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We put together a washing machine repair guide with detailed information regarding repair cost, DIY tips and free contractor quotes.
The first washing machine wasn’t a machine at all. Ancient peoples used to assist their clothes washing by slapping the garments against a flat stone or rubbing them with sand. Anything to provide some agitation to dislodge the dirt caught within the weave of the fabric. For many hundreds or maybe thousands of years this was the best we could come up with.
Next, the wash board or scrub board was developed. This was invented in 1797 and was really just the same as beating the clothes against a stone, but was portable. Not really a machine at all!
The first machine that we might recognise as a washing machine was patented in 1851 by an American named James King. The machine used a drum which was rotated by hand.
In 1874, the first washing machine designed specifically to be used in the home was built by William Blackstone.
In 1908, The Hurley Machine Company from Chicago, Illinois developed the “Mighty Thor”. This machine was the first drum washer to be rotated by an electric motor.
In 1911, the Whirlpool Corporation (then known as the Upton Machine Co.) produced an electric driven wringer washer.
In 1949, the Schulthess Group developed a punched card controller for washing machines.
In 1951, the first automatic washing machine was produced and in 1978, the first microchip controlled automatic washer came on the market.
Skip forward to the 1990s and we saw the introduction of microcontrollers rather than electro-mechanical timers used in washing machines.
In 1998, the first computer controlled washing machine was developed, able to determine load size and then adjust wash cycle accordingly.
So for thousands of years right up to the present day, the washing machine worked on the same principle; the agitation of clothes in water with the purpose of dislodging the dirt and washing it away. The principle hasn’t changed one bit. The only things that have changed are:
Although the evolution of the washing machine has provided a more efficient cleaning process than beating clothes against a smooth rock, it has also given us a machine with more things to go wrong and more chance of breaking down.
Today we are talking about the modern washing machine, why it breaks down, the most common issues, any DIY tips you can do yourself and the cost of using a contractor.
The washing machine as we find it today consists of a revolving drum neatly packaged inside a metal box. There are inlets and outlets for clean and dirty water, inlets for washing detergent, inlet for power, an on/off switch and a controller for input of data. The rest is just bling.
To describe these parts in more detail requires us to look at each one in turn:
A water inlet point. On the rear of the box, are rigid plastic threaded holes designed for hoses to be screwed to them. Some machines need both hot and cold water, while others just need a cold water feed. It is up to the user to have the water brought to the washing machine. This is usually done by a registered plumber who provides standard domestic pipes supplying water.
The washer is connected to the pipes by means of a flexible hose with a screw fitting at either end. The fittings contain soft rubber, plastic or silicon washers designed to provide a watertight seal at the joint. There is also a filter that sits inside one end of the flexible hose. The filter is designed to prevent any solids from finding their way into the machine and causing blockages and damage to the interior components. Remember the soft washer and filter as we will be dealing with them later when they break down and cause problems.
Electricity entry point. You need something to power the machine and these days we use electricity instead of muscle power to do the work. The electrical power is supplied from a nearby electrical power socket by means of a fused plug and an electrical cable. Remember the fused plug as this may cause problems too.
The revolving drum. Housed inside the metal box you will find (amongst other things), a drum which revolves clockwise and counter-clockwise to provide enough agitation to dislodge the dirt from the clothes. The drum may have its axis horizontal (front loader) or vertical (top loader) depending on the type of washing machine you have. The top loading washer is more common in Australia and North America where land is cheap and houses tend to be more spread out with utility rooms or laundry rooms. The front loading drum came about with the advent of fitted kitchens and the necessity of positioning a washer under a kitchen worktop or counter. The front loader is more common in UK where houses are smaller and space must be used as efficiently as possible.
Door. This allows you to open the drum and insert your clothes. A front loading washing machine normally has a transparent door in the side of the box so you can see what is going on inside the drum, whereas a top loader may have a transparent door in the top of the box, as well as a stronger metal cover to protect the transparent door. Remember the doors because these can cause problems too.
Control panel. This is normally situated in a convenient location either on the side of the box (for front loaders) or on the top of the machine (for top loaders). This component provides the switch which turns the machine on or off and also contains the controls which allow you to specify the type of washing cycle you wish to use. Oh and by the way, did I say you should remember the control panel, because this can cause problems as well!
Detergent tray. This is a small compartment with its own little door into which you can load the required amount of detergent and conditioner. Once again this can be on the front or the top depending on the type of washer and these can sometimes cause problems too.
