Drains and Plumbing

Draining a Washing Machine

It's one of life's little miseries that the only time your washing machine will break down is when it's inevitably filled with wet laundry. If you're encountering this depressing phenomenon with a newly-installed washer, there's a good chance that whoever installed it didn't cut the end off or remove the plug from the new drain hose before connecting it to the waste water line, If this is the case, the drain hose has to be removed, the end cut off (or the plug pulled out) and the hose replaced in the drain. There's not really a tidy way to do this, since the machine is full of water, and once the end is off, there will be water pouring from the machine.
In this case, you can drain the machine, one pail of water at a time, by cutting the end off the rear drain hose and letting the water pour into a bucket. (You should have several containers lined up so you don't have to set the drain hose down and go looking for another container). Beware! If your washer is hooked up to the U-bend in a sink, removing the drain hose means that any water down the sink will end up on the floor! So, don't pour the water from the pail into the sink. Once you have the water out of the machine and can work with the hose, replace the hose in the drain, and let the machine spin out the water.

If your machine hasn't been recently installed, either the pump isn't working or there's something blocking the drain. Some washing machines have a pump, filter and drain hose that can be accessed with relative ease, but others don't, and you'll probably need a repair person to fix what ails them. Some machines have a lock on the door that can't be opened as long as there is water inside the machine. If you can find a way to drain the machine, then you can open the door and access the pump filter if there is one. Some washers have a filter at the front of the machine, and others have it behind a panel at the bottom of the washer. If you aren't sure about the location of your machine's internal organs, the owner's manual should help you out. (You do have the owner's manual, don't you?)

You may be one of the lucky washer owners whose washer comes with a water pump filter that rests behind a flap. Lift the flap, and you may find a small drain hose. Unstop the hose and drain the water (slowly, painfully) into a pail or (if you're lucky) a floor drain. This may take awhile because the container you drain into may not be very deep if the hose is close to the floor to start with. Gravity requires that the hose aim down to get maximum drainage, and you may not have much room in that direction unless your machine is up on concrete blocks.

If your machine doesn't have a drain hose, you'll have to drain it from the pipe at the back of the washer. The advantage here is that the drain is usually higher than the front pump filter drain hose would be: the draining will go faster until the water level falls below the height of the pipe. Remember, if you're draining the washer from the hose that's been connected to a waste water pipe, make sure you aren't going to dump the drained water down any connected sink, or you'll get a flood.

If you try to drain the washer by means of any hose and there's little or no water coming out, you may have found a blockage. Socks are famous for blocking washers—they're small enough to get sucked into a hose but too big to work their way free again. At this point, you'll either need to take the pump filter apart (if you know about things like that), or call someone who knows about things like taking pump filters apart and get some expert assistance.

Fix Washing Machine from Bad Smells
You may have a washing machine that does its job, but gives you trouble when you aren't using it. It smells awful—mildewed, sulfurous, nasty. It may even make your clothes smell bad when they're washed, but more likely you'll notice the stink when the washer is sitting empty. The good news is that even when your washer smells bad, it's probably not going to be a mechanical issue, and you won't need the washer repairman or a plumber to fix it. Isn't that nice—you've just saved a lot of money!

If your washer has been recently installed, you will need to rule out the possibility that it wasn't plumbed in correctly. Bad plumbing can cause the washer to fill with nasty old water that should have drained out the sewer pipe. A good installation should include a warranty so that if that turns out to be the problem, the installers should fix the trouble at no cost to you. (If they try to renege on the warranty or guarantee, don't waste time arguing: call the Better Business Bureau and file a formal complaint). Incorrect plumbing can cause the waste water from the washer to re-enter the machine after it should have left the building. You can check for this possibility by looking at the washer when it hasn't been running. If it has water seeping into it when it's off, you have a problem with the waste water running back into the appliance and a plumber should some out to remedy the situation.

