryer won’t burn the house down, read these tips. They’ll also make your machines last longer.

Read the manual

“The manual is the first place to check for recommendations on safe use, including how to operate and maintain your washer and dryer,” says John Drengenberg, consumer safety director for UL.

The manual will also tell you about common mistakes people make, such as reaching into the washing machine or dryer while the drum is still operating — even as it slows to a stop. This can damage the machines. Plus, you put yourself at risk for a broken limb or other injury.

Banish mold and mildew

Front loaders are popular for their cleaning efficiency and energy saving value. Their design, however, also makes them more likely to collect mold. The rubber door gasket traps water and allows mildew and mold to grow.

To eliminate and protect against mold and funky mildew smells:

  • Run a cycle on the hottest setting (or the “clean” setting if your washer has one). Check your instruction manual to see if you should clean the machine on empty or add a few bath towels. Before starting the clean cycle, add baking soda or chlorine bleach or even a quarter cup of powdered dish detergent to help clean and deodorize.
  • Wash the gasket. Using rubber gloves, take a spray bottle and add one- part bleach to four parts water. Spray and wipe away any remaining mold from the rubber seal. Be sure to move apart and clean within the rubber grooves. This is where moisture builds, causing mold to grow. Wipe everything with a cloth. For stubborn mold, let the mixture sit for a few minutes. Rinse by spraying with clean water and wiping dry with a clean cloth. If you have a window or door in your laundry room, open it to allow fresh air to help lessen the bleach fumes.
  • Clean the detergent dispensers regularly.
  • Use powdered detergent rather than liquid. Liquid detergent can accumulate around the washer. Skip the liquid fabric softener, which leaves a film behind that triggers mold growth.
  • Remove your wet wash right away.
  • Thoroughly dry the rubber door gasket and the glass window after each wash.
  • Keep the washer door open in between loads. (Small children may be tempted to play in an open washer; make sure your laundry room door is locked to prevent injuries.)

Be fanatical about lint removal

Every time you use your dryer, clean the lint screen. Lint blocks airflow, says Drengenberg. The machine can’t dry your clothes as efficiently if the air isn’t circulating well. A lint-lined filter makes the machine work harder, which can wear it down over time. Additionally, “that lint build-up will not allow heat to escape, increasing the chances of a malfunction or fire in your machine.”

Drengenberg says that when you’re cleaning the lint screen, don’t forget to wipe up any lint on or behind your dryer, or in between your washer and dryer. This will also help reduce risk of fire.

The dryer exhaust duct that feeds moisture to the outside should be serviced periodically to remove lint build-up. An appliance service technician can do the job.

Be careful what you wash and dry

Some things should never be put in the washer or dryer, including clothing with any of the following on it: gasoline, cooking oil, motor oil, oil-based paints or batteries, says Dregenberg. Explosions can start in both the washer and dryer.

Foam rubber, like the kind found in some padding on athletic clothing or in bras, should not be dried with heat. Drengenberg recommends using the non-heat settings.

What about leaving a dryer running when no one is at home? The NFPA recommends turning it off when one isn’t home or going to sleep.

Wendy Bradford is a writer living in New York City. You can find her at Mama One to Three, Huffington Post and Twitter.