How to Repair Your Washing Machine

Person pulling out a clothes washer to determine what's wrong.
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One day your washing machine was faithfully cleaning your clothes, and you barely even gave its operation a second thought. Then, any number of scenarios occurred that brought all of this to a grinding halt.

Perhaps the machine's basin filled with water but it refused to drain. Or it drained but did not spin. Or the clothes were washed but did not come out very clean. In short, your washing machine basically stopped working at peak performance or it simply gave up and quit altogether.

For a machine that works so hard, it isn't surprising that your clothes washer will occasionally break down or its performance will degrade to the point where the clothes are not getting sufficiently clean. Instead of calling in an expensive appliance technician, you can repair your washing machine by yourself. Most of these repairs require simple tools and can be performed by homeowners who have only limited appliance repair skills.

Safety Considerations

Always unplug your washing machine before working on it, no matter how minor the repairs may seem to be. Also remember that washing machines are very heavy and can tip over. Do not tilt the machine or move it without help.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Pen

Instructions

Fixing a Washing Machine That Will Not Start

It is the most basic of all washing machine breakdowns: the machine will not start. You have put the clothes in the washing machine basin, pressed the "ON" button or turned the dial, but nothing happens.

  1. Make Sure the Machine Is Plugged In

    Check the power cord behind the washer to make sure that it is plugged in. Due to washers' vigorous movements, especially when the load is imbalanced, machines may move. When a machine moves, it may inadvertently unplug the power cord.

    Cords that have been shortened with ties have no give. In this case, untie the cord to allow for more flexibility.

  2. Check the Circuit Breaker

    Is the circuit breaker to the washer flipped off? To reset a circuit breaker, find the electrical service panel. Locate the correct circuit breaker, flip it in the "OFF" direction, and then back to the "ON" position.

  3. Check the Lid

    Your front loader washer's lid switch strike may be faulty. This is the area of the door frame that communicates to the machine that the door is properly closed and it is okay to begin filling with water. Close the lid and watch as the part on the door connects with the part on the machine. The top part should seat into the bottom part.

    If you have a top loader, test the lid by setting the machine to "ON" and then pushing into the hole with the blunt end of a pen. If working correctly, the water should begin filling even though the lid is open.

Fixing a Washing Machine That Doesn't Clean Clothes

This may be one of the more frustrating clothes washer problems because you notice it only after running the clothes through a full cycle. After washing your clothing, you remove it and find your supposedly clean clothes covered in lint, hair, and other light debris.

  1. Check for Overloading

    Avoid overloading your washer. An overly full washer does not have enough space for the clean rinse water to pull out the detergent and debris. Consult your owner's manual for specific load maximums.

  2. Adjust the Detergent

    Use less detergent. Too much detergent can redeposit lint and other debris back on the clothing, rather than pulling it out.

  3. Wash Pet-Related Items Separately

    Wash pet-related items such as blankets, cat and dog beds, and chew toys separately from the rest of the clothing. If the pet load is especially dirty, clean the washing machine tub by hand after the wash.

    Fixing a Washing Machine That Will Not Spin

    With this all-too-common washing machine problem, the basin has been drained of water but it refuses to spin. Spinning at a high rate of speed is the action that squeezes water out of the clothing so that it can be dried in the dryer.

  4. Redistribute the Clothing

    Try to redistribute the clothing within the washing machine tub. When the washer is out of balance, it will automatically stop until you can get the clothing back in balance. After redistributing the clothing, close the lid again. The machine should start spinning automatically if the load distribution is correct. Loads that include high-absorption materials such as towels, sheets, and thick clothing like jeans and sweaters often become imbalanced.

  5. Make Sure the Machine Is Level

    Check the machine's level on the floor. An out-of-level machine will stop spinning; this action is programmed into your clothes washer for safety. Check the machine's level with a bubble level and bring the machine back to level by adjusting the legs. If this does not work, you may need to re-level the floor or add a level platform under the washer.

  6. Ensure Proper Drainage

    Check the drainage and the drain hose. Small items may clog up the machine's drainage system. You may be able to check the washer's drain pump without removing it. Finally, the drainage hose that leads from the back of the machine to a drainage point may be clogged.

