Tubthumping (or, Sears/Kenmore washers are shit, do not buy them)

So there we are, minding our own business, when an angry demon springs to life in the basement. He is on a rampage, pounding against the walls with all his might, THUMP THUMP THUMP THUMP BANG BANG BANG. We race downstairs. Turns out it is only the Sears Kenmore front-loading washing machine’s internals beating themselves to death during the final spin.

After ruling out an unbalanced load (even fully empty, BOOM BOOM BOOM), I lookup the symptoms online. After a few thousand pages of angry ex-customers’ rants, without even lifting a wrench, there is no doubt what the failure is.

All available evidence confirms that this machine is DESIGNED TO FAIL EVERY FIVE YEARS*. The fuse is an innocent-looking metal bracket on the back of the spinning clothes basket known as a spider; its purpose is to support the basket on the drive shaft leading back to the motor. This spider, an uncoated pot-metal part made of a brittle Al+Fe alloy, is fully exposed to and tumbles its way through all the detergent, bleach, dirty laundry water, etc. After a few short years of this, it corrodes through and shatters during the spin cycle! Of course, you can’t buy just this part; you have to plunk down for the entire basket/etc. assembly at $200 a pop**. Guess who now has a nice spare stainless steel basket laying around to turn compost in, heh.

My brief description does not do this problem justice, but there is an excellent video from a former Kenmore owner detailing this spider issue and several other, likely intentional, design flaws.

So, you probably guessed what I did next – took it apart. The insides of the plastic wash tub are a bitch to get at (nondestructively); the whole thing has to be carefully unhooked from a pair of shocks and large springs, liberated from half a dozen hard-to-reach hoses and tubes with fiddly retaining clips, and the glued-on rubber seal cut away from the front of the machine. There are also cinderblock weights (yes, really!) on the tub which ought to be removed unless Hulk Hogan is helping you lift it out. On mine, the bearing surfaces were also so rusted, it took beating the living hell out of the shaft with a big hammer to separate the assembly from the tub.

Here is what I found inside:

One rotted, broken-ass spider. Surprised? Also note all the "used to be spider" white crud packed in beneath the bearing.

One rusted-out shaft for a rotted, broken ass-spider.

One reaction vessel washtub for a rotted, broken-ass spider. Yuck, my clothes were in there? The white crap looking like crushed concrete at the bottom is corroded bits of spider that haven’t yet ground away at the pump impeller while making their way to the city’s sewer. You can also see where the grease has begun leaking out from the cheap rubber lip seal that’s supposed to be keeping water out of the bearings.

One rusted-out hole for a rusted-out driveshaft to grind slide into. "That’s not my mating surface, baby!"

All this because Sears/Kenmore*** could have easily solved this with $1 worth of engine paint (etc.) to coat this fiddly metal bracket, but chose not to. Also, like in the video above, my outer tub has a nice deep gouge line where the screws in the wildly-flailing basket tore it up. Luckily we were home when it went, and our catlike reflexes caught it before they could carve all the way through.

*says everyone on the Internets. Don’t McLibel me.

** and if you want to save the hassle of retaining clips patwanging across your basement and the Hulk sneaking looks up your skirt, and have the new part installed by an authorized repairman… there’s a reason they have those commercials with the repairman playing Solitaire all day because no support calls come in… it really is cheaper to buy a new machine. ($75 diagnostic visit + $450-$700 repair quotes vs. $500-600 for current units.)

***technically, Sears/Kenmore just buy the appliances from other OEMs and put their names on them. This particular model (417.42142100) is made by Electrolux; others are rebadged Frigidaire or Whirlpool units. Unfortunately, all seem to share a similar design, right down to the fail timer.

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20 Responses to “Tubthumping (or, Sears/Kenmore washers are shit, do not buy them)”

  1. MontyInNJ says:

    This includes the Whirlpool Duet Series, will not last past 5yrs. Sooner if you have hardwater….



  2. Marc says:

    I had the same thing happen. The inner drum has a 25 year warranty. I took the drum into Sears Parts store, got a whole new Tub Kit assembly for free. (The drum is part 131618500, but $2 more the entire kit comes pre assembled part 134453200.) Takes about an hour to put it back together and you have a mostly new machine.

