Modern dishwashers are more advanced than ever and come with a plethora of features intended to make washing your dishes easier and more convenient. However, more complexity means more things that can potentially break, and if even a small component like the dishwasher’s detergent door fails, it can essentially render the dishwasher totally inoperable.
There are several reasons why your dishwasher’s detergent door might become stuck shut. The most common cause is that your detergent dispenser has become clogged up with old, dried-up detergent, but it could also be caused by one of several mechanical failures.
In this article, we’ll go over some of the issues that can prevent your dishwasher’s detergent door from opening normally and explain how you can deal with them.
Caked-on soap is by far the most common reason why dishwasher detergent doors tend to become stuck shut. The detergent dispenser obviously spends a lot of time in contact with detergent, and if the dishwasher has trouble fully dispensing the detergent inside it, the residual detergent can dry out and gum up the inner workings of the dispenser.
Most dishwashers, particularly modern ones, spray water into the dishwasher dispenser to remove any residual soap, but if you have a dishwasher that is older or is simply not designed very well, it’s more likely that you’ll encounter this issue at some point.
Fortunately, this is a very easy problem to solve. To remove any dried-up detergent that has built up within your detergent dispenser, just take a rag soaked in hot water and use it to wipe away any detergent residue you see.
Broken Door Spring/Hinge Pin
The door of your dishwasher’s detergent dispenser contains a small spring, the purpose of which is to ensure that the door always opens when it needs to.
When the door is closed and latched, this puts tension on the spring. A catch is used to open the door at the right time, and the tension created by the spring makes the door pop open with force instead of just falling open.
If the spring is broken, it’s possible that the door might not have enough force to open on its own. The same thing can happen if the hinge pin for the detergent dispenser door becomes broken or bent as well. You’ll have to install a new spring/hinge if you find that your existing one is broken.
Broken Dispenser Door Latch
The door latch is, obviously, what keeps the detergent dispenser door shut until it’s time to actually dispense the detergent. It’s possible for the latch to break on its own, but it may also have been clogged up with old detergent or even small chunks of food.
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First, you should inspect the door latch to see if anything is clogging it up and remove any obstructions you find. If you don’t find any foreign objects or substances trapped in the door latch, examine the latch itself for signs of damage. Take note if it looks like any part of the latch has become bent or broken off.
The latch can break if it’s old and the plastic it’s made from has become brittle, or if too much force is applied to it thanks to a buildup of old detergent. In any case, if the latch breaks, replacing it is the only way to fix it.
Broken Wax Motor
The wax motor is a component of newer dishwashers that is used to release the detergent dispenser door catch. As the name implies, a wax motor actually contains a small amount of wax inside it. When wax is heated up, it expands, and the expanding wax in the motor moves a plunger that opens the dispenser door latch.
The wax motor is connected to a timer, to ensure that the door is always opened at the right time. If the wax motor fails, the door basically has no means of opening itself. The wax motor may break on its own, or fail to operate because of a defective timer (which we’ll get into more detail about shortly).
When diagnosing a broken wax motor, you should test both the motor and the connected timer. To test the motor, use a multimeter to check if the motor has any continuity left. If it has none, replace the motor.
Warped Dispenser Door
This isn’t a huge problem for modern dishwashers, but it is a known issue with older top-loading dishwashers. When the plastic door of the dispenser is exposed to very high temperatures, either during the wash cycle or the drying cycle, the door can actually melt slightly and become deformed.
A deformed door is obviously not going to fit in the opening that was originally made for it, and this may cause it to get stuck in either the closed or open position. In either case, this will render the detergent dispenser totally non-functional.
A plastic piece that has become warped can’t ever be un-warped, so if this happens to you then you’ll have to replace your dispenser door.
Fair warning; this may prove difficult if you have an older dishwasher that doesn’t have a comprehensive parts support system available.
Broken Bi-Metal Release
While newer dishwashers tend to use wax motors to open their detergent dispenser doors, older dishwashers more commonly use a component called a bi-metal release to do the same thing. A bi-metal release is a device that uses an electrical current to mechanically release the detergent dispenser door.
If the bi-metal release is not opening the dispenser door correctly, it could be that the release itself has broken or it could once again be an issue with the dishwasher’s timer. Like the wax motor, you can use a multimeter to determine if the bi-metal release has broken.
If a test with a multimeter shows that the bi-metal release has no more continuity, you’ll have to have a new one installed. You should also inspect the bi-metal release for any signs of physical damage and replace it if it’s visibly broken.
Some older dishwashers use an actual timing device to control when the dishwasher releases the detergent. When it comes time to dispense the detergent into the dishwasher, the timer activates a lever that opens the detergent dispenser door . If this timer breaks, the door will obviously fail to open.
Inspect the linkage between the timer and the door lever, and see if everything is connected the way it should be. You may also want to inspect the cam within the timer that actuates the lever. If any of these components appear to be damaged in any way, replace the timer.
Loose or Damaged Rinse Aid Cap
If you use a rinse aid when washing your dishes, you probably know that your dishwasher has a compartment specifically for adding the rinse aid. If your rinse aid cap is failing to open, however, it can make it a lot harder to properly clean your dishes.
The rinse aid cap can become loose or even warped over time. If it’s just loose, you may be able to fix the problem by refitting it, but if it’s warped it will probably have to be replaced.
Like the detergent dispenser door, the rinse aid cap can become warped if it suffers from prolonged exposure to high heat.