Dishwasher Detergent Dispenser Repair Guide

If you are having problems with your dishwasher detergent dispenser this page will help. There are a few common kinds of detergent dispensers used on dishwashers today and this page will show how to repair them. Dishwashers are designed to wash a while before dispensing detergent into the dishwasher. The user places detergent in the detergent cup and closes the door then later in the cycle the door is opened and the detergent is dispensed into the washer. Some dishwashers such as GE use an actuator attached to the timer to release the detergent dispenser at the correct time. Newer GE dishwashers and most other brands use a wax motor to open the dispenser. Below I will discuss how to repair both styles.

GE Dishwasher Detergent Dispenser/Round Style

This type dishwasher detergent dispenser was used on all GE dishwashers up until around 2006 give or take and is still used on lower end models today. Most of, if not all of GE’s Hotpoint models still use this type of dispenser. There are two main things that cause this style GE dishwasher detergent to stick open or closed. One is that the insulation will block the dispenser and the other is the spring on the timer actuator will break or come loose. Below I discuss both in more detail.

Insulation block

Some GE dishwashers have black insulation stuck to the back side of the inner door. At times this insulation will slip down and block the dishwasher detergent dispenser. First, separate the inner door from the other door by removing the screws around the inner door. Then look to see if the insulation is down blocking the detergent dispenser and if so remove it and the problem is fixed. This can cause the dispenser to stick open or closed. Do not worry about replacing the insulation because it is only for sound dampening. I don’t think you will see much difference in the sound of the machine.

Spring Broken

Behind the timer there is an actuator. A cam on the front of the timer lifts this actuator up. When the actuator is lifted up the detergent dispenser is released. There is a spring that holds the actuator tight against the cam, if the spring is broken the dispenser can stick open or closed. To repair this, separate the inner door from the outer door by removing the screws on the inner door. Once done, you should be able to see the spring. It should be connected as shown below and if not get a new spring and replace it. Note that some models with this type of detergent dispenser don’t have a timer they just have a motor that turns the cam. These parts can be found at

Detergent Module With Wax Motor

This type of dishwasher detergent dispenser is used on most GE dishwashers today.

This type dishwasher detergent dispenser uses a wax motor to activate the dispenser door and rinse aid dispenser. But before you check the wax motor, check to see if the dispenser door is working mechanically. Close the dispenser door and if it will not catch look on the back to see if any of the mechanical parts are out of place or broken. Unfortunately, GE doesn’t sell individual parts for this module so if any mechanical parts are broken you will have to replace the whole module.

Next, if there is nothing wrong mechanically, you will have to determine if the wax motor is bad or if the control is bad.

On some of these dishwashers you can enter the control into a service mode and activate the detergent module. Directions for doing so will be on the mini manual located under the washer between the tub and the metal shield just under the tub. I cannot tell you how to do this because it is different for some models. If it activates and opens in the service mode but will not do so during a regular cycle, the control is bad. If it sends voltage down to the wax motor but the motor will not move (give it some time) the wax motor is bad. If it doesn’t send voltage to the wax motor the control is bad.

If you don’t have the mini manual or your model doesn’t allow you to do a service mode, you can check the motor with an ohmmeter. The wax motor should read from 1200-2800 ohms. Be sure to set your meter to read at least 2800 ohms. These parts can be found at

Smart Dispense

This type of dishwasher detergent dispenser is uses on higher-end GE profile dishwashers. The smart dispense system allows you to pour an entire jug of liquid detergent into the dishwasher at once and it automatically dispenses detergent into the dishwasher in the correct amount with each wash. The amount varies depending on the hardness of your water and how dirty your dishes are. The soil sensor (turbidity sensor) determines how dirty your dishes are. You or your installer must program how hard or soft your water is (see your owners manual). There is a sensor that monitors the amount of detergent left in the reservoir and a low detergent light will come on when it gets low. Note that if you do not wish to use the smart dispenser system you can turn off the low detergent light. On most models pressing the added heat button five times within 3 seconds does this. Do the same to turn it back on. IF this doesn’t work or you do not have a button that says added heat, see your owner’s manual. Click here for more on GE smartdispenser dishwashers.

Wax Motors

Most dishwasher detergent dispensers on most brand dishwashers today use wax motors. Some use two, one for the detergent and the other for the rinse aid. Overall, wax motors don’t give a lot of trouble so before considering the wax motor; check all mechanical linkages and springs. Wax motors are basically the same but depending on the motor the ohms across the motor varies. GE wax motors are 1200-2800 ohms and a lot of Whirlpool wax motors are 600-1800 ohms. The best thing is to refer to the mini manual provided with the dishwasher. If you don’t have a mini manual, I suggest checking ohms with your meter set to the highest setting and if it reads open replace it. If it doesn’t, assume it is good but the only way to know for sure is to monitor the voltage coming to the motor. If it gets voltage but will not move, the motor is bad. If it doesn’t get voltage the control is bad. Note that unless you check you mini manual you will not know exactly when the control will activate the wax motor. It should be sometime in the main wash cycle. If your dishwasher has a mechanical timer you can turn it slowly while monitoring voltage, at some point you should see voltage at the wax motor. If your dishwasher has an electronic control you may be able to enter it into a service mode to manually activate the wax motor. Refer to the mini manual provided with the dishwasher for instructions on how to do so.


All dishwasher detergent dispensers have some sort of spring that opens the detergent door. It is very common for the spring to break on Whirlpool dishwashers with the dispenser door at the bottom right of the dishwasher door. Other springs such as the round type for GE hardly ever break but if they do, the dispenser will not work. So check to see if the spring is broken and if so replace it.

Some dishwashers have a dispenser modular and individual parts cannot be purchased. In this cas,e you will have to replace the whole modular.

On some older Maytag dishwashers it is very common for the hook that sticks through the inner door that the dispenser door locks into will wear out or the spring will break. Look below the dispenser door and see if the hook is worn or if it doesn’t have spring tension.

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