Drain Filter. Somewhere near the bottom of the box is a neatly concealed flap which when opened exposes the drain filter. This filter catches and collects solids from the dirty water as it leaves the drum and before it goes through the drain pump. This will need to be cleaned out occasionally depending on the type of fabric washed and the amount of soiling.
Drain hose. The dirty water after going through the drain filter and the pump, emerges from the washer through a permanently fitted flexible hose. The hose can either be permanently plumbed into a drain outlet standpipe or can be allowed to discharge directly into a nearby sink. Surprisingly not a lot can go wrong with this although if there isn’t an air break somewhere in the drain line, you will have syphoning occur which can be a problem. We will talk about this later.
Drain pump. Because the dirty water exits the drum at the bottom (because of gravity), it needs some way of moving it to discharge point. This is where the drain pump comes in useful. It pumps the dirty water from the drain filter at the bottom of the box to its discharge point at the top. Something can go wrong with this too.
Feet. Because the washer uses water and has a revolving component, it will require levelling so water does not spill and so the load on the drum is kept at a minimum. Luckily the washing machine is provided with adjustable feet so the washer can be levelled before use.
From what we have just talked about, you can probably see that most of the components of the washing machine can stop working correctly (and probably will) and will require some kind of maintenance or repair. In the next section we will begin to see the detailed problems that can occur and start to work out how to fix them.
The most common things to go wrong with a modern washing machine are to do with the power, inlet water and outlet water, the drum and the levelling of the machine. These are the most common sites of problems and the easiest to put right. They are therefore the easiest for the normal user to correct as they don’t involve poking around inside the difficult bits.
There are various safety cut-off switches built into the modern washing machine to prevent anything happening which would cause either a dangerous situation for the user or a situation where permanent damage to the machine could happen. We will talk about these as we go along.
First of all you should have read the user instruction guide that came with the machine when you bought it. If you can’t find it then go on to the manufacturer’s website and download a replacement user manual. These are supplied free of charge by the manufacturer and come as a PDF file which is easily printed if you want a hardcopy or read electronically on your phone, tablet or computer. Whichever is most convenient for you.
The user manual will tell you how to install the machine, how to level it and what all the controls mean. There is also usually a troubleshooting section which will talk you through the common problems you might have and how to put them right. Obviously each washing machine brand and model is different so it is impractical for me to cover every possible circumstance that may go wrong with your machine. Instead I will concentrate on the most common problems and how to fix them. Your machine may do things in a slightly different way from mine, but between the two of us, I am sure we can find a way around your problem.
OK. You have a pile of clothes that need washing and you have set aside Saturday morning to get this chore done. You have a pile of clothes separated out into:
Try not to mix the piles and it will make your life very much easier. Wash towels separately as they become very heavy when wet. If you wash dark coloured clothes with lighter coloureds or whites then you will end up having your lighter clothes change colour as the darker colours run.
Anyway. You have put your load of washing into the drum (having already read in the manual what is classed as the ideal weight for your drum to cope with). You set up the washing cycle, temperature and all the other information the control panel wants you to enter, and you press the ‘on’ button.
Let’s run through a few things you can check to see what may be wrong, shall we?
Check the mains electrical switch. Check where the machine is plugged into the wall socket. Is the electrical socket switch turned on?
Swap the wall plug with another. Replace the plug with a plug from another appliance that you are certain is working. This could be your phone charger, kettle or whatever. You are trying to find out if the socket is faulty or if it is the washing machine. If your charger does not work in that socket then you have an electrical fault in the socket which needs looking at.
Check the circuit breakers. Look in the circuit breaker box and see if the circuit has been tripped. If it has then reset the switch. If the breaker switch kills the circuit again then you have a problem with your electrical circuit and you must call an electrician.
Check the plug fuse. If the washing machine is an older style then you may have to dismantle the plug to get at the fuse cartridge. If you have a modern machine then the plug will be sealed and the only part you can open is a small compartment where the fuse is kept. Check the fuse is of the correct rating (it will probably be about 13 amps but check in your user manual to be certain). Change the fuse cartridge for a new one of the correct rating and reassemble the plug.
Has the motor overheated? If the motor has overheated then the washing machine will stop working until the motor has cooled sufficiently for it to start again. If this problem happens less than three times then you may not have a problem, it may be just one of those things. If you have frequent overheating problems then you must get the problem looked at by a qualified professional.
