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Washer Not Spinning? Try This First!

Updated on April 04, 2016

As befits someone with a series of Hubs called "How (Not) To...", I must start by disclaiming any particular expertise with washers. But I seem to have stumbled onto something worthwhile in this area. Perhaps it can help you out, too, if your washer is sitting there, mocking you with a tubfull of water and almost-clean clothes, doing exactly nothing.

I was recently faced with this situation not once, but twice, and was fortunate enough to be able to fix the problem both times, for about $40 each time.

It turns out that a common reason for the failure of the spin cycle is the failure of what is called a "lid switch." You probably already know that washing machines are designed to stop during the spin cycle if the washer lid is raised. It's an obvious safety precaution, and a universal design feature.

But if you think about it, this means a switch is needed to 'tell' the machine that the lid is open. This is the lid switch. It usually 'lives' just under the washer's top, where it can be activated by a small rod on the washer lid, which pushes the switch when the lid is down.

If you think about it a little more, you realize that this switch takes a lot of abuse. And that makes it prone to fail. If it does, when the machine reaches the spin cycle nothing will happen, since the machine 'thinks' that the lid is open.

It seems to be a common problem; logically, because of the abuse the switch must absorb, and statistically, because both washers that I own suffered the same failure. (Then there's the way the young lady at the appliance store said "Lid switch!" and located the one I needed in about 30 seconds flat. Perhaps that counts as indirect evidence too!)

So if your washer won't finish the load you started, check the lid switch. With the lid open, find the opening through which the rod on the lid will protrude to operate the switch. It will be small, oblong, and located toward the back of the top--toward the part where the lid hinges, but along the side.

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The switch should be flush with the bottom of the washer top panel, held there by an internal spring. If it sags down from this flush position, it has failed. Even if it is in the correct position, it may not be working. Push down the switch gently. Can you feel the slight resistance of the spring? Does it spring back crisply into position when you let it go? If not, it has failed.

This mechanical failure of the switch occurred with both my washers. They are both brands manufactured by Whirlpool (I believe!) and have very similar switches. In each case, the body of the switch split in two.

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At last--the elusive lid switch.  The two halves of the plastic body should fit tightly together, rather than pivoting apart, as in this photo.The whole switch assembly, as it comes from the dealer.  Many washers also include a schematic diagram, tucked helpfully inside.
At last--the elusive lid switch.  The two halves of the plastic body should fit tightly together, rather than pivoting apart, as in this photo.
At last--the elusive lid switch. The two halves of the plastic body should fit tightly together, rather than pivoting apart, as in this photo.
The whole switch assembly, as it comes from the dealer.  Many washers also include a schematic diagram, tucked helpfully inside.
The whole switch assembly, as it comes from the dealer. Many washers also include a schematic diagram, tucked helpfully inside.

However, it could happen that the switch fails electrically, without the obvious breakage that I saw. This takes only a bit more technical savvy to check--that, and a bit more daring. (Fear not--it's not that bad. Besides, you'll need to do this anyway, if you want to do the repair.)

First (and as a safety precaution) unplug the washer. This will ensure that there is no possibility that you will shock yourself. Next--and here we are venturing into the realm of instructions specific to Whirlpool-type machines; with other corporate 'families' the details will presumably vary--next, open the top console. It is secured by two screws at the outer corners, as shown. (The arrangement shown is for the ultra-cheap "Galaxy" washer; it was slightly different on the "Roper" machine at home, though not greatly so.)

Once these screws are removed, the console can be lifted and pivoted back to expose the controls and wiring:

You'll find a plastic connector with three wires near the center of the exposed area. This is the connector to the lid switch; you can use it to check the switch operation if you have a multimeter or continuity tester of some sort. Disconnect the connector, exposing the connector terminals in the bottom part of the connector.

Now put the probes of your continuity checker, or multimeter--select the lowest 'Ohms' setting, if applicable--on the outer two connector terminals from above, taking care to contact the metal inside the connector body. (The center connector is a ground--as is normal, it is a green wire, as shown in the photo below.)

With the probes in this position, you should be able to see the switch 'make and break' as you operate it. That is, the meter will indicate continuity when you are not pressing the switch down, and show an open circuit when you let it up again. If it does not do this, then the switch has failed.

(But be careful to check that you are getting true readings! Your probes must stay in contact with metal, and you must have appropriate settings selected on your meter. You must also push the switch down far enough to operate it properly.)

