When Does The Soap Dispenser Open In A Dishwasher?

Dishwashers have become a favorite household appliance for those that have always dreaded the chore of dish duty. A special type of soap was developed specifically for these machines, and many consumers have had questions about how this cleaning agent is put to use by the dishwasher itself. We've researched the ins and outs of the dishwasher soap dispenser, and have provided some helpful information for you in this post.

The soap dispenser in your dishwasher will open after the machine has filled and your dishes have been sprayed with hot water. This is known as the "cleaning stage." When this stage occurs will depend upon which washing machine cycle you choose. On most dishwasher units, the cycles are:

  • Normal
  • Quick Wash
  • Sensor
  • Heavy Duty
  • Prewash
  • Delicate
  • High Temp Wash
  • Sanitize

Now that you know when the dishwasher dispenses the soap, you might be wondering more about how the dishwasher soap dispenser works. What if the dishwasher soap dispenser is broken? What will happen if you just toss the dish tablet in the bottom of the dishwasher? We've researched the answers to these questions and more. Continue reading to find out what we've discovered.

Close up shot of woman's hand holding dishwasher soap tablet, When Does The Soap Dispenser Open In A Dishwasher?

What are the different dishwasher cycles?

Open dishwasher with clean dishes at home kitchen

Your dishwasher soap will begin being used at a time that is related to which dishwasher cycle you've chosen. We've broken down these cycles here:


As the name implies, this cycle is the one recommended for regular, everyday use. Heavily soiled pots and pans aside, you might use this cycle the most often for your dinner dishes. The soap is dispensed after the dishes are sprayed with the hot water that has built up in the machine.

Quick Wash

The quick wash cycles are meant for dishes that are only slightly soiled. The soap is dispensed immediately after the dishes have been sprayed with hot water the first time. It's recommended for loads that have glasses, bowls, and plates if you need them in a rush. This cycle will usually last about an hour.


Should your machine have this cycle, it can be used to detect what type of cycle it should be put into. This is based on the types of items in the dishwasher and the level that they are soiled. This works best for dishwasher loads with mixed items.

Heavy Duty

This cycle is typically used for pots and pans or for extremely soiled dishes. The heavy duty cycle uses hotter water and will spray this water in a few more rounds prior to the soap being released from its dispenser. Doing so greatly softens what has been stuck on your dishes, making for easier removal.


The delicate cycle uses lower temperature water to protect certain types of glassware, like crystal or china.

High Temp Wash

This cycle is best used when paired with a rinse aid. High temp wash is recommended for removing baked-on grime from pots and pans. It raises the water temperature greatly and will cycle through hot water sprays several more times than a regular cycle before the soap is released from the dispenser.


This functions like a normal wash cycle but with increased water temperatures during the wash and rinse cycle. This hotter water is coupled with the dish soap and acts as an agent to further sanitize your dishes.

What Makes A Dishwasher Soap Dispenser Open?

Close up of hand in yellow rubber glove putting detergent tablet into dishwasher

The dishwasher soap dispenser is controlled by a spring-operated door latch. This mechanism is wired into the control board of your dishwasher. When the dishwasher's cycle has reached the point where it needs to release soap, the control board sends a message to the soap dispenser that it's time to pop open.

On nearly all dishwasher units, the door of the soap dispenser will not open fully. The door hits one of the dish racks, allowing it to only open a little bit. This is so your dishwasher's cleaning tablet will slowly dissolve as the hot water comes into contact with it.

What Do You Do If Your Dishwasher Soap Dispenser Won't Open?

The most common reason your dishwasher soap dispenser refuses to open is the buildup of detergent residue or food debris around the latch opening. This cause can be avoided by routinely wiping the dispenser and its latch with a moistened paper towel. Doing so will prevent buildup, and will allow your dishwasher soap dispenser latch to open freely.

The issue could be a broken latch or spring door. This is a minor problem, and can easily be fixed with an inexpensive replacement of these parts from the manufacturer.

Another cause for your dispenser refusing to open has to do with the electronic components of your dishwasher unit. As you read earlier, the dishwasher's control board sends electronic signals through the machine's wiring to the dispenser, causing it to pop open and release the soap. Should this control board become defective and malfunction, it may interfere with this electrical relay, and prevent your soap dispenser door from opening.

