Common Dishwasher Soap Dispenser Problems

A dishwasher soap dispenser
  • 1-3 hours
  • Beginner
  • 0-20
What You'll Need
Torx and/or Phillips Screwdriver
Replacement soap dispenser
Brush and rag to clean off soap residue
What You'll Need
Torx and/or Phillips Screwdriver
Replacement soap dispenser
Brush and rag to clean off soap residue

If your dishwasher isn't applying soap correctly, you might have a problem with your soap dispenser. You might notice streaks on your dishes, or soap that doesn't completely dissolve. Dishwasher soap dispenser problems can be solved with some home appliance tinkering, but you may need to disassemble a few parts to solve the problem.

How Does a Dishwasher Function?

The key dishwasher components are the dish racks, spray arms, float valve, fill valve, heating element, and soap dispenser.

While there are a variety of models with variable heating elements, filters, and spray arm locations, dishwashers all have the same (or similar) parts. Since its inception in the forties, when the dishwasher first became popular, these pieces (and how they work) haven't altered much.

What Is a Dishwasher Soap Dispenser and How Does It Work?

dishwasher soap dispenser

After the machine has filled and your dishes have been sprayed with hot water, the soap dispenser in your dishwasher will open. This step is called the "cleaning stage," and depending on which washing machine cycle you select, this stage can occur at different times.

Most dishwashers offer different cycles, ranging from standard and rapid wash to sanitizing and delicate modes. Your method will be determined by how dirty or durable your dishes are.

Your dishwasher soap will start working at a time determined by your selected dishwasher cycle. Most of the time, this will happen after the first ‘spray down' of hot water, while some cycles may spray multiple times before dispensing the soap.

A spring-loaded door latch operates the dishwashing soap dispenser. This mechanism is often built directly into your dishwasher's control board, which sends a message to the soap dispenser that it's time to pop open when the dishwasher's cycle has reached the point when it needs to release the soap.

Ideally, the soap dispenser door should not open completely when in use. The door, when closed, will be lightly pushed in by the dish racks, allowing it to open only a fraction of an inch. This small opening allows the cleaning tablet in your dishwasher to slowly dissolve as it comes into touch with the hot water.

Dishwasher Soap Dispenser Repair - Common Issues

dishwasher soap dispenser

Dishwasher Soap Dispenser Not Opening

Food Buildup

The buildup of detergent residue or food particles around the latch slot is the most common reason your dishwasher soap dispenser refuses to open. This problem can be avoided by regularly wiping the dispenser and its clasp with a damp paper towel.

Broken Latch

A broken latch or spring door could also be the source of the problem. This small issue may be easily resolved by replacing these parts with new ones from the manufacturer. Luckily for you, if this is indeed the problem, it is a fairly easy replacement.

Electrical Failure

Another reason your dispenser may not open is because of the dishwasher's electronic components. If this control board becomes damaged or malfunctions, it may interfere with the internal electrical relay, preventing the door to your soap dispenser from opening. Your best option for this is to replace the electronics, or have a mechanic come out and repair them for you.

Dishwasher Soap Not Dissolving

soap in a washing machine dispenser

Soap Left Too Long

One reason could be that you left the soap in the dishwasher for an extended period. Loading detergent or a tablet into the dispenser before starting the wash cycle may clump or adhere to the dispenser. Put the detergent in the dispenser right before you start a wash cycle, not hours or days ahead of time.

Spray Arms Clogged

Another thing you should do is check your dishwasher's spray arms, which have holes that allow water to flow into the tub. If these holes become clogged, not enough water will be released into the tub, causing the detergent in the dispenser not to dissolve entirely and the dishes to not be adequately rinsed.

Check to see if the spray arm openings are clogged and clean them if necessary, though this should already be a part of your regular dishwasher maintenance.

Intake Valve Malfunction

The first cause for your dishwasher’s detergent not dissolving is possibly due to intake valve problems. When your dishwasher isn't getting water, the dishwasher detergent won't dissolve, and when you open the door, you'll find soap in the bottom of the dishwasher.

If you're unsure if your dishwasher is getting water, open the door SLOWLY in two minutes after pressing the start button to ensure there's water at the bottom. If there is no water, the inlet valve has indeed failed and needs replacement.

Water Not Hot Enough

Another possibility is that your water is simply not hot enough to dissolve the tablet. Dishwasher detergent tablets typically require a temperature of 120-160 F to dissolve; therefore, anything below that will result in an entirely complete tablet being left behind.

