A smoking washing machine is extremely concerning and a significant fire hazard. Fortunately, there are some simple diagnostic checks you can carry out to determine the root cause of the problem.
A smoking washing machine is most often caused by a loose washing machine drum rubbing on the rubber door seal. A loose drum is commonly caused by broken drum bearings or a broken spider arm. Other causes include the washing machine overheating due to overloading, and a slipping rubber drive belt.
It’s important to note that a smoking washing machine does not always signify something disastrous has happened. Within this guide I’ll walk you through the most common causes of a smoking washing machine, starting with the obvious things you should check first.
Why Is Your Washing Machine Smoking?
If you notice smoke coming from your washing machine, turn off the electricity at the circuit breaker immediately. The circuit breaker is normally in the hallway, basement, or garage. Mine is actually in the office area, but look out for a metal or grey plastic container on the wall.
Identify the correct breaker and flick the switch. It is important to take immediate action as washing machines are responsible for causing over 600 fires annually in the UK.
Please note I’ve written this guide as informational only. Whilst I’m confident in my research and should be able to help you identify the cause of a smoking washing machine, you should absolutely be getting professional help given the potential danger. I’d also encourage you to read to the end of the guide to get an accurate gauge of the problem as it could save you money.
There are two types of washing machines: a front-loading-washing machine (more common in the UK) and a top-loading washing machine. Front-loading washing machines are more likely to smoke, and the cause is often friction on rubber. The washing machine drum itself is probably rubbing against your rubber door gasket, which is why washing machines tend to smoke more often during the spin cycle, where the drum spins the quickest.
It’s more difficult to cite a ‘most common cause’ of a smoking washing machine for top loaders, but it commonly relates to a rubbing and worn rubber drive belt.
Within this guide, I’ll walk you through the most common causes of smoke coming from your washing machine, alongside what this means for a potential repair.
Check these 2 things first: an electrical short circuit and the pump filter
Whilst the cause of a smoking washing machine can often be ominous, I’d recommend you carry out two simple checks before diving into the more serious stuff: check for an electrical short, and the pump filter.
An electrical short can be caused by many things, but a common cause is overloading the washer. Plugging other appliances into the same outlet as your washing machine or using extension cords and outlet extenders might lead to an electrical overload, potentially resulting in a short circuit for the washing machine.
If an electrical short has caused the smoke, the circuit breaker probably would have tripped and you might notice burnt or melted wires in and around the plug socket area.
So you should ensure your washing machine is plugged into a wall outlet and not an extension cable, but also that no other high-current appliances are plugged into the same wall outlet.
If you have a stuck drain pump the motor won’t be able to turn whilst receiving a high electrical current. The motor will work too hard, causing overheating, burning, and preventing the washer from draining.
Cleaning the filter could be an easy fix. If you have a stuck drain pump, you’ll also probably notice:
- Water not draining. The drum will remain filled with water at the end of the cycle.
- Unusual noises. Humming, grinding or rattling noises may be produced during the draining process.
- Error codes. LG washers may show an OE error code, Maytag/Whirlpool may show an F9 E1 or DRN error code, Bosch may show an E18 error code.
To clear the drain pump filter make sure your machine is drained and turned off. Locate the access panel, place a shallow pan and pull the drain hose into the pan and remove the plug from the hose allowing water to drain. Then remove the pump filter (twisting counter-clockwise) and clear the pump filter.
Note: you should also clean out your drain pump filter on a monthly basis.
Most likely cause: Your Washing Machine Drum Is Rubbing On Your Rubber Door Seal (Or Gasket)
If your front-loading washing machine smokes and omits a smell of burning rubber, it’s likely that the rubber door seal is rubbing on the spinning drum. The friction caused by the fast-spinning stainless steel drum against the rubber causes the rubber to burn. You’ll therefore notice a lot of smoke when you open the washing machine door.