Is the timer knob correctly aligned? Some of the older models using a mechanical knob or dial to set the controls must have the knob exactly aligned onto the relevant instruction before it can work. If the knob is not properly aligned, simply move it slightly and try to start the machine again.
Check the door is properly closed. The washing machine has another cut-off switch that prevents the machine from operating if the door or lid is not closed properly. This is very important especially with a front loading machine because if the door is not closed correctly then water will find its way out of the drum and flood your floor. Not only that but it is extremely dangerous to access the interior of the drum while the machine is operating. This switch prevents that situation from occurring. Doors can be prevented from closing quite easily. All it needs is a sock or a similar piece of clothing to become caught between the door and its frame for the watertight seal to be imperfect. The switch governing this can become damaged quite easily so it is always worth checking that it is in good repair.
Check the water inlet valve is turned on. Let us just assume for a minute that the type of washer we have is a cold fill model. Remember what I said about ‘hot and cold fill’? Hot and cold fill means that the machine requires a supply of both hot and cold water to operate. This means it will have two inlet water hoses at the back usually colour coded with red for hot and blue for cold. Once again check in your user manual for your machine’s coding convention. Ours is a ‘cold fill’ which means that it only needs cold water to operate and is able to heat its own water as needed. Check where the flexible inlet hose joins the plumbing and check the water is turned on by means of the valve you will find there.
Check the rubber washers and water filter. Sometimes, especially if the washing machine is old, the washer, which gives the hose a watertight seal, can become perished or deformed and it can block the inlet hose thus preventing any water from reaching the machine. Remember what I said about the cut-off switches? There is one which prevents the machine from working if the water supply is disconnected. Turn the inlet valve so the water is turned off and disconnect the flexible hose from the mains water and from the washer’s inlet point.
Check to see if the washers look in good condition. If needed, replace the washers with new ones that you can easily buy from any home improvement store, hardware store or online.
Check that the water inlet filter is not blocked. Sometimes if you have old pipes, they can corrode. The water carries particles of metal to your machine which are caught by the filter. If you live in an area with ‘hard water’ (your water comes out of the ground in a chalk or limestone region), then particles of lime-scale can find their way into the filter as well. Lime scale is formed when certain minerals in the water deposit themselves onto the inside wall of the water pipes where they build up a coating.
Now and again some of the minerals break off and are carried away by the water flow where they are caught by the filter. As the filter collects the solids so the cross sectional area of the pipe is reduced. There is therefore less room for the water to pass through. Eventually, if the filter isn’t cleaned, the filter becomes completely blocked and cuts off the flow of water to the machine. Occasionally dismantle the hoses to check the washers are in good condition and the filter isn’t blocked. You can also look down the flexible hose to check there is nothing blocking that as well. When everything is cleaned you can reassemble the flexible hose back onto the mains water pipe and the water inlet on the machine. Don’t forget if you have a ‘hot and cold’ fill machine you will have to check that both flexible inlet hoses are clean.
Is the hose clogged? It is amazing how simple it can be for the drain hose to become blocked. Even with the drain filter present, small particles of solids, hair or grease can flow past the filter and collect within the drain hose. Eventually the collections can grow until the hose becomes blocked. To unblock, remove the drain hose and use a length of garden hosepipe to dislodge any blockage.
Is the drain hose kinked? Check to see if there are any bends in the hose that may be partially obstructing the flow. Any sharp bends, such as where the drain hose enters the household drainage system standpipe should have a semi-circular hose guide to prevent any kinks from occurring.
Is the drain hose outlet at the correct level? The height at which the drain hose discharges its waste water must be above a specified height to prevent any chance of syphoning occurring. Look in the installation section of your user guide to find the exact measurements but generally it must be above the height of the top of the drum.
Is the drain hose sealed within the standpipe? To prevent any back-syphoning from occurring, the standpipe diameter must be a minimum of 1.25” and the joint between the standpipe and the drain hose must be open to atmosphere, not sealed.
Is the standpipe too high? The open end of the standpipe is the height to which the drain pump must pump the waste water. The pump is pushing the water against gravity and if the height is too much then the waste water will not reach the hose outlet. Check in your user guide to find the exact measurement as this will depend on the size of the pump fitted.
Is the drain filter clogged? Do you remember we talked earlier about the cleverly hidden flap at the bottom of the box. That was the flap that hides the drain filter. Open the flap and you will see a screw-in plug that you will have to rotate to extract.
