Monday, May 5, 2014

The case of the noisy washing machine drain pump

Oh, it was a troubling noise.

All I needed was to do laundry before a week-long trip. Our laundry machines are upstairs. I was downstairs and watching TV and then, a noise. What was it? It was not how the laundry normally sounded. That said, the cycle finished and, since I'm male, I figured it was all fine.

Next load of laundry goes in and, sure enough, once again, sounds like I have a freight train rumbling around upstairs.

We have one of those front loaders, so you can actually watch as stuff goes down inside the washer. If I was a five year old, I'm sure I'd watch the laundry all the time because MACHINE WITH WATER, but these days, I need my laundry to kindly do itself, preferably quietly, and incident-free.

Anyhow, I sat down and watched to see where exactly the Burlington Northern-Santa Fe Railroad was taking over my wash. And... you know what? That was where this story goes from household emergency to "we got this."

I noticed the drum of the washer was spinning just fine, thanks. In fact, the noise only started up when the tank had to drain water. This was useful information. It meant the motor itself probably wasn't the problem (if it was, the noise would never have stopped at all during the cycle). I had some kind of problem when draining happened and "washer noise drain" is the kind of search term that Al Gore invented the Internet to handle.

Those few keywords brought a wealth of info: that things ranging from lint to coins can end up going down the drain pipe and messing up the drain pump, that the drain pump is fairly easy to replace if you have certain kinds of washers and that it's not the kind of problem to wish away.

There were also several YouTube videos of people walking through the repair. I only started replacing my own headlights a few years ago. While I've always been somewhat handy with little projects around the house - I can do simple electric jobs, I can hang you a shelf, I once installed a new bathtub diverter spout - I had never opened up a washing machine.

But, watching a video online of someone making this exact repair to my exact washer made it seem doable. Not to oversimplify, but it was basically remove the cover, disconnect the power in two spots, undo two screws and remove two rubber pipes (hoses? I don't know...) by undoing clamps with a pair of pliers. From there, clean things out, install replacement pump and do it all in reverse.

If I couldn't have watched the video, I would have had to have asked my landlord to make the service call and it's $500 out of the box. Instead, the part I needed was $112. He agreed that he'd enjoy it if I could save him the better part of $400.

So, I was feeling good. But there was skepticism! I asked a few friends "hey, you ever do any work on your washing machine?" I highly recommend you ask people this question at random. Reactions I got ranged from "Oh hell no" to "no, see, I have a repairman for that." One person advised me to make sure I had the repairman on speed dial if I was really going to do this.

Whatever. I had YouTube on my side, a full toolbox (with a relatively new ratcheting screwdriver, thank you!) and was ready to go. I also had a hamper and suitcase full of laundry and a limited amount of precious weekend time. You might say I was motivated.

So, that's how I found myself on my stomach at 9:30 a.m. Saturday morning fighting with a screw at a bad angle to get the front cover of my washing machine off. It was the first of several "gee the video made this look easier" moments, but, I am pleased to say most were followed by "oh that really was that easy moments."

Awesome moment #1: freeing the old drain pump and seeing coins blocking it and generally making a mess of things. If I'm being honest, my initial fear with this was misdiagnosis. Everything I could tell from my observations and research of the noise pointed to a drain issue. Seeing that this was correct, however, was pretty cool.

I started to install the new drain pump. The pipe leading from the pump to the drain was easy to reattach. The pipe from the drum to the pump... not as much. If you've made this repair, you might be laughing at me right now. I could tell you that the washer is basically in a closet-sized space and there's little room to maneuver... and you'd probably still be laughing.

But this... was critical. My new drain pump could be awesome, but if the water from the drum never makes it to the pump... say it leaks out to the floor of the machine, we're talking about a household version of a nuclear meltdown. This pipe not only needs to be attached, but properly clamped.

It took 20 minutes.

I checked it. It seemed right. I mean, a professional might have been able to get another 1/4 inch but the seal felt good and tight. I screwed the pump into place. I attached the power and put the cover back on. I plugged in my washer.

Then I grabbed my dirty towels from the bathroom, loaded them into the washer, added some detergent and sent the thing on its way. And then, I sat there.

The wash cycle was going and I heard the dial click. The drain was about to start so we could rinse. Here we go. As it ran, I looked... no water collecting on the shallow pan the unit sits in. That's... a really good sign. The drain came on three more times in that cycle. I sat there for each of them. The spin cycle even featured out of balance towels that really shook the machine up. We got through.

I'm through about seven loads of laundry since. So far, so good. I probably won't do wash without being home/being awake for a few weeks yet... just to be extra safe. But... I think I did it. It's fixed.

I spent all day Sunday thinking I should try to build a rocket or something. That's how cool it was.

Anyhow, I keep coming back to the YouTube videos. If you had sat me down and said, "oh yeah, this is an easy fix. Here's what you do..." I would not have attempted this repair. We really do live in an era where if it's on YouTube, it's probably on there a few times and you can, in all honesty, get some command of what it is you're trying to tackle. This may not be news to you, but we can all likely share that moment of revelation where seeing something done on the Internet made it a legitimate possibility for us.

That's not nothing. And, truth be told, I don't want anything else to break any time soon. But I'd be lying if I said I wouldn't be a bit excited to see if the next thing is, indeed, something that I never would have thought I could attempt before the Internet. And even more so if it means I can take matters into my own hands.

1 comment:

Cheryl Junker said...

Well done, Jay. Josh is going to be so impressed when he reads this ;)