If you notice a burning smell in your washing machine, the cause could be any number of things. Regardless, this is one smell you shouldn’t ignore. It’s important to quickly diagnose the problem and find the solution.
Many top loaders are “direct drive.” This means they do not use a belt. The motor is directly connected to the transmission. If you have a direct drive machine and your washer smells like it is burning, read on.
In Whirlpool and Kenmore models there is a rubber coupler between the motor and transmission that takes much abuse. It's very common for the fingers or the rubber itself on the coupler to break. A clicking noise with no spin or agitation along with a slight rubber smell are symptoms of this problem. DIY repair is possible.
Older models and also new model HE front loading and top load washers may have a drive belt.
To work on a top load HE washer pull the empty unit away from the wall. Drape a small rug or towel over the control to minimize damage to the wall and the panel. Lean the unit against the wall and the bottom will be clearly visible. Lie on the floor and note if there are rubber pieces or shavings under the washer. The belt may be rubbing against a plastic guard attached to the motor. The solution is actually quite simple: If the belt is shredded or worn you need to replace it. You can call a repair person or, if your washer is under warranty, the manufacturer. Or, if you or someone you know is handy, you can do it yourself!
If your washer smells and you have a direct drive machine, it may be the motor, transmission, or both. If these are shot on your washing machine, the result may be an electrical burning smell. Both are necessary to run your washing machine and can be costly to repair. The first thing to do if you notice an “electrical” smell in your washing machine and not a “rubber” burning smell, is to unplug the machine and call the manufacturer or a repairperson.
An electrical burning smell may also be caused by a water leak coming into contact with electrical wiring. Both are major concerns and should be addressed immediately. A water leak can cause structural damage in your home and can short out the electrical wiring in your washer and cause additional damage to the machine.
Another more likely cause of a burning smell in your washer is overloading. Adding too many clothes to your washing machine can stress the motor or transmission, causing them to overheat or malfunction and emit a burning smell. For top load washers, overloading can cause the agitator to freeze or malfunction, stressing the drive belt and causing friction, which could emit a burning rubber smell.
To prevent overloading, know the size of your washer. They are measured in cubic feet. In addition, know how many towels, pants, shirts, and other items you can safely load. When it doubt, do smaller loads. Not only will this prevent overstressing the machine, it will also ensure clothes are thoroughly cleaned and rinsed.