Dear Angie: I have a top-load washer. When I run it, cold water just trickles in, but hot water flows fine. I have never had a water softener. Could this be lime buildup or something else? Any idea how to fix it or how much it might cost? — I.C., Ohio
Dear I.C.: Good news: The problem likely has to do with a metal filter screen at the water fill/inlet valve on the back of your washer, where the hot and cold water lines connect. If that's the case, the fix is simple and will cost you only some time and elbow grease.
These screens can get a buildup of mineral deposits and debris that clogs them and restricts the flow of water into the machine. You can easily check for this yourself by unplugging the washing machine, turning off the water at both supply lines and disconnecting the water hose from the water line connections at the washer. Be sure to have a towel or bucket handy, as some water might leak out.
Remove the screens from the fill valve and clean them out with your finger or a soft brush. A toothbrush is ideal. If the deposits are calcified, soak the screens in vinegar until they're clean.
If you have buildup and determine it to be from mineral deposits, rather than debris, it likely is related to you having hard water. Adding a water softener could reduce the buildup of those deposits. Plus, if you have especially hard water in your area, a water softener will extend the life of all your water-using appliances, as well as improve the appearance and feel of your clothes, skin and hair.
If you determine that the screens are not clogged, you can check the water flow through the water lines themselves by turning on the water with the hoses inside the washer. If you have good water flow through the water lines and the screens are not clogged, it could mean that the issue is with the water inlet valve itself. If that's the case, it will likely need to be replaced.
The part itself is usually inexpensive — most are less than $25 — and a handy homeowner might be able to change it on his or her own. I recommend hiring a qualified plumber so you know the job will be done right and quickly. The cost should range from $100 to $200, depending on the type of washer and labor involved.