When your washing machine finishes each wash cycle, the water from the drum drains out and usually gets dumped into a nearby drain line — called a standpipe — that runs to your main sewer line. Unfortunately, any issue with the drainage process can cause an overflow of the drain, resulting in water leaking out all over your floor and a handful of other potentially expensive problems, like a ruined floor, mold growth, and damaged sheetrock and insulation.
This guide will teach you how to fix a washing machine drain overflow and prevent recurring issues. We’ll also provide tips on determining if you need a professional’s help or can handle the washing machine repair yourself.
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How Do You Fix a Washing Machine Drain Overflow?
Fixing a washer drain overflow problem depends on the underlying issue. You could have problems with the drain hose, which directs water from the washing machine into your fixed plumbing pipes, a clog, or a drain line that’s too small for your particular washing machine.
We recommend walking through the steps below to cover all the bases and ensure your problem is fixed for good.
- Step 1 — Inspect the area behind your washing machine. Before moving your washing machine, we recommend a quick visual check behind it to assess any problems. Look for kinks in the washing machine hose, and check to see if the hose has been pulled out of the drain pipe. These could be your underlying problems, and identifying them before you move anything can save you some time. If you notice one of these issues, unkink or reinsert the hose into the drain pipe, and then skip to step seven to test the solution.
- Step 2 — Pull the washing machine away from the wall: If you didn’t notice any glaring issues upon a visual inspection, pull the washing machine away from the wall to give yourself space to work. You might want to turn off the water supply to the machine and disconnect it from power to be safe.
- Step 3 — Prepare the area: Since you will be working with a hose and drain pipe that could have water inside, we recommend you get some old towels and lay them down on the floor and any sheetrock behind the machine for protection.
- Step 4 — Fix any issues with the washing machine drain hose: If you’ve discovered problems with the hose that weren’t evident before you moved the machine, fix them now. This can include kinks or cracks in the hose that weren’t visible. You might need to replace the hose entirely, depending on the extent of the damage.
- Step 5 — Clear any clogs: If you don’t notice any problems with the hose, your problem could be a clog in the hose or the drain line into which the hose drains. You can inspect both to see if there’s a visible clog, but you’ll more likely need to use a plumber’s drain snake to unclog them and clear out any lint that might be caught in there. Use the auger or snake on both the hose and the fixed drain line.
- Step 6 — Place the drain hose back into the washing machine drain pipe and run a test cycle: Finally, put everything back how you found it and run a test cycle to see if the problem is fixed. Make sure not to kink the hose when you move the washing machine back, and make sure the hose is inserted as far as possible into the drain line. If the issue persists, the drain line that leads to your main drain line might not be large enough, or you might have more serious problems. In either case, we recommend calling a plumber for help.
You can also check out the short video below for a visual guide on clearing washing machine hose clogs:
Why Is My Washing Machine Draining Correctly but Still Overflowing Occasionally?
If you find that your washing machine appears to be draining properly for the most part but still runs into overflow issues now and then, there are a few possible causes.
The most common causes of intermittent drainage issues are overfilling the washer with too much laundry or using too much detergent. In the case of too much laundry, the greater volume of water required to wash it can more easily overwhelm the drain pipe, resulting in an overflow. This is most common in newer washing machine models with sensors to determine how much water is required for the clothes loaded inside.
Too much detergent can promote clogging and slow water movement through the hose and drain line, promoting overflow. You’ll also accelerate the accumulation of soap residue or soap scum in the PVC pipe, which can promote clogs and lead to water overflowing.
Incorrect Washer Setting
Another less common problem homeowners encounter is running their washing machine on the wrong setting. If, for example, you have a load of delicates and use hot water instead of cold water or a spin cycle setting that’s too intense, the clothes will wear more quickly. That can lead to increased lint production and even bits of clothing being torn off, promoting clogs and overflow problems.
Similarly, if you use a light wash setting but add a lot of detergent, there may not be enough water to thin out the detergent. As a result, you might end up with an increased risk of clogs. Using a heavy load setting for a small load could mean water exits your machine too quickly for the drain pipe to handle.
Unfortunately, the issue can be with your actual fixed plumbing equipment. You can assess drainage from your machine by routing the flexible drainage pipe from your washer into a laundry sink. If the water flow is normal — usually between 3 and 5 gallons of water per minute — then the problem is most likely with your plumbing, and you’ll need a plumber’s help if snaking the line doesn’t help.
If you have persistent problems that you believe stem from the machine itself rather than a plumbing issue, we recommend you call the manufacturer or a service technician to see if they can offer a resolution.
How Do You Prevent a Washing Machine Drain Overflow?
