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  Fabric Softener Compartment Problems

Quite often we get asked about soap drawers (sometimes called a draw) on washing machines and, in a separate article some time ago here, we covered how to clean your soap drawer and why you should do it but, we didn't actually explain how they work in any great detail.

This leads us onto what appears to be a common problem for some people, water being left in the softener compartment of the washing machine's soap drawer.

Now I would ask that you bear with this as we will first of all have to explain how this very simple system works and, to some extent, how fabric conditioner or softener works as well. But, if you bear with it and read the article fully you will understand how they work, what causes problems and how to fix them yourself.

  How A Fabric Conditioner Compartment Works

Contrary to what most people think, the fabric conditioner or softener compartment is actually really, really simple in it's operation.

The following shows how incoming water displaces the fabric softener in the detergent drawer, creating a siphoning effect and allows it to run into the drum where your laundry is. Bear in mind during all of this that this process will only take place on the final rinse and at no other point of the program.

Washing machine soap drawer is filled with fabric softener
Stage 1

Fabric softener shown in yellow is added to the softener compartment of the washing machine soap drawer.

The softener cannot at this point escape from the detergent drawer unless the compartment is overfilled and creates a siphoning effect.

The washing machine fabric conditioner is taken into the washing machine
Stage 2

On the final rinse the water is directed into the softener compartment of the washing machine soap dispenser drawer and this causes a siphon to be triggered.

The fabric conditioiner as well as the incoming water is drawn through this siphon and into the washing machine drum.

Due to the amount of water coming into the washing machine, water will also fall over the back of the compartment as there is too great a volume to be dealt with solely by the siphon. This is why the back of this particular compartment may be lower than the others.

Washing machine fabric conditioner compartment is emptied at the end of the wash cycle
Stage 3

The siphon will continue until the water is drained almost completely from the compartment leaving it empty and ready to be refilled for the next wash load.

And essentially, that's how the fabric conditioner comparment works on a washing machine or washer dryer. It is a desperately simple system that relies on no moving parts at all, only incoming water.

  How Water Gets Into The Softener Compartment

There are effectively two ways to get water into the softener compartment, either by way of a dedicated water valve to deliver water to the correct compartment in the washing machine soap drawer or, by using a sort of diverter system either mechanically on older machines or, increasingly, by using a dual fill water valve.

Using Water Valves

The first system employed has become less common due to pricing considerations, putting an extra valve on the washing machine costs more money and as manufacturers seek to cut costs this has become less common. However, in fairness, adding an additional valve whilst perhaps more ideal in some ways, also adds an additional point of failure, so there are pros and cons to this as with most things.

The big advantage in this type of arrangement of filling your washing machine is that it will often work or, work better, on lower water pressures.

Normally where this system is used your washing machine will be fitted with a three way water valve. One water valve will feed to the pre-wash compartment, one to the main wash compartment and the third to the fabric softener compartment.

This is the easiest system to understand as, put simply, the water valve which feeds the fabric conditioner compartment is the only point of failure. If the fabric conditioner is not removed from the soap detergent drawer then it is almost a stone cold certainty that the water inlet valve has failed and need to be replaced. Experienced washing machine engineers can often replace only the single solenoid if the actual valve body is not faulty but, for most people, replacing the entire valve assembly is the only option.

Using Diversion

In days gone past when all we had were old clunky mechanical timers, mounted on the front of those were what was known as timer cams. These cams would push a simple rod system linked to the soap dispenser top and manually direct the incoming water where it needed to go at that point in the wash program. This type of system is pretty much extinct now since technology has moved on and, almost exclusively, electronic controllers are employed.

Now the most common method, especially on cheap washing amchines and washer dryers, is to use the incoming water pressure to force water into the central section of the detergent drawer where you will now often find the fabric softener compartment located.

Usually this is a dead giveaway that the washing machine is using the cheap dual valve system and not a multi-valve system.

How it works is really very simple.

When the normal wash or pre-wash filling is required only one of the two valves opens allowing the washing machine to fill in the desired compartment, one set at either side of hte fabric softener compartment.

On the final rinse only, both valves open at once causing the water to meet and be diverted into the central compartment. Of course some will often still end up in the other compartments as well but, it is the only time that water will enter that central fabric softener compartment.

If one of the washing machine water valves fails, it won't work and the fabric conditioner will not be removed.

If the water pressure is too low the water may not be diverted properly and again, the fabric softener may not be removed.

  Fabric Softener Compartment Full Of Water

Apart from the above which explains what fabric softener may not be removed the single most common issue is with people complaining that water is not removed from the conditioner compartment.

When the machine is new the most likely cause is that the washing machine is very slightly tipped forward. It is very, very common that washing machines are not installed correctly and/or correctly levelled so do check this in the first instance before reporting a fault as, if it is an installation issue it normally will not be covered by any warranty and you may have to pay to have the rectification work carried out.

If