Washer repair in the age of disposable products


With 20/20 hindsight, the decision to repair this washer was worth it, both in financial terms and the satisfaction that a reasonably well made product has been kept out of the landfill for another 10 years or so.  Still, it was a lot of work.  If I had been time-pressed like the majority, with more money than time, I can understand perfectly the throw-away culture that has developed for very good reasons.  More on this below.

The culprit

The washer is apparently quite rare.  A Kenmore portable/compact/apartment-sized top-loader, model 11094572200 whose parts list and diagrams can be found here.  It was bought in April 1996 for $482.  This was quite a bit more than the standard washers at the time.

Today's (early 2008) replacement would have cost $650.  The option to have Sears send a repairman was quickly discarded as the minimum service fee was (if I remember correctly) about $250.

The problems

There were 2 problems: a leak that got progressively worse, until I had to mop up the floor every 5 minutes or so while the washer was operating, and erratic behavior, such as the cycle (any cycle) stopping when it shouldn't, not spinning and leaving the washer full, refusing to spin when put into spin-only cycle and other randomness that really put scientific observation and troubleshooting to the test.

While observing the different cycles it occurred to me to wiggle the cycle selector switch when it seemed the washer was supposed to spin, which it did sometimes on its own and sometimes not.  Lo and behold, pushing down on the knob made it spin.  Problem 2 identified: worn switch contacts.

Since this washer has no front/side/back panel that can be open while it is operating, I had to find a way to look into the innards from below.  The first attempt: placing a small camera and light under it looking up didn't work as it was not possible to point the camera properly.  The space was too small.  The second attempt worked: raising the whole washer on 4x4s and using a mirror revealed that the leak was on the main shaft that goes into the tub.

The search for information

Now I knew I needed a switch and a seal, so obviously I called Sears.  It was a frustrating experience as the model number printed on the washer didn't match anything the customer service people could get at.  A few calls later, I happened to connect with someone a little more knowledgeable who told me that I had to add the "110" to the front of the model number.  With that information I could order the cycle selector switch ($53) and the tub seal ($35).

Then I had to find how to disassemble the machine to get at those parts.  Getting the top off was not that difficult as the procedure was clearly explained in a service pamphlet that I found in a zip-lock bag glued to the inside of the machine.  It was the procedure to get to the seal that kept me searching for information for weeks.

Nothing I found via google applied to this particular model.  There was one question (and no answer) about how to remove the agitator in a Whirlpool compact washer.  It turns out that this model was really manufactured by Whirlpool.  The parts had that name on them.  I read multiple articles about how hard it was to remove agitators and how some professional repairmen had broken specialized tools while trying to pull them.  Not very encouraging.  I still had no idea at that time if the agitator came out by pulling straight up or if it was screwed.  No amount of pulling or unscrewing would make it budge.  Of course I did remove the small screw on the side of it, the only removable part to be seen from inside the basket.

Finally, buried in a long thread about agitator removal for a compact Whirlpool washer, was a posting by a professional appliance repairman that pointed to a link in a Whirlpool site.  There I found the service manual for a very similar product.  This is it.

In the end, when I was reasonably confident that the agitator should come out vertically, I had to figure out how to apply sufficient force to overcome the corrosion and friction of 12 years of use.

The fix

As no amount of manual pulling, shaking or banging would make the agitator budge, and remembering that professional repairmen had broken specialized tools attempting this, I had to come up with something that would apply sufficient force without breaking the agitator or anything else.

The agitator has a rounded opening at the bottom of every vane.  I passed a #10 wire (the largest that would fit) through all 4 and tied both ends together, then I tied 2 pieces of rope to opposing sides of the wire and passed the ropes over the 4x4.  Then, with a stick, I twisted the ropes.  This first attempt grossly deformed the agitator (not permanently) until the ropes broke.

In attempt #2, I placed a scissor-type car jack on the 4x4 and passed 2 much stronger, braided lines from the wire, above the jack and back down to the opposite side of the wire.  Then I started raising the jack.  The braided line got more and more taut until I was afraid that something was going to break catastrophically, then a small tap to the side of the agitator made it pop up!

