When clothes are placed into a washing machine, they go into the tub, are moved about — agitated — in soapy water, rinsed with clean water, and finally have all of the water wrung from them before being ready to remove for drying. The entire process works because the tub is able to move back and forth, agitating and then spinning the clothes in the machine. The tub is able to move because it sits on bearings, a group of small steel balls that let it rotate freely.
Washing machine bearings are not loose in the machine, but are held in a round track with a hole in the center for the tub’s support spindle. This entire part — the bearings and the framework holding them — is typically also referred to as the bearings. The bearings assembly fits in a recess on the bottom of the tub. The entire tub rests on the bearings.
Many times, bearing problems are not readily apparent, since washing machine bearings cannot be seen without dissembling the bottom of the washer. There are a few symptoms that can help to identify bearing problems. Often, however, there are several possible causes for each symptom, so the presence of a specific condition is not necessarily a sign of bearing failure.
One of the most common signs of the impending failure of washing machine bearings is a loud noise during any wash or spin cycle. The noise may be a high-pitched squeal, or it may sound more like a loud rubbing or grinding. The noise generally gets louder over time, as the bearings wear down and become unable to support the tub of the washer. Eventually the washer will cease to agitate or spin at all.
Another extremely common sign of problems with washing machine bearings is the presence of water in the tub after a spin cycle. Normally the washer spins rapidly, and centrifugal force pushes all of the water out of the tub, where it then drains through the drain hose. Bad bearings don’t allow the washer tub to spin freely, causing it to retain water at the end of the spin cycle. This problem can be something as simple as a blocked drain hose, so the hose should be inspected and the washer should be watched to see if the tub moves feely during the wash cycle, or if it appears to bind.
Washing machine bearings are usually good for at least five years, often as much as 10 or more, before they must be replaced. In many cases, a home handyman or appliance repairman can fix the washer by simply replacing the bad bearings and the associated seal, after which the machine will typically provide many more years of service. Use the service manual as a guideline before attempting a home repair. Many such manuals can be downloaded from the manufacturer’s website.