Like other appliances, the typical washing machine or dryer always seems to fail at the worst possible moment. It’s easy to panic, become frustrated, or wonder why this seems to always happen to you. It’s not simply your bad luck, however.
No appliance lasts forever. When your washer or dryer seems ready to give up the ghost, take a deep breath and find a temporary alternative. Then, when you have a little spare time to approach the problem calmly, try troubleshooting the appliance. Visits from an appliance technician can be costly and a hassle. In many cases, the solution may be something very simple and the repair minor. At the very least, knowledge is power. You will be able to guide the technician to the problem, saving time and money, and better prepared to understand what the technician does to fix your appliance.
How Your Washing Machine Works
When you start your washer, a solenoid-operated water inlet mixing valve opens, allowing water to flow into the washing machine. Inside this valve are three main parts: a hot water solenoid, a cold water solenoid and a valve mixing body. Water flows, according to temperature, from the house water supply through hot and cold inlets. These hoses clamp to the valve mixing body, which mixes the water and delivers it to the tub interior. As the water rises, a pressure switch measures the water depth and signals the solenoid to close the water inlet valve when it reaches the proper depth. This is the end of the fill cycle.
As the wash cycle begins, the agitator – the cone-shaped plastic structure in the center of a top-loading washer – begins its work. Powered by a motor with an attached clutch and transmission to allow it to switch gears, so to speak, the agitator’s fins or arms rotate, pulling the clothes under the surface, through the sudsy water, in a constant cycle, working dirt free. A front-loading washer lacks the agitator, instead using the tumbling motion of the washer tub itself to agitate the clothes.
Suddenly, it stops. The drain cycle begins. The timer – usually mechanical (its motor uses cams to open and close switches), although some newer models use electronic circuit boards instead – advances, telling the washer to drain the water and sending the pump the power to operate. As the tub spins at between 400 to 800 rpms, the water in the washing machine is flung out to the outer edges of the washing tub. This makes it easier for the pump to collect the water.
Fresh water floods into the washing machine, again from the inlet hoses and through the mixer to the tub. The agitator activates or the tub tumbles, repeating a quick wash cycle, only with clean water alone, to rinse the clothes. The transmission shifts gears again in short order, throwing the washer into another spin cycle. The centrifugal force literally throws water out of the clothes as the pump gathers it and removes it through the drain. Sometimes, short bursts of water shoot into the spinning tub like machine gun bursts of bullets, enhancing the rinse. Finally, the clothes are rinsed and the washing machine stops, its work complete.
Stop your washer in the middle of a spin cycle. The tub or agitator will come to a halt due to a lid switch. You will notice a short prong on the bottom of the washer’s lid and a corresponding small hole around the tub opening. Only when the prong – or sometimes your finger tip – is inserted inside the hole will the machine operate. This safety feature prevents injury to foolishly inserted hands and arms. A brake assembly, much like brakes on a motor vehicle, keeps the agitator or tub from spinning. Thus, while your washer may fill or extract water with an open lid, it should never wash or spin.
Of course, the spinning still isn’t possible without the clutch and transmission. Fueled by the motor, the transmission shifts the washer’s gears – changing the cycle from wash, to spin, to drain – usually with a reversible motor. In one direction, the motor causes the transmission and clutch to spin the tub while the opposite direction works the agitator. Other washers use a solenoid to shift the settings. Meanwhile, the clutch controls the belt that powers the actual movement. That is, as the tub’s speed picks up, the clutch gradually tightens the belt until it reaches full speed. Without this process, the assembly would fail quickly under the weight of the clothes and water.
Washing Machine Troubleshooting: Common Problems
While it’s true that most anything can go wrong with any mechanized appliance, some problems are more common than others. Plus, when it comes to fixing your washer, some parts just aren’t user friendly and checking them, much less repairing them, may prove beyond the average DIYer. To troubleshoot your washing machine’s problems, first identify the symptom as clearly as possible. Then, using the basic knowledge of how your washer works, eliminate the simple solutions first. If you still fail to fix your washer, or if the symptoms don’t seem to fit into any clear category, consult a professional repairman.
