Seems like this is the year for smelly appliances and DIY solutions. A few months ago, it was dishwasher funk. And then recently, we noticed a linty residue on our clothes and a moldy smell coming from the washing machine. (The residue was not laundry powder; we use soapnuts.)
So, how is fixing a washing machine related to plastic? Well, we did end up with some plastic waste during the week-long ordeal. And learning to fix things, in general, is one of my strategies for avoiding new purchases and hence, new plastic. But really, I’m just so tickled that I was able to take the whole thing apart, clean it, and put it back together again, that I have to share!
This post will be long and winding and contain a lot of pictures. Hopefully, it will be funny, too, because who doesn’t enjoy a good washing machine repair story? And since I spent a ton of time on the web looking up parts and procedures and advice, I’ve included a list of all the resources I found at the bottom of this post for quick reference. I’m hoping someone else will find this information useful.
Onward. Here are the steps I took and the challenges I faced down…
1) Causes of white “lint” on clothes. First, I Googled something like “washing machine leaves lint on clothes” and found this great discussion on the Gardenweb forum (which covers more topics than just gardening) and learned that since the advent of the automatic dryer, washing machine manufacturers have stopped adding lint baskets that can be manually removed and cleaned, assuming the dryer will remove the lint. But at our house, we hang all our clothes to dry, so we can’t rely on the dryer. Here are a few steps I discovered to reduce lint:
- a. Separate linty clothes from non-linty clothes. Wow. I never thought of that. I’ve always separated darks and lights (which seems like a no-brainer way to keep light lint off of dark clothes) but apparently, it’s also good to wash linty things like sweatshirts and towels apart from dark clothing as well.
- b. Avoid powdered detergent in cold water. But like I said, we use soapnuts, which are not powder and are not detergent.
- c. If the machine has a self-cleaning filter at the bottom (apparently ours does), you have to take the machine apart to see if it’s actually cleaning itself properly.
2) Causes and solutions for moldy washer smell. Next, I Googled “moldy top load washing machine smell -front” (I excluded the word “front” because it seems that more frontloading washers have this problem than top loading, and the instructions for them are different) and discovered a very helpful discussion of Kenmore Washer Odors on Bob Vila’s Website. From this and other sites, I found these suggestions:
- a) Run a hot water maintenance cycle once a month without clothes, adding a cup of white vinegar to the water. We tried that, and it helped for a couple of weeks, and then the washer started smelling again.
- b) Other suggestions for washer cleaning involved bleach, heavy duty detergents, and mold killer, none of which I want to use. Some posters blame cold water washing and natural laundry cleaners. Well, I’m not willing to use hot water for my clothes (once a month to clean the washer is okay) and toxic detergents, so there had to be a better way.
- c) Several people said they’d taken the washer apart and found terrible black gunk underneath the tub, so after the hot water vinegar failed us, and since I wanted to check that self-cleaning filter anyway, I decided to take the machine apart.
3) Note the model number of the machine. How else was I going to find out how to take it apart? Lift the lid. The model number is on a sticker on the rim of the washer.
3) Order the DIY Washer Repair Manual. Why? Because even if you still have the Users Guide that came with the machine, it won’t tell you how to take the thing apart. Sears wants you to call their technicians! I found our manual on the Sears Parts Direct website, but tonight, I get an error message when I try to find it on the site. No worries. Turns out, Kenmore top load washers are actually made by Whirlpool, so this Whirlpool washer repair manual will work as well.
The manual was shipped in a plastic mailer. So that’s plastic item #1 for this project.
4) Remove the cabinet. You don’t need me to explain this. Instructions are in the manual. And apparently, we didn’t even need to buy the manual because the repair instructions are also online at RepairAve.com and the website ApplianceAid.com has good information about repairing a Whirlpool/Kenmore top loading direct drive washer as well!
What’s more, if you want to see how the machine is supposed to come apart, do the following search on Youtube: “WHIRLPOOL WASHER REPAIR VIDEO” and you’ll find the whole series of videos by Youtube user DIYAPPLIANCEREPAIR that show you exactly how to do it step by step. But beware. The machine that British James uses in the videos is apparently new and works exactly like it’s supposed to. Mine did not.
Anyway, we removed the cabinet, and Michael set it up on top of the dryer because we have so little room in our back hallway.
5) Remove the white plastic ring on top of the tub. Follow the instructions. After I got mine off, I found this gunk on the underside. I cleaned it off in the shower. It’s nothing compared to what we found later.
6) Remove the cap from the agitator and remove the nut inside. Fortunately, the nut driver we bought to repair the dishwasher was the right size. It turned out not to be a single-purpose tool after all!
7) Remove the spanner nut. According to the manual, this thing should come off easily with a hammer and screwdriver.
Whoa, Nelly! I tried all day to get that thing off with a screwdriver, and all I did was dent the metal. Michael tried too, pounding and pounding against the screwdriver with the hammer. The spanner nut moved not at all.
Then, I discovered that there’s actually a special tool made just for this purpose, which I learned about on the Discuss-o-Mat forum. (Okay, so we did need a single-purpose item after all.)
