I get a lot of people asking about the water level inside the drum on their washing machine. Sometimes people can hardly see any water in the drum, and want to know if it is normal.
The short answer is that modern washing machines try to use as little water as possible, so it may well be normal. I can’t rule out a fault, but this article may help you decide if you should be concerned or not.
Are you sure it’s using less water than normal?
Have you definitely noticed there was always a certain amount of water in the drum, and now noticed it seems to have dropped significantly? Or have you never paid that much attention to the water levels, and maybe just noticed there isn’t much water in the drum? Maybe something has made you look closer – such as the laundry not coming out as clean or not rinsing properly anymore? It is unusual for a fault to cause much less water to enter the drum, usually it’s either none at all or too much. However, I can’t rule it out.
How much water should be in the drum?
Unless it’s quite old, probably not much at all, but it varies. It may be normal that you can hardly see any water, but you should be able to see that water drips onto the laundry when the drum is revolving, and that the laundry is adequately wet. Another complication is that many washing machines these days have a brush-less motor. Brush-less motors are completely silent at low speeds. This can add to the feeling that something’s not quite right because it’s all so quiet on wash.
How much water used to be used?
For most of the history of washing machines they used a lot of water. On a wash cycle a typical washer would fill up to a few inches above the lip of the drum. On rinses the water would rise as high as halfway up the door glass. So on a wash cycle you could clearly see and hear lots of water sloshing about. In the 80s manufacturer’s started to try and reduce the amount of water used. This was for environmental reasons and because using less gave them better energy efficiency ratings.
How do they work with such little water?
They use the same principle as the difference between a bath and a shower. Instead of soaking the laundry in a large amount of water they shower it instead. The plastic lifters or baffles inside the drum lift and scoop water up and sprinkle it onto the laundry as the drum revolves..
Many washing machines also use a re-circulation pump. This is a separate water pump that pumps water from the sump hose back into the top of the drum. A re-circulation pump acts as a shower. It allows the laundry to be constantly soaked in water without it needing to be submerged in a big pool of it. (continued below..)
How can you tell if the water level is right?
If you are concerned something is definitely wrong you’d need an engineer to investigate. I have an article here about how washing machines control water levels though you should know what you are doing before interfering. If the washing machine otherwise seems to work ok, it completes the cycle in roughly the time quoted in the manual – and the laundry comes out clean – then it is probably OK.
If you suspect there is no water in the drum at all
It is possible for a fault to cause the washing machine to not take any water in at all. In such a scenario something causes the pressure system to think there is water inside the drum when there isn’t. This can cause it to start washing – and heating the phantom water. This is a dangerous condition because the outer drums are made of plastic, so the outer drum and of course the dry laundry could catch fire. This is a rare fault but call an engineer if suspected.