How to Fix a Stuck Automatic Dishwasher Detergent Dispenser

You might notice the "click" inside the dishwasher when it's running -- that familiar noise signaling that the detergent dispenser opened to release the soap. Even if you didn't close the dispenser, the soap would be released anyway. But when the dispenser is stuck and refuses to open, you'll end up with dirty or clouded plates and glasses at the end of a wash cycle. To remedy this problem, grab the owner's manual for your dishwasher to execute some simple troubleshooting steps.

middle aged girl in the kitchen using dishwasher
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More often than not, a quick cleanup will restore a detergent dispenser to working order.

Step 1

Inspect the detergent dispenser cup. It might be clogged with detergent, and this prevents the dispenser from opening properly. Remove any residue with wet paper towels.

Step 2

Check the spring and pin on the detergent dispenser -- the parts that enable the dispenser to pop open. The spring and pin should not be bent, split or broken. If they are, you will need to order these parts from the manufacturer or a reliable appliance repair service.

Step 3

Check your owner's manual to see if your dishwasher dispenses detergent after being prompted by a timer. If so, write down the time when the dispenser should open, and then run your dishwasher through a quick cycle. If the dispenser doesn't open, your dishwasher might need a new timer or wax motor, which awaits its "signal" from the timer to open the detergent dispenser cup.

Step 4

Read the manual to see if your dishwasher releases detergent via a bi-metal release, which depends on electrical current to release the catch on the detergent dispenser. Bi-metal releases are more common on older-model dishwashers. Unplug your dishwasher before locating the switch on the door assembly. Remove the door panel, following the instructions outlined in your manual -- these differ from model to model. Close the detergent dispenser cup, and then press the metal release with a screwdriver. If it doesn't open, you will need to order a new bi-metal release.