Washing machines are essential household items that require repairs from time to time. While it’s a good idea to have an appliance professional on call for emergencies, with a bit of knowledge and diagnosis, you may be able to fix some problems yourself.
The washing machine belt is a common part of the appliance that often breaks down. Here’s how to diagnose and change a washing machine belt when it needs fixing.
What Does the Belt Do?
The drive belt is what moves your washing tub around, so it’s an important component that can’t be overlooked if you think there’s an issue. Not only will the machine not wash your clothes properly, leaving a faulty belt can cause more problems to the machine, making a simple repair more expensive.
Damage to the motor can ensue, as well as the drain pump, and other components. If your washing machine belt breaks, or you suspect it has, do not continue to run the machine as it could turn a small, fixable problem into a much larger one.
Causes of Belt Problems
If your washing machine belt isn’t working properly it’s often because the drum isn’t able to move. Belts themselves are meant to last a long time, and when other external forces don’t get in the way, they run quite effortlessly.
While they can eventually wear out over time, something else usually causes them to need replacing.
Most problems are caused by a loose article of clothing that gets stuck between the drum and the side of the machine. Overloaded cycles can also cause the drum to malfunction, get stuck, or not spin properly. When any of these situations happen, the belt and motor will continue to try and function.
Friction ends up causing the belt to melt or burn as there is nowhere for it to go, or it eventually slips off its pulleys. It could completely snap in two, but even if it doesn’t, a significant amount of wear and tear, and stretching from the episode will mean you should replace it.
How to Diagnose a Bad Belt
The main way to diagnose a faulty belt is if your washing machine isn’t moving smoothly, but if you hear any strange noises like squealing that gets worse over time, it could be the belt making noise. Banging or rumbling sounds are more likely due to an unbalanced load, and signal problems with loose drum bearings.
If the drum is stuck, or you see a wedged in piece of clothing, then the problem is obvious. If you suspect you may have overloaded the machine, this can cause damage to the drum, the motor, the belt or all of the above.
You’ll know it’s a problem with the belt fairly quickly if you smell burning rubber, the drum is stuck in place, or not moving freely during the wash and rinse cycles. The only way to know for sure is to get a look at the belt itself, which will be somewhere behind the access panel.
The next steps will go over how to locate, check, and replace the belt if necessary.
Step 1 - Prepare the Machine
Before you do anything, unplug the washing machine from the outlet, and disconnect the water supply and hoses. Turn off the water by simply closing the valves from the supply shut-off, and then remove the hoses so you can move the machine around freely.
They may have water in them, so have a bucket nearby. You'll also need to remove the drain hose from where it feeds into.
Unclog any articles of clothing from the drum if that was the cause of the belt to burn out. Remove any clothing inside the machine (often problems are noticed midway through doing a load) and drain the machine if it has water left in it from an unfinished cycle. Check your manual for how to drain it properly.
Washing machines will need to be moved back, forward, or on their side in order to access the panel where the belt assembly is kept. It's best to have the manual around to help you locate exactly where it will be so you know which way to lay the machine.
Try to locate the panel access first to see how you need to move it to make it more accessible. It's helpful to have two people to do this job, particularly due to the difficulty of laying down or moving the washing machine without scratching the floor or hurting yourself.
You may want to lay an old blanket, towels, or cardboard down to lay the machine on, or underneath the machine feet while you slide it.
Tilt the machine far enough so that you can safely get a visual. If you don’t want to completely turn it on its side, you can use bricks, paint cans, or anything else that’s sturdy enough to lift the machine so you can get a quick look. A flashlight may help.
Step 2 - Remove the Access Panel
Once you've found the access panel, remove the cover from the unit. It can be held in place with screws, or may be held by latches. If you do not see the belt, or where the belt should be, you may need to access it from the bottom of the machine. If necessary, lay the machine on its side and remove the bottom panel.
Step 3 - Locate the Belt
While the belt is usually easy to find once you remove the access panel, most belts on front-loading machines are at the back, whereas they may be on the bottom of a top-loading machine under the drum.
Some newer models may not have belts at all, so once again, consult your manual or contact the manufacturer before you do anything.
Once you have found the belt, make a mental note or draw a diagram of its placement. Write down the steps you took to get to each step so that you can simply reverse the order when it comes time to put it back on.