8) If the hammer and screwdriver don’t work, use a spanner nut wrench. We could have ordered one through the mail, but our washer was semi-disassembled, and we needed to do laundry. Michael put an ad on Craigslist to find out if anyone in the neighborhood had one. (Buying used or borrowing or sharing are other methods I use to avoid buying new stuff, plastic and otherwise.) We didn’t find someone with the wrench, but we did get advice about which hardware store to call. The store’s manager directed us to Reliable Parts in Berkeley. (Reliable Parts has a few locations in other states, too, as well as an online store.) Michael was able to ride over on his bike and pick up the spanner nut wrench the very next day.
Unfortunately, the tool came packaged in a plastic bag and was wrapped in a plastic foam sheet. Plastic items #2 and #3.
A few taps on the wrench and the spanner nut was off. I was good to go… or so I thought.
9) Lift the entire inner porcelain washer tub up off the drive block and out of the outer plastic tub.
This should have been easy. In fact, witness how easy it is for British James (who, as you’ll see, does NOT recommend getting the spanner nut off with a screwdriver and hammer):
Not so easy for me. I nearly tore my hair out for a whole day trying to pull the tub up. It didn’t budge. It didn’t even hint that it might budge. I wondered if there were screws or something else holding it in place — something that British James failed to mention. Then, I found a whole thread on the Appliance Guru discussion forum about this very thing: Whirlpool Washer Inner Drum Removal.
10) Try alternative methods to remove the washer tub. Members of the forum suggest that years of accumulated crud has cemented the tub to the drive block and that only brute force will move it. Michael’s strong. I could have waited for him to come home. But no way! I hate not being able to do things myself! I tried all the suggestions on the forum: banging a hammer along the drive block, using a screwdriver in gap on drive block to pry it loose, banging and yanking, searching on Google, banging and yanking, searching on Google again. This went on for hours. I was a little obsessed.
I even followed a suggestion on the ApplianceAid.com site to get in the tub and stomp on it. So I did. If I could have taken a picture of myself stomping inside the washing machine, I would have.
Finally, I gave up on Google and used my own brain. I figured that the gunk was probably a mixture of solidified oil and soap. Maybe it would dissolve! First, I tried pouring some white vinegar into the opening between the tub and the drive block. Looking closely, I saw what seemed to be microscopic evidence of debris dissolving. Cool. So then, I boiled water. I poured an entire kettle of boiling water into that sucker.
Then, I yanked. And Holy Mother of Everything Congealed, the thing moved! I danced in my jammies. (Because why wear big people clothes when all you’re doing all day is trying to take a washing machine apart?) And after getting that thing out, this is what I found had been making it stick. Gross, right?
And this is what I found inside the plastic tub:
11) Clean the drive block and inside the plastic tub. The task was harder than it might have been because now the tub was all full of water… the water I had poured in to loosen the inner tub. So I got a container and started baling. And when the water was too shallow to bale, I gathered up towels and sopped the rest of it up. Then, I cleaned that drive block with a toothbrush and probably a rag. I can’t remember now. Suffice it to say, you could have eaten lunch off that thing when I was done.
12) Turn the inner tub upside down and remove plastic filter. The filter doesn’t look bad in this picture, does it?
Not until you check out the solidified crud inside that hole: the rest of what was cementing the tub to the drive block.
And this is what the outside of the tub looked like. (Imagine how it smelled. Just for a second. Okay, you can stop imagining it now.)
13) Thoroughly clean the porcelain tub. I put it in the bathtub and sprayed it with the handheld showerhead until it too sparkled.
Afternoon snack, anyone?
14) Put the machine parts back together. All the nice clean inner parts were easy to put back together, simply reversing what I had done before and without crappy icky crap to get in the way.
15) Reattach the cabinet, and do some laundry! This part was not so easy. Remember, Michael had put the cabinet up on top of the dryer. He was not here to bring it back down, and I was not strong enough.
Or was I?
It occurred to me that I had gravity on my side. Getting it down would be easier than lifting it up. All I had to do was inch it over near the washer and then try and keep it from dropping too hard. Once the cabinet was on the floor, I did another little happy dance in my jammies. Setting it up on the bottom rail was no easy feat, but I got that done too. And then, I did laundry. Glorious laundry.
Our washer and dryer are old. How old, we didn’t know because we inherited them from our last landlord. But there’s a way to find out! The website Appliance411.com has a Date Search page. Just enter the Brand, Appliance Type, Location, Model Number and Serial Number (both numbers are on that sticker under the lid) and the site will tell you the date your machine was made. Ours was manufactured the week of October 26, 1992. It’s 18 years old and has probably been accumulating nasty-smelling crud for that long. But it’s still going strong, as far as we know. So party on, Garth.
No evil smells yet. I’m separating linty clothes from non-linty. I’m running a cleaning cycle once a month with hot water and vinegar to prevent the buildup from starting again. I should leave the lid up so the tub can air out when not in use, but there’s no telling what could fall in.
The real conclusion in all this is that fixing things yourself (if you have the time and obsessive persistence) is a great self-esteem booster. I highly recommend it, as long as it doesn’t require a needle and thread!
Gardenweb forum discussion of lint on clothes
Kenmore Washer Odors thread on Bob Vila’s website
Source for purchasing Whirlpool washer repair manual if Kenmore is unavailable (they’re the same)
ApplianceAid.com information about repairing washing machines and other appliances
Sears Parts Direct website for most Kenmore appliance parts
Reliable Parts source for spanner nut wrench and other appliance parts
Appliance411.com Date Search to find out age of your appliance
But for information on how I finally unstuck the washer tub from the drive block, you’ll have to read the post!