How Do I Repair a Dishwasher Detergent Cup That Won't Empty?


Dishwashers with detergent cups that don't empty will not clean your dishes well. This may result in finding dirty or unsanitary dishes in the dishwasher after washing. If you frequently open the detergent cup to find it full or halfway full of unused detergent, this indicates a problem. Using the dispenser cup correctly will ensure that your dishes are clean and safe to use. Troubleshooting the dishwasher will save you money by preventing you from calling a repairman unnecessarily.

Things You'll Need

  • Paper towels
  • Spoon or butter knife
  • Clean the dispenser. Remove any caked-on detergent with a butter knife or a spoon. Lay a soaking-wet paper towel inside the detergent cup for 10 to 15 minutes to soften any remaining detergent. Use wet paper towels to finish cleaning the dispenser. Allow it to dry completely before adding new detergent, and make sure the dispenser is always fresh and dry before adding dry detergents. Often this is the only step necessary to make the dispenser work correctly.

  • Check the position of your dishes. Improperly loading the dishwasher is one of the main causes of the detergent cup not opening properly. This will cause the dispenser not to empty or clean your dishes well. Make sure you do not load large items, such as broiler pans or racks, where they will block the opening of the dispenser cup.

  • Inspect the timer by checking your owner's manual to locate it. In many dishwashers, a plastic actuator mechanism connects the timer to the detergent dispenser. If this is broken, you will need to replace it for the dispenser to open properly.

  • Locate the bi-metal switch or the wax motor. Your dishwasher should have one or the other. Check the owner's manual to determine where these are located and what they look like. The bi-metal switch and the wax motor are devices that tell the timer when to open the dispenser cup. If they are not working properly or are damaged, the cup will fail to open. Replace the switch or motor, or call a repairman.

Tips & Warnings

  • Never use dish-washing liquid or any type of detergent not formulated for a dishwasher in the dispenser cup. This will not effectively clean your dishes. It also may cause large amounts of suds that overflow into your kitchen or damage your dishwasher.

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