5 Ways to Use a Dishwasher with a Broken Soap Dispenser

Dish washer soap dispensers are finnicky devices that have to withstand a lot of wear and tear and have a fairly low tolerance for errors, since they either work exactly as intended or they don’t work at all.

Because of this many soap dispensers simply give out and stop working, which can be very irritating since the dishwasher itself works perfectly and does what it’s supposed to do.

Fortunately, dishwashers can clean just as well even with a broken soap dispenser, the only sacrifices being those of convenience.

5 ways to use a dishwasher without a soap dispenser

1.      Toss detergent manually and use the quick wash cycle

A dishwasher’s normal cycle generally has four steps:

  1. Prewash. Where the dishwasher soaks up everything in water to loosen up the dirt, then drains the water.
  2. The wash. New water is added and the soap dispenser opens up to release the dishwashing detergent.
  3. The rinse. This removes the soap and the water.
  4. Drying the dishes.

With a broken soap dispenser, the wash cycle is mostly wasted since the soap doesn’t get out.

A solution to this is to simply throw in a detergent capsule anywhere in the dishwasher and use a quick wash cycle instead of the normal one.

A quick wash cycle skips the prewash step and starts directly at the wash cycle.

Thus, for quick wash programs it doesn’t matter if the soap dispenser doesn’t work, since the very first thing a quick wash does is to open up the soap dispenser, drop the detergent, and blast the dishes with water.

Because of this, tossing in the detergent manually before starting the quick wash has the same effect.

Finally, it’s ok to just throw in the detergent in the dishwasher since that’s the same way the soap dispenser works.

The dispenser opens up in the wash phase, the detergent drops somewhere in the dishwasher, dissolves in the water and is then applied to the dishes.


A quick wash cycle generally uses more energy and water than a normal cycle.

Temperatures in a quick wash cycle also tend to be higher, which might damage sensitive dishes such as those made of plastic.

Finally, a quick wash cycle might not properly clean dishes that have dry, sticky dirt on them. A solution to this however might be to soak the dishes in the sink before putting in the dishwasher.

2.      Use a normal cleaning cycle, but pause after prewash and manually add detergent

You’ll notice near the soap holder there is usually (but not always) a second holder that doesn’t have a door. That is for soap that dissolves during prewash.

Note: your soap dispenser may differ

The door stays closed during prewash to protect the soap used during the wash step. Once the prewash is done, the water is drained and new water is brought in for the wash step.

This is when the door opens releasing the second dose of soap. Once the wash is completed, it will drain, and you’ll get fresh water for rinsing.

Then the water drains and you’ll get a dry step.

So, if you just put pods at the start of a normal dishwashing program, you’re just getting a soapy prewash, two rinse steps, and a dry.

A solution to this problem is to pause the dishwasher after the prewash step, open it up, manually toss in a detergent pod, and then resume the program.

This should have the exact same effect as a normal washing program that works from start to finish, except for a few seconds pause.

Another solution is to see if your dishwasher has a standalone prewash cycle, and then pair it up with a cleaning cycle.

For example, Whirlpool dishwashers have a prewash cycle called Soak & Clean that is specifically designed to soak up the dishes, which should then be followed up with a dedicated cleaning program that uses soap.


Most washing machines don’t inform you when a prewash cycle is complete, so you don’t know when to pause.

Even if you can pause, it’s possible the dishwasher has a fail safe that won’t let you open the door until the cycle is complete.

Finally, this approach is very inconvenient since you can’t let the dishwasher run overnight, since you have to immediately follow up the prewash with a cleaning cycle, or else the dirty dishes will dry up again and you’ll have to prewash once more.

3.      Try using dishwasher pods and see if they work

Dishwasher pods, unlike detergent tablets, come wrapped in a plastic that dissolves in water.

If the dishwasher pods you buy have a sufficiently thick plastic cover, then there’s a good chance it can stay intact during the prewash phase and only dissolve during the wash phase, which is exactly when you want it to dissolve.

You can also try to nestle the pod somewhere in between the dishes so it has a bit more protection from the water in the prewash cycle, and can survive long enough to reach the wash cycle.

4.      Try filling up the dispenser with gel detergent

If your soap dispenser is broken in the sense that it only partially opens, and doesn’t allow detergent tables to fall out, then you could try filling up the dispenser with dishwashing liquid or gel instead.

You will probably still lose some of the detergent in the prewash phase, but it’s possible a lot of the detergent will still be in the dispenser by the time the wash cycle starts.

This is because the opening to the dispenser is too narrow to let all of the liquid or gel soap out during the prewash phase.

If that’s the case, then most of the liquid or gel detergent will seep out during the wash phase, which should give your dishes a decent cleaning.

Whether or not this approach works may depend on some experimentation with washing cycles, whether to leave the soap dispenser opened or closed, how much dishwashing liquid to put etc.

5.      Consider replacing and repairing the soap dispenser yourself

The most long-term solution to a broken soap dispenser, although the one that is the trickiest and most expensive to pull off.

If your washing machine is past the warranty period, then you might have to purchase a new soap dispenser.

A new soap dispenser can cost somewhere between $20-100.

Problems arise however if you own a dishwasher that is out of production and no longer sold. If this is the case, you will have a very hard time finding a replacement soap dispenser, if you can find one at all.

However, if you do find a new soap dispenser, then replacing it is relatively straight forward.

On most dish washers, you have to remove a dozen or so screws to remove the inner door liner, disconnect an electrical plug, snap out the old detergent door, snap in the new one, connect the plug and reattach the door liner.

If you have a popular dishwasher model then you’ll probably find dozens of how-to videos showing how to replace a broken a soap dispenser.

This just means that with a little of time and patience you can fix the dishwasher yourself, without having to pay a repairman tens or hundreds of dollars.

6.      (Bonus) Maybe the soap dispenser isn’t actually broken

It’s possible the soap dispenser actually works correctly and capable of opening normally, but the opening process is blocked by dishes standing in the way.

To test this, simply do a test clean with a half empty dishwasher and make sure no dishes are getting close to the soap dispenser.

Another possible problem is that the soap dispenser is wet when you put in the detergent pod.

Because of this the detergent pod sticks to the soap dispenser and doesn’t fall down during the washing cycle.

The simple fix for this is to make sure the soap dispenser is 100% dry before putting in the detergent pod inside so it won’t stick.


While having a broken soap dispenser is certainly inconvenient, there are a number of ways to work around it without having to replace the dispenser, or worse, replace the washing altogether.

Best of all, these methods can give you a cleaning that is just as good!