Out of all the questions you could ask about a washing machine and its functions, “what happens if you run a washing machine without water” might seem like the most unlikely one. After all, water is one of the most important aspects of cleaning a load of laundry so why would you ever run one without it?

washing machine

But the truth is, sometimes accidents happen. You may have accidentally run your washing machine without water and are wondering what will happen to it now, or perhaps you’re just curious. But either way, let’s find out the answer to that unlikely question.


What Happens If You Run A Washing Machine Without Water?

The answer varies slightly depending on what type of washing machine you have, whether it’s old or new, etc. But overall you can either expect the washer to detect the lack of water pressure and turn off, or continue running through the cycle and potentially get damaged. So in short, nothing good will happen if you run a washer without water.

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What’s The Difference Between Running A New And Old Washer Without Water?

You’re probably wondering by this point why a washing machine’s age makes any difference in how it would act without water, but it all comes down to a difference in how it was made.

With newer washers, they’ve been built with automatic sensing functions so they immediately recognize when there isn’t adequate water pressure. Front-loaders are especially sensitive to this. So these types of washers would cut off the cycle early if there was no water.

Older washing machines, specifically top-loaders, don’t detect a lack of water as quickly. These machines would run for far longer without cutting off, sometimes even through the whole cycle. But in the end they would sustain quite a bit of damage.


How Would A Washing Machine Be Damaged If It Completed A Cycle Without Water?

If your washing machine did end up running without water then the following things could happen…

  • The valves and pumps of the machine would burn out.
  • If the machine continues to run past that point then the motor and electronics of the machine could also burn out.
  • At either of these points, the damaged sections would need to be repaired or replaced. This can get extremely expensive, very fast.

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What Happens To The Laundry If A Washing Machine Runs Without Water?

This depends on a few things, such as whether or not you added detergent, and whether or not the machine has hot water and not cold water or vice versa.

If there is no detergent or water in the washer then your clothes should be just fine, although they won’t be clean by the end of the cycle. But if there’s detergent and no water then the clothes could be stained by the detergent, or at the very least, they’d be sticky and stink of detergent.

The same thing applies if your washer has separate cold and hot water valves. If the hot water is working then the clothes will be cleaned, but without any cold water to rinse the laundry, your garments will end up stiff and sometimes even stained by the detergent.

If the cold water is working but not the hot water, then the clothes would be dirty and possibly stained.


Is It Okay To Run A Washing Machine Without Laundry?

Not only is it totally okay to run a washing machine without laundry, but there’s actually a name for it and it’s called a service cycle. Unlike running a washer without water, running one without laundry is actually suggested for you to do regularly.

By running a cycle in the machine with just hot water, you’re actually cleaning the washer which will make your clothes come out smelling nicer than if you let the grime build up in there.

If you want to add something to load to clean your washer even more, then you can. You could add some vinegar to your detergent drawer, or maybe pour half a cup of bicarbonate soda into the barrel of the machine before the cycle.

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What Can Ruin A Washing Machine?

While we’re on the topic of what can and can’t damage washing machines, we might as well go over a few things that can ruin your washer. Because running a cycle without water isn’t the only damaging thing that can be done.

  • Leaving wet clothes in the washer for an extended amount of time. It’s normal to get busy and forget about your laundry, but try your best to move clean clothes from the washer to the dryer as soon as you can. Otherwise you could be creating a mold issue.
  • Putting too much laundry into one load. Although it can be tempting to cram all of your dirty clothes into one load, you should never follow through on it. A stuffed washer will have to work way harder, and it will end up damaging your machine in the long run.
  • You don’t clean out your pockets. When you’re washing garments that have pockets, it’s important to clean them out before the cycle starts. If you don’t then you’re risking things going through the wash that will damage your machine, like gum, coins, or even keys, etc.



If you’ve ever asked yourself or others the question “what happens if you run a washing machine without water” then now you have your answer. So hopefully now you know that you should always make sure the water is entering the machine, especially if you have an older model, so that you can turn off the cycle right away if there’s no moisture.

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