If your dishwasher doesn't include a thermostat or temperature monitor, you'll have to check the water temperature with a thermometer manually. You'll be able to determine if the water isn't hot enough to dissolve the tablet this way.

Pump Issue

Finally, you might have a circulation pump issue. When the circulation pump works appropriately, it sprays water into the dishwasher, and when the dispenser door is open, the water washes out all the detergent.

If you happen to hear an unusual noise coming from the dishwasher after it has been filled with water, open the dishwasher door to observe if any water is pouring out. The circulation pump is most likely broken if there is no water or only a tiny amount of water.

If you have to run a wash but you haven't fixed things yet, you can try putting a dishwashing tablet in the pre-wash section if your machine has one. While this method doesn't clean your dishes as effectively as the soap dispenser, it usually suffices in a pinch.

Soap Coming Out of the Dishwasher

Dishwashers clean with a thick lather of soap bubbles known as "sudsing" in the detergent business. While this procedure generally takes place within the boundaries of the dishwasher's cleaning chamber, a leak that propels soap bubbles out of the machine and onto the kitchen floor might occur due to a variety of issues.

Wrong Soap

The type of detergent used in the dishwasher is one of the most prevalent causes of soap bubbles in the dishwasher. There will be too much sudsing if you use inferior dishwasher soap or soap that isn't suited for use in a dishwasher, such as a hand washing dish soap.

Excess suds collect around the door and can push their way through the gap, and one of the most straightforward fixes is to simply change out the type of detergent used.

Loose Hardware

Check the fasteners that connect the door to the washer if a new detergent doesn't help. The bottom door hinges may rust and become weak or unhinged over time, or the door latch that locks the door closed during a wash may have defects ranging from intermittent lock malfunction to full-blown lock failure.

Blown Gasket

If you still have soap bubbling out of your dishwasher, your problem might be a blown gasket. The gasket is the soft plastic portion that surrounds the door's rim, and when the dishwasher is new, this portion is flexible, but it can grow hard and even crack or shatter over time. If this occurs, the door will no longer seal properly, allowing water and soap to pour through.

dishwasher valve

Dishwasher Soap Dispenser Replacement

Fortunately, replacing a malfunctioning soap dispenser on your dishwasher is a reasonably simple repair that you can complete by following the steps below. Not only will you save money in the short and long run by repairing it, but you will also have a fully functional dishwasher once more.

1. Unplug

The first thing you will want to do is unplug your dishwasher from any power supply, empty any dishes that may still be inside, and pull the dishwasher away from the wall to give yourself ample room to work.

2. Remove Screws

Next, Remove the Torx screws from the inner door panel of the dishwasher with the door open. Remove the remaining two screws while holding the outer door panel with one hand to prevent it from falling and being damaged.

3. Remove Interface

Disconnect the user interface control wire harness from the control panel by slightly separating the outer door panel and control panel from the inner door panel. After that, remove the exterior door panel and the control panel.

4. Remove Insulation

Following that, find where the dispenser assembly lies and remove any insulation from around it. Remove the dispenser’s mounting bracket screw and pull off the mounting bracket. You can let it hang from the dispenser’s wire harness. Release the dispenser’s locking tabs and pull it out of the door.

5. Inspect and Clean

With the dispenser out of the dishwasher, you can inspect it thoroughly for any faults. If it needs cleaning, you can do that at this time, which may be enough. However, if you do find any issues with the dispenser, it is time to move on to replacing it with a new one.

6. Replace Dispenser

Replace the dishwasher’s soap dispenser by reversing the removal process. Insert the new dispenser, ensuring it fits properly, and re-engage the locking tabs that hold it in place. Reinstall the mounting bracket and refit the screws to remain in place. Plug in the dispenser’s wire harness, ensuring you get the correct wires where they need to go.

7. Replace Interface

The next step is to put everything back where it belongs. Connect the user interface control wire harness by positioning the outer door panel and control panel close to the inner door. Connect the user interface control wire harness to the inner door panel, then attach the outer door panel and control panel.

Finally, replace the mounting screws, making sure to account for all that were removed.

8. Test

Your final step is to return power to the dishwasher and give it a test run.

dishwasher soap dispenser with soap

Next Steps

The soap dispenser assembly is in the top five of all the dishwasher parts that can fail. The soap dispenser's sensitive clasp and near proximity to soapy detergent both increase the risk of malfunction.

Need some other dishwasher tips and do-it-yourself fixes? Check out our pieces about whether to use liquid or detergent in your dishwasher or removing soap scum from the inside of your dishwasher.