This normally happens when your washing machine drum has become loose and wobbles as it spins. Here are the most common other signs of a loose drum, in addition to the smoking you are observing:
- Too much play in the drum when wet clothes are in the basket. It should firmly snap back into place. Also, try pushing down on the basket and let go – if it bounces up and down like a basketball it’s probably too loose.
- The drum is overly wobbly on the spin cycle and produces a constant thumping sound. This may also produce excessive vibration.
- Try putting your washing machine on a cycle and observe the moving drum.
- The spacing between the drum and rubber gasket isn’t even all the way around and looks like its off kilter. This is caused by rubbing over time.
Most people report smoke coming from the washing machine during the spin cycle which is when the drum spins at over 1000 revolutions per minute. Smoke and burning is caused as the wobbling drum catches the rubber door gasket.
The two most likely causes of a loose washing machine drum are worn-out drum bearings or a broken spider.
Worn-out drum bearings
Drum bearings are an important part of your washing machine and are essentially 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 loud whilst operating.
Here’s how to check for worn bearings:
- Remove the back panel and inspect for signs of rust around the motor (picture below).
- Spin your drum by hand and listen for grinding noise. Functioning bearings shouldn’t produce noise.
- Check for too much drum movement. Push against the top of the drum – there shouldn’t be much movement between the drum and the door seal.
Having a professional replace drum bearings costs around $300 (including parts) or you could attempt it yourself with parts (from Amazon). It’s one of those jobs where the parts are very cheap and you’re mostly paying for labor.
Broken Spider Arm
The spider arm connects the back of the drum to the washing machine’s shaft. Drum spiders 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.
You’ll notice similar signs to broken bearings but with a broken spider arm, the drum won’t make the grinding noise when you spin it by hand.
Unfortunately, you can’t do much about a broken spider arm other than replacing your entire washing machine as repairs cost over $600.
Worn-Out Or Slipping Drive Belt
Another likely cause, particularly within top-loading washing machines, is a slipping drive belt. A typical washing machine has two belts: the drive belt, which connects the motor to the drum, and the pump belt, which connects the motor to the water pump.
The drive belt is responsible for transferring power from the motor to the drum and experiences high levels of resistance and load. The drive belt is made from rubber and if it slips, it can rub on other parts of the washing machine or overheat. This leads to smoke coming from the underside of your washing machine and burning rubber.
Note: smoking could also simply be caused by an overheating belt. You’ll want to inspect it to make sure.
Drive belts most often slip due to wear and tear, but slippage can also be caused by:
- Putting an excessive load in the washing machine. The belt can slip as it struggles to handle the added weight.
- Motor issues. If the washing machine’s motor is faulty or running at an inconsistent speed, it can cause the belt to slip.
- A stuck object. If something falls into your washing machine (you may also hear a clicking noise) it could get stuck between the belt and pulley, causing slippage.
If you suspect a worn belt, the best thing to do is to remove the belt and inspect it. Here’s how to inspect a washing machine drive belt:
(here’s another article I wrote on how to move a stacked washer/dryer in case you’ll need to move the units to access the belt drive)
- Isolate the machine by unplugging it.
- For a top-loader, release the spring clips from the front panel using a putty knife and pull the panel up and towards you to remove.
- The drive pulley is located underneath the motor shaft at the bottom of the machine. Remove the belt and inspect the ‘business’ side of the belt that actually makes contact with the pulleys. Look for any bad spots or chunks missing.
- If you are unable to remove the belt, then twist it around by hand and look for any burned spots.
- Also, observe around the pulleys for any black residue or chunks on the bottom and side of the machine.
If you’ve got to this stage and have decided your belt is worn and burnt, you’ve already done most of the work towards replacing it.
You’ll need to purchase a new drive belt specific for your machine from somewhere like partselect.com and luckily they are only around $15.
Here’s how to replace your washing machine drive belt:
- Your new drive belt may be slightly smaller than the pulley. So firstly ziptie the drive belt to the right side of the pulley.
