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Common washing machine problems and how to fix them

By Jade Harding

What’s wrong with my washing machine? From problems with the spin cycle to blockages in the drain hose, find out how to fix common faults

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Whether your washing machine isn’t cleaning your clothes like it used to or you keep finding leaks after each cycle, don’t ignore the signs that something's wrong with your machine.  

Some washing machine problems can be solved super easily using a few tools or even by just a tightening of a hose, while others may need the work of a professional. Read our tips and advice on how to fix some of the more frequent faults.

If your washing machine spends more of its life being repaired than it does washing clothes, it might be time to buy a new one. 

We’ve pulled out our top five Best Buy washing machines – and the three you should avoid – so you can quickly find a great model you can rely on.

A washing machine that doesn't clean your clothes is far from ideal. But it happens – and more often that you'd think.

One of the most common reasons is a blocked detergent line/tray. If your detergent and softener cannot travel down towards your clothes then how can the washing machine wash properly? To add to this, if there is a blockage, eventually detergent, germs and even mould will build up and transfer onto your garments. This will also happen if the filter is clogged or the drainage pipe is blocked.

Try cleaning out both your detergent and filter drawer before starting your next wash cycle. If it's still not working you might need to check the drainage.

Other reasons might include:

  • Overloading – if you try to squeeze too many items in one wash you could be left with no clean clothes at all. Overloading means the clothes cannot move around the machine, dirt can get trapped between items of clothing and it leaves little room for the detergent to disperse.
  • Using the wrong detergent or selecting the wrong wash cycle – certain detergents work best at specific temperatures. Check this before buying. On the other hand, certain wash programs will be designed for specific garments, silk for example. Opting for the wrong cycle might result in an  underwhelming wash.

If your washing gets to the end of each cycle but refuses to spin, it could be down to something as simple as overloading your machine, causing it to become unbalanced. If you've jammed in too many heavy towels, for example, the weight can affect the sensors and shut off the machine. Re-balance the load and try again. If this doesn't work the issue is probably mechanical.

  • Broken door latch or interlock – When the door closes fully the latch will be secure and that will signal to the interlock that the door is closed and it is safe to to move on to the next step in the cycle – for example, the spin. The interlock will then ensure that the door stays shut while the wash is in progress. If either of these are broken or worn away then the washing machine will not get the green light to start spinning. You can check this by pressing the latch – if it doesn't click, it's broken. Also look at the plastic parts around the door lock, if they are worn or corroded the signal might not be working.
  • Drive belt – Find out if the drive belt is the root of the problem by opening the door and trying to spin the drum. There should be some resistance – if the drum turns easily then the belt might need replacing.
  • Drain block – If the drum cannot drain then the spin cycle will not begin. If you can still see water inside when the spin should be starting this is a clear sign you need to check your pipes for a blockage.

Other causes include a faulty drive motor or pump. If you're still not sure on the cause call in a professional to inspect your machine.

If your washing machine won't drain  the excess water then it will either be caused by a blockage or the pump is broken. You can check which is more likely by listening to the machine during a cycle. If you can hear the pump running but the water is not draining then it's a blockage. If you can't hear the pump, something's wrong with it.

Whether it's a coin, a loose sock or your house key that you lost last week, blockages are common in washing machines. First things first, unplug the washing machine and lay down some towels – water will leak out. Next, inspect the pump filter, which is typically situated at the bottom of the machine and clear it of any debris.

Now, inspect the drain hose. Typically attached to the U-bend under the sink, the drain hose will be connected via a spigot. Unscrew this and empty the excess water from the hose into a bucket or sink. Look in the hose and the U-bend for blockages and remove if necessary.

If none of the above works, check the pump itself for small items of clothing or material that might have wrapped around the impeller. Nothing? The pump may just be broken and need replacing or you could have an electrical fault. A technician can help with this.

You spend so much time using your washing machine to clean your clothes you forget that it might need a wash itself from time to time. Smells can come from a dirty door seal or a mould infested drum or detergent drawer.

But the first thing to check is the filter and the drain hose for any blockages. Put towels on the floor to soak any excess water and pull out the filter (normally placed at the bottom of the machine). Remove any material or debris.

Before checking the drain hose, grab a bucket because there could be a gush of water when you detach it from the U-bend under the sink. Inspect both the hose and the U-bend for anything that could be clogging it up.

If all's clear then you might need to give the machine a good old clean. Mould, built-up grime and detergent can all contribute to bad smells. Follow our five easy steps to prevent a smelly washing machine.

First, check you detergent. Using incorrect soaps or too much soap can result in excess suds that could cause the drum to overfill and leak.

Next, ensure the machine is completely level – if it tips too much to the right or a little to the left water can seep out.