Replacement Parts

You have the option of replacing this control board yourself or having a repairperson take care of it for you. Depending on the model of dishwasher you have in your home, these boards can range between $80 and $130. This is for the part only. If you have it professionally replaced, you'll have to factor in labor as well, which might cost another $75-$150.

Click here to see this Bosch control board on Amazon.

While you're waiting for your new control board, no doubt you'll have plenty of dishes building up. Rather than allow them to pile up (or spend the time doing them by hand), there's a temporary option you might want to consider.

Some dishwasher soap manufacturers make automatic dishwasher soap dispensers. They're preloaded with tablets that are released when you start your dishwashing cycle. Most brands are good for twelve cycles. These gadgets are inexpensive, but not meant to be a permanent solution. They typically run around $35 each, so continuing to replace them every twelve cycles or so will add up the cost quickly. But they will suffice while you're waiting on the repairperson.

Click here to see this automatic dishwasher detergent dispenser on Amazon.

Can You Throw Your Dishwasher Tablet On The Bottom Of It?

Simply tossing your dishwasher tablet into the bottom of your dishwasher won't harm it, but it won't clean your dishes well. When your dishwasher begins to fill with hot water, it will immediately soak your tablet and make it dissolve.

The cleaning agents from this tablet will at once drain with the excess water in your machine, prior to it coming in contact with your dirty dishes. In order for your dishes to be cleaned properly, always use your tablets correctly and place them inside the dishwasher soap dispenser. Doing so will allow for the cleaning tablet to be dropped at the proper time.

Can You Use Your Dishwasher If The Soap Dispenser Is Broken?

If your soap dispenser is broken, you have a couple of options should you still continue to use your machine. The best option for getting your dishes clean is to use the automatic dishwasher soap dispenser that we mentioned above. Keep in mind that while this option does clean your dishes, the overall cost of using it long term is very high.

Another option you can try is to put a dishwasher tablet in the pre-wash compartment if your machine is equipped with one. While this won't clean your dishes as well as using the soap dispenser, it usually works well enough in a jam. You might notice that some of your pots and pans won't be as clean as usual, so it's recommended to set these aside and wash them by hand.

Man hand putting tablet in dishwasher detergent box

How Do You Prevent A Dishwasher Soap Dispenser From Clogging?

Preventative maintenance is always better than waiting for a problem to happen. Regularly cleaning your dishwasher will extend the life of your appliance, as well as keep it working like new.

A good dishwasher cleaner will do this job with no hassle. Depending upon the frequency of use, utilizing a dishwasher cleaner every 45 to 90 days will keep your dishwasher cleaner, will reduce foul odors, and will help prevent your dishwasher soap dispenser from clogging.

Click here to see this dishwasher cleaner on Amazon.

In Closing

We've learned a lot about how dishwasher soap functions inside your dishwasher in this post. Knowing how your machine's soap dispenser works makes it easier to understand how important routine maintenance on these units are and will make your dishwasher last much longer. We've also learned that there's no one cause for why your dishwasher soap dispenser has refused to open. Thankfully most of the causes can either be prevented altogether or inexpensively remediated.

If you would like more information about dishwashers, you may find the following posts helpful:

Are Plastic Food Containers Dishwasher Safe?

Are Casserole Dishes Dishwasher Safe? [Here’s Which Ones Are]

Can Nutribullet Go In The Dishwasher?


  1. Amazed no one has creatively tackled this detergent dw problem simply & efficiently with a pod holder that attaches to top rack to dispense itself…

  2. The most common reason why a dishwashers dispenser won’t open is do to blockage not a faulty door. The best time to add the tablet or soap is during the main wash. During a normal cycle, a dishwasher will have a pre wash (first cup is used) then a pre rinse. After those two periods, starts main wash. Drop your tablet about 23 minutes after dishwasher starts.

    • Curt, my dispenser door won’t open, but none of the YouTube videos helped. The dishwasher is 14 years old and due for replacing. Until then, I’ve tried stopping the washer at what I hope is the right time. You say 23 minutes. Another source said 5 minutes, which I’ve been doing and is working well. I asked Customer Service at GE, giving them my washer’s model number, but the information was unavailable. I’d sure like to nail this down so I can be sure I’m doing it as well as possible.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *