What a Washer Not Draining Means for Your Appliance—And Your Wallet

Opening a washer to find standing water can put a damper on anyone’s day. Find out what could be the cause of a washer not draining, and whether the solution is a minor fix or a major repair.

By Evelyn Auer | Updated Dec 12, 2023 2:34 AM

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A man sits on the floor with a pile of laundry next to a washer.

Photo: depositphotos.com

Q: I threw a load of clothes in the washer a while ago, and when I came back to put them in the dryer they were still submerged in water! It looks like the washing machine never drained. The machine was working just fine yesterday, so why is my washer not draining now?

A: What an inconvenience! It can be easy to forget how much time and effort appliances save until they stop working properly. When a dryer won’t spin or a washer won’t drain, it might spark worries about costly repairs or even replacing the entire unit. But in most cases, washers and dryers last 10 to 13 years, so it’s worth troubleshooting some reasons for a washer not draining before shopping for the best washer and dryers as a replacement.

“There are a couple of things that could stop your washer from draining,” says Jason Carter, an appliance technician and the founder of Simply Swider (a website that provides tips and advice from experts on appliance maintenance and repair). “First off, [there are] the easy fixes that most folks can check on their own. The drain filter might be clogged up, or the drain hose is clogged or has some damage.” Carter suggests other issues might require advanced knowledge or the help of a professional; for instance, “The drain pump could be busted or just clogged up. The lid switch or the door lock latch might not be working right. Or the pump belt [has] come loose or snapped.”

Understanding the reason behind a washer not draining can help homeowners understand what to do next and whether it’s time to call in a professional for help.

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The drain hose might be clogged, frozen, or bent, preventing water from draining from the drum. 

If the water in a washing machine won’t drain, there may be a blockage somewhere in the washer drain hose. It’s a good idea to first make sure the hose isn’t bent—sometimes the solution is as simple as straightening out a kink. Otherwise, the hose may be clogged with debris or a small piece of clothing. The best way to check for a clog is to look into how to drain a washing machine, or simply bail out the water using a cup.

Once there is no water left in the machine, the hose can be unscrewed from the wall. It’s a good idea to empty any remaining water from the hose into a bucket before unscrewing the other end. At this point, it will be possible to inspect each end of the hose for blockages and run some water through it to clear it out.

Finally, a washing machine drain may freeze in cold weather. If this is the case, pouring hot water into the drain or using a hair dryer to melt any ice is likely to fix the problem.

There may be something obstructing the pump filter. 

Small items get stuck in the washing machine all the time, often ending up in the drain pump. The pump will either be accessible on the bottom front or back of the machine (on a top loader, it may be necessary to remove the washer’s front panel). From here, the pump can be pulled out and inspected for any items like coins or pieces of fabric that have gotten caught inside.

If the screen of the filter looks clogged, giving it a rinse before replacing it may also help the washer to drain more efficiently.

If the washing machine is plugged into a power strip or an extension cord, it might not receive enough power to drain.

The drain cycle on a washing machine requires a significant amount of power. If there is an interruption in power flowing to the unit, or the power source is weak, it may result in the washer not draining.

It’s generally recommended that washing machines be plugged into a wall outlet rather than a power strip or extension cord as this provides a more reliable electrical source. If the washer is plugged into the wall and still experiencing power issues, the circuit may be overloaded. An electrician can advise homeowners on whether they need to upgrade their home’s electrical panel to accommodate their power needs.

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The machine may not be at the proper drain height. 

Finding the proper drain height for a washing machine is a bit of a Goldilocks conundrum. If the drain is too high, the machine won’t be able to propel the water up through the hose. If it’s too low, the water will flow right back into the drum after being pumped out. Either of these scenarios will result in a washer that stays full of soapy, murky water.

The exact height needed for a washer to drain will vary across brands and models. Luckily, the owner’s manual that came with the washer probably lists the height range that lets the washing machine drain properly. If it turns out that the current drain height is less than ideal, it may be necessary to reposition the drain hose or its standpipe (the pipe that connects to the drain hose) to remedy the issue. There are plenty of washing machine drainage options out there if the current setup isn’t working.

Problems with the home’s plumbing system may affect the washing machine. 

It’s understandable to assume that when a washer won’t drain it’s because the machine itself is broken. However, sometimes the fault actually lies with the plumbing connected to the unit.

According to Carter, “Basically, you [need to] watch what happens when you use the washer. If it’s acting up, like giving you codes or making weird noises when you’re running it, then … it’s probably the washer itself. But if your sinks are slow or you have water backing up elsewhere when you’re not using the washer, then it’s probably your pipes acting up.”

A clog in the pipes taking dirty water away from the washer could be causing the backup. One way to identify this problem is to try disconnecting the drain hose from the pipe while being careful to hold the hose upright so water can’t leak out. If the blockage isn’t too far down the line, it may be possible to dislodge it with one of the best drain snakes.

Another option is to pour a bit of water down the line to see if it backs up. The longer it takes for the water to rise back out of the drain, the farther down the line the clog is located. There may also be an issue with the plumbing system’s venting, which would prevent water from flowing freely. If it looks like the washing machine plumbing is the culprit, it’s best to call a professional plumber to take care of the blockage.