  3. David Arnold says:

    Well, very interesting, we have now the same problem happening, after 7 years all of a sudden the dahm thing began to bang very loud, well I opened it up and found one lower shock obsorber broken, I turned the drum by hand and also herd a noise like a bearing gone bad, well with all of this good information you provided I will see if what ( Marc Says ) if the drum does have a 25 year warranty, if this is ths case I will fix it, if not SHAME on Kenmore and I will never purchace from them again…. Dave

  4. Sheila Pyle says:

    Same problem. Piece of crap. On the second one, same issue

  5. B.J. says:

    Same story!Extended 4 yr. warranty expired recemtly,HUGE BANGING,and hrs. later tearing front loader er Frigidaire apart,spider broken!SO upset! And I THOUGHT I bought the BEST WASHER OUT THERE!! NOISELESS!!! BULLSHIT!!!!!LOUDEST ONE I”VE EVER HEARD GO BAD IN 5 YRS!!!

  6. biguggy says:

    Many posts on many sites claim that the corrosion of the spiders is due to galvanic action. I do not agree, I believe it is primarily chemical corrosion.

    Should the corrosion have been galvanic between the stainless steel drum and the aluminium spider the majority of the corrosion would have been at the junction of the two metals i.e. at the ends of the arms. I have seen no photographs of spiders corroded in such a manner, nor read of any similar descriptions.

    Aluminium is corroded when immersed in an aqueous solution with a pH value above about 8.0. All detergents have to be above about 8.0 or they would not work. The Material Safety Data Sheets put out by Proctor and Gamble state that the pH for one of the liquid ‘Tides’ is 8.0 and for one of the ‘Tide’ powdered detergents as 11.0. Bleach, (sodium hypochlorite) is also very corrosive to aluminium. I should add that for corrosion of the spider to take place these levels are considerably above the levels found in a washing machine during the wash/rinse phases of the cycle.

    Sodium carbonate and sodium percarbonate found in some laundry aids are also corrosive to aluminium, provided the required concentrations are reached.

    I believe the mechanics of the corrosion are as follows.
    Even after the fastest spin small quantities of water will remain on the shaft and towards the centre of the spider. Any recesses in the spider close to the centre will aggravate this situation. This water will contain very, very small quantities of laundry aids used, soil from the laundry and chemicals from the ‘tap’ water. Should this water be allowed to stand the water will evaporate until such time as sufficient has gone to allow the pH of the remaining mixture to rise above the threshold at which corrosion will occur.

    Additionally the retained water will quickly become foul smelling leading to, I believe, many of the complaints about mold and mildew.

  7. j says:

    I’ve been following this issue across the web after our Kenmore front-loader started exhibiting the tell-tale signs. I’ve got a new LG front-loader coming tomorrow, and from what I can tell, it, too has an aluminum spider. So I figure 5-7 years down the line I’ll looking at the same thing.

    UNLESS, i take action now. The original post mentions a coat of engine paint would have prevented this. Not sure engine paint would resist the years of water, bleach, additives, etc. (I’m not a chemist). Plus, I’d assume there are lots of chemicals in typical engine paint you wouldn’t want getting into your laundry. (maybe I’m mistaken about various chemicals’ “leaching” tendencies)

    But I’m thinking about opening up our never-used LG and having the spider powder-coated. Powder coating involved far fewer VOCs and other chemicals that could get into our laundry, plus I bet it would be more resistant to the water.

    Then again, it does seem somewhat preposterous to crack open a brand-new washer for preventative maintenance.

    Any thoughts on pre-emtive powder coating?

  8. Tim says:

    @j: I don’t have an authoritative answer to this question or powdercoating in general, but before re-assembling the unit shown above I took the new spider off the basket and gave it a few coats of Rust-Oleum clear gloss. Will know if it helped or not in 5-7 years :-)

    If you take apart the new unit, make sure there are no telltales (“warranty voided if removed” seals, etc.) they could use to deny warranty service later for an unrelated failure. On the bright side, as long as you’re careful not to let the big drum drop on something when removing it – or try to yank it out with the hoses still attached – there’s not really much to break in there.