The Washer Won’t Run
1. Check the power cord to ensure the washer is plugged in. Count yourself lucky if this is the problem!
2. Find your home’s breaker or fuse box. Check that the fuse controlling the washer is good, or the breaker did not trip. Fix as necessary. Call an electrician if the fuse or breaker immediately trips or blows again, or if the problem happens frequently.
Washer Fails to Fill With Water
1. Check your water inlet hoses, hot and cold, to see if the water supply is open. Turn both on fully.
2. With the water turned off, disconnect the water hoses where they attach to the washer and check the filter screen. Clean as necessary.
Water Floods the Floor
1. Look at your inlet hoses as well as the hose-valve connections. Tighten loose hoses that drip water. Replace hoses with splits and pinholes.
2. Check your house drain. Even if the washer hoses work well, if there’s a problem with the home’s drain, water may back up and leak or flood.
Washer Fills but Won’t Agitate
1. Test the lid’s safety switch to see if pressing it makes the washer start.
2. Wait a couple of minutes and try starting your washer again. In some cases, the motor overload protector may have stopped the washer. It will reset in a few minutes.
3. Suspect a broken belt, electronic failure or other internal failure if these measures fail to start the washer. Consult a qualified repair technician for further information.
Clothes Remain Wet After the Spin Cycle
1. Check the drain hose to see if it is crushed or bent. If a heavy object pinches the hose off, or a heavy, unbalanced load causes the washer to “dance,” the drain hose may not be open and able to drain the water.
2. Clean out the drain hose with a long brush handle or similar tool. If the hose is clogged with lint and hair, it may cause the drain to work poorly.
Washer Makes Thumping Noises or Other Unusual Sounds
1. Check the load. Is it over-full? Is most of the weight on one side of the tub? An improperly balanced or too-full load can create strain on the motor, cause the tub to ricochet inside the housing, or make the washer “walk” across the floor.
2. Suspect motor problems if the sound continues and the load is light and balanced or the noise sounds like a shriek or scream. Consult an appliance technician for further information.
How Your Dryer Works
Whether it’s electric or gas powered, your dryer works basically the same. First, the blower fan starts up. It evacuates any built-up heat inside the dryer cabinet, preventing combustion and fire. Then the heat source – a heating element in an electric dryer and a safety valve controlled burner in a gas dryer – activated by a thermal fuse, kicks on, heating the air. The warm, dry air slowly evaporates the moisture in your clothes and a temperature control system – a type of thermostat – regulates the temperature to avoid excessive heat that may shrink your clothes or start a fire.
As the dryer runs, the heated air continues to circulate. The blower fan is powered by an attached motor, which also controls the dryer drum’s rotation. The blower doesn’t actually blow. Instead, it pulls the air through the clothes as they tumble inside the drum. The drum is able to rotate in this manner due to a large belt that runs across the motor’s pulleys, wrapping around the drum and kept tight by an idler pulley, just like the drive belt on a car. While the belt moves the drum in a circular fashion, it’s kept in place inside the dryer with glides, rollers, and either a ball-and-socket spindle or a shaft enclosed within a sleeve.
Warm, humid air escapes the dryer through an outside vent as it continues to work. If the dryer door is suddenly opened, a door switch – another prong in the door and matching hole in the frame surrounding the dryer door opening – shuts the dryer down. This switch also activates any interior light.
Finally, the clothes dryer stops. If it was set on a timed cycle, the timer – either mechanical or electronic – signals an end to the heat source and the motor spins to a halt. Automatic cycles, in contrast, turn the dryer off when the dryer’s interior temperature and moisture levels match the settings you previously selected. Electronic sensor control settings, available on some dryers, use a special sensor to measure the moisture level of the clothes and stop the dryer.
