That should have been a wash.
August 17, 2015 7:20 PM   Subscribe

This evening, while I was reading a terrible Victorian novel, both my washer (electric) and dryer (also electric) began behaving oddly. The washer made it through the first cycle, then died at rinse. I could restart it, but it would go a couple of minutes and then, again, stop working at rinse. I then discovered that my dryer would make vague "I'm turning on" noises, but not remain on unless the button was held in (and even then, it would make noise but not do anything).

To have one malfunctioning appliance may be regarded as a misfortune; to have two looks like...something bizarre with the electricity? The W and D are not on the same outlet. They may be on the same breaker (I have a map, which mentions the dryer but not the washer). D light comes on, so it's pulling some power. All other outlets and fixtures in both the room and the house are working. Suggestions? Call the electrician first, or the appliance repairman?
posted by thomas j wise to Home & Garden (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
The whole system is acting like you're missing one of the 'legs' on the 3-phase power coming into your building. A missing leg will cause all kinds of weird behavior just like you're describing. The building maintenance, or power company, people should be able to resolve the issue extremely quickly by turning the missing leg back on.
posted by Confess, Fletch at 7:24 PM on August 17, 2015

I should mention that I've already checked the breakers, none of which have popped.
posted by thomas j wise at 7:24 PM on August 17, 2015

I don't think it is a dead phase. The washer, assuming it is a 120v model without a heating element, would either be completely dead or working normally depending on whether or not it was on the lost phase. It could explain the dryer, although those usually run and just fail to heat when a phase is out.

It could be a faulty neutral, I suppose. Either way, do flip the breakers off and back on. If that doesn't fix it, turn them back off and leave them that way until you have an electrician look at the problem, as the symptoms are definitely within the range of things that could indicate a serious safety issue, up to and including a risk of fire.
posted by wierdo at 8:08 PM on August 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

BTW, I said phase, but it's actually a leg, not a phase. Household electricity in the US is "split" phase. There is only one real phase. Both legs are derived from one of the three distribution phases.

posted by wierdo at 8:19 PM on August 17, 2015

By any chance was it storming in the area? Lightning? I'm wondering if some freak surge got through to them?

You don't say how old the appliances are. My old dryer recently started acting wacky, too. I opened the control panel up to see if I could see anything obviously broken. What I did find was Several years of lint and dust built up over the switches and wiring. I cleaned out all the crap and re-seated all the wiring connections, and it was back to working.
posted by Thorzdad at 8:50 PM on August 17, 2015

Yes it would be weird for a house to be wired for three phase, but different houses in your neighborhood are wired to different legs to help balance how much power is pulled from each leg. If one leg goes missing then power leaks from one leg to another (mostly through motors) and causes an under-voltage condition on the missing leg. This is the symptom your having.
posted by Confess, Fletch at 9:39 PM on August 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

I think Confess Fletch was right that one 110V leg of your 220V system is dead, and that it's the leg the washer is on.

The dryer isn't working because it's a 220V appliance and needs both legs to operate.

The reason the washer isn't completely dead is that when the dryer is on, it feeds power from the leg that is working into the washer, but because the power goes through the dryer first, it's too weak to do anything.

Versions of this problem have come up at least a couple of times before, and the first time I saw it, JackFlash and flabdablet figured out what was going on.

A test of this theory could be made by unplugging the dryer; the washer should then be completely dead.

It can sometimes be hard to tell that a breaker has actually tripped because they don't go all the way to the off position when they trip -- they actually look just a little out of line with the others. Reset both the washer breaker and the dryer breaker by turning them all the way to the off position and then back to the on position.
posted by jamjam at 9:44 PM on August 17, 2015 [2 favorites]

this is fascinating (i know what three phase is, but where i come it never gets anywhere near the domestic supply).

anyway, a complete different answer that would explain the synchronicity, is that one appliance, being wonky, damaged the other in some way. but i don't have any particular mechanism in mind.
posted by andrewcooke at 2:29 AM on August 18, 2015

Thanks, everyone--chat with the electrician first it is. I did unplug everything after I realized something was off (in both the literal and idiomatic senses!).
posted by thomas j wise at 4:19 AM on August 18, 2015

Before you call an electrician, call the power company. They will come out and verify that it isn't anything on their end. We had similar issues and it was a problem with the power coming into the house, which the power company fixed for free. If they verify it's not on their end, then call the electrician.
posted by markslack at 7:24 AM on August 18, 2015 [2 favorites]

Confirmed that it wasn't the electricity. Next up: appliance guy.
posted by thomas j wise at 1:19 PM on August 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

I was totally expecting some theories related to the terrible Victorian novel you were reading (sympathetic failures? steampunk malfunction?) but I guess since you've got it sorted out, we don't need this anymore.
posted by CathyG at 2:08 PM on August 18, 2015

i'm still waiting to hear what was wrong....
posted by andrewcooke at 6:50 PM on August 21, 2015

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