- Loop the belt onto the drive shaft and rotate the pulley counter-clockwise to help fully align the belt.
- Remove the zip tie.
- Reposition the front panel by aligning the tabs on the base with the slots on the panel and snap it back into position.
Whilst smoke coming from the drive belt can be alarming, it’s an inexpensive and easy fix to complete. I also found this video showing you exactly how to replace the drive belt within a top-loading washing machine that you might find helpful:
Overloading a washing machine can cause lots of problems including increased stress on the motor or transmission. The increased workload can cause overheating and smoke.
Large loads in a top-load appliance can make the agitator freeze or break. It can also damage the drive belt, causing friction, burning smells, and smoke.
This is one of the less serious problems to have, as it may be a cause of allowing the machine to cool off before trying another load. Here are some telltale signs that you’ve formed a habit of overloading your washing machine:
- Ineffective Cleaning: Clothes may not get thoroughly cleaned.
- Strained Motor: Increased noise and vibration during operation.
- Uneven Load Distribution: Potential balance issues during the spin cycle.
- Extended Wash Times: Longer washing cycles to handle the excess laundry.
If your washing machine has overheated, here are the steps you should follow:
- Turn the power off immediately!
- Allow sufficient time for the machine to cool.
- Ensure the washing machine is well-ventilated.
- Inspect internal components. If you notice any burnt wires, scorched marks, or unusual smells, do not attempt to use the machine again until it has been inspected and repaired by a qualified technician.
As mentioned above, always check with a professional especially if you see something like smoke appearing from your appliance.
Problems with the electric motor can cause a washing machine to smoke or hum loudly and prevent it from starting. The electric motor draws large amounts of power when it starts up, reducing the power once it reaches two-thirds of its normal speed.
Defective start switches, bad starts, or faulty components in the motor prevent it from reducing power and can cause it to overheat and smoke.
As a result, the defective motor will work too hard, causing a low hum sound and creating smoke. In these cases, it’s best to replace the motor entirely, regardless of the initial cause of the problem.
Here are the best ways to check for a defective motor:
- Listen for Unusual Noises: Run the washing machine with no load and listen for any unusual grinding, buzzing, or rattling noises coming from the motor. Unusual sounds may indicate motor problems.
- Test Motor Windings: With the power disconnected, use a multimeter to test the motor windings for continuity. If any of the windings show no continuity, the motor is likely faulty and needs replacement.
- Look for Burnt Smell or Smoke: If you detect a burnt smell or see smoke coming from the motor while it’s running, immediately turn off the washing machine and unplug it. A burning motor indicates a serious issue that requires professional repair or replacement.
A washing machine motor as a part often costs under $50, but you can expect to pay $300 or more in labor. And so often homeowners will replace their washing machine if the motor has burned out.
Problems With The Solenoids
Faults with the solenoids (on/off electrical switch devices) can cause a washing machine to smoke from different areas. A cloud of light smoke coming from the bottom of the appliance indicates an issue with the transmission shifting solenoid.
Smoke from the upper back of the washer signifies a bad valve solenoid. Otherwise, smoke from the control panel can occur if your machine has a bad timer motor. You’ll need to diagnose the issue and replace the faulty parts as necessary.
Can A Washing Machine Cause House Fire?
It’s possible for a washing machine to smoke, catch fire, and cause a house fire. There have been countless cases of washing machines catching fire, resulting in property damage, injury, and death.
Most washing machine fires are caused by mechanical and electrical issues.
Fortunately, there are several steps you can take to prevent the chance of your washing machine catching fire, including the following:
- Do not overload your washing machine.
- Follow all of the recommended installation procedures, including connecting the unit to the recommended electrical circuit, using the specified power cable, proper grounding, and protecting the circuit breaker.
- Do not install your washing machine too close to a heat source. Use the installation manual for the most accurate information, and follow all of the guidelines.
- Immediately turn off your machine and call a professional if you smell anything burning or notice the smoke. Doing so will minimize damage and prevent the chance of a fire.