If the machine's still leaking then it's time to inspect the hose. Tighten the connections and look for any cracks or rips. If water still leaks during the next cycle you might need to change the water inlet filter screens or the O-rings in the water hose. Any build-up of debris or general wear and tear can cause these items to fail and create leaks.

If the hose has broken or is rusty then it might need a full replacement. It's also wise to check the water pump too.

If the leak is slightly smaller and coming from the front this could be the washing machine door. The seal around the dome can become worn with age, resulting in leaking and /or condensation but it's easily replaceable.

If your machine is relatively modern it should flash up with an error code when it fails to finish a wash cycle. If so, check your manual to help you decipher the best way to tackle the problem.

When an error code doesn't appear, other causes might include:

  • Faulty heating – If the machine turns off in the first half hour the water may not be heating up correctly, which will signal for the machine to stop mid-cycle. On the other hand, if the cycle stops past 30 minutes the water may be overheating, again forcing the cycle to come to a halt. The most likely cause for this is a faulty thermistor.
  • Drainage – If your machine cannot drain the water between each cycle then it could force the machine to come to a stop prematurely. Check for blockages in the pump filter and the drain hose.
  • Faulty connection – If there is a faulty connection your machine could turn itself on and off randomly. This can be hard to determine so it's wise to call out a technician.
  • Overheating – If you have used your machine consecutively for the past five hours it might just be overheating. Give it a break and try again later.
  • Leaks – Some machines will stop mid cycle if they suspect a leak. If you see water coming from anywhere on the machine check the hoses, pump and door seal.

Whether you're washing machine hums, buzzes or vibrates, if the noise is excessive then it's probably something you shouldn't ignore. Leaving your washer to make a racket even though it's still running could result in breaking the machine completely.

The possible causes include:

  • Worn drum bearings
  • Unbalanced washing machine feet
  • Obstructions in the outer tub and inner drum (coins, etc.)
  • Heavy wash loads

If you think your washer is creating too much commotion, follow these easy steps to fix a loud washing machine.

If you're washing machine won't stop vibrating or even moves around the room during a wash then it probably needs leveling out. Every washing machine has to sit parallel to the surface it sits on – and if it isn't it will shake, especially during spin cycles.

Check if the machine is aligned using a spirit level. If it's not, adjust the feet underneath accordingly.

If the feet are level then it might be the surface causing the issue. Uneven flooring can create a shaky machine so you can try sitting it on a sturdy piece of wood or old desktop and manoeuvre the corners to even it out.

Unbalanced washing loads can also create lots of movement. Squeezing in eight heavy-duty towels and a bed sheet is too much for a 6kg washing machine – it's bound to vibrate.

If you've just moved house or your washing machine is new make sure you have removed the transportation bolts. These bolts are fitted to the rear panel of the machine and help to lock the drum in place while it's being moved. Machines typically have three or four bolts that have to be removed before you can use it. If they aren't taken off this will cause vibrations and could eventually cause irreparable damage.

When your washing machine won't turn on, the first thing to check is the connection and the socket. Is it plugged in? Does the socket look damaged at all? Can another appliance get power from the same socket? It might not be a fault with the washing machine.

Once you've confirmed the power isn't the problem, check the standby switch on the machine. Does it depress normally? Does it stay depressed? Does it look broken? If so, replacing the power switch could do the job.

If the display panel is lit up and you can select programmes but the cycles just won't start then the door latch might be to blame. This features indicates to the interlock, and therefore to the machine, that it's safe to move onto the next cycle. If it has worn or broken the machine won't proceed with a wash. You can attempt to fix this yourself, but if you're not keen on DIY call a local trades person.

Another mechanical issue that could be at fault is the door interlock. This isn't the spring that latches the door shut but the electrical mechanism further inside that keeps the door shut while a wash is in process. Diagnosing and replacing this can be tricky so it's worth calling a professional in.

A washing machine hose can become rusty, making it nearly impossible to remove from the water faucet.

But if you really want to try you have to relieve the water pressure inside the hoses first. To do this, shut the supply valves, turn the washer on, wait a few seconds, then turn it off.

Next, try spraying some WD-40 or a product specific to dissolving rust to penetrate the build-up on the hose. Leave it on for around 15 minutes and then wrap an old rag around the faucet and try to twist open with a set of pliers. If it doesn't budge try getting a professional in to cut the hose and fit a new one.

Before you do anything make sure you have removed the transporter bolts. These are the bolts in the rear panel that are screwed in to keep the drum locked while the washing machine is being moved. If your machine is vibrating or not running correctly and these are still in place, that's why.

If the bolts are out and it's still not working it might be an issue with the installation. Our guide explains how to install a washing machine properly – take a look.

It's also worth noting the problem might not be anything to do with the move. Check our other common problems to help diagnose the flaw.

Most front-loading washing machines are designed at the standard dimensions of 85cm high and 59.5 to 60cm wide. And most kitchen cabinets are also designed to accommodate this size.

