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Why won’t washing machine spin just one item or very small loads?

 Many people are having issues with new washing machines that refuse to spin just one item, or maybe just a few items. Sometimes it may have been a reasonably sized load in their old washing machine but they’ve now bought one with a large capacity drum so the load is still relatively small. They are frustrated because their previous washing machine would spin with just one item inside but their new one won’t, and they are convinced the washing machine is faulty.

Although faults can occur, it’s now normal for a washing machine not to spin just one or two items, or even some small loads, especially if one or more of the items gets heavy when wet such as a large woollen cardigan, a thick cotton garment or a heavy bath mat.

Why can’t modern washing machines just spin anything I put in the washing machine?

They did used to, but when washing machines were designed to just get on with spinning after a couple of minutes trying to balance the load there were consequences. Every so often a load would be a little out of balance (especially when mixing light and heavy items or if there wasn’t enough items to stick evenly all round the drum) but the washing machine would go into spin regardless. This often caused the washer to give a good thump several times as it ramped into spin before settling down often with a few more thumps occurring right at the end of the spin. It was disconcerting but usually just resulted in the sides of the washing machine being dinted.

More rarely sheets would tangle up, or a small load would be impossible to balance and contain one or more heavy items such as a few towels, a sheet or one heavy garment and the washing machine would go seriously crazy. As a repairman in these days it was very common to see washing machines destroyed by being left unattended with an unbalanced load which had spun out of control for the full spin cycle.

If you’ve ever been close to a washing machine leaping into spin with a badly balanced load it is quite frightening. Customers used to describe watching TV in the lounge and being terrified by the sound of someone apparently battering their back door down. I’ve seen hundreds of washing machines written off because the tub inside went out of control and smashed the control timer, yanked off hoses resulting in flooding all the motor or electrics, or simply broke the vitreous enamel tub suspension bracket with the sheer forces involved. I’ve seen floorboards splintered with holes punched right through as the suspension rod repeatedly pummelled the floor and I’ve seen washing machines walk across the kitchen, jump up and smash cupboard and worktops etc. This state of affairs was clearly unacceptable, and something needed to be done about it.

The Answer they came up with is out of balance protection

The out of balance protection is a modern idea to stop washing machines going into spin with unbalanced loads. Early versions were crude, and simply attached micro switches to the tub or suspension, which when triggered through violent tub swinging just cut the motor to limit the damage done. Modern out of balance protection is commonly achieved using software monitoring the strains on the motor through the power it uses. If a load is evenly distributed around the inner drum the motor should run fairly smoothly as it turns it round requiring a pretty even amount of power. If one side of the drum is heavier than the other, which would happen with only a few small items or one garment inside it would create imbalance. The motor would run unevenly as it encountered different physical resistance when it turned the heavy side of the drum up from the 6 O’clock position through past 12 O’clock compared to the lighter load (or no load at all) on the other side.

In the old days this could usually be observed by seeing flashes of stainless where no laundry had settled on a section of the drum, the sound of the motor changing up and down in tone, and the drum swaying from side to side during the few minutes prior to spin which ran at “distribution” speed. All these signs meant the imminent spin was likely to be out of balance.

What’s wrong with modern out of balance protection?

It’s an essential system, but they can sometimes be a bit too sensitive, with no override option. Allowing a customer to override the protection might be useful, I’m sure there are loads that refuse to spin that would actually be OK. However, I wouldn’t blame any manufacturer from shying away from giving customers the power to override their out of balance protection. The answer is to make them more sophisticated and better at recognising when a load might be unbalanced but not going to cause a violent spin. This sophistication costs money. Many washing machines may well have already got this protection just about right, but no one has compared these systems so far.

The more expensive washing machines such as Miele should have a more sophisticated system combined with higher quality suspension, which would cope better with unbalanced loads. It’s likely to be less paranoid about unbalanced spins but clearly still needs protection. Conversely, cheap budget brands of washing machine are likely to have less sophisticated out of balance systems and be more fearful of letting a bad load spin because they know their crude suspension may not cope well with it.

I would expect that mid priced machines would have decent systems that may be less sensitive than budget machines but ultimately they all potentially suffer from the same side effect of refusing to spin some small or single item loads. There is likely to be some variance in tolerance and sensitivity between different makes but there’s no chart available that I’m aware of highlighting any differences.

For most people the advantages of protection from seriously damaging out of balance loads should far outweigh the inconvenience of the odd load not spinning.

How can I spin a very small load or just one item?

