What Causes A Washing Machine To Stop Working?

You’ve loaded up your washing machine, added the detergent, set the water temperature, selected a wash cycle, and pressed the start button. The tub begins to fill with water, and you head back to the family room to finish a chapter in that thriller you’re reading or start bingeing the latest streaming baking show. But when you return to the laundry room forty-five minutes later to unload the washer, you find that the clothes are partially submerged in soapy water. Why hasn’t the tub drained? Did the washer do any “washing” at all?

To effectively troubleshoot why your washer has stopped working mid-cycle, it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with the various cycles a washer will go through to clean your clothes, towels, and linens…

The 6 cycles of washer operation

Fill cycle

For top-load washers, once the control or timer is set to the selected wash cycle, the control will send voltage to the appliance’s water inlet valve which opens, allowing water to fill the tub. The same is true for front-load washers, but the control will also electronically lock the washer door prior to sending the voltage to open the inlet valve. The appliance has a water level switch attached to a tube connected to the side of the tub. As the tub fills with water, air pressure increases in the tube. When a sufficient amount of water has filled the tub (8 to 18 gallons in a typical top-load washer; 2 to 5 gallons in a typical front-load washer), the pressure in the tube causes the water level switch to shut off the voltage to the inlet valve, closing it and stopping the water flow.

Dispensing cycle

While you may have already poured in the detergent prior to starting the washer, some models will automatically dispense the detergent, bleach, or fabric softener at some point following the fill cycle. The control will again send voltage to the water inlet valve, which opens, allowing water to travel to the dispenser system which dispenses each solution into the tub during the proper cycle.

Be aware that adding too much detergent can cause deposits to build up in the dispenser housing which can restrict the flow of water through the system and may prevent the proper amount of detergent from entering the tub. Also, the home’s water pressure may be too low to properly flush the solutions from the dispenser. Other issues affecting proper dispensing would be a restricted fill hose or a malfunctioning water inlet valve.

Wash/agitation cycle

Next, the control or timer will signal the appliance to advance to the wash or agitation cycle. For top-load models, the control will send voltage to a drive motor. Depending on the model, the motor may directly drive transmission or use a belt to operate an agitator or wash plate to shift the laundry back-and-forth. For front-load models, the control will send voltage to a stator on the rear of the appliance or a motor control board, depending on the model. The stator is energized by the voltage and becomes an electromagnet that interacts with a rotor on the tub. The rotor has permanent magnets built into it, so the two components create a magnetic field that rotates the tub in each direction to shift the laundry. Front-load models with a motor control board will use a drive motor, belt, and pulley to rotate the tub.

Drain cycle

Once the initial wash and agitation cycle is complete, the water will need to be drained from the tub. The washer control sends voltage to the drain pump which pumps the water out the drain hose to a free-standing laundry tub or standpipe. The pump may be driven by a belt attached to a motor drive pulley or the motor may direct drive the pump. On some top-load washer models, the motor will drive the pump by spinning in the opposite direction than it did during the agitation cycle.

One thing that differentiates a front-load washer from a top-load washer is the presence of a “coin trap” attached to the drain pump. This feature is designed to catch coins, keys, or other debris that may have been inadvertently left in pants’ pockets (most of the time, it’s trapping lint from clothing). A trap with too much debris can prevent the drain pump from successfully draining the water from the tub, so you should clean out the trap periodically.

Rinse cycle

The rinse cycle operates in the same manner as the wash cycle and may introduce fabric softener at this time. Some top-load washer models will introduce the fabric softener through a dispenser in the agitator; the action of the spinning tub will release the solution. The laundry will then agitate or tumble for a short time and then the water will, again, be drained.

Spin cycle

For top-load washer models, a brake holding the tub in place will release following the drain cycle and the motor will spin the tub using a drive coupler, a belt, or a direct drive stator/rotor system. A variable speed control board will signal the motor to gradually increase the spinning speed. The faster the tub spins, the more effectively the water is removed from the clothing or linens.

Front-load washer models use the same drive system to spin tub that was used to agitate the tub. A motor control board will regulate the amount and polarity of the voltage sent to the motor in order to affect speed and direction.

During the spin cycle, the speed of the rotation is increased dramatically. At the beginning of the spin cycle, the tub is rotated more slowly to allow the laundry to be evenly distributed, but as the cycle advances, the voltage is increased which results in a high-speed spin. Generally, front-load washers will spin faster than top-load models, a key factor in reducing drying time.

Why would a washer stop mid-cycle?

So what would cause a top-load or front-load washer to stop working mid-cycle? There are really just two likely reasons, and one is far more likely than the other:

  1. Faulty water inlet valve – If the water inlet valve is faulty, it may fail to open to allow additional water to enter the tub during the rinse cycle. If this happens, the washer will continue waiting for the incoming water and will not advance to the drain or spin cycle. Of course, this problem can also affect the initial fill cycle, preventing the washer from advancing to the wash and agitation cycle. You can use a multimeter to help determine if the inlet valve is defective by testing the component for electrical continuity – a continuous electrical path present in the valve. You can do this by setting the meter to the lowest setting for Ohms of resistance, then contacting the metal end of the black probe to one terminal of the inlet valve coil you’re testing and the end of the red probe to the other terminal. A properly functioning inlet valve coil should show between 500 and 1,500 Ohms of resistance. If the meter display indicates little-to-no change when the probes are in contact with the terminals, then the valve coil has no continuity and the valve will need to be replaced with a new one.
  2. Malfunctioning main control board – The main control board is responsible for sending voltage to all of the washer’s components, so a malfunctioning board could be the cause of the washer stopping mid-cycle. Since this is rarely the case, you should confirm the water inlet valve is functioning normally before you consider replacing the main control board.

Other causes of a washing machine not working

While this article is primarily concerned with the cycles a washing machine goes through and why the appliance may unexpectedly stop mid-cycle, there are numerous other causes for why a washer may not start at all or won’t drain or spin. These include an incoming power problem, a damaged power cord, a malfunctioning door lid switch or lock, a defective user control board or timer, a broken drive belt, or a faulty or obstructed drain pump.

Repair Clinic.com’s “Repair Help” section is a great resource for assistance in diagnosing the cause of any problem you may be experiencing with your washer.

Keep your washer working with the right part from Repair Clinic

In addition to offering free repair help, including thousands of “how-to” videos, articles, diagrams, and schematics, Repair Clinic.com is also the place to find original manufacturer replacement parts that match the most popular top-load and front-load washer models, including those built by Whirlpool, LG, Samsung, Maytag, GE, Kenmore, Bosch, and Frigidaire. To identify the right water inlet valve, control board, drive belt, or motor that fit your particular washer, enter the full model number of the appliance in the Repair Clinic website search bar. You can then use the “Part Category” and “Part Title” filters to refine your search to identify the specific part you need.

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