Fixing a washing machine drainage problem is usually quick and painless, but preventing it from occurring — and causing damage in your home — is a much better and more permanent option. There are a few preventive measures you can take to avoid overflow problems, some of which can also extend the life of your washing machine:
- Install a lint trap: One of the easiest and fastest ways to prevent overflow issues is to install an external lint trap. These mesh screens fit over the end of the washing machine hose. Water can flow through the holes in the mesh, but lint and other debris will get trapped in the filter and be prevented from clogging the drain pipe. Just remember to empty and clean the filter about once per month to prevent it from clogging and causing more overflow issues.
- Use a garment bag whenever possible: When it’s appropriate, using a garment bag or lint bag for your laundry is a great way to keep lint and anything in your pockets from clogging your hose or drain pipe and causing an overflow.
- Clean the internal lint filter regularly: If your washing machine has an internal lint filter, make sure you clean that at least once every few months. A clogged filter can release material into your hose and drain line over time and cause more serious blockages and leaks.
- Keep your washer away from the wall: Make sure that your washing machine is at least six inches away from any walls in your laundry room. Pushing the machine too close to the wall can crush, crack, or kink the hose, which will quickly lead to drainage problems.
- Check and clear the hose and drainpipe regularly: Lint and other debris you accidentally put through the wash can build up in your hose and drain line, even if you have lint filters installed. We recommend snaking both once every three months or so to ensure they stay clear. You can also use a non-abrasive drain cleaner or drain enzymes to clear debris out of the plumbing system, or you can add some baking soda and boiling water to the drain line and let it sit for a few hours before running the washer.
To simplify your job, you can use a shop vac to remove any debris in the washing machine hose or drain line. Just make sure you only use a wet/dry shop vac, and be sure that the vacuum hose doesn’t seal against the inside walls of the hose or drain line, as this can cause damage once suction is created.
- Change the size of your drain pipe: In many cases, homeowners have problems with their drain lines because the pipe itself is too thin to handle the amount of water draining at once from the tub or drum inside. This issue is more common in older homes, as newer washing machines have higher capacities and faster draining times that older, narrower pipes can sometimes struggle to keep up with. You might need a plumber to install a wider drain line to prevent overflow issues in the future.
- Switch to a front-loading washer: Front-load washing machines use less water than top-load machines for two reasons. First, top-load washers hold more clothes and naturally need more water. Second, the tub or drum on a front-load washer doesn’t need to fill as much to cover the laundry inside. If your overflow issue results from your drain pipe diameter being too small, swapping to a front-load washer could be an alternative solution to replacing the drain line.
DIY vs. Professional: Do I Need a Professional To Fix My Overflowing Washing Machine?
Assessing why your washing machine leaks during the drain cycle is usually straightforward, but the solution could demand help from a professional. Moreover, opening your discharge hose and drain pipe for snaking can be messy and dirty, not to mention it can put your flooring and other building material at risk of water damage if you’re not careful. Contacting a plumber is a good option if you’re concerned about that risk or don’t want to deal with wastewater.
If you’ve followed the steps above and still don’t know why you’re having a drainage problem, chances are there is a more serious underlying problem. If that’s the case, we recommend calling in a professional plumber. For example, we recommend contacting a licensed plumber if you believe your underlying problem is that your drain pipe is too narrow. This usually requires removing the drain line and replacing it with a wider one.
While the actual work to do this is simple enough for a DIY fix, the eventual reduction you’ll likely need to make to tie the new line into your existing system can cause serious issues if it’s not done properly. Any turns the pipes need to make must also be done at the right angle to control the water flow through the system. If you make a mistake, you could be looking at more severe sewer clogs that occur deeper into the drainage system — and demand more complex and expensive fixes.
Final Tips for Fixing a Washing Machine Drain Overflow
Washing machine overflow problems can be a nuisance at best, but at worst, they can cause severe property damage and lead to costly repairs. Knowing how to assess and fix the problem helps avoid those damages and expenses.
In most cases, washers overflow because of lint clogs. This can usually be prevented by snaking the machine hose and drain line once every few months or by installing a lint catcher on the hose and cleaning it out monthly to avoid buildup. Some homeowners find that the overflow is caused by a damaged hose, which is usually fixable by repairing the damage and ensuring there’s at least a 6-inch gap between the machine and the wall behind it.
Another common cause of washer overflow is your drain pipe getting overwhelmed by the amount of water draining from your washer. The easiest solutions include switching to a front-load washer or doing smaller loads with less water. A more permanent solution would be to call a plumber to upsize your drain line. This should help avoid all overflow issues in the future. Any additional problems might require a professional plumber or a service tech for your machine.