Today, in our series on home appliance repairs, we’re going to be looking at the agitator on your washing machine. How it functions, how it can fail, and how you can repair it, thanks to our good friends at ApplianceRepair-Scottsdale.com.

Tools You May Need for this Appliance Repair:

  • 7/16” Nut Driver with extension
  • ½” Socket Driver

The agitator, along with water and soap, is responsible for the cleaning action on your clothing, so it’s pretty important that it be working properly. Older models will allow the washer to agitate with the lid open, however on newer models the lid switch must be closed for the washer to agitate.

Now I’m bypassing the lid switch so I can show you the normal agitation motion. Notice the agitator is moving only in one direction. Inside the agitator is a ratchet assembly. As you can see there are small components called agitator dogs that flip in and out to keep the top of the agitator from turning counterclockwise. The small teeth on the outer edge of these dogs engage against the air wall of the agitator acting as a break. These teeth can become worn smooth, usually caused by overloading, keeping the top portion of the agitator working properly under the resistance of the clothing in the tub.

In order to access the agitator ratchet assembly you’re going to need to remove the top of the agitator. This model has only a cap, however some models have a fabric softener dispenser. They remove the same way, simply grasp the sides of the cap and pull straight up.

washer agitator repairOnce you have removed the cap you may see a seal. This is a barrier that protects the dog assembly from fabric softener gumming up the system and keeping the dogs from moving in and out easily. The shaft that comes through the bottom of the outer tub drives the base of the agitator in the counterclockwise motion.

Because of the dogs the top moves with it, however during the pause portion of the stroke the dogs retract in and allow the agitator top to move freely clockwise. Not very common, but on some Kenmore brand Whirlpool washers they have used this ½” socket nut instead of the 7/16” nut used on most machines to attach the agitator to the drive shaft.

In order to remove this nut, insert a ½” socket driver into it and rotate it counterclockwise. This model will not have the seal because it does not have the fabric softener dispenser as an option. On most models you will need a 7/16” socket driver and some form of an extension.

Hold the base of the agitator to keep it from turning and rotate the bolt counterclockwise. The extension is necessary because, as you can see, the bolt is deep in the agitator and you will need to have your hands above it to be able to break the bolt loose. You may also find that ratchet helpful.

Once you have removed the 7/16” bolt you will need to reach down inside of the tub, grab hold of the lower plate of the agitator, and pull straight up off of the drive shaft. You might find it helpful to wiggle it slightly from side to side as you pull. You can see where the drive shaft inserts into the agitator here. And this is the drive shaft coming up from the transmission.

The bottom portion of the agitator drives directly from the drive shaft so it will turn even if the teeth of these dogs become worn down, however the top portion will not be able to move so the washing action is more than cut in half.

In order to replace these agitator dogs, set the agitator on the ground, step on the sides of the base, and pull the top portion away from the lower portion. There are two tabs that clip the base agitator to the top section. Flip the top section over and balance the ratchet assembly on your hand. This is the heart of the agitator.

The dogs should be rough on the outer edge and move in and out freely. This particular model has a plastic retainer clip that keeps the dogs in place and makes reinstallation easier. The teeth of the dogs engage the inner wall of the agitator here. They will retract for the counterclockwise motion and flip out to engage the wall when I try to turn it clockwise. You can tell that the dogs need to be replaced without removing the agitator and physically looking at them if you can turn the agitator in both directions while it is installed in your washer.

Notice the two “U” shaped holes that receive the tabs on the lower portion of the agitator. Now hopefully you have this plastic ring, but assuming the worst we will be showing you how to replace the dogs without this retainer clip.

First, remove this ring if you have it, exposing the dogs when they slip into place. Again, they should be clean and move in and out freely. Lift them from their circular slots and replace them all four as a set.

Now if you have that retainer ring you can slide it back on. There are small digits on the ring that slide into the grooves on the ratchet assembly, ensuring that it is positioned properly. Assuming that you don’t have this clip, we are going to want to use gravity to keep the new dogs in their places. Look for the side that has those teeth on the inner wall.

Balance the ratchet assembly on your hand and lower the agitator over it. Once it is rested against the middle divider, keep pressure on it to keep the dogs sandwiched in place. If you allow it to lift, the dogs will fall out of place and will need to be reinstalled.

On this lower portion there are two molded tabs, here and here. They need to line up with the two “U” shaped holes on the ratchet assembly as you can see here. This is a bearing that provides protection from friction between the upper and lower parts of the agitator.

Now line up those tabs and remember to keep pressure on the dogs not allowing them to lift and fall out of position. These are properly installed tabs and this is a healthy agitator.

To reinstall the assembled agitator press the agitator down fully on to the drive shaft. Remember that if you don’t have the retainer clip you need to keep pressure with your hand on the dog assembly.

Reinstall the attaching nut, either 7/16” or the ½” socket style, and this should be fairly tight. When you’re reinserting the seal it’s helpful to lubricate the “O” ring with a small amount of oil or water. This will allow the “O” ring to slip into place without rolling out of position from friction on the inner wall of the agitator. Next, pop your cap of your fabric softener dispenser back into place and you’re in business.

A Few Things to Remember:

  • The agitator should only turn freely in one direction
  • Remove the agitator bolt
  • The “dogs” should have small teeth on the edge
  • Replace the agitator dogs
  • Reinstall the agitator