Of all repairs that can be done to a washing machine this can be one of the most physically difficult to successfully complete as, more often than not these days it requires a complete stripdown of the machine.
The first thing you have to realise about a bearing change on any washing machine is that, if you're not confident in your ability to totally strip the machine and re-build it safely then call in a professional. This is not an easy job, none are two-minute jobs and it is very, very easy to make costly mistakes due to the involved nature of the work.
In the main there are two bearings in a washing machine. A lot of people take off the back panel of the washer and see the bearing that sits behind the pulley and think, oh that's easy to get to, never realising that there is one that sits in front of there as well as a water seal of some sort. This is why it's a problem.
The image to the right shows a typical bearing set for a washing machine or washer dryer. The smaller bearing is the rear bearing and does not take as much load as the larger bearing which the front bearing. In front of that, usually fitted flush onto it, is the water seal.
What will usually happen is that the water seal on the front bearing (which often relies on a brass bush on the drum shaft to seal against) will fail and allow water to pass into the front bearing. That bearing breaks down over time and, eventually will collapse.
Whilst the bearing is on its way out though, just like any bearing that is failing, it will start to get noisy and we get the fault of "noisy on spin" or "grumbling rumbling noise" when the machine is a few years old. Well, on most they're a few years old when the bearings fail. In more recent times we're seeing the bearings failing on machines that are younger and younger and now, on many of the cheap washing machines out there, we actually see them failing at a mere eighteen months old, some even within the twelve month warranty period.
Quite honestly service engineers on UK Whitegoods are disgusted at this development.
To make it even worse some manufacturers, notably Indesit (Hotpoint, Ariston and Indesit) and Electrolux (Electrolux, Zanussi, AEG and Tricity Bendix) have introduced sealed tanks where bearings cannot be replaced, you have to replace the entire inner working of the machine. The reason, they say, is to cut down production costs.
Replacing the bearing or bearings in a washer is one of those jobs that you really need to prepare for. Have all the tools that you will need to hand, have a good look at what you're about to set off doing and how you're going to do it and geet ready. Make sure that you have the machine totally disconnected from power and water for this job and ensure that you have some old towels or suchlike to hand.
This is messy and you will get dirty. You'll also most likely get a pint or so of water on the floor when you disconnect the sump hose if you need to. The sump hose is the one that connects to the drain pump.
Also ensure that you have ALL the spare parts that you are likely to need to hand as the last thing you want is to stop half way through the job. You also do not want to miss a part that you should replace whilst at it, like a tub seal for example and this is where a little expert guidance can come in handy.
Most common bearing, drum and drum seals are available from our online shop and this link jump you straight to that section
The first thing you have to work out (as do we quite often) is how to get into the bearings.
Depending on the machine this can be relatively easy or just an absolute pain.
Older machines that were well built were pretty straightforward assuming that there was no damage to the drum shaft (more on that later) as they had a "spider" on the back which you simply removed a few bolts to draw off, change the bearings and put it back on. I know that sounds easy, but trust me, on some it isn't just as simple as it sounds.
Some others, like Servis and Antonio Merloni based machines, have a bearing plate that is released by a clamp band at the back and the whole back of the tub comes off, heater included. This is probably one of the easiest to do and means that you have full access to the insides of the outer tank, so you can check for other problems. The downsides are that the seal for the rear really has to be replaced as well and that on these cheap machines the bearings do fail, often.
On Zanussi, AEG, Tricity Bendix, John Lewis and Electrolux machines (they're all pretty much the same regardless of what the marketing literature tells you) the cabinet splits and the back has to come off to extract the entire tub group. Had they put the bolts in the other way around that hold the two outer tub halves together life would have been so much easier, but alas they didn't. When this design was launched many years ago (it is about 14 years old or so) I asked why they hadn't put the bolts in the other way around as then bearings would have been made far easier to change, guess what, it saves on production costs.
Anyway, to get the tank out you have to disconnect everything from it and, I do mean everything, to extract the whole lot and then strip it outside the shell.
On a Candy or Gorenje washing machine as well as others things get even more difficult when changing the bearings as, not only does the whole tub have to come out but the only way that it will come out is through the top. This is a soul destroying job to do and takes much, much longer to complete, service engineers hate them for it. Not only that some are really a two-man lift to do safely without damaging your back just because of the sheer weight in them.
This is probably one of the most important tips for when you attempt to change bearings, replace the seals. Obviously the bearing water seal just has to be replaced, there's no option but I'd strongly recommend that you also order the tub seal as well. The reason is pretty simple, until you strip the machine you won't know if it's failed or not and, putting in a dodgy seal can cost you the machine.
This is the inside of a washer's bearing so you can see the ball bearings running in the race encased in grease. If water gets in here then the bearings have had it!
To explain that, the Zanussi type tub splits in the middle and in there there's a kind of silicon seal which is hollow, it compresses and seals the two tub halves. Should that seal leak the chances are that water will drip onto the motor which is mounted at the bottom of the tub and, bang!
More often than not, when that happens you'll be looking at a new motor and module.
So there you go, the lesson is to replace the seal as for the few pounds it costs it is well worth it.
The inner drum of the washing machine, some call it the "basket" is the (normally) stainless steel part in which you put the clothes. On the back of that there is a spider and a shaft and, on that shaft which slides into the bearings, there is normally a brass bush which you can see in the image to the right, on most continental machines (as well as a lot of UK brands) which, if it is damaged, will simply tear up the new water seal. You must inspect this very carefully for damage or the bearings will fail again within months of being replaced.
There are various other ways that this seal between the drum shaft and the water seal is made, but the above is the most common way.
Fair warning though, there are some crazy ways that manufacturers do this.
Quite often you need specialist tools to replace bearings, some even require specially manufactured bearing drawers to get them in and out. And, whilst these may not be absolutely essential, they sure can make life a lot easier.
When tapping bearings in the greatest of care need to be taken to ensure that they will last any length of time. This applies even more so to the front bearing water seal as virtually any damage to that part alone will be the cause of another failure without doubt.
With many of the modern machines you will need a good selection of screwdrivers, spanners quite often Torx bits now and nut runners can save a shedload of time. In other words, make sure that you are well armed with tools for the job.
In recent years we've seen a phenomena known as the "sealed tank" or drum where the outer tank is sealed completely. Usually it's seam welded around the middle of the outer tank and, where this is the case the drum bearing of the washing machine or washer dryer cannot be accessed to replace them.
Apart from the fact that, as appliance repairers we think this is, frankly, disgusting it's also not good for consumers. It means that, on say a machine designed to last a thousand cycles or so, that the washing machine is effectively scrap after a couple of years in the main as the cost of a full inner tank is prohibitive. Or, you are forced to insure the machine against failure, any way you look at it, it's more expensive. Much more expensive.
Several public members and trade have now tried to find a way to replace the bearings on these types of machines and, to date, none have had any success in doing so.
You can find out more about these types of inner tank assemblies fitted to washing machines from this link