What Causes A Washing Machine To Leak Oil? (solved)8 min read

Much like your car, washing machines use oil to lubricate moving parts such as the transmission. Leaking oil can ruin clothes and cause further damage to your washer so it’s important to quickly identify the root cause of an oil leak. 

A washing machine leaking oil into the drum is caused by a torn drum seal or by a stuck object breaking the gasket seal at the rear of the drum. Tub seals may be corroded and difficult to move, but can be replaced. Oil underneath the washing machine is normally caused by a faulty transmission system which is normally uneconomical to repair. 

While oil leaks in washing machines often occur due to transmission issues, they’re common in washers that use a gearbox rather than a belt mechanism. I’ll take you through the steps you should take to determine the cause of leaking oil in the washing machine, and the best course of action. 

In a world full of unreliable online info, trust matters. This article’s checked by Andy Fulenchek, a pro with over a decade fixing appliances, and he owns Grace Appliance, AND he runs this YouTube account. Look for expert quotes in this article…

Why Is Your Washing Machine Leaking Oil? 

There are a few reasons your washing machine may leak oil from the bottom, the most being a damaged transmission or bad seal. A torn tub seal can also cause water to leak on the tub bearings, leading to a loose drum.

In the event of a torn or damaged tub seal (i.e. shaft seal) pay very close attention to the condition of the shaft. Rust & pitting may have damaged your existing seal which could also damage a replacement seal as well.

Andy Fulenchek

Oil leaks will either appear on the floor or in the tub. If a washing machine is functioning correctly, oil should never leak into the drum so that laundry doesn’t get contaminated with oil. However, when the main seal is damaged or leaking, oil from the transmission may appear in the drum itself. 

Note: If you find oil in your clothes, you should first check that oil wasn’t introduced to your tub from a previous load. I sometimes leave rags with oil in my pocket and this can also cause similar symptoms to an oil leak. 

Also be careful you’re not mistaking oil for dirty water in the washing machine, which is often caused by sink wastewater rather than oil (uncommon in the US).   

If you find oil leaking underneath the machine, the most likely cause is a damaged transmission system. 

Type of oil leak and symptomsCause
Oil leaking underneath the washer. Other possible signs: faulty agitator, high pitched squealing noise and a burning odour. Washing machine transmission is faulty.
Oil leaking into drum. Brown spots found on clothes and no mechanical issues.A stuck object at the back of the washing machine drum, breaking the gasket seal.
Oil leaking into drum. Soapy water leaking from drum and onto bearings. Torn tub seal.

Oil underneath the washer: Damaged Transmission

Your washing machine has a transmission mechanism – either a belt or gear case that controls the movement of the tub during the agitation and spin cycles. 

This transmission requires oil to lubricate it for smooth operation, so it’s commonly the culprit if your machine leaks oil from the bottom. 

Depending on your washing machine’s brand and model, oil can occasionally seep out of a vent in the transmission. New transmissions can have oil in the plastic shipping bag during shipment, so it could be from that.

Some leaks also occur from the transmission bearings if someone accidentally jolted the machine on its side. This can cause the tub and spindle to stress a bearing and pass the impact to the transmission.

In some cases, the washing machine’s transmission may have already been failing due to continued use, in which case it will leak oil. You may only notice this because you’ve shifted its position for the first time in a while. This happened to me a few years ago when a random oil leak only appeared after I moved my washing machine.  

Here are some other signs of a damaged washing machine transmission: 

  • A faulty agitator. The agitator moves the clothes back and forth during the rinse cycle and a faulty transmission may prevent the agitator from working. 
  • High-pitched whining noise during operation. 
  • A burning odor. A failing transmission (especially with depleted oil levels) causes more friction and heat between the gears and pulleys. 

Some motors may overheat due to additional load from a failed transmission. Most motors have what’s called a thermal cut-out (i.e. self resetting thermal fuse) which will cut power to the motor if it overheats. Once the motor cools, it will go back to working again. It’s easy to be fooled that it’s simply a bad motor instead of a faulty transmission.

