A loose washing machine drum can cause noisy cycles and violent vibrations. If left untreated, the problem may rapidly worsen so it’s important to run through some quick diagnostic checks.
The most common cause of a loose washing machine drum is worn-out drum bearings. New drum-bearing parts are cheap but the replacement process is very labor-intensive. A faulty drum basket spider can also cause a loose drum and the replacement process is difficult.
Within this article, I’ll walk you through some simple tests you can perform to locate the cause of a loose drum. I’ll also talk you through everything you need to know with regard to repairs and replacement parts.
How loose should a washer’s drum be?
Washing machines have an inner and an outer drum. The inner drum is mounted on the outer drum via a suspension system. This enables the drum to shake during a cycle without vibrating the entire washing machine, even at high spin speeds.
It can sometimes be difficult to know how much play there should be in a washing machine drum since different machines have different specs. Newer machines also have more advanced suspension systems that allow more movement than older washers which are typically more rigid.
The drum should move freely from front to back and left to right (in a top load washer). In a front-load washer, the drum should be firmly held in place. When wet clothes are in the basket it should drop slightly.
Try pushing down on the basket and let go – if it bounces up and down like a basketball your drum is too loose. Similarly, if there’s lots of play it’s probably too loose. You should feel the drum firmly snap back into place if it’s in working order and it should be tough to push out of place.
With a loose drum, you’ll also notice the drum being overly wobbly on a regular spin and a consistent thumping noise with more intensity at high spin speeds.
Before reading any further, be careful to actually check the suspension on the drum before just assuming the vibrations are caused by the drum. I’ve seen many, many washing machines that vibrate violently and the most common cause is unlevel legs. This is a simple fix where the legs should be adjusted.
Also, check for any stuck objects such as a bra wire that can also cause noise and shaking.
The most common cause of a loose drum: Worn Out Drum Bearings
The most common cause of a loose drum in a washing machine is worn-out bearings. As a machine ages, the bearings that secure the drum can become worn out or rusty. This causes the drum to become loose and can lead to severe problems over time.
Drum bearings are a major component of your washing machine and are basically metal rings behind the drum. When bearings are functioning correctly your drum spins smoothly but if worn out, the drum can become loose and the washing machine becomes incredibly loud during operation.
Note: a torn drum seal can also cause water to leak onto the bearings, causing rusting. If this is the case you may also notice oil leaks.
Here are the best ways to check for worn bearings:
- Remove the back panel and inspect for signs of rust in and around the motor (shown in the picture below).
- Spin your drum by hand and listen for grinding noise. Functioning bearings should produce hardly any noise.
- Check for excess drum movement. Press against the top of the drum – there shouldn’t be much movement between the drum and the door seal.
To resolve the issue you have three options: replace the bearings yourself, have a professional replace your bearings or replace your entire washing machine.
Replacing washing machine drum bearings at home
Replacing washing machine drum bearings is a time-consuming task and I’d consider it a large at-home project. Drum bearings sit behind the drum at the very back of the appliance so you’ll need to dismantle the entire washer to replace them.
If you don’t know what you’re doing you also risk making a mistake and causing further damage to your machine.
Note: Some poorly written blog posts call this ‘how to tighten your washing machine drum’. It’s not possible to simply tighten your drum and this process involves replacing drum bearings.
However, if you have the time and energy you could save hundreds by repairing the washing machine yourself. Drum bearings are very cheap (on Amazon). The replacement may take you a few hours and usually involves three steps:
- Cabinet disassembly.
Disassembly of the washing machine is the most challenging part of replacing your drum bearings. Each machine varies, but to name a few things you’ll need to remove: all panels, the control board, the detergent tray, the door, counter-balance weights, the back panel, the belt, and the motor.
I’ve provided a video further down on how exactly this is done.
- Bearing removal and replacement.
Once you’re able to access the bearings, replacement is relatively simple. It’s a case of removing the old bearings (there are two – inner and outer) and replacing them with the new ones. You need to knock the new bearings into place with a hammer to ensure a good fit.
- Cabinet reassembly.
Once the bearings have been replaced, the machine needs to be reassembled in the reverse order of step 1.
If you’re a handy DIYer and fancy this challenge, eSpares have made a fantastic tutorial video taking you through the step-by-step process of how to replace washing machine bearings:
Paying a professional to replace washing machine bearings vs buying a new one
Like many new appliances these days, it is sometimes cheaper to replace the entire machine than to repair a single issue. Expect to pay up to around $300 for a professional to come and replace your bearings (this includes parts).
If your machine is a newer model and is high spec it’s probably a good option to pay for a repair. However, if your machine is older and other things might go wrong, you should definitely consider simply replacing the washing machine. Newer washing machines are also more efficient and come with good warranties so this may sway your decision.
Other potential causes of a loose washing machine drum
Although worn-out drum bearings are the most common cause of a loose drum, there are a couple of other potential issues you should be aware of.
Broken Drum Spider
The drum basket spider connects the rear of the drum to the washing machine’s primary shaft. Drum spiders normally have three arms attached to the back of the drum via bolts. If the spider breaks or becomes damaged, it can lead to a loose drum.
Whilst worn-out drum bearings are more common, broken drum spiders happen regularly due to the inferior metal manufacturers use for the spider arms. Here are the most common signs of a broken drum spider:
- During the spin cycle, your machine becomes off-balance and may produce an off-balance error code.
- Noisy spin cycle and your drum may bash on the side of the casing.
- Excess drum movement.
Note: you’ll know it’s a broken drum spider and not the bearings because if you spin the drum by hand, your bearings won’t produce a grinding noise (they would if the bearings were worn out).
Unfortunately, drum basket spiders are just as time intensive to replace as drum bearings and the parts are more expensive. More often times than not you can only buy an entire drum as spiders aren’t sold separately. When combining the price of parts and labor, you’re most likely looking at a $600 repair.
So it’s almost certainly worth replacing your entire washing machine if you have a faulty drum spider.
Unbalanced Load Or Overloading
Unbalanced loads and overloading can cause a washing machine drum to become loose and wobbly. It’s best to follow all of the manufacturer’s guidelines and maximum capacity ratings when loading a washer.
Also, ensure the laundry is evenly distributed throughout the drum to prevent problems.
If your washing machine drum is loose it’s probably due to worn-out bearings or a faulty basket spider. Whilst both problems have similar symptoms, a faulty drum spider will cause louder banging noises during the spin cycle, and less of a ‘grinding’ noise when you rotate the drum by hand.
Whilst bearings and spiders can be replaced at home, more often than not it’s cost prohibitive and it makes sense to replace your entire washing machine.