If the switch is bad, you are in luck, because you will be able to replace it yourself and save a service call! But to do so, some more disassembly is needed. The cabinet body is secured to the back of the washer by two stout, brass-colored metal springs, one at each side of the machine:

Using a small slot screwdriver, carefully disengage the near end of the spring from the cabinet's top, lift it clear, and remove the spring, setting it aside. Repeat for the other side.

Now--and my inner teenager thought this next part was unbearably cool, perhaps because I never suspected that it worked this way--the entire washer cabinet is free to pivot forward, giving great access to the inside of the washer. (See photo below.)

But you may want to postpone that for one more step, because it is convenient at this point to remove the two screws that secure the body of the lid switch to the cabinet top.

Finally, we are ready for the nitty-gritty: the removal of the lid switch. You've already removed the screws holding it to the cabinet top, but the wiring is clipped to the cabinet top in two places. It's best to gently lift the clip with a slot screwdriver, just enough to slide the wires free. That way you don't have to finagle the clips back into place again later.

The only other thing you must do is to remove the grounding screw to free the green ground wire. This done, the switch can be pulled free, and you are halfway home.

A good feature of Whirlpool parts--or so I was told at the appliance store--is that they are good about printing part numbers on parts. Certainly both switches that I replaced had the part numbers clearly printed on them--simple numeric codes, seven digits if I remember correctly.

If you are buying the parts retail you may not need to know these numbers, since the person at the parts counter will. But if it is desirable to order online, you'll be glad to have that number--it is searchable on the company website, saving you much potential trouble finding the right part.

Once you have the part, installing it is pretty much the reverse of the disassembly process. I'd suggest that it's easier to screw the switch body to the top after you route and secure the wires, as otherwise you may be forced to maneuver them past the switch body, but that is a small point.

The lid switch installed.  The green-yellow grounding wire is shown with its screw, and the wiring harness is just visible inside the under lip of the lid.
The lid switch installed. The green-yellow grounding wire is shown with its screw, and the wiring harness is just visible inside the under lip of the lid.

One slightly larger one: be sure when you re-install the cabinet to the back that the flange on the front lower edge of the cabinet is securely *underneath* the matching flange on the bottom frame. The cabinet is secured by its position under the front part of the frame, but on top of the side rails of the frame. If you muff this--as I did, when reassembling the "Galaxy"--you'll go to move the machine and the front part of the cabinet will lift off the frame in a way that will let you know unequivocally that you did it wrong!

It won't break anything--but you'll feel rather foolish, if you are like me. And of course you'll have to go back and correct the problem.

But other than those two small tricks, the process is very straightforward.

Once the machine is re-assembled, plug it back in and see if your problem is solved. Odds are, it will be, if you did your diagnosing carefully, since it's quite unlikely to have two simultaneous part failures. If not so, enjoy the feeling of self-sufficiency and the money that you saved.

If not, I'm afraid I can be of no further service--as I said, I have no expertise with washers beyond the experiences I've shared here. You can try user's forums online, where there are discussions in depth on such issues, or you can decide that it's time to bring in a professional. If you do, at least you can tell him that the lid switch is new!

Either way, good luck--and let me know about your adventures in washing machine DIY!

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    • Doc Snow profile image
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      Doc Snow 4 years ago from Atlanta metropolitan area, GA, USA

      Thanks for coming by to check out this Hub; I'd love to hear what you thought about it!

      I think...

    • xanzacow profile image

      Cynthia 4 years ago from North Myrtle Beach, SC

      Great! I only wish you had written it sooner. About 2 months ago I purchased a new washer for this very reason!

    • Doc Snow profile image
      Author

      Doc Snow 4 years ago from Atlanta metropolitan area, GA, USA

      So sorry, xanzacow! Though there's always the possibility that yours had some other sort of problem, I suppose. They can't ALL fail because of bad lid switches!

    • xanzacow profile image

      Cynthia 4 years ago from North Myrtle Beach, SC

      Lol. They said it was the transmission. But they would say that, wouldn't they?!!!

    • Doc Snow profile image
      Author

      Doc Snow 4 years ago from Atlanta metropolitan area, GA, USA

      Just that word, "transmission," gives me a bad feeling...

    • Searchmedeals profile image

      Searchmedeals 3 years ago

      Good details it will really help fix someone who has this kind of problem.

    • Doc Snow profile image
      Author

      Doc Snow 3 years ago from Atlanta metropolitan area, GA, USA

      Thanks, searchme! Appreciate you taking the time to comment.

      It's such a comparatively simple thing to look at, I think it will be worth it for many folks.

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