How Does a Fabric Softener Dispenser Work on a Washing Machine?

Most top- and front-load washing machines have a fabric softener dispenser. The dispenser holds fabric softener for most of the washing cycle and then automatically releases it during the final phase of a washing cycle to make clothes feel softer and reduce static cling after washing. Although the location of a fabric softener dispenser can differ on various washing machine types and brands, nearly all dispensers work in virtually the same way.

It’s normal for water to accumulate in the fabric softener dispenser.


On top-load washing machines, fabric softener dispensers are usually located in the top corner of the washer on the cabinet underneath the lid. Pour the appropriate amount of fabric softener into the dispenser for the load size you're washing, and the washer releases the contents of the dispenser into the drum toward the end of a wash cycle. A front-loading washing machine often has a fabric softener drawer for a dispenser. The drawer is often found on the front face of the washing machine near the detergent and bleach drawers. A front-loading washing machine also empties the fabric softener drawer into the drum at the last phase of the washing cycle. Review the washing machine's manual for help locating the dispenser on your washing machine model.

Timed Release

Although fabric softener comes in a variety of forms — liquid, crystals and powder — the easiest for a washer to release is usually liquid. In fact, certain washing machine manufacturers, such as Maytag, recommend only using liquid fabric softener, as powder can deposit a white chalky residue on clothes if it doesn't entirely dissolve in water. A washing machine will usually release the fabric softener from the dispenser during the rinse and spin cycle for the best results. Avoid overfilling the dispenser to guard against the washing machine releasing the fabric softener into the wash load prematurely.

Fabric Softener Option

Since you have the option of whether or not to use fabric softener in a wash load, most washing machines require that you select the fabric softener option, in addition to loading the dispenser with softener. Read the washing machine's manual for fabric softener dispenser use instructions. The appropriate button to press on your machine might be called "Fabric Softener" or "Extra Rinse" or something along these lines. Selecting this option tells your washing machine that the fabric softener dispenser should release softener when the washing machine advances to the final rinse cycle.


Periodically clean the fabric softener dispenser on your washing machine to ensure that it continues working properly. Fabric softener can build up in the dispenser over time and breed mold that can get into the washing machine. Remove the dispenser from the washing machine. Consult the washing machine's manual for removal instructions if needed. Thoroughly clean the dispenser with warm water and household dish detergent, then rinse. Dry the dispenser with a clean cloth before returning it to the washing machine.