If you have a particular item that you want to wash separately and your washing machine refuses to spin it the only thing you can do is to resort to washing it with some other items to balance out the drum, or to stop the washing machine after washing and add further items to the drum before the spin.

At the end of the day, any item other than extremely light items is likely to cause a modern washing machine to detect some imbalance. It’s the laws of physics, the motor will feel resistance while it takes the drum from the six o’clock position up to 12 o’clock and then as the drum revolves past the 12 o’clock position this resistance will disappear if the other side of the drum is empty (or much lighter). Not only does the motor meet less resistance on the empty side but is actually assisted by the heavier side passing from the 12 o’clock position down to the six o’clock position where the motor will meet resistance again to take the drum back round half a revolution.

If there are several items all plastered around the sides of the drum this would not occur unless one was very heavy and the others were quite light. Related: I have some general loading a washing machine advice here – Loading a washing machine. How do I avoid out of balanced loads?

Beware of large capacity washing machines

If you have a larger than normal drum such as 7 or 8 kg this problem may be worse because it takes more washing to make the drum nice and balanced than a smaller drum size. Don’t buy a washing machine with a large drum if you do lots of small loads and don’t intend to double up your washing by washing large loads to save on the amount of washes you do.

Here’s a quote from the article linked to above -

… For example, my 7Kg washing machine will not spin 3 large towels. Last week my wife was extremely frustrated with our 7Kg drum washing machine as she had just washed our son’s hoody-top and wanted to spin it in the washer. It simply would not spin, so I advised her that it needed something to balance it out. She put in a couple of towels but still no spin. Eventually 5 towels were needed to balance out the absorbent top and allow a spin. This is a minor inconvenience compared to the benefit of being able to fit more washing in (even our king sized quilt) but it highlights how if you have a very large drum it could be more prone to not spinning small loads

Washing machine won’t spin at all?

This topic is about washing machines not spinning small items or very small loads, or occasionally not spinning the odd load but otherwise working OK. If your washing machine just will not spin then it is likely to have developed a fault unrelated to this topic. The best I can advise if you have a washing machine that wont spin any loads is to look at this general advice – Washing machine won’t spin or drum won’t go round or find an engineer – Book appliance repairs

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Comments

  1. avatar Oliver Shaw says:

    Hi Andy,

    I had a Hotpoint with out of balance protection, it was a pain in the @rse. It would try to even up balanced loads and not bother with out of balanced loads. It would spend up to 10 minutes messing about, usually making the problem much worse. It would then spin no faster than 500rpm, but sometimes went up to 1300rpm with a seriuosly unbalnced load, it was very noisey and danced about all over the place! It even knocked some plaster out of the wall.

    My 15 year old Bosch will even a load up if it has to, it only has a few attempts, but always rectifys the offending item(s). This is not a noisey machine and sometimes spins out of balance, it doesn’t dance around though, there again it is on Flotex carpet and is hard to move anyway. It will spin at full speed regardless.

    My Mums IAR Siltal will have 3 attempts at balancing a load, if it cannot it will spin anyway. It will only spin at 650rpm instead of 1000rpm if not as balanced as it could be on the final spin. But the Bosch and IAR Siltal are built to a very high quality standard so can take the punishment of an unbalanced load. The Hotpoint quality was crap in comparison.

    All the best,

    Oliver.

  2. I must admit Oliver, my experience has been that Hotpoint’s out of balance protection system wasn’t great. It did seem to still let some out of balanced loads through. This was 2 or 3 years back though. Having said that some people might prefer it not so sensitive if they are having trouble spinning the single items.

  3. avatar Oliver Shaw says:

    Hi Andy,

    Oops sorry I missed your comment.
    The Hotpoint was 2005 manufacture, its not just the OOB thats bad, the whole thing was badly built/designed. Poor appliance all round really, I would recommend people steer clear of any Merloni made appliance.

    Oliver.

  4. avatar Laura Mitchell says:

    I have a Miele WT2670 1600rpm washer dryer which has a rather sensitive balance sensor. The other day I washed a bathmat on its own and it wouldn’t spin. It missed out on the interim spins which weren’t as important as the final spin. On the final spin it gave me loads of balancing nonsense and decided to skip the spin. I tried a seprate spin cycle a couple of times and it still wouldn’t spin so I decided to add a towel to the load. After another load of balancing nonsense my Miele finally decided to spin. I thought that Miele machines had a stronger suspension and could handle unbalanced spins very well but my Miele washer dryer didn’t seem to. When I have a load of bedding and towels in the machine it will give me a few pieces of balance nonsense before spinning. I remember that on the first load of bedding and towels that I ever washed in the Miele, the machine decided to miss out on one of its interim spins after giving me loads of balancing nonsense. It missed the spin because it couldn’t balance. I also washed a doormat and a bathmat together in the Miele and again it had trouble spinning. Is my WT2670 extra sensitive to these unbalanced loads because of it being a washer dryer? Is it doing this to protect itself and not wanting to spin too unbalanced? It also misses out on little spin bursts because opf the load being too unbalanced but will give balancing nonsense for the main spins. If you could have something to say on this matter then I’d look forward to hearing what it is. Thanks very much indeed.

