Household Repairs: Fixing Common Washing Machine Problems

Learning to repair your washing machine can save the time and aggravation of hiring a professional or even buying a new washer. An overview of common problems and hot to repair them.

With a little patience, it is possible to diagnose and fix most washing machine problems. You'll likely need to remove the access panels, which are held on to the machine with screws. You might also need to disconnect hoses in order to access the back of the machine, so have a bucket (for leaks), some rags, a screwdriver, and a pipe wrench or channel lock pliers handy. Be sure to unplug the washer before working on it.

Once you've narrowed down the problem, you'll need to order the part. Write down your washer's model number and take the damaged part with you when you go to the repair shop.

Most people have opened their washer only to learn that it's stopped draining. This can be a frustrating, but relatively simple-to-fix problem.

Dip out all the water just in case you have to turn the washer on its side. Check the drain hose. Is it kinked or clogged?

Trace the hose to find where it attaches to the drain pump and check to see if something is stuck in the pump. Remove the pump and unclog it, if necessary. To remove the drain pump, work from the front of the machine. Detach the hoses by pinching the clamps with a pair of pliers and pulling the hoses loose from the pump. Then, detach the pump from the motor with a screwdriver. Unclog the pump and reattach the hoses.

If nothing is in the hose or the pump, then the pump may need replacing. Tug on the belt that attaches to the pump's pulley. If it's hard to turn, then you're going to need a new drain pump. Follow the instructions for removing a drain pump above.

Is your washer failing to spin (or spin fully)? This particular problem can have several causes. Some you can fix yourself, and others need to be addressed by a professional. First, determine if a belt may be bound somewhere. At the back of the machine, hold each belt and turn it. If it's stuck, you should be able to determine where it's getting caught up. The belts may also be worn and need replacement. When you receive your new belts, the manufacturer will normally include a set of instructions and diagrams for replacing the belts on your particular model.

Next, check the lid switch. If it's faulty, the machine will be unable to spin. The lid switch is usually located near the door hinge. Use a pencil or pen to fully depress it (with the lid open). If the machine begins spinning normally, then the plunger and switch aren't making good contact.

You can also check the switch with an electrical meter (an ohm meter). Again, make sure the washer is unplugged. Open the console by removing its screws and gently prying it open from the bottom and tilting it upward. Disconnect the wiring harness from the lid switch. The switch should have two leads. Touch one probe from your ohm meter to each lead. Then, close the switch by depressing the plunger with a pen or pencil. If the switch is good, then the meter's needle will move to the right of the scale. Otherwise, the switch needs replacing.

Also check the motor's mounting plate. If the motor is unable to move freely, it will interfere with the washer's ability to spin. Find the motor, which is usually toward the machine's front. It's mounted on a mounting plate. The motor should be held in place by springs and rollers. Verify that the motor moves easily in place. If it doesn't, you'll need to buy a kit for your model and install it according to manufacturer directions.

Some washers have a motor coupling, which is a piece of plastic or rubber that attaches to the motor and the transmission. If it's worn, it will prevent the machine's spinning or agitating and will need to be replaced. You'll only need to remove the pump hoses from the drain pump if they're in your way. If so, follow the directions above for removing the pump's hoses. Detach the pump from the motor using a screwdriver. Remove the wiring harness from the motor and use a screwdriver to remove the motor from its mounting. The coupling should now be easily removed and replaced with a screwdriver.

Some machines have a clutch that controls the spin speed. If your washer won't spin or agitate correctly, and you see a black dirt-like substance under the machine, you may have a bad clutch. If the clutch is faulty, you'll probably want to hire a professional to replace it.

If your machine won't agitate, you may also want to check that the agitator is seated correctly. On some machines, the agitator will simply pull straight out. On others, you'll need to remove the top of the agitator (it may pop off or screw off) and then loosen a bolt that holds the agitator in place. If your machine has a fabric softener dispenser, it will need to be removed as well.

If the washer is uneven, it will often "walk." This can happen even if you've leveled the machine before. Use a level to make sure the machine is sitting evenly. Also check the feet to make sure all four are firmly on the floor.

Another easy-to-fix problem is a washer that fails to fill, or fills slowly. Check the valves where the water hoses attach to your pipes to make sure they're fully open. Also check the hoses to make sure they're not kinked. If neither of these fixes work, then remove the hoses and clean the strainers inside. They're likely clogged.

There's no problem more alarming than a leaking washer. First, turn off the circuit breaker to the washing machine. Then, check both water hoses and the drain hose. Make sure all are secure. If the washer still leaks, you may need to replace the hoses. The hoses should screw off, but you'll probably need to use pliers or a pipe wrench. If the machine still leaks after replacing the hoses, you'll probably want to call a professional. The water could be coming from almost anywhere within the machine, including the tub, interior hoses, valves, etc.

Another common problem is the timer. Sometimes a bad timer will cause the machine to not advance from one part of a cycle to another. The timer is located behind the control knob on the console. Unscrew the knob by turning counter-clockwise and gently pulling it off. Open the rear access panel (on the back on the console) and disconnect the wires leading to the timer. Remove the screws that hold the timer in place. Install the new timer.

Troubleshooting and repairing a washing machine problem can be daunting, but with a little patience and perseverance, you can save the cost of hiring a professional or purchasing a new washer.

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