Washing Machine Hose Selection, Installation And Maintenance
a.k.a. "The High Cost of Neglecting Your Washing Machine Hoses!!"
LIKE A PYTHON, THE HOSE WRAPPED AROUND HIS WALLET, SQUEEZING IT DRY...
Washing machine hoses are one of the most neglected but potentially damaging maintenance items in a home. Because they are out of sight, they are forgotten and give little warning of impending disaster.
Not checking your washing machine hoses is like not checking your oil. Nothing seems to be wrong until that moment when you life seems to flash in front of you... as well as the floating dresser... and the sofa table... and the dog... all magically cascading out the front door on a burst-hose tsunami!! If you can't remember how old your washer is, or if you think its age is in the double-figures, its time to replace those hoses!!
Choosing a replacement hose... it's not so easy!
Reinforced rubber hoses are similar to hoses used by your parents (and maybe your grandparents). Though the earlier types were plain solid rubber, modern hoses are reinforced with a braided rayon or polyester mesh to increase bursting strength. If you choose this type of hose, be sure the label says "reinforced" or you may be getting a low-quality hose product. (Graphic courtesy Ace Hardware.)
The newer kid on the block is the stainless steel braided hose, often called "burst-proof" or "burst resistant". The construction is a very flexible plastic hose encased in a twisted, flexible mesh of stainless steel wire. One brand is the Fluidmaster NO-BURST® hose (graphic courtesy Fluidmaster). This type of hose is more durable to physical damage (cutting and twisting) than rubber hoses and generally carry longer guarantees... but do not necessarily last longer!
Despite their name, burst-proof hoses can fail... with the same water-logged consequences as rubber hoses. According to Betsy Woodson of State Farm Insurance, "There are many factors involved in why a hose would leak or burst; such as age of the hose, (our research indicates many times hoses sit in a warehouse for years before they are eventually sent to a retailer) water chemical content that may cause deterioration inside the hose and eventual failure, (many of the metal braided hoses have rubber interiors which are also subject to deterioration) and of course, manufacturing defects are also responsible for many failures."
"Regardless of the type of hose that a homeowner uses, our recommendation is to check them frequently and replace them every 3-5 years as part of a proactive maintenance plan." (Note that State Farm Insurance does not endorse, recommend or warranty any brand of washing machine hose.)
(Graphic of burst stainless steel hose courtesy State Farm Insurance)
Watch out for common installation errors!
What confounds any statistics on hose failure is installation error, which can drastically shorten the life of a hose. Regardless of the type of hose you choose, sharp kinks or bends in the hose can weaken it or the seal at the connectors. To prevent pressure on the hose and connectors, allow at least 3"-4" between the back of the washing machine and the wall. And don't skimp on the length... purchase hoses longer than you need to allow for a little slack!
If you have a tight installation such as an shallow laundry closet, there are hoses available that have right-angle connectors. These allow the washing machine to be placed closer to the wall without putting extra stress on the hose (see graphic at right, courtesy Ace Hardware). You may have to special order them or order them online if your hardware store doesn't stock them.
So, to summarize...
(1) With a lack of hard statistical information on failure rates, I can't make a definitive recommendation. Stainless steel hoses appear to have the edge, but they are not foolproof. For example, Allstate Insurance leans towards the braided hoses, but does not wholeheartedly recommend them: . "Hoses with external steel braided wire may be more costly (approx. $10) than rubber hoses (approx. $5) but have a lower failure rate."
How low is lower, though, continues to be a mystery!
(2) Regular inspection may be the key to minimizing your risk. Look for rust on the connectors, unusual bulges in rubber hoses (especially near the connectors) or unraveling and bulging is stainless steel hoses. Of course, if there is any leaking whatsoever replace the hose immediately!
How to replace your washing machine hoses...
Turn off the water supply to the washer. Set the machine to the filling cycle, and turn it on for a few seconds. This will relieve the pressure in the hoses and reassure you that the water is indeed off! Unplug the washer and pull it away from the wall a foot or so and look behind it. Don't gag... you can clean up the crud on the wall and the floor later... call it a fringe benefit! At this point, you will see three hoses... a fat drain hose, and two thinner water hoses, one for the hot and one for the cold. If you have lots of slack on the hoses, you can continue to pull out the machine until you have space behind it to work. Sometimes, disconnecting the drain hose is helpful, since it is normally the shortest of the hoses. Don't allow the drain hose to drop to the floor... keep it raised up, using your creative abilities, because it will have water in it!