  5. Hello Laura: Bath mats are one of the most destructive out-of balance loads although many are actually pretty light these days and may not be so dangerous. I’ve had thick bath mats in the past virtually destroy a washing machine.

    A Miele washing machine or washer dryer probably does have the best suspension, and will stand up to more force than many washers – but even so, don’t underestimate the force involved if a heavy but out of balance load is allowed to go into full spin.

    Even out of balanced loads not causing serious thumping about can still cause excessive wear and tear over the years, so even Miele presumably prefer to err on the side of caution.

    At the moment washing machines have evolved self protection which clearly is very necessary, but maybe over sensitive? There are many loads that would technically spin out of balance but would only cause excess vibration. I’m sure most users would prefer these loads to spin and are frustratingly inconvenienced when they don’t.

    I could be wrong, but I’m assuming the annoying refusal to spin non-perfect loads issue could be reduced by more sophisticated or just more lenient out of balance systems. I don’t know if manufacturers have asked their customers about how much of a problem this is or not but unless they think it’s a big problem (which i suspect it could be) they won’t invest time and money finding a better solution.

  6. avatar Dave Gibson says:

    I have just read with interest all the comments about out of balance sensors etc and the comments describe exactly the problem I am having with a Zanussi Nexus FL 1082 whcih is in fact 12 yrs old. I don’t think a machine this old will have any OOB controls and I cannot to be honest remember ever having this sort of problem before. The washer is in perfect working order for its age and this has come to light only after I had left a tap running in the bathroom and the bathmat got soaked.(The wife is away) so I thought to myself no problem throw it in the washer for a good spin and it will be dry in no time. No such luck,I’ve been at it all day trying to sort it and the only thing I have resolved is a well blocked filter with fluff and the proverbial Bra Wire. It still though stubbornly refuses to Spin with just the soggy Bath Mat and just drains until the end of the cycle. If I however take the bathmat out it Spins away merrily. Is there any other thing it could be.?? I’m getting to the stage of pulling hair out and to be honest there isn’t much left to pull!!!!!!!!!!!

  7. Hello Dave: Out of balance detection has been around since the 90s, it’s only recently that all washing machines have it and it tends to be software based.

    You need to balance it out with several other items to get it to spin. Several towels might do it.

  8. avatar Dave Gibson says:

    Many thanks for you comments on the OOB issue. It would appear that the wife is aware of this peculiar issue(Had to fess up) brought her home today and she does in fact do exactly as you say and throw a few things in to balance it up. Can’t win em all eh!!!!!!!!!!!! Many thanks for your prompt response it was very much appreciated. Cheers.

  9. Did the old Hotpoint 9534′s have OOB?

    From what I’ve seen they just ramp straight up to full spin speed and don’t do a graduated spin.

  10. Hello David. No they didn’t have a proper out of balance system other than a very crude damage limitation system. This consisted of a small micro switch attached to a suspension leg. If the machine went badly out of balance and the micro switch operated it cut the power to the motor. These machines (as with most of their generation) would spin just about anything.

  11. Thank you for your prompt reply. My Bosch seems to cope very well, it spins when I do the maintenance cycle too. However it once refused to spin a single bathmat the first time but it was OK the second time. Is there any particular benefit with machines like old Hotpoints which ramp up to the spin speed without “thinking”?

  12. There’s only one advantage David, which is that nothing ever refused to spin. The disadvantage is that many washing machines did themselves a lot of damage and sometimes terminal damage.

  13. Ok thanks for your reply.

  14. avatar farhat rashid says:

    Absoloutley brilliant advice thankyou. Was driving me mad all day. Put sons thick cardi coat in Whirlpool AWM 5125/S (5 years old) washing machine, and when cycle finished it was drenched, re spinned a few times same result, checked for blockage, nothing, thought I was in for an expensive repair until I came across your website, threw in a couple of towels and re spinned and couldnt believe it completely spinned. thankyou

  15. Thanks – thought I was going nuta. Have just bought brand new Siemens washing machine and had just experienced the classic bath mat scenario!!! couldnt understand why it would spin all my other loads except my heavy soggy bath mat. was about to ring John Lewis re guarantee and then hallelujah!…sounds like technology is getting too smart for us nowadays!!