    As for chemicals getting out of the paint, I’m not too worried. We touch painted surfaces all the time; I can’t imagine touching clothes that touched water that touched a painted surface could be any worse.

  9. brian says:

    will never buy a kenmore appliance again GO CHINA

  10. brian says:

    Oh Wait, Everthing is made overseas now GET IT DONE USA Wake the fuck up

  11. Anonymous says:

    Hate Sears. Will never buy anything from them. Service sucks!

  12. Kevin says:

    Just took apart my LG washer that I bought from Sears about 5 years ago. The spider bracket corroded and broke in 3 places just like the above picture. Less than $100 to fix it for the parts and my time. One it brakes again, I will buy a toploader and never look back.

  13. Ray Denney says:

    Hey…on the spider thing…don’t give up. Bug everyone. I just got a new drum free. I will install it personally.

  14. Junior says:

    same issue. I’m dying with this monster machine. Buy the new one is cheaper T_T

  15. Ramjet says:

    Tim is on the right track. Our 4 year old LG Ultra high capacity washer that is used in a two person home started to have a small leak. The leak was water getting past the bearing seal which in turn took out the bearings. It appears the spider assembly corroded and in turn took out the seal. After reading all the complaints I did some extensive research and found that cast aluminum alloys can be protected by first applying an Epoxy Base Coat and then a Powder Top Coat. Just got my new spider assembly done for $45.00. The company just ran it with their production run with the color they were running. Only Time will tell.

  16. Cheeky_Monkey says:

    Great idea. If LG and Whirlpool would have done this they would have a near perfect washer. Minus the mold on the door gasket. Sad they fell short and refuse to fix this.

  17. Baz says:

    Anyone have success with powder coating? The shop is telling me it won’t hold up to bleach and detergent. Seems like powder coating would stand better chance than anything though.

  18. Steve Butler says:

    Add us to disallusioned Kenmore customer. Top loading washer bearings went according to their repairman, two years old. Lost a future customer here and no recommendations either.

  19. sam says:

    all the manufacturers have steel stamping equipment for brackets , panels etc they also have zinc plating going on for anti corrosion attributes. and enamel painting capabilities obviously for cabinets etc. now just stamp spider out of steel, plate it and or paint it before assembly. its not rocket science

  20. Matt says:

    This problem will occur in any washing machine with Aluminium drum spiders or support systems in top loaders as well. A few of the posts above come close to the answer but just miss the mark. Manufacturers moved to Aluminium for a few reasons, they are cheaper to make, will not rust as I’ve seen on older front loaders & they spin true, so they can spin them faster.

    The reason they fail is due to washing in cold water using the short cycle. The detergents, even those designed for cold water, will not properly dissolve in cold water… just try washing your hands with it then rinse in cold water. Also washing a full load on a short cycle is not allowing the machine to rinse away the suds properly, short cycles may only have 1 or 2 rinses, “Cottons cycle” may have up to 5. The other experiment is to smear butter on your hands & wash that off with cold water, it won’t go away till the temperature is increased to warm. This leads into the bearing failures, if you wash in cold water the oils etc that make their way into the machine will perish the edge of the shaft seal, then you get water ingress into the bearing & well, you know the noise.

    Moldy door seals are another favourite… Again caused by cold water washing. Mold is a living thing, make it impossible for it to live & it won’t. Wash in hot water & rinse with white vinegar instead of softener.

    When you first turn most modern machines on they will show the default program, generally Cottons 60°C. You choose to use a different cycle. Anyway, my advice to my customers is to wash most of your “Clothes” in cool water, short cycles if you wish, but wash your “Sheets, Towels & Cleaning rags” on a long cycle at 60°C or hotter with white vinegar as your rinse additive. There is more to washing machines than just chucking the clothes in & picking the shortest cycle.

    Using the short cycle in any cleaning machine is the quickest way to kill it… Dishwashers included. I feel the short cycles are there at the insistence of the marketing departments because they feel they cannot sell machines without a short cycle, now we find they all have them. Just something I’ve noticed over the 30 years I’ve been in the whitegoods service industry.

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