Andy Fulenchek

If you notice oil spilling in puddles or drops from underneath your washer, you can try removing the front cover carefully to locate the transmission. You’ll know it’s the source of the problem if the belt is wet with oil. 

Fixing a damaged and leaking washing machine transmission 

You can buy some time by removing the belt and cleaning it with a degreaser and allowing it to dry before reinstalling it. This way, it won’t slip and cause more leaks. However, this is a temporary fix, so you can only expect the machine to work this way for a short time.

Washing machine belt and motor
This is what a typical belt and motor look like in a washing machine.

If you would like to give this a go, Repair Clinic has a pretty good article on detailed step-by-step instructions. I’ve summarised that here – it’s not a massive job but you’ll need a bit of time and patience: 

  1. Unplug the washing machine, turn it off, and unplug the hot and cold water supply from the valve inlet. 
  2. Remove the front panel from the washing machine. 
  3. Remove the belt cover by loosening the screws. 
  4. Clean (or replace) the belt. 
  5. Loop the belt back onto the motor pulley and rotate the pulley to align the belt. 
  6. Replace the cover and re-connect everything. 

Unfortunately, the above method will only buy you a certain amount of time. Once the transmission is broken, you have the option of replacing the entire unit or purchasing a new washing machine. 

The average cost to repair a transmission system ranges from $200 – $600 and unfortunately for most situations, it makes more sense to replace the washing machine. Also, if you’ve got an older machine, tracking down the right parts can get tricky. Sometimes, older direct-drive washers have parts that aren’t made anymore. In this case, think about using rebuilt transmissions as a solution.

Oil in the drum: what’s the cause?

Oil should never enter the drum of the washing machine. However, signs of an oil leak into the drum would be either oil in the washing water or black or dark brown stains on clothes that have just undergone a full wash cycle.

When you are finding oil in the drum of the washing machine, the oil is either entering the drum via a stuck object in the gasket of the drum or because of a faulty main seal. 

You may have a stuck object in your washing machine drum

Occasionally thin objects can lodge themselves in the gasket at the back of the washing machine drum. If they are flush with the back of the drum, they can be really tough to see. A common object causing this is a plastic collar stiffener.  

Where an object breaks the seal of the gasket at the back of the drum, oil or grease can leak into the drum causing oil stains on your laundry. This is especially likely if you notice no other symptoms in your washer such as faulty bearings or strange noises. 

Plastic shirt collar stuck in drum gasket
You can barely see this shirt collar stiffener, but right at the back in the crease is typically where you’ll find objects causing the leakage.

I wrote another article on how to locate stuck objects in a washing machine that you might find useful. But here I’d recommend using a flashlight to search for the stuck object and to simply remove it. You’ll need to inspect the drum really closely, as objects can get wedged deep into the crevice at the back.

A leaking washing machine drum seal

The tub seal is designed to prevent water from leaking from your drum and to prevent oil and nasty substances from entering your drum. A torn tub seal could therefore be causing both water leaks and oil to enter your drum. 

Aside from the irritating oil leak, the water leak caused by a leaking drum seal can cause a lot of damage. Water could be leaking onto the tub bearings, and this can cause problems such as a loose washing machine drum and stains to clothing. It’s best to get the tub seal sorted ASAP as a bearing replacement is a big job. 

You can opt for a simple repair using a “tub seal” kit like this one (on Amazon). Note: you’ll need to find a seal kit specific to your model. Another sign that the tub seal kit needs replacing might be a squealing noise when the washer is running. 

Replacing the tub seal kit isn’t a massive job in a top load washer but it will take a bit of elbow grease and an hour or so of your time. The process will vary based on your model, but here’s a great video I found on how to replace a tub seal kit in a top-loading washer (keep an eye out for other parts that might need replacing while you have it apart):  

Be sure to check the appliance manual, and don’t attempt to do a repair if you’re not sure of what you’re doing.

Is It Worth Fixing a Leaking Washing Machine? 

If the repair costs less than 50% of the price of a new washer and the appliance has a valid warranty or several expected years left, fixing it could be a cost-effective option rather than buying a new one. 

