How we fixed the washing machine

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Back in December I blogged about how my washing machine was broken. I am putting this post up full of keywords and links in hopes that it can help someone, because I certainly never found anything that would have led me to the answers that I needed.

The background and the problem

Let's start with the specs. I have a Whirlpool Duet front loading washer. I bought it in November 2003. I still have the receipt. Its model number is GHW9100LW. For three weeks or so prior to the washer's sudden death, things were iffy. I have a pretty set laundry schedule and I am pretty good at keeping up with it out of necessity. On Mondays I wash bathroom towels. This is usually two loads, lights and darks. On Tuesdays I wash clothes. Since we are a large family and I am pretty picky about mixing colors, I usually do 5 or 6 standard-sized loads. Wednesdays I wash any sheets that need changed. I try to take Thursdays off. Fridays I wash clothes again, and since it has only been three days since I washed everything, there are usually four loads. I wash diapers about twice a week, squeezing them in when I need to, and I wash kitchen/cleaning towels whenever I get a full load. So I do a lot of laundry. We bought this washing machine because it used about 1/3 of the water of a regular top-loading washing machine at the time. We were trying to preserve both the life of our well and our septic system. Leading up to the demise, since it is my big day, every Tuesday at the end of the day on the last load of the day, the washing machine would stop in the middle of the load and give me a F 02 error. I keep the manual handy so I was able to look up the code. This is a drain error. My friend Tami has a similar washer and we both use cloth diapers. A few years ago in a discussion about washing diapers, she mentioned that she had burned the pump out twice on her washer because lint from very ragged diapers had clogged the holes down in the drain pump assembly leading to the pump and drain hose. After the second pump had been replaced by a repairman (under warranty each time), the repairman showed her how to clean out the pump assembly so as to not burn out the pump. She told me how to do this, so a few times since that discussion, when I would get a load that wouldn't spin all the way dry, or I could see water sitting inside the gasket of the washer in front of the holes that drain the drum into the pump assembly, I would unscrew the front panel on the bottom of the washer. Then I would put towels down on the floor, unscrew the cover on the pump assembly, catch all the water as it drained out, and clean out the hard water deposits or dog hair or other gunk that had clogged up the holes leading right to the pump. For 6 years I had checked under the gasket of the washer door after each load to make sure that things were draining properly.

When I starting getting this F 02 drain error every Tuesday night I knew that something else was up. Nothing was blocking the drain holes. I would usually end up just letting the last load sit in the washer overnight, then I would run it again in the morning and things would be fine. But sometimes after letting it sit, it would give me a SUDS error, which is when the washer thinks you have used too much or non-HE detergent and the insides of the washer and all its hoses are full of bubbles. Having actually has a true SUDS error when the washer was new and I used a little too much detergent, I knew that there were no excess suds anywhere. There were not bubbles in the pump assembly, in the washer drum, or in the drain holes inside the door. Something was making the washer think that there were suds in there.

Finding some answers
Finally, the washer had had enough of my antics. Despite sitting overnight, I was unable to get the washer to finish a cycle. It would give an F 02 error, then sit, then give me a SUDS error. I got online to google the problem. Every single site that I found had just copied from the Whirlpool repair manual, like this one:

Press PAUSE/CANCEL twice to clear the display.

* Check the drain hose and make sure it is not plugged or kinked.

* Check the electrical connections at the pump and make sure the pump is running.

* Check the drain pump filter for foreign objects.

* If the above does not correct the problem, replace the pump.

And some had more explanation like this:

"F02 is long drain.
Just because it came up doesn't mean there's a problem, it simply means there was a failure during the cycle, if it returns on a regular basis, you have a problem.

F02 error could be caused by the over use of soap, you need to make sure your using 2 tablespoons of HE soap, 1/4 cap at the most.

Over sudsing, could cause the water pump to run longer, the pump is designed for 15 min duty cycle which means, 15 minutes on to 45 minutes off. The computer may sense too much soap, and continue to pump. HE soap will cure that, along with SUD error, possible F09 (overflow condition), you may also notice the timing is wrong, HE soap works well in these machines and F/l washer go hand in hand

if the F02 returns the remove the 3 torx screws from the bottom kick panel, and remove the kick panel, right there in the middle you will see a big round handle, turn it and then slide it out, have some towels ready, there will be some water in there, and check to see if you have any thing in there that will slow water flow, tooth picks and other "floating" items may jam the impeller"

DIY Syndrome--I have it, and I have it bad

I set out to fix this problem. My first step was to make sure that nothing was clogging the drain hose. So I pulled the washer out from the wall, disconnected the drain hose, took it to the tub, and cleaned out the most disgusting slime you have ever seen. It was like charcoal colored jello, which I imagine comes from six years of using earth-friendly biodegradable detergents and a minimal amount of bleach. I put the drain hose back on, and my problem was still there. As far as I knew, everything was draining just fine to get out of the washer, but the washer still thought there was suds and/or water and wouldn't finish the drain cycle and move on to the spin cycle. After calling Tami to consult with her to find out if a burnt-out pump sounded like a healthy pump, and getting the green light from my husband (it is an expensive part!), I went ahead and found the cheapest place online and ordered a new pump and paid for expedited shipping. This was Wednesday afternoon. I had found an appliance repair forum that said how easy it was to replace yourself. Then the next day I took all the laundry to the laundrymat because that last load of whites was still wet (and not clean since the load stopped mid-cycle) from two days before, and every single rag and towel I owned was wet from sopping up water every time I checked the pump assembly. I had also switched to disposable diapers the instant I realized the gravity of the situation, and needed to wash the cloth diapers that were dirty.

