Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Handy Mommy - Washing Machine Troubles

As far as appliances go, is there anything more important to a cloth diapering mommy than her washing machine?  I mean, if the dryer goes, you can always hang things up on a clothesline/over the shower rod.  And if the stove stops working, well that's just an excuse to get takeout or submit yourself to the madness of taking two young children to a restaurant.  But if the washing machine goes on the fritz, well, that's a problem.  And that's exactly what happened in my house a couple of weeks ago.  I dropped in a load of towels & bedsheets, and as soon as the washer had filled up and started agitating, it was making a funny noise.  You know the kind of noise that's too loud to ignore... and when you hear it, you know it's bad news.

So I do what anyone in my position would do, I run over and check to see how bad things are. Did the laundry room flood?  Is there smoke coming out of the back of the machine?  In both cases, the answer was no (thank goodness!).  But when I lifted the lid, the agitator wasn't moving.  Well, the motor was turning and I could hear it was trying to move, but it was just sort of bumping back and forth about 1/4" in each direction.  And most of that I think was because of the clothes mashing against it.  (Why yes, I do tend to overfill my top-load washer...)

New ones installed, grubby worn
down ones shown on the right.

After the initial panic (it's diaper wash day!  It's Sunday!  I did NOT budget to have to buy a new washing machine this year!) I decided to call my dad.  After all, he had fixed his fair share of washing machines in his life, I can still remember helping him take some of them apart in his workshop.  There was no answer  so I left a message, then took matters into my own hands.  You know the saying, if it ain't broke, don't fix it?  Well, turns out the opposite is usually also true.  If it's already broken, what's the harm in trying to fix it?  Worst case, it'll still be broken when you're done.  (Obviously this does not apply when the item in question is still under warranty.)  So I find a YouTube clip on how to take apart a washing machine and I go to town.  Get the metal cover off, remove the control board, look at the guts.  Nothing is revealed, I don't know if I was maybe expecting the broken part to be waving a little flag, or what.  But it seemed that I'd have to dig deeper.  I ended up finding a handy website that gave some troubleshooting tips.  Agitator not moving?  Yep, that's us!  Turns out the likely culprits were four tiny bits of plastic called clutch dogs (or agitator dogs). 

Their job is to let the top half of the agitator spin freely in one direction, and to interlock with a gear wheel to prevent it from spinning in the other direction.  The effect is that the bottom half of the agitator moves your laundry around and the top half pushes the top laundry down into the water, effectively making sure everything is moving and getting as clean as possible.

After I followed the video showing how to disassemble the agitator, then coming to grips with the fact that I did not own a proper length ratchet extension...I managed to hack a solution with a socket screwdriver and a pair of adjustable pliers.  I then pulled the two agitator halves apart, and could see these little plastic pieces were completely worn down.  I dare say they did hold up quite well considering the 9 years of abuse they had suffered in my frequently overloaded washing machine!  Now that I knew what the problem was (and more importantly, that using the machine would not likely result in water leakage), I reassembled everything and threw in a load of diapers.  They weren't going to get AS clean as they might in a properly working washer, but at least I wasn't going to have to buy a pack of disposables to tide me over.  The next day I packed the kids in the car and headed to the local Sears parts centre (I did call ahead to make sure they had the part) and $30 later (I picked up new inlet hoses as well, since apparently you're supposed to replace those suckers every 5 years...) I had everything I needed in hand.  A few more minutes at home taking the agitator apart again, replacing the worn out dogs with fresh ones, and re-assembling everything, Handy Mommy was ready to do another couple of loads of laundry.  And that made me happy, because no matter how much I dislike always having a mountain of laundry to fold, it would be worse to have that mountain of laundry on the dirty pile!

1 comment:

  1. This is nice washing machine information blog. Thanks for Sharing.


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