It's possible for some well water to create bad smells in the washer because of minerals in the water. Washers with a well water problem will probably smell sulfurous, like rotten eggs. It will be the same smell as the water from the tap. If you haven't already had problems with stinky well water, you should get a plumber to rule out the chance that sewer gas is the real culprit. If your washer is in a room where a toilet seal or sink trap has failed, the smell that seems to be coming from the washer may in fact be coming from a waste water pipe or a clogged vent. Sewer gas is dangerous: if you think there's a chance that you're smelling sewer gas, open the window (if there is one), leave the room, and call the plumber.

The more likely scenario is that your washing machine was running fine and developed a bad smell somewhere along the way of its normal functioning. This is common if you use inexpensive powder soaps that don't really dissolve the way they should when they hit the water. Some cheap soaps won't dissolve in cold water, and some really cheap soaps also won't fully dissolve in hot water, which transforms the soap into a sticky mass. Powdered soaps can be the worst—you'll probably have found that sometimes you get lumps of soap in the laundry after the rinse and spin cycles are completed. This is a great clue that the soap is also not dissolving in the washer. It may be caking up somewhere around the drum or in the various seals and pipes of the washer.

If your soap is caking up on your clothes, or if you need a hot wash to dissolve it, it's worth paying a little more money to get a decent laundry detergent that will dissolve in cold water (saving you hot water charges) and wash completely away in the rinse. Sometimes, all you need to do to get rid of the bad smell in the washer is to start washing with a better detergent. In a few loads of laundry, the old soap goo will be washed away from the nooks and crannies of the washer and the stink will wash away with it. (If you want to hurry things along, do a load of wash on the hottest setting and with no clothes in the washer).

If there's a chance that the smell in your washer comes from more than bad soap, you may want to do a serious wash cleaning. Lots of really grubby laundry (like washing farmer's or mechanic's clothes) can leave dirt and oil in the washer. It can build up in places where you can't reach to wipe it out, and create a stinky environment). If you don't have a septic tank, you can wash through a couple of cycles using laundry bleach and hot water: this will help wash away the accumulated dirt.

Other odor problems can come from not using the recommended amount of detergent for a load. If you use too much laundry soap, it can build up in the washer: if you don't use enough, you may have dirt and oils from clothing staying inside the washer at the end of the cycle. Follow the directions on your laundry detergent.

If you want to use cold water to save money and energy, you may find that hard water prevents your clothes from getting as clean as you'd like. There are a few detergents out now that are made especially to dissolve and wash well in cold water. It may be worth trying one of those more specialized detergents.

Vinegar is a long-revered cleanser, and it has the added benefit of being harmless to septic systems. If you don't want to put bleach into the sewer or septic, buy a gallon of cheap (usually about $1) white vinegar, and do a load of wash using hot water to clean out the washer. If you hate the waste of a whole load of laundry, it wouldn't hurt a bit to send through a load of sheets, dish towels, clothes or anything else you'd like to give some extra cleaning. The vinegar will act as a natural bleach and clean out the washer at the same time.

Whatever special cleaning wash you decide to use, do a special load of wash every week or two for the purpose of keeping your washer clean. If you're using the correct amount of a good detergent, periodically doing a wash in hot water, and not overloading the machine, a problem with a smelly washer should be permanently a thing of the past.

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Natural Drain Cleaner for Clogged Drains

The first thing you need to know before working on a clogged drain is that the drain cleaners you see advertised on TV or on the supermarket shelves are made of dangerous chemicals that will eat through rubber gloves, skin, certain kinds of pipe, wood and anything else they touch. If their fumes are inhaled, they can cause damage to the lungs, nose and mouth. If they are eaten, they will kill, even in small amounts. Even when they are used "properly", they can ruin septic systems, pollute groundwater, and destroy pipes.

For a more healthy and safe alternative, try a natural drain cleaner, such as Drainbo, that is made from natually occuring bacteria that will fix a clogged drain, but won't hurt your drain pipes or the environment.

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