So, if your machine costs $600 and the repair cost is just about $200 or $250, fixing the machine can be a viable option. But if you have an old washer, you’re better off buying a new one than paying for the cost of repairs.

Plus, the longevity of an old washing machine is questionable if you’ve had to replace a component or two. On the other hand, a new washer comes with an extended warranty and is a better deal that will guarantee you peace of mind.

The typical repair cost of a washing machine includes the cost of labor and parts, not to mention technicians might have some kind of fixed charge. In some cases, you can expect to pay with as much as $400 to $500 in repair costs when a new washing machine costs between $550 and $700.

While a crucial part like the transmission may only cost around $200, the technician will certainly replace a few other components to give a more reliable overall repair job. And then you have to pay for their labor.

If This Isn’t Your First Repair…

If you’re getting your machine repaired again, the logic behind replacing it may be a little different. If the machine requires frequent repairs, the cost of repairs can add up quickly, and it may be more cost-effective in the long run to invest in a new machine.

For large families or heavy use situations, be sure to pick the right tool for the job. Newer washers unfortunately are not built nearly as tough as they were even 15 years ago. As a technician, I see sometimes where commercial/business environments are trying to use residential washers in place of a “more expensive” true commercial washer. Repairs can definitely rack up quickly. In these cases, the owners could have purchased an appropriate commercial washing machine, suited for the job, by the time they’ve repaired their existing machine.

Andy Fulenchek

Can You Fix a Washer Yourself?

If you trust your DIY skills, you may be able to reduce the overall repair cost by cutting on labor. This goes especially if you understand the internal working mechanism of a washer and can diagnose the problem accurately. Otherwise, you’ll need to call a repair technician.

How to Know When to Buy a New Machine

Start by looking at the floor under the washing machine and inspect its tub to see if you’re dealing with a serious oil leak. You should also touch the washing machine’s bottom surface. You might want to pause using the machine for a day or two to see if the leaks continue.

Wipe off the oily surfaces before reconnecting and using the washer. If only a small amount of oil leaked out, like a couple of teaspoons, the problem may not be serious and a repair may be inexpensive. Try a simple short operation cycle with no laundry; just water.

Once the cycle is complete, disconnect the washer and check again if there are signs of leakage.

If the transmission has leaked most or all of its oil, there’s a high probability that you need to call a professional or buy a new washer. Just adding oil without fixing the machine is pointless, and you’ll only deal with continued spills under the washer and more damage to the machine.

Either way, if your machine continues to leak oil, it’s a good idea to at least get a quote before deciding whether or not to buy a new machine.

how to maintain your washer

If you’re here because your washer is leaking oil already, it’s not too late to start maintaining your existing or new washer in a way designed to prevent this from happening again!

One of the simplest ways to maintain your washing machine is to clean it regularly. Over time, soap scum, dirt, and lint can build up inside the machine, leading to clogs and leaks. To prevent this from happening, run an empty cycle with hot water and a cup of white vinegar every month. This will help break down any buildup and keep the machine running smoothly.

And, like any appliance, your washing machine needs regular maintenance to keep it running smoothly. Check your owner’s manual for recommended maintenance tasks, such as cleaning the lint filter or checking the pump for debris. By performing these tasks regularly, you can help prevent leaks and other problems from occurring.

Medium loads are the new large. The absolute best thing you can do to help extend the life of your washing machine is to do smaller loads. Overloading washing machines, especially where there is no agitator, is the #1 killer of washers today. Many machines I see could have lasted for a decade or longer if the machine had not been loaded to the brim with comforters/bedding and/or jeans & towels. The new machines will NOT hold up to excessive weight.

Andy Fulenchek
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Hi, I'm Ed, and I run BuildFanatic! I enjoy providing the best possible information on a range of home improvement topics.

Andy Fulenchek
Owner at Grace Appliance | Website | + posts

Andy is a professional appliance repairman and business owner with years of hands-on experience. He co-authors and reviews appliance articles, ensuring accuracy and top-notch information for readers.

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