Did you know there’s a chunk of concrete in your washing machine?

Back in May, I wrote a blog entry in which I stated that having my dishwasher or my sewing machine break was a “good” problem, ever so much better than having my clothes washer break.

HA HA HA HA HA! (Wiping tears out of my eyes.) What an idiot. I didn’t realize it at the time, but writing those words was tantamount to daring the machine to break. I might as well have yanked my clothes washer out of the laundry room, drawn a pentagram around it, lit some candles, and begged old man Beelzebub to come down and do his worst.

So, yeah. August came. One morning I was hanging out, working on some art stuff and downing coffee so maybe my face would look less like a character drawn by Ed “Big Daddy” Roth. “Huh. I wonder if everybody has clean underwear,” I thought. “Maybe I should throw a load in the washer. After all, who doesn’t like clean underwear?”

 

The art stuff I was working on.

Half an hour or so later: BAM BAM BAM BAM! 

What the …? 

A hideous racket was coming from the laundry room. I went to investigate. The source of the racket was the washing machine attempting to rattle itself to death during high speed spin. Ugh. I went through the usual troubleshooting stuff, such as rebalancing the load and simply running the machine empty. Same issue. It was clear that something had broken.

Fortunately, there are helpful diagnostic sites on the web such as fix.com. I headed over there, entered in the model number of my washer, and was soon puzzling over parts diagrams.

Based on my extensive knowledge of washing machines, which is to say none, I decided that the problem was probably a broken tub dampening strap. It made sense; if a strap had broken, maybe the tub was ricocheting around the enclosure during the spin cycle. I smiled to myself. That would be an easy fix, just a matter of popping off some covers and installing a new strap.

I went over to YouTube, found a video where a nice helpful person was dissassembling a GE Top Loader, and got to work.

 

And … no. All of the straps were intact. What could the problem be?

 

This. This was the problem. When I looked in the bottom of the machine, opposite the drive motor, I found a loose concrete brick, a couple of metal straps, and two long, unsecured screws. At first I didn’t understand what I was looking at; why was there a concrete brick in the bottom of the machine? Was one of my family members playing a prank on me?

It was, admittedly, a silly thought. Tempting as it may be, nobody in my household has enough energy to take apart a washing machine and shove a brick in the bottom just so they can hear me yell. No, the brick was the counterweight, positioned so as to balance out the weight of the drive motor. It turns out that all or most top loading washing machines have them, although some of them have a more refined appearance. (Do a Google image search on “washing machine counter weight” if you’re skeptical.)

It turned out that the metal straps and long screws I’d found were part of the (poorly engineered) mounting mechanism for the brick. Over the years, vibration from the machine had caused them to hog out the threads in the plate they screwed into, meaning that some lucky soul – me – would have the life scared out of her one morning while she was innocently downing her coffee.

After some soul-searching – could I just go down to the hardware store and kludge a new mount together? – I purchased a replacement brick with improved mount for $80.

 

“Well there’s your problem right there. You got a big ole rock stickin’ out the bottom of your washing machine. See, normal people, they don’t let their rocks rattle around like that.”

Fortunately, once the part came in, the repair itself was trivial. The worst parts were getting the tub out of the washing machine enclosure and putting the drive belt back on afterward.

 

A test run after installing the new brick and putting the tub back in the machine enclosure. I like to leave devices somewhat open until I verify that they’re working properly. This shot is fun; we can see the level of the water through the tub, as well as mildew I failed to remove while the machine was disassembled. I’m just that good.

 

Taking a peek to see if the drain is leaking (nope: good) and whether the drive belt is tracking properly on the pulley. The latter was a bit of a worry while the machine was disassembled, as the pulley has some wobble. Unlike with, say, a band saw, there isn’t a nice way to adjust the tracking of the pulley. Fortunately, it has proven to be a non-issue thus far.

Lessons learned:

  • Most or all top-loader washing machines have bricks or concrete slabs in them.
  • Washing machines are fairly simple devices.
  • Provided one is just swapping out parts and knows what the problem is, repairing a washer is fairly straightforward.
  • I like my washer better now that I’ve worked on it. I feel like we’re friends now.

Now we have clean underwear again. Now I’m back to making art. Unfortunately, I still resemble a character drawn by Ed “Big Daddy” Roth before I’ve had coffee in the morning.

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