Fixing a Washing Machine That Makes Loud Noises

One of the more annoying washing machine problems is when the washer makes thumping, grinding, or thunking noises during the agitation or spin cycles. Repair this problem as soon as possible, since this kind of movement can damage the washer and create new problems.

  1. Consider Lubricating or Replacing the Tub Bearings

    The tub bearings, located directly below the tub, might be worn out and in need of replacement. If the washing machine is making a squeaking sound, the tub bearings may need lubrication.

  2. Check the Belts

    The washing machine motor drive belt or pulley may be worn out. This is a rather involved repair, where you need to take apart a significant section of the machine to get to the motor. The pump pulley belt may be cracked, frayed, or otherwise out of shape. Often the belt will smell like burning rubber, too.

Fixing a Washing Machine That Will Not Agitate

One common problem associated with washing machines is that the machine's basin or tub fills with water but the central agitator does not move.

Agitation is the back and forth motion that cleans the clothing. This action is performed by the central plastic cone-shaped device called the agitator. Small plastic directional cogs (also known as "dogs") connect the upper portion of the agitator with the bottom portion.

  1. Test the Function of the Cogs

    Open the lid while the machine is in agitation mode. Depress the lid switch with the blunt end of a pen so that the machine does not stop while the lid is open. If the machine is making normal sounds of agitation or even a grinding noise, yet the agitator is not moving, the cogs may be worn down or broken and in need of replacement.

  2. Reset the Machine

    Your machine's washer motor may have been affected by a power spike and needs to be reset. All brands have different reset procedures; check your owner's manual for information about motor resetting. For example, many General Electric washing machines require you to unplug the machine, plug it back in, then lift and lower the lid six times within 12 seconds, raising the lid a minimum of 2 inches to break the lid switch magnetic connection.

    Fixing a Washing Machine That Fills With Water But Will Not Drain

    Many homeowners have had the unpleasant experience of lifting the washing machine lid only to discover clothes floating in a tub filled with murky gray water. If you catch the machine early enough, the water is still hot or lukewarm.

  3. Look for Clogs

    Your machine's pump may be clogged with a piece of fabric or some other item related to washing. Bail the water out with a kitchen measuring cup and then unplug the machine. Take off the screws on the front panel. Tilt the machine up and prop the front of the machine on 2x4 boards or bricks for easier access. Your machine's pump housing may be easily visible, making it simple to assess whether you have a clog in the pump. If so, use pliers to gently untwist the clog from the pump.

  4. Check the Tube

    Alternatively, the clog may be located in the corrugated tube that leads to the pump. Unclamp the tube. Have a bucket or bin nearby, because this tube will be filled with water. Drain the water. If there is a clog in the hose, it will usually be at the end of the hose. Pull it out by hand or with pliers.

Fixing a Washing Machine That Vibrates, Shakes, or Walks

When your washing machine is running, particularly during the spin cycle, it may violently shake or vibrate, often so much that the machine walks. This may be pronounced if you have a high-efficiency machine, which has a faster spin cycle than top-loading machines. Walking machines are very dangerous because they can become detached from the water lines or the drainage line, or they might strain at the power cord and cause an electrical fire.

  1. Ensure the Machine Is Balanced

    Your machine may need to be rebalanced. Use a bubble level to assess the level of the machine from side-to-side and front-to-back. Readjust the machine's level by turning the machine's legs up or down. Unlike the dryer, which has just two front adjustable legs, most washing machines have four adjustable legs.

  2. Tighten Any Connection Straps

    With stacking washer-dryer combinations, the connection straps may have loosened, causing the unit to shake violently. This can be a dangerous situation, since the dryer may fall off of the washer. Tighten the connection straps or replace the straps if necessary.

  3. Ensure the Load is Balanced

    The classic and most easily fixable cause of a shaking clothes washer is an imbalanced load. Drape long, heavy items around the central agitator so that they are not grouped on one side. Move large items to the other side of equally large items.

  4. Consider an Anti-Vibration Pad

    Consider purchasing an anti-vibration pad. Independent testing has shown that pads that are 3 inches thick do an excellent job of deadening the shaking and vibration. While not inexpensive, anti-vibration pads can be a valuable tool for reducing the transmission of washer vibration on your home's floor.