Is it better to have a leaking washing machine, or no washing machine?

My ingenuity has failed me.

After spending nearly five hours trying to repair my own washing machine, I’m giving up. It’s almost midnight, I have dishes to do, and I have to be up early tomorrow morning for work. Never mind that it’s daylight savings and I’ve scored myself an extra hour.

What’s so frustrating about this endeavor – as indeed so many like it are – is just how close I came to success. I first noticed our washing machine leaking about a week ago. At first it seemed tolerable, but once great pools of water were on the floor by the time the spin cycle was done, I figured something was pretty much definitely up. My first reaction was to buy a new one. Who cares if it’s another $500; this one’s twelve years old, had its day, and now we move on.

But as day after day came and went with with either no laundry or very dirty laundry, I began to think, what the hell – maybe I can do this myself. So home I came from work tonight, bent on getting this damn thing working or die trying.

Well, I’m not dead, but I sure feel close to it. I began with a bit of Google searching, and found the user manual for the machine (helpful as they’ve been to us, the washing machine manual is the one thing our landlord didn’t leave us). It was great – it told me how to take the whole damn thing apart, and put it back together again. This was too easy, thought I.

The first sticking point was the agitator, which turns out to be the tall pillar bit inside that swishes your clothes around. The nut holding this in was at the bottom of a six-inch shaft, and nothing I had would fit in there to unscrew it.

No problem, I thought. I know what I’m looking for; time for a late-night trip to Home Depot. It took me a while – it wasn’t clear where the screwdrivers were (it turns out I was looking for a socket wrench anyway), and when I did find them, almost none of them were long enough. Taking a gamble, I picked one that seemed about the right length, but still small enough that I could walk out of there without feeling like a plumber (or plumb idiot).

I took my shiny new tool home, and lo and behold, it fit! I had the agitator out in a jiffy. Underneath this plasticky piece of machinery was the never-before seen bottom of my washing machine – you know, that place where all the pennies go. There was this weird, black, greasy shaft poking up (I haven’t touched it, don’t want to know what it’s for), and, pinning the inner tub (the white tub with all the holes in it) were four more bolts.

Well hey, guess what? They were the kind that my brilliant new socket wrench could handle! No way! I socked my wrench onto these nuts, gave them a good twist…and nothing happened. I tried again. Still nothing. Not the tiniest bit of movement.

Stumped, I considered what this meant. Clearly, I ought to be able to remove these bolts with my socket wrench, since it fit them so perfectly. Well, thinking back to my old physics lessons, perhaps I simply needed more torque. This meant I needed to find something with a right angle and a long handle that could fit into the square end of my socket wrench’s attachment.

I scoured the basement. We’re quite lucky – our landlord (whose home this used to be) had left us a wealth of tools in the basement (no socket wrench though, of course). At first I came up with nothing. Disappointed, I looked again, deeper. This time I found something that I thought might work. I’m still not sure what this thing was originally intended for, but basically it’s a small steel bar in an ‘L’ shape, with a slightly tapered square end on either side. If I fit one of the ends into the socket wrench attachment, the other end would give me plenty of force to apply to the stubborn nuts. I brought it over to my washing machine, tried to insert the thinner end of this bent metal bar into the socket wrench attachment…to find it was around 1/2 a millimeter too wide. Gargh!

Not yet defeated, I scoured the basement yet again, and this time came up with a file. Ah-ha! I could file down the end of the steel bar, and it would fit. Then I would have those bolts out, oh yes. I filed. The bar got thinner. I stuck it into the wrench attachment – it fit! A great heave and groan, and the bolt started to turn. I had done it!

I quickly removed these last four bolts, the only things standing in my way. Placing them safely to one side (I, still naively thinking I have this under control and our fixed washing machine will be cleaning my clothes before dinner was ready), I gave a back-wrenching heave on the washing machine tub…

You guessed it. Once again, absolutely nothing happened (well, I pulled my back, I believe). Agitated, I consulted my manual. “Remove the four nuts, pull the tub out of the machine.” Sure. I tried again, thinking perhaps I’m just not as strong as I thought I was. Still nothing.

I began frantically trawling the web, trying desperately to see if there was something I missed. Lots of people, it seemed, had these problems. Some appeared to have solved them, but rather unhelpfully forgot to post exactly how they got it to work. I tried again, and again. Over the course of two hours, one can of WD40 and more sweat than I’ve shed in a year (I’m a little ashamed to admit that), the most I had managed to achieve was to slightly twist the inner tub out of alignment with the outer tub.

Great, I thought. If I can move it – even such a tiny bit – maybe there’s still a chance. The problem is, by now it’s getting late, I’m worn out, and my hands are raw from pulling and pushing and straining at this damn thing. So finally, I give in. I’ll put it all back together, and at least I can have clean clothes, if not a clean floor.

And here’s where the big problem suddenly occurred to me. By shifting the inner tub out of alignment with the outer tub, I suddenly found myself no longer able to insert the four bolts (the ones that had given me so much trouble) that held the inner tub in place; their holes didn’t line up. I began tugging and pulling harder than ever before. Now, I was moving the outer tub with the inner tub, and the holes simply would not realign.

And so, finally and wearily, I gave up in despair. So close to success, I was thwarted by what should have been the simplest step. I still feel there’s something I was not told. A screw, a bolt, a lock of some kind that, had I removed it, would have made the whole thing work.

But I couldn’t find it.

I couldn’t do it. I tried to fix my own washing machine, and failed. It doesn’t feel that good; my evening was gone, my hands hurt, and to top it all, I’m now left with a washing machine in pieces that won’t do anything, leaking or not! The machine defeated me, and I’m left feeling quite inadequate. Plus, my wife will be angry now for going to bed so late. And hammering. And cursing.

So now I’m going to do the dishes (the sink still works, thank goodness), slink into bed, and wake up way too early to go to work, aching all over.

And tomorrow night, we’ll go buy a new washing machine.

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