Some of them need you to unscrew them all the way, while others will just need a quarter or half turn followed by a pull. Hold on! Don’t remove the drain filter plug yet because the drum is full of dirty yucky water and it will empty itself all over the floor.
The designer of the washing machine didn’t do a very good job with this one, because the drain is too near the floor to place a bowl or something similar under it to collect the water. There is also a safety switch to prevent the door from being opened when the drum holds water so what do we do? We can’t open the door to scoop the water out and we can’t just leave the drain to empty the water all over the floor. There is only one way to do this without making a mess and that is to find a length of hose pipe the correct diameter to just push into the drain filter hole and of sufficient length to reach a suitable drain below the level of the drain filter.
You will have to do this first of all when the washer is empty of water so you can measure the hole’s diameter properly. Then keep the hose coiled up somewhere handy in case the filter becomes clogged. OK, let’s assume we have the hose ready and waiting. Place an old towel on the floor under the drain plug outlet, unscrew the drain plug and lift out of its hole. Immediately push the hosepipe into the drain filter housing so the water can drain under gravity and empty the drum. While the drum is emptying itself, inspect the drain filter.
You will probably see a large clump of soggy fluff, lint, matchsticks, paper tissues and the occasional small coin. If you are lucky you may even find a small Lego brick. This debris is what emerges when you haven’t checked the pockets of the clothes you have just washed. Clean the filter. By this time the drum should have discharged all its waste water and you can remove the hose. Find a small hook such as a bent piece of wire or a crochet hook and continue to fish around inside the drain hole in case there is more debris that requires removal. Take the clothes out of the drum and manually clean any debris from the drum interior as well. Reassemble the drain filter back into its housing and lock the plug into place. Although not essential, I would then advise you to run the washer on a ‘rinse’ cycle without a laundry load, in order to flush through any remaining solids out of the drain.
Is the drain pump working properly? There is a possibility that the drain pump may be jammed. Something may have got past the filter or a part of the pump itself may have broken off and stopped the pump from rotating. This is a job for a professional so don’t even think about attempting this unless you have the required skills and tools.
Have you used too much detergent? If you have used too much detergent in your wash, then there will be too much foam at the drain discharge. This will prevent the machine from discharging its waste water correctly.
The washing machine drum isn’t spinning. Most issues to do with spin drying are relatively easy to fix. The first things to check are:
The washer reports a fault code on the controller display. These codes vary from brand to brand and provide the repair engineer with an idea of where to look to find the fault. The codes won’t tell what the fault is or exactly where it is, but will point the engineer in the right direction.
The washing machine drum will not rotate. There is a long list of things that can cause this, most of which can only be fixed by someone who knows what they are doing. Some of the items are:
The washing machine has become very noisy. There are three main causes of an excessively noisy drum:
The machine bounces around. Check to see if:
The washer is stuck on a part of the program. This usually means that a specific component has failed and must be replaced or that the controller is not working properly. For example if the water heater is unable to heat the water to the required temperature then the thermostats cannot tell the controller to advance to the next operation. It needs a professional to diagnose this problem.
The washing machine will not finish its cycle. This is a tricky one to diagnose. Almost anything can stop the machine from finishing its cycle such as:
What will happen is that the washer will stop somewhere inside a cycle. It will then either abort and display an error number or it will just sit there doing nothing until you come to see what’s wrong.
The washer door won’t open. We have already talked about what happens if there is water in the drum because the drain won’t work properly. This means the sensors are doing as they were designed and preventing a flood. However there are other causes to prevent the door from opening:
Too much detergent. We have already spoken about what happens if you use too much detergent. The foam becomes unmanageable and it prevents the waste water from discharging properly.
Problems with detergent and conditioner. As we highlighted earlier there is a little compartment called the ‘soap box’ where the detergent and conditioner are placed. Often the drawers or the jets which deliver the powders and liquids can become blocked preventing the detergent from reaching the drum. The washing powder residues can start to build up, combine this with the nice warm and damp environment existing in the washing machine and it becomes an ideal place for smelly bacteria to grow. The soap drawer can be removed by one of two ways, depending on the make.
When the soap drawer has been removed, all it requires is to be washed in hot water with a brush. If there are scum marks then a soak in some diluted bleach may be required.
