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 can be easily 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.
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.
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.
If you find oil leaking underneath the machine, the most likely cause is a damaged transmission system.
|Type of oil leak and symptoms||Cause|
|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 seep out of a vent in the transmission. 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.
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.
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:
- Unplug the washing machine, turn it off, and unplug the hot and cold water supply from the valve inlet.
- Remove the front panel from the washing machine.
- Remove the belt cover by loosening the screws.
- Clean (or replace) the belt.
- Loop the belt back onto the motor pulley and rotate the pulley to align the belt.
- 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. In addition to this, you may have an older machine and it could be tough to find older parts.
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.
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. 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 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:
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.
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.