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Are washing machines with sealed drums built to fail?

PUBLISHED: 08:08 14 July 2018

The end draws ever nearer for my beloved washing machine, loyal laundry partner of 22 years, writes Sheena Grant.

Not only is the noise on the spin cycle probably breaching EU safety regulations but it is now leaking rusty-coloured water too.

Bearings failure, my repair engineer tells me. He won’t repair it. Even if he could get the parts, it would be like opening a can of worms. He’s right but that doesn’t make the loss any easier, especially as replacing it is, in many ways, like opening an even bigger can of worms.

A lot has changed in the world of washing machines since I bought my Hotpoint WM51. Most machines now have a sealed drum, where the traditional metal tub has been replaced with a plastic one, welded shut, making bearings repair impossible. The whole tub has to be replaced, which can cost almost as much as the machine itself.

My local repairman, like many, is not impressed by this, since many manufacturers make much of how A+ environmentally friendly their products are. One high street store that rents out appliances told me its machines are scrapped if they break down because of sealed tubs, though it’s difficult to know for sure which models have them as the makers do no volunteer this information.

In 2015 consumer organisation Which? found Miele, famed for reliability, was the only brand not to have any machines with sealed drums. I’ve contacted several manufacturers to ask if they do any non-sealed tub models now. Ros Collins, of Bosch, said all its machines have sealed drums, as a “more reliable, hygienic and quieter” solution for many years’ trouble-free service. “In the rare case that a repair within this time is necessary, it is advisable to replace the whole drum system instead of replacing bearings. A new drum system is more reliable and therefore better for the customer in the long term.”

I’ve yet to hear from other manufacturers but the website UK Whitegoods says it is seeing more sealed tanks fail at just over a year old, through cost and quality cutting. “The life of a washing machine is effectively fixed to the life of the bearings,” it says. “In the space of little over a decade the UK is set to double its washing machine consumption.”

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