If the belt shows any signs of being damaged (stretched out, frayed, cracked, melted, etc.) then you must replace the belt. If it has slipped off its housing but seems in good shape, you can try pushing it back into place and running a cycle again.
Step 4 - Re-attach the Belt
If the belt has simply come off of its bearings, and you don't think you need to replace it, first locate the pump coupling. This is a rubbery or leathery part that connects the water pump and the motor of the machine. You will need to remove this to slip off the existing belt and replace it on the pulleys.
You may need to also loosen the bolts of the motor mount to get enough slack in the belt to remove it. If the belt has become so loose from the episode that it slips off easily, you should replace it.
Step 5 - Replace the Belt
You'll need to source a new washing machine belt online or at an appliance parts supplier. If you have an older model, make sure that the replacement belt is still being manufactured. You don’t want to go through the trouble of prepping to do the work before you know you can get the part.
Manufacturers tend to phase out parts for older models. Call your manufacturer or check your appliance manual if you still have it around, and then make sure to source the exact belt specified. By no means should you use anything other than the size according to the manufacturer's specifications.
Once you have the replacement belt, put the new one on following your diagram pattern, or doing the reverse of how you took it off in the first place. Every machine will be a little bit different, so make sure you keep any screws and parts, labeling them if necessary.
To put it on, make sure the flat side of the belt faces out, and the side with grooves faces in. You should be able to place part of the belt on the drum pulley so that it fits into the grooves nicely. Then, attach the other end to the motor pulley.
It may be a bit more difficult to get the belt into position than getting it off, especially if the old one was loose or torn. Having someone else will come in handy at this time, as they can turn the drum by hand to help work the belt into the proper position.
As the drum turns, the belt should tighten into place. Do at least one full rotation of the drum to get it secure.
Ideally, when the belt is replaced, the coupling reattached, and the motor mount re-tightened, there shouldn't be more than ½ inch of slack in the belt. If it is too tight, the belt can wear and break too quickly. If it is too loose, the belt can slip off the pulleys.
After the belt is back on nice and snug, replace the pump coupling and re-tighten the motor mount bolts. If it is too difficult to adjust the motor back to its original position, you can put some light pressure on the belt to help it flex a little with the handle of a hammer.
Step 6 - Connect Water Lines and Electrical
With the belt and other components securely in place, you can safely put the access panel back on with the screws or latches (if your machine has one) and move the machine back to where you can restore the electrical and water supplies.
Remove any paint cans or wedges you had holding up the machine, and get it level with the floor again.
Before plugging in the machine, attach the water supply hoses and put the drain hose back into position. Turn the water supply back on, making sure cold and hot water connections are correct, and that there are no leaks.
Once they are set, plug the electrical cord back into the wall and position the washing machine in its permanent place.
Step 7 - Run a Test
Once you're confident that the machine is ready, you can try testing it out. Consult the manual for how to do a test run, as there may be certain cycles that are recommended. If you don't have a manual, put in a small load of clothing and do a regular cycle.
Listen closely to the machine and make sure it isn't making any of the same sounds as before. If the machine is shaking more than it should or you smell burning again, stop the machine immediately. If the cycle seems to be running without problems, let it finish while keeping your eye on it.
Check the clothes at the end and see if they are cleaned properly. If they are soaking wet, still soapy, or not cleaned thoroughly, there's still a problem and it's time to call a professional.
Hiring a professional to replace the belt will cost somewhere between $100-$200 for an hour or two of work. The cost of the belts themselves can range from $5 to $25, so it can save you a lot of money to do the job yourself—if it fixes the problem.
Check to see if your machine is still under warranty from the manufacturer or the store you bought it from to see if the cost of repairing a washing machine that doesn't spin could be covered.
If your appliance is dated and has been having other problems, you could consider selling it and getting a new one. Energy-efficient models can often save you money in the long run, and your time and effort may not be worth it for an outdated model.
Professionals will often tell you that if the repair is going to cost more than half the price of getting a new one, it's better to replace the appliance entirely.
The cost of a new washing machine belt is cheap, however, and the job is not very time-consuming. It could save you a lot of money if you can diagnose and learn how to change a washing machine belt yourself.