Dishwasher Dispenser Not Working? Test The Solenoid

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You’ve poured the dishwasher detergent into the dispenser container or you dropped in a pod, snapped the dispenser door shut, added one more coffee mug to the upper rack, closed the dishwasher door, selected a one-hour economy wash cycle, and ran the dishwasher. When you start to unload the dishwasher sixty minutes later, you’re dismayed to see the plates, glasses, and utensils still have food debris encrusted on them. You’re puzzled for a moment until you notice the dispenser door…

Ah-ha, the door is still closed, so the detergent was never released; that’s why the dishwasher didn’t do a very good job of cleaning the dishware. Uh-oh, why didn’t the dispenser door open? In this article, Repair Clinic has some troubleshooting recommendations to help determine why your dishwasher’s detergent dispenser is not working, including how to test the most likely culprit.

Troubleshoot why the dishwasher dispenser didn’t open

When troubleshooting why the dishwasher dispenser didn’t open, it’s best to start with the simplest possible reason.

Large pan or serving dish blocking the dispenser cover?

Pay attention to how you are loading the dishwasher. Do you regularly place a large pan on the lower rack near the front? It’s tempting to put that baking or cooking sheet into the dishwasher instead of manually cleaning it in the sink, but if the pan is placed upright between the lower rack tines near the front, the top edge of the pan could end up resting against the dispenser door when the dishwasher door is closed, effectively preventing the dispenser door from opening and releasing the detergent. Large serving dishes and cutting boards can also prevent the dispenser door from opening. There’s nothing wrong with cleaning baking sheets, serving dishes, or cutting boards in the dishwasher, just make sure these items are placed further back in the lower rack or on the opposite side of where the dispenser will release the detergent. Of course, for best cleaning results you should avoid overloading the dishwasher; give the dishware space for the soap and water to clean the items efficiently.

Damaged dispenser component?

Your next troubleshooting step is to inspect the dispenser. Does the dispenser lever appear damaged or is the dispenser door latch jammed? Most dispensers will use a spring to help open the door; is the spring broken or missing? Other dispenser components you can check for wear or damage include the door pin, actuator, or cover slide. Some dishwasher models will use a wax motor or a bi-metal actuator to open the dispenser door. The bi-metal actuator is a metal loop that acts as a latch for the dispenser door. As electricity is applied to the bi-metal, it deforms and bends away from the latch, releasing it. If the bi-metal is burned out, it won’t be able to release the dispenser door. You can use a multimeter to test a bi-metal actuator for electrical continuity, a continuous electrical path present in the component, to determine if the part has failed.

Dispenser solenoid the most likely culprit?

Another dispenser component you can test with a multimeter is the dispenser solenoid. If your dishwasher uses a solenoid to open the dispenser door and none of the other dispenser components appear worn or damaged, that solenoid has become the most likely culprit for why the dispenser door isn’t opening.

Testing a dishwasher dispenser solenoid for continuity

Once the dishwasher has entered the wash cycle and the circulation pump is forcing water through the spray arms, the control board will send voltage to the dispenser solenoid, activating a metal plunger to pull or push a lever or latch to open the dispenser door and release the detergent. A defective dispenser solenoid will not actuate the lever or latch to open the dispenser door. To help determine if the solenoid is defective, you can use a multimeter to test the component for electrical continuity. Before you begin the test, make sure the multimeter is properly calibrated.

How to calibrate a multimeter

To calibrate an analog multimeter, adjust the needle so it rests at infinite ohms (on the far left side of the display) when the black and red multimeter leads are not in contact with a part or each other. Next, rotate the multimeter range selection dial to the lowest setting for ohms of resistance. Pinch the metal portion of the two leads together then adjust the needle to read “zero” (the far right side of the display). The analog multimeter should now be calibrated.

While digital multimeters do not normally require calibration, you will still need to rotate the range selection dial to the lowest setting for ohms of resistance in order to get a proper reading. Your next step is to access the dispenser solenoid.

Accessing the dishwasher’s dispenser solenoid

Fortunately, you won’t have to uninstall the dishwasher to access the dispenser solenoid, but you will need to remove the dishwasher’s outer door panel. Here are the steps you should follow to do this:

  • Shut off the power supply to the dishwasher before beginning any disassembly.
  • Fully open the dishwasher door and unthread the screws securing the inner door panel to the outer panel. The number of screws can range from four to ten and you can often use a Phillips-head screwdriver to remove the screws. In some cases, the screw lengths may vary so pay attention to which screws go where.
  • Once the screws have been removed, partially close the dishwasher door and you should be able to slide the outer door panel down or up to detach it. Be aware, you may need to disconnect a user interface board wire connector to fully remove the outer door panel to reach the dispenser solenoid.

What a dispenser solenoid continuity test will tell you

Once you’ve reached the dispenser solenoid, disconnect the wire connector or wires from the solenoid terminals or pins. With the multimeter range selection dial turned to the lowest setting for ohms of resistance, contact the black meter lead to one of the solenoid’s terminals or pins and the red lead to the other terminal or pin. If the multimeter display shows between 310 and 390 ohms of resistance, the solenoid has electrical continuity. What does this tell you? The solenoid having proper electrical continuity means the part should be functional and it’s possible there may be a problem with the dishwasher’s control board sending voltage to the solenoid or with another dispenser component.

However, if the meter display indicates that no electrical continuity is present, you’ll know the dispenser solenoid is defective. Since dispenser solenoids are usually not available separately, you will need to install a brand-new dispenser to fix the problem.

Dishwasher Dispenser Solenoid Testing

Find a genuine OEM dishwasher dispenser at Repair Clinic

When installing a new dishwasher dispenser or dispenser component, you’re going to want to use a genuine original equipment manufacturer (OEM) replacement part. Where can you find them? Visit Repair and enter the full model number of your dishwasher into the website’s search bar. The resulting list will be made up of genuine OEM parts that are the perfect match for your dishwasher, including those that carry Bosch, KitchenAid, Kenmore, Maytag, Samsung, GE, Frigidaire, LG, or Whirlpool branding. Use the site’s navigation filters to select the appropriate “Part Category” (“Dispenser”), and “Part Title” (“Dispenser”, “Dispenser Actuator”, “Dispenser Door”) if necessary, to locate the exact part your need.

Step-by-step repair help to fix your broken dishwasher

Dishwasher dispensers are relatively easy to replace and Repair Clinic has numerous step-by-step guides and procedural videos to show you how. Just visit the Repair Clinic content library, AKA the “Videos & Articles” section of the website, to discover how to install a new dispenser on a Frigidaire Dishwasher (Model FGID2466QF7A) or a KitchenAid Dishwasher (Model KDTE204EPA3). From stocking millions of parts for your home appliances, outdoor power equipment, and heating and cooling units to provide the know-how to fix those products yourself, Repair Clinic is a valuable repair partner.

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