But if you're struggling to fit the machine under your worktop, you could try lowering the machine's adjustable feet. This should allow for a few inches.

When a few inches won't cut it then you might have to position your washing machine elsewhere in your home.

The most likely reason why your washing machine won't advance to the next cycle is a faulty timer. The timer controls each step of the cycle, moving the process from wash to rinse, and then spin. So if the timer breaks the cycles can't automatically move on.

The good news is that you can easily replace it yourself or hire a trades person to do it for you – just make sure you buy a timer that is compatible with your washer make and model.

Other possible causes include:

  • Door latch or interlock - The interlock is activated when the door is safely closed with the latch. It allows the machine to know it is safe to start the wash or to advance to the next cycle during a wash. If this breaks, the machine won't know if and when it's ready to carry on.
  • Drainage - The drain pump removes the excess water from the drum during each step of the wash cycle. If the drain pump is broken and either cannot remove the water or cannot alert the washer that it's done, then the machine will not continue to run. Strange noises coming from the machine during (supposed) draining is a sure sign there's a problem.

If you're washing machine door refuses to lock then you firstly need to inspect the door and the handle – is there any visible damage that would mean the latch will not operate?

If the door looks fine, then the most likely culprit is a faulty door interlock. This can be repaired. Keen DIY'ers should find this process relatively simple but always check the instructions for your specific model.

One other, slightly more difficult fix would be repairing the control board. If the interlock is fine but the control board is not connecting with it then the machine won't know when to start. Calling in a professional to test this should be your next course of action.

If the power to your washing machine won't turn off then your standby button may be faulty. But if the wash cycles won't stop and instead continue to go round and round after every spin, then it's probably down to the timer or control board.

The timer will signal to the machine when to move to the next phase of the cycle, while the control board will signify what programme to use. If either of these is damaged or worn then the machine may continue to run until it's manually stopped. Both functions can be replaced, but the latter should be done by a professional.

If the pump or drain is blocked, therefore stopping the removal of excess water, the machine will also continue to run – it won't advance to spin or finish until the water is drained. Check both for obstructions before paying for a call out.

There are lots of different reasons why a washing machine door might refuse to budge including:

  • Drainage – As with all washing machines, if the excess water cannot be drained away from the drum adequately, not only will the cycle stop but the door will also lock. If you can visibly see water left in the drum at the end of the wash then it's likely you have a blockage in the drain hose or the pump. See above for how to drain water from your machine.
  • Door damage – If the door, handle or latch has any damage this could cause the machine to cease opening. Inspect your door before calling out the repair man.

You can force the door to open if needed. Turn off the power from the plug first. Then, unscrew the top panel of the washing machine and using a flat headed screw driver reach down to the door clasp (it will be a metallic top in the centre of the lock mechanism). Push the tip either left or right and the door should release.

  • Faulty interlock – The interlock is a mechanism further inside that keeps the door shut while a wash is in process. If this is damaged, the washing machine will not know the wash has stopped therefore won't signal that the door can be opened. Diagnosing and replacing this can be tricky so it's worth calling a professional in.

A burning smell coming from your washing machine can indicate a potentially dangerous situation. Immediately turn off the machine and unplug it from any power.

The burning smell could be down to a broken drive belt or a broken motor but it's important not to try and attempt to fix the machine yourself unless you are qualified. Instead call out a professional to diagnose the problem.

The most common reason for a washing machine overfilling with water is a broken water-level pressure switch. The pressure switch uses air pressure to sense the water level in the machine and tells your washer when to stop. If the switch has broken or is blocked then the machine will not know when to stop filling.

There is also a tube attached to the switch. If this has come away from the switch the machine could also risk overfilling. Unplug your washing machine, unscrew the top panel and inspect the pressure switch. Each machine will be different so check your manual beforehand.

Another possible culprit could be the water inlet valve. This electronic valve controls the filling of the water. If the valve is faulty and does not close during each cycle once the water is at the appropriate level it will over fill.

Most modern washing machines will come up with an error code on the control panel if there is a problem with the heating system. You can then search this error code along with the make and model of your machine to find a fix.

It's also important to note that just because you cannot feel the heat through the washing machine it doesn't mean the water isn't hot. Lots of machines are insulated. If the clothes are being sufficiently cleaned and there is no error code, then the heating is probably fine.

Opening your washing machine door in the event of an emergency isn't easy – or super quick. And depending on your model – you might not even have a solution.

For safety reasons, most machines will lock as soon as the cycle begins and not open until around three minutes after the cycle has completed.

However, some machines have an emergency drain or unlock feature that you can use if the power goes out.

If your model doesn't have this feature, you can also push the pause button. Once the water has drained away the machine door will open. You can then restart the cycle by pressing the start button again.

We've also covered what to do when your washing machine door won't open.

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