The new pump arrives

The expedited shipping that I paid for wasn't nearly as fast as I thought it would be, and it was Tuesday night before the pump arrived. Despite the fact that it was 5pm and time to fix dinner, I parked myself in front of the washer, switched out the old pump for the new one (it really was quite simple, just some screws and a plug for the wiring) and put a load in. The first load ran like a charm! I was on cloud nine, knowing that I had diagnosed and fixed the machine all by myself (with help from the Internet, of course). I put in a second load and things went south. I got the F 02 drain error and I was back to square one. Obviously the pump was not the problem. I ignored the problem for a while, fed my family and put the kids to bed. Around 11pm when I was back in front of the machine, my husband took pity on me. Up until this point, I hadn't bothered him about it because he was busy with work and his other projects. We worked together until about 2am trying to make sure we had covered all the bases. We took the back and top off the washer, removed the drain hose that is completely inside the washer and cleaned it out (it was full of slime just like the drain hose on the back of the washer). We removed the rubber boot on the bottom of the drum that leads to the drain hose and made sure it was clean (it had some fuzz in it but was generally clean). We thought that perhaps the float inside that boot wasn't telling the washer that the machine was empty of water. At 2am I was sent to bed and my wonderful husband dialed up the www (does anyone else remember when David Letterman used to say this when the internet was just getting popular? but I digress) and read the actual repair manual put out by Whirlpool for repair techs, plus a bunch of links online. I don't even know how he arrived at the solution, but he decided that the pressure sensor switch was the culprit. (I asked him about this, and he doesn't remember. He thinks he found a blog post somewhere mentioning the pressure sensor switch, and had also read the manual. I read the paragraph in the manual as well, and it describes how the pressure sensor switch is what triggers the SUDS error. Since we had that error despite the lack of suds in the system, it was a natural progression...) He read that the small hose leading to the switch can become clogged with suds, causing it to malfunction and not be able to sense that the drain cycle had finished. A simple solution was to blow gently in the end of the tubing to reset the switch. He tried it out, and lo and behold, the washer finished a cycle. He rolled into bed and around 4am, told me the good news. The next day I ran another load and found that the switch needed to be reset during every cycle, however. So I took 8 loads to the laundrymat and continued to use disposable diapers. We needed some more diagnosis to fix the problem. Either the pressure sensor switch needed to be replaced (also not cheap, but half the cost of the pump). That night when he came home, we pulled the tubing off the pressure sensor switch and found that it was also clogged with slime. We cleaned it out, and the washer has run like a dream since then.

So what did I learn?

1. Since the cause of the problem was the blockage in the pressure sensor tubing, the machine worked when I put the new pump in because it had had a week to dry out. The machine malfunctioned on Tuesdays because I did so many loads that day and there was so much moisture in the system. It would work the next morning because it had dried out a bit.

2. Maybe with my super-hard well water, biodegradable detergent isn't the best option. The drain hoses and pressure sensor tubing were full of slime. I am pretty sure that the lack of harsh detergents and bleach contributed to this problem. We also lack the chlorine in city-treated water. I have switched to plain old Tide for now. I might, as time goes on, experiment with other detergents, but for now, it's the caustic, environmentally unfriendly option for us.

3. If you are going to attempt such troubleshooting and diagnostics yourself, make sure that you take precautions. Every time I took the washer apart, it was unplugged. Water and electricity don't mix. Also, make sure that you correctly reassemble everything that you take apart. I made sure that when I took off hose clamps and unplugged wires, they went back on securely and in the proper orientation.

4. It really helps to have prior experience with electronics and circuits. My husband knows how to fix just about anything. He is probably the best troubleshooter on the planet. Because the repair manual was available, he was able to get out his volt meter and test the pressure switch to see if it was functioning properly. Had I not had him to help me, I would have had to pay a repairman to come at that point because electricity is not my thing. He, however, wired our entire addition and passed the inspection on the first try.

5. As soon as we realized that the old pump was actually still good, we put it back in and packaged up the new one in the box it came in. We didn't send it back, though, just labeled it and put it on the shelf to be "in stock" should the current pump ever die. I am confident that had I paid a repairman to come and diagnose the problem from the beginning, he would have also had me replace the pump. When that didn't solve the problem, I bet he would have had me replace the Central Control Unit, which is about half the cost of a new washer. Add to that the cost a service call, and I would have been out literally hundreds of dollars and my washer would have still been broken. I called the local parts supply house and their cost on the pump and the pressure switch we significantly higher than I could find online, even including expedited shipping. To buy parts from a repairman would have been very expensive. Even though we spent around $100 on the new pump that we didn't need, we considered ourselves lucky. I also spent about $20 washing over a dozen loads at the laundrymat. I brought home the wet things and dried them in my own dryer.

6. I'm sure glad that I had my husband around to help me with this one. In fact, he is fairly confident that he can fix the broken dishwasher. (I guess I never updated, but after 5 months of a broken dishwasher, a couple months after the baby was born, we gave in and bought a new one. Too hard to wash dishes one-handed. Good thing, since that was 14 months ago and the new kitchen is still a couple months out.) He is so confident, in fact, that I approved a two-dishwasher plan in the new kitchen.

So that is the story. If I remember any other details that I think may be helpful I will definitely add them.