Before you put the drawer back in the soap box, have a quick look inside to see if that needs cleaning too. If you aren’t careful you can end up with some powder and conditioner residues in the box opening which will require some cleaning. The lower half of the opening isn’t too difficult to clean but the upper half has tiny holes through which the water sprays to carry the detergent into the drum. It is very important that these little jets are cleaned properly. The best way to clean this is with an old toothbrush dipped in a bleach solution. The combination of the tiny bristles and the bleach will clear the tiny holes and get rid of any bacteria at the same time.
My clean washing smells bad. This problem is becoming more and more common when people run low temperature washes without ever running a hot wash. The warm water allows bacteria to breed and build up inside the washer which then imparts itself to your “clean” clothes. The way around this is to run a very hot wash now and again to kill off and disperse any lingering bacteria. There may be a specific procedure to prevent the growth of bacteria within your machine. Check the user guide to see if the manufacturer recommends a specific action.
One more thing to remember when playing around with the waste water drain and the drain filter is personal hygiene. These two areas contain dirt you have just washed from your clothes. There may be harmful bacteria swimming around in the dirt.
Always wash your hands after handling the discharge from the drum.
We have seen in the previous sections the many things that can go wrong with your washing machine and the ways that the user can prevent or fix certain problems. However there are some problems that are outside the capabilities of the normal user, even if the user is skilled at DIY. At times like these we will need a professional to come and sort out the problem for us.
Remember that a professional will be expensive so if you can follow the instructions and checklists found in this article and those suggested by your manufacturer in the user guide, you will find that you only need to call a professional in as a last resort. So let’s move on and talk about who we should call.
These two people are required by law and will be properly qualified and insured to do the job safely and efficiently.
If the problem is with your washing machine and you cannot fix the problem by following the simple steps then you will need a qualified washing machine appliance engineer to find out what is wrong.
These days the average user has become dependent on the automatic washing machine to ensure a steady supply of clean clothes and linen. Without a washing machine you may quickly find yourself washing items by hand or visiting your local communal laundry service, dry cleaner or laundromat (in the UK this is called a launderette). The first option is labour intensive while the other options can work out very expensive. In order to keep your washing machine always available you will have to pay for a professional to maintain and fit spare parts.
The cost to repair your washer will depend on the items you need repaired or replaced. If you have a quotation supplied by the professional and it is approximately more than half the cost of a new machine then I would seriously consider replacing your machine with a newer model.
Appliance repair engineers charge either by the hour or per task. They will know how long it takes to replace parts and this is often easier to do than repair the faulty component. Even if the component can be repaired it may be easier and therefore cheaper to have the component replaced. The logic of this says that if a component has reached a certain age, then it will continue to play up even after a repair so why not replace the component in the first place.
If your machine is younger than a certain age or if you have purchased additional insurance then it will be covered by a warranty which will usually mean that all parts and labour are free, being paid for by either the insurance company or the manufacturer. There will be certain conditions attached to the warranty. The appliance may have to be returned to the manufacturer for assessment and repair or your local appliance engineer may be qualified to do this on behalf of the manufacturer.
Usually appliance repair engineers undergo training by the appliance manufacturers and will often specialise in more than one manufacturer or more than one type of appliance. Because they are fully trained, they are qualified to repair your machine without affecting the warranty.
|Average cost for a common repair||$100 to $500||Plus spare parts|
|Average approximate charge for a repair engineer||$50 to $150 per project||Sometimes charged by the hour. Usually the engineer will charge a minimum price.|
|Average, approximate charge for certified plumber||$45 to $150 per hour|
|Average, approximate charge for a certified electrician||$50 to $100 per hour|
|Average costs for a new washing machine||$500 to $1,000|
Appliance technicians and engineers should undergo training by a manufacturer’s approved training course. These are available at many community colleges and private academies. A certificate program will take 9 to 12 months while an associate degree will take two years. Both the certificate and the degree program will address the repair and maintenance of most large household appliances as well as some HVAC training.
Certification for appliance technicians and engineers is available from the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Professional organisations also offer optional certification. Example organisations are:
When repairing or maintaining a washing machine always adhere to the following rules:
If you are unsure of what you are doing with your appliance, always contact an appropriately qualified and certified appliance technician or engineer.
Today we learned a bit about the history and evolution of the domestic washing machine. We also looked at the common faults that can occur and how to repair them yourself if it is within your capabilities. We found out about the various professionals you need to deal with different problems that might arise. We also looked at the average cost of hiring an appliance professional. We touched on the certification and qualifications an appliance professional would need to do the job safely and efficiently and finally looked at a few safety considerations that everyone should follow if they attempt repairs themselves.