Front-loading washing machines usually have a dispenser tray or drawer that holds detergent, bleach and fabric softener. With regular usage, buildup can occur in the dispenser and cause a clog. If your fabric softener does not appear to be dispensing properly, you can take measures to both clear the current clog and prevent future clogs.
Water Left in Dispenser
If you see water sitting in the fabric softener dispenser, this does not necessarily indicate a clog. It is normal for some water -- up to 2 tbsp., according to appliance manufacturer Maytag -- to be left in the dispenser at the end of the cycle. You do not need to remove the water. When you add fabric softener for the next load of laundry, it will go through the dispenser.
Fabric Softener Button
Some washing machine models have a fabric softener button on the control panel. If you forget to push this, it may appear as if your dispenser is clogged, as the softener will still remain in the dispenser at the end of the cycle. Pressing the button at the start of the cycle will ensure that the fabric softener gets used.
Cleaning a Clog
If you can see buildup from fabric softener in the dispenser, you can clean it on your own. Use warm water and a clean cloth to clean the clog. Work the cloth in the grooves to loosen and remove as much residue buildup as you can. In most models, the dispenser tray can be pulled out for easy cleaning.
Not Using HE Products in HE Machine
If you have a washer that is a high-efficiency model, you should only use detergents and fabric softeners designated "HE." Using other products can result in too much product being present and subsequent overflow. As a result, your fabric softener dispenser can get clogged with detergent that has overflowed. In some cases, this can result in leaks from the dispenser drawer. Using the proper products for your washer can prevent this from happening.
Problem With Fabric Softener
To prevent clogs, only liquid fabric softener should be used. If you are using liquid fabric softener, you can still get a clog if the product is too thick. For softener that is too thick, dilute it by half with water to prevent a clog from happening. If the fabric softener is still sitting in the dispenser, try adding warm water and mixing with your finger to dilute.
In addition to using the proper products and diluting thick products, you can work to prevent clogs by cleaning the dispenser regularly. Experts with the appliance manufacturer LG recommend cleaning the dispenser monthly to prevent buildup that can cause clogs.
Water Supply Issues
Your dispenser may appear to be clogged when the problem is just the fabric softener is not dispensing. If the fabric softener and the detergent are not dispensing, you might have a problem with your water supply. Check the rear of the machine to confirm that the water inlet hoses are not leaking and are securely connected to the machine. These are the hoses that connect to both the washer and the water faucets. If there is a leak, tighten the connection with a pair of pliers or a wrench. You may also need to turn the handles on the faucets to open them fully. If you still can't get the dispenser to work, consult a service technician.
Jamie Lisse has been writing professionally since 1997. She has published works with a number of online and print publishers. Her areas of expertise include finance and accounting, travel, entertainment, digital media and technology. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in English.