At this point, you have to face your own limitations of agility and flexibility, and the type of installation you are dealing with. If you are in a spacious basement, access probably won't be much of a problem. If you are working in a laundry closet, you may have very little space to work with. If your clothes dryer shares the same closet, you might consider disconnecting the dryer and pulling it entirely out of the closet to allow better access to the hoses. Then again, this might involve removing the closet doors or other unpleasantness. In some of these jobs, I have had to use a stepladder and literally climb over the top of the washer to get behind it! Try to figure out what is easiest or works best in your situation... not always the same thing, unfortunately!
Now that you have access, get a bucket and put it beneath the hoses. Slash the hoses somewhere near their centers and allow them to drain the bucket. Then, cut them rubber hose off of the connectors. I've found it easier to get the rubber out of the way while fighting with the connectors.
Look at the general condition of the metal threaded connectors on the end of the hoses. If they are rusted, then you may have your work cut out for you. The rust can virtually weld the connector to the If they are rust-free, they should be easily removable. Some plumbers like to spray a little WD-40 or other penetrating lubricant on the connections, and go outside to have a smoke while it soaks in. NOTE: Normally, the threaded hose inlet on the washing machine is plastic, so removal of even a rusted hose connector should be fairly easy.
Finished with your smoke? Now comes the fun part... will they come off or won't they? My usual routine is to try first to slightly tighten the connections first. An old friend who was a pipe fitter for steam pipes once told me that the process of tightening causes certain changes in the rubbing surfaces of the metals. It's like the metal remembers the direction it was turned in, and wants to go only that way! The result is that, by slightly tightening the connection first, it will be easier to loosen. I'm not so sure that this really applies here, since the rubber washer inside the connector actually does the sealing , not just the threads. You can try it if you'd like to!
The best tool for this job is a good old fashioned pipe or "monkey" wrench (also known as a Stillson wrench for you purists out there). Most hose ends are knurled, so your choice of tools is limited to either a pliers or a pipe wrench. The downside of any pliers is that you must exert a squeezing force on the fairly thin-walled connector to remove it... this force also resists you removal efforts. The pipe wrench, on the other hand, only exerts its grip on a small area of the connector, and by its design grips more securely. If you do not have adequate room to use the pipe wrench, you may use pliers with curved jaws or a Vice Grip.
I can't tell you how hard to turn the connector before you resort to cutting. If you feel the pipes are beginning to move or flex excessively, and you can't grip the faucet firmly enough to resist the twisting, you may have no alternative but surgery!
The surgery is simple if you understand the principle involved. Since the seal, as I mentioned earlier, is between the connector and the faucet via a rubber washer, slightly cutting the threads on the faucet will not diminish the seal. Therefore, what you want to do is cut a diagonal slash in the side of the connector using a hacksaw. This will invariably cut into the faucet's threads, but this is really inconsequential. Now, of course, if you get too aggressive and cut completely through the threaded area of the faucet, then you will have to replace the faucet. All you are trying to do is to cut the minimum necessary to penetrate the connector.
Pry back the cut area of the connector using a screwdriver just until you can get a pliers on it. Use the pliers to roll this flap back further, until the faucet threads underneath are exposed. This is enough in most cases to release the virtual weld between the connector and the faucet, and you will be able to unscrew it. If the connection is still solid, you can either make another similar cut, or spray on more WD-40 and have some ice tea!
Time to install the new hoses...
Putting on the new hoses is a snap. Put a little plumber's grease on the threads of the faucet, the connector, and on the rubber washer. Make sure the rubber washer is fully seated inside the hose connector. Thread the connector onto the faucet fully. Then, give it another turn with your pliers until strong resistance is felt. Complete all 4 connections this way, and gently turn on the water and check for leaks, retightening the connections if necessary.
As mentioned earlier, do not twist the hose during installation and make sure it does not become kinked when the machine is pushed back to the wall. Leaving a 3"-4" gap is recommended, or use a right angle "goose-neck" style hose if space is limited.
Don't take our word for it!
Still don't think disaster can strike your home? We have reprinted an excellent article from State Farm Insurance about the costs of burst washing machine hoses... and some sensible measures to protect yourself. Click HERE for the full article.