Trying to remove the motor assembly from below was impossible.  It moved about 4" and then something stopped it.  It became obvious that I also had to remove the basket.  There was only one hex-head bolt (quite small) under the agitator, so obviously I removed it.  It was screwed into a small metal piece whose purpose was obviously to immobilize the basket against the shaft.  It didn't move at all.  After liberal application of penetrating oil for a couple of days, that piece got loose, but the basket wouldn't budge.  On the metal piece at the bottom of the basket, there is a slot like an old-style key-hole.  It was apparent that the purpose was to slide in a bolt head through the round part and then slide the bolt to the slot part.  After grinding down the head of a bolt so it would fit and adding enough hardware at the other end to tie the braided line to it, I used the same 4x4 and the car jack to put pressure on the basket.  Same story.  The line was taut as a wire and no amount of tapping would make it budge.  Then, it occurred to me to "play drums" with my fists on alternate sides of the basket, and it popped up.

I then could remove the motor assembly from below and could see the seal.  No amount of tapping, banging or cutting it would get it out, so I had to completely disassemble everything.  The tub had to come out.  Then the seal could be pried out, revealing a very rusted bearing.  Aarrgghh!  More disassembly.  The suspension rods had to be separated from the washer shell and the tub support frame.  Once the X-shape frame was out it was apparent that the bearing would have to be pressed out.  Back to the Sears web page and diagrams.  No part number for the bearing.  They wanted me to buy the whole aluminum frame for more than $100.  No way!

So I had to find a way to press the bearing out.  A friend with a wood shop turned a piece of wood of the right diameter and a large clamp eventually popped it out.  Now it was time to find a replacement.  Luckily a place called trans-bearing co. had it: FAG-62 / 6006 2RS.  A metric sealed bearing made in Germany.  Everything in this washer seems to be metric.

After cleaning out the rust and oiling, installation of the new bearing went smoothly with the round piece of wood and a hammer.  Then the seal went in.  The tub frame was re-installed in the suspension rods, the motor assembly was re-attached to the frame, the tub was re-installed, then the basket and the agitator.

A couple of empty test runs revealed no leaks and consistent cycles.  The machine runs like new.  Much quieter than with the old rusted bearing.

Comments on manufacturing, commerce, greed and the culture of waste

This washer is actually quite well designed.  If I had had the information and procedures to disassemble it, it would have been very quick.  Once the new bearing was in place, it took about an hour to put everything back together.  The switch replacement had been done previously.

The circuit board was encased in epoxy.  The switches were all sealed.  All plugs were rubber-encased.  The main connector from the panel to the back of the machine was protected by a splash guard as were other electrical parts.

The transmission has a double shaft: inner for the agitator and outer for the basket.  The seal that failed (after 11 years or so) only moves relative to the outside shaft when spinning, when there is no water pressure.  There is a balance ring at the top of the basket with some water in it.  Having never looked at how washers were designed, I thought this was a neat idea.  Now I know where all that sloshing comes from when I move it.

It is true that top-loading washers with agitators are not very kind to clothes and they use a lot more water than front loaders.  The future is horizontal-axis washers.  While I wasn't sure if I could fix this one, I was also researching the possibility of a new washer.  The only washer I would buy now is the staber (http://www.staber.com).  Not only is it extremely energy and water efficient, it is designed to be user-serviceable.  And the very strange (and patented) design apparently washes clothes extremely well.

Besides bad/cheap designs, which this washer is obviously not, it is unfortunate that the lack of information has made this repair exercise much more difficult than it should have been.  So why was the information so hard to come by?  As I found eventually, a manual actually exists.  So, why not make it public? could it be to protect the profits of the "authorized" repair people?

From the comments I got from the Sears parts people, it appears that quite a lot of people buy parts that they eventually can't install themselves.  They pointed out repeatedly that in case I decided not to install the products, they could be returned for a full refund (minus the shipping).  I suppose that pressing a bearing is beyond the capability of 99.9% of the parts-buying public.  Maybe that's why Sears wants you to buy the whole frame.  They were also pushing the replacement of all the hoses, which turned out to be in perfect condition.

And then, it's even easier to discard and buy a new one.  While this might make sense with a standard washer that these days (I read) is designed to fail in 3 years or so (according to appliance repairmen), I'm glad I went through this exercise.  For about $110 in parts (and free labor) I now have a well built washer that can probably go on for another 10 years.  Compare that to the $650 for today's replacement, especially if the lack of current quality is true.


I hope this helps someone.  Comments can be sent to: eclectic @ freeshell.org

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