In some ways, troubleshooting a dryer is even simpler than a washer, as most problems are caused by the same few parts. Of course, a malfunctioning dryer may prove more dangerous than a faulty washer since dryers can cause fires, so repairing a dryer at the first sign of problems is critical. While some of the parts are easily accessed and repaired by the average DIYer, if you have any concerns, or if your troubleshooting fails to provide you with answers, consult a qualified appliance technician. At the very least, your understanding of how your dryer works plus the groundwork you have performed will save time and expense on the repair bill.
Dryer Won’t Run
1. Check to see if it is plugged in. A simple fix, you’re in luck if it merely got pulled free from the outlet. This happens more often than you would believe!
2. Find your home’s fuse or breaker box and identify the one controlling your dryer. Often, major appliances such as the washer and dryer run off a separate circuit. If the fuse is blown or the breaker tripped, replace it or turn it on again. Consult an electrician if the problem occurs frequently, as this may signal a problem with your wiring or deeper problems with your appliance.
3. Test the safety door switch. Open the door to uncover the hole into which the prong fits. Stick your finger or a similar object into the hole. Note if you hear a click or the light goes off. If neither happens, the switch may be faulty.
4. Have the dryer start switch tested if nothing happens when you turn it on. Without a start switch, your dryer will fail to work.
5. Note if the dryer seems to be on, but the drum simply won’t move. This might be verified by checking for a light inside the drum or a buzzing or humming noise. A broken drum belt simply won’t turn the dryer. It’s a fairly easy fix for the average person.
6. Suspect the thermal fuse, motor or an internal electronic part if the dryer still won’t work and other causes are eliminated. The thermal fuse stops working if the dryer overheats. Without a motor, nothing works. Other electronic parts may need replacement, alternatively. Consult a qualified technician for further assistance.
Dryer Fails to Heat or Takes Too Long to Dry Clothes
1. Check the lint filter and clean it if full. A clogged lint filter keeps the air from flowing freely, forcing the dryer to work harder. This may result in a long drying time.
2. Look into the space between the drum and the filter or inside the dryer door if it is hollow at the bottom. If your system is badly clogged with lint, it can become trapped inside the dryer and will show as tufts of lint sticking out in various places. Use any tool at hand to gently pull the lint free, unclogging the dryer and restoring proper heat to the system, if not preventing a fire.
3. Pull your dryer from the wall slightly and look at the vent hose to ensure it isn’t crimped, smashed, or somehow blocked.
4. Investigate your dryer vent outside. A build-up of lint here will also cause drying problems and is another potential fire hazard. Clean out the vent outlet, as well as along the length of the vent hose, as necessary. Note that vents fitted with a trap door will not expel lint when clogged. You may need to force the door open.
5. Check your dryer’s settings if the dryer fails to produce any heat. If the dryer is gas powered, locate the gas control valve at the rear and ensure it is turned on. Relight any pilot light as applicable. If these measures fail to solve the problem or if the dryer is electric, suspect your dryer’s thermostat or heating element or a related problem. Consult a technician for repair or replacement as necessary.
Dryer Melts, Burns or Tears Clothes
1. Discontinue use of the dryer until the problem is solved. Excessive heat can cause fires. Check for a build-up of lint to ensure it isn’t causing the problem.
2. Look inside the dryer cabinet, surrounding and underneath the drum, if possible. If the mechanisms holding the drum in place fail, the drum may drop, causing possible damage to the clothing as well as corrupting the thermostat. Consult a technician for further assistance.
Dryer Makes a Loud Racket
1. Stop your dryer and check the items drying inside it. Are there any buckles, buttons or similar items attached to the clothes creating the problem? Did someone leave keys, coins or other loose objects in their clothes? This is the most common cause of dryer sounds.
2. Does the drum sound like it is wobbling? Is there a shrieking noise, similar to a power steering belt squeal on a car? Common causes of unexplained dryer noise are broken belts, failing drum supports and motor problems. Consult an appliance repair professional for further information.