One of the key differences between a standard top-load washing machine and a high-efficiency (or “HE”) top-loader is the standard model will have an agitator whereas the HE model will substitute an impeller (also commonly-referred to as a “wash plate”). Both the agitator and the impeller will shift the laundry back-and-forth and up-and-down within the tub to assist with the cleaning process.
How does an agitator work?
The agitation cycle begins when the standard top-load washer’s control board sends voltage to the drive motor after the tub has filled with water. Depending on the model, the motor may directly drive a transmission or use a belt to operate the agitator drive shaft. The drive shaft oscillates the agitator to circulate the water and move the clothing, towels, or linens around the tub.
Some models utilize a two-part agitator. Directional cogs (commonly-referred to as “dog ears”) cause the upper portion of the agitator to rotate in one direction only, forcing the laundry to the bottom of the tub. The lower part of the agitator will then force the laundry back up.
Uninstalling a top-load washer agitator
With repeated use, the agitator or its components can eventually wear out, requiring replacement. While the details of removing an agitator can differ from model-to-model, the basic steps are similar:
- Before you begin, be sure to unplug the washing machine’s power cord.
- Raise the washer’s lid and, if applicable, remove the agitator cap (you can often use a flat-head screwdriver to pry the cap off), or detach the fabric softener dispenser from the agitator. You may need to pull a lock ring up with your fingers before you can remove the dispenser (fabric softener dispensers are commonly-found on Whirlpool, Kenmore, and Frigidaire top-load washer models).
- On models with a dispenser, there may be an agitator cap under the dispenser that will need to be removed as well.
- Depending on the model, you may need to pull out a dust cap which rests just inside the top of the agitator.
- Secure the agitator base and, if applicable to your model, use a long socket wrench to unthread the mounting bolt securing the agitator to the drive shaft. Most commonly, a 7/16th inch socket or a half-inch socket will be needed to unthread the bolt. With the bolt sufficiently loosened, you can pull the agitator straight up to remove.
- Alternatively, on some models where the agitator has an upper and lower section, you may need to use a square drive bit to unthread a retainer that will allow you to pull the upper portion of the agitator off first. You can then use a socket wrench to unthread the bolt in order to remove the lower portion.
- If you need to replace the directional cogs, first remove the retainer and spring as well as the cam and cog assembly. If the agitator was removed with the upper and lower portions still joined together, you can set the agitator on the floor, place both feet on the base, and pull the upper portion of the agitator off.
- Release the retaining ring and remove the old directional cogs from the cam.
- Insert the four new directional cogs into the cam and then press the retaining ring down to secure.
- If applicable to your model, realign the upper agitator on the installed lower agitator then insert the cam and cog assembly. Insert the retainer and spring into the cam and use the square drive bit to tighten.
- Alternatively, you may need to insert the cam and cog assembly into the upper portion of the agitator then snap the upper portion onto the lower section.
- Align the agitator assembly on the drive shaft.
- Thread and tighten the bolt to secure.
- Replace the dust cap, if necessary.
- Snap on the agitator cap.
- If applicable, reinstall the fabric softener dispenser on the agitator and secure it with the lock ring if required.
- Plug the power cord back in and your washing machine should be ready for use.
Why won’t my washer’s agitator agitate?
- The cog and cam components inside the agitator can wear out over time which will prevent the agitator from working.
- The upper and lower portions of the agitator itself can potentially strip. You can replace the defective section or replace both sections as part of an assembly.
- On washers with a transmission, the drive block connecting the transmission to the drive shaft may be worn out.
- On some models, a drive coupler which connects the motor to the transmission can break after repeated use or if the tub is overloaded.
- If the washer uses a belt to rotate the agitator, the belt may be slipping on the pulleys or may have broken.
- Although it’s not a common cause, the drive motor itself may have failed.
Find the right washing machine agitator with Repair Clinic
Repair Clinic stocks one-piece agitators, separate upper and lower agitator parts, agitator repair kits, individual directional cogs, drive blocks, agitator caps, fabric softener dispensers, and more. Just enter the full model number of your washer in the Repair Clinic search bar, then choose “Agitator” from the part category filter followed by the appropriate part title to find the exact part you need. Repair Clinic stocks agitator components for all the major brands of washers including Kenmore, Hotpoint, Frigidaire, Maytag, GE, and Whirlpool, but you’ll want to make sure you’re purchasing the part that is a direct fit for your model.