Poor load distribution can cause a washing machine to drain improperly. 

Poor load distribution could be the reason for a washing machine not draining. If at any point during the wash the items in the drum become unbalanced, this could result in the washer not spinning or draining because it cannot carry out the rest of the cycle. If the clothes have gathered to one side, or the only item in the drum is a single bulky object like a pillow, adding items or redistributing the bulky object to balance the load may fix the problem. If this is indeed the cause, the cycle will resume again when the door is closed. If not, it might be necessary to check with the manufacturer about how to reset a washing machine to get it started again.

If unbalanced loads are allowed to run frequently, the constant jostling can hurt the machine over time. In the future, whenever there is undue banging coming from the laundry room, it’s worth stopping the cycle and rebalancing the load immediately to avoid causing damage.

A man in blue overalls reaches inside a washer.

Photo: depositphotos.com

The lid switch might be defective. 

When working properly, the lid switch can detect whether the washer’s lid is closed and will prevent a cycle from running if it’s not. Those who have opened the lid of a washer mid-cycle are likely to have noticed that it will pause until the lid is closed again. However, if something goes wrong with the lid switch, this can either result in the washing machine not filling with water or the washer not draining.

On a top loader, it’s possible that the piece that turns on the switch when the lid is closed has broken. To see if the switch itself is still working, use the tip of a pencil to try triggering the switch. If that doesn’t work, the switch may be faulty.

A front-load washer not draining may look slightly different since these models do not have a lid switch like a top loader. Instead, the door will typically lock automatically while a cycle is in progress. If the door is locked but there is still standing water inside, this could be a mechanical issue that will require the help of a washing machine repair technician.

The water pump itself may have a mechanical issue that requires it to be replaced.

A pump that has been blocked by debris or cloth fibers can typically be fixed easily by removing the obstruction. However, if there are no objects in the pump or pump filter but it is not making noise during the washing cycle, there may be an issue with the pump itself.

The best way to diagnose this issue is to listen for sounds near the part of the machine where the pump is located while the cycle is running (on a top-load this may be at the front, and on a front-loading machine it will be at the back). A water pump not working is probably due to a mechanical issue, and an appliance repair technician will likely recommend having the pump replaced.

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If the issue is caused by a minor malfunction, performing a master reset of the washer per the manufacturer’s instructions may solve it.

Sometimes the cause of water not draining from a washer is simply a mechanical glitch or error. If there doesn’t seem to be a physical problem with the washer or its plumbing or electrical hookups, it’s worth trying a master reset before calling a repair person.

On most models, this can be achieved by unplugging the machine for 60 seconds or longer, plugging it back in, and opening and closing the door rapidly six times. The washer’s user manual may provide alternate instructions for resetting the machine if this method does not work.

The user can manually drain the washing machine by placing the drain tube in a bucket or utility sink and letting the water out.

Those who leave standing water in their unit may notice that after a while the washing machine smells or even develops mold. Fortunately, those who find that their washers are not draining don’t have to leave the machine full of dirty water indefinitely.

The first step is to disconnect the machine from power by unplugging it. The next step is to locate the drain tube and disconnect it from the drain, making sure to have a bucket or sink handy to drain it. The drain tube may need to be lowered to the same level as the tub for the water to drain out. The amount of water a washing machine uses can vary by model, but there may be as many as 30 to 35 gallons to drain if the washer is full. Once the washer has been drained completely, the tube can be reattached to the drain and the washer plugged back into the wall.

It may also be worth learning how to clean the washing machine to remove residual dirt and debris. However, this may not solve the root cause of the washer not draining, so it’s still a good idea to have a local appliance repair service inspect the machine to diagnose the issue.

An appliance repair professional can diagnose the problem and suggest a solution to get the washer draining again.

For those who are still unsure why their washer won’t drain, or are understandably worried about making the problem worse while performing a DIY fix, it’s probably wise to get in touch with a washing machine repair service.

Anyone who is not sure who to call to fix a washing machine may want to start by looking into the best appliance repair services. These professionals will be aware of the potential issues to look for, and they may even have insights into common issues with the specific brand and model of the machine. For reference, washing machine repair costs anywhere from $50 to $450. If it seems like the problem may be plumbing-related rather than an issue with the machine itself, a plumber will know how to vent a washing machine drainpipe or flush out a clog and may have tips to help prevent the issue from happening again.

“There are a few times when a homeowner might be able to fix [a washer] on their own,” says Carter. “But really, the big thing about calling in a pro is the identification part…A pro who’s been around the block with washers can spot the trouble fast. And if they can’t, they know what to do to figure it out. Of course, there are other pluses too, like saving time and playing it safe.”

Even the best washing machine brands break down from time to time, but a broken washing machine can be a huge hassle that disrupts a daily routine. Dirty clothes pile up quickly, especially if there are a lot of people in the household. Getting in touch with a pro right away to fix the problem is the quickest way to get the laundry situation back under control. For even easier repairs, homeowners may want to consider opting for a policy from one of the best home warranty companies (like American Home Shield or AFC Home Club), which can help reduce appliance repair costs in the long term.

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