    Great site!

  16. Can you help my Hoover Washer Dryer, 1200, (8 years) has recently refused to spin. It fills up with water, steams up if its a 90c washer, makes all the familar click noises but refuses to actually spin round and round. I have checked the filter and nothing apart from fluff was clogging it up. It hadn’t been making any funny or unusual noises prior. I just discovered soggy, unclean clothes which had clumps of washing powder on the top of them. I have tried washing clothes at various different temperatures and loads. It’s 8 years old and has worked perfectly every day since I purchased it.

  17. Jennie: Your machine obviously has a fault unrelated to this topic. I do have some general advice on Washerhelp about washing machines – drum not turning but you may need to get an engineer to look at it.

  18. hi can you help. I was given a Hoptpoint Logic 1300 AA the other day i put in a small load. it webt through the washing an rinsing programme but unfortunately it would not spin. I do not have the manual can you suggest what might be wrong with it.Please Help
    Kind Regards
    Sue

  19. Hi
    We have a Haier HW-C1260TVEME-U and our problem is just the same kind of thing as these other guys. When I phoned Haier they told me to put it on a spin with the drum empty to reset the sensors, this worked for a while then when out of warranty this no longer works. the other problem we had with it was the motor brushes or should I say just the one brush stuck in it’s sleeve do you think this could be part of the problem as all I did was free it up so the machine would was. Pls help before it comes to HAMMER TIME. Cheers Paul.

  20. Hello Paul: A sticking brush will cause the drum to stop turning as will several other faults. If your problem was caused by the issue talked about in this article the washing machine would spin perfectly ok without any laundry in, and perfectly well with a normal full load, but it would not do the fast spin with just a few small items or one large item. It would complete the wash and rinse but just not do the fast spin. If this isn’t the case it must be another fault on the machine.

  21. Hi,
    Ive got a bosch Maxx – about 10 years old. Its stopped spinning. Brushes are fine, changed them not long ago and I’ve just checked them again. Reading the above, sounds like Ive got a OOB problem – especially as I found the machine half way across the utility this morning! Next cycle after putting it back in its place and the drum isnt turning. Sounds like the OOB detection system is based on load monitoring , so I cant replace anything physical. Question is, how do I fix it?!!

  22. Hello Mark: The out of balance system is designed precisely to stop the washing machine bouncing around the kitchen across the floor, which is why over sensitive systems on many modern washing machines won’t even allow some loads to go into spin – hence my article.

    The out of balance system does not stop the motor from turning, in fact it keeps it turning slowly on distribution speed to constantly try and balance the load until it either succeeds and spins or fails and aborts without spinning. It sounds like you have an unrelated fault, which bearing in mind you’ve had the motor off could be a faulty connection in the motor plug or harness connector or one of many things mentioned in my article here Washing machine won’t spin or drum won’t go round

  23. avatar Tracey Clarke says:

    I bought a relatively expensive Siemens washing machine that has been driving me nuts with this ‘out of balance’ system. My old washing machine would obediently spin whatever I wanted while this one seems to want me to scientifically calculate the load whenever I want to wash anything. I am fed up with sopping wet washing that refuses to spin. I am told by Siemens customer service that I need to save up my washing for a bigger load (but sometimes I don’t want to do this!!) or to put an extra towel in when spinning (why should I have to??!!). Hardly an ‘eco friendly ‘ machine when I have to spin a number of times before it works. Frankly, I’d have my old machine back anyday.

  24. avatar Mary Cooper says:

    Hello, I have a Ariston AV1048 Washing machine and it does,nt seem to do a fast spin anymore, it seems to do a slow spin with washing in,but won,t do a fast spin even when I do a rinse programme with no washing in, please help

  25. Hello Mary: It sounds like your problem isn’t related to this topic which is about washing machines refusing to spin very small loads, or single items, or even the occasional load but otherwise working OK because of the out of balance protection systems.

    If yours just isn’t spinning anything I can only point you to my fairly general diy advice on the subject on Washerhelp Washing machine won’t spin or drum won’t go round or (if you aren’t interested in diy repair attempts) to a page where you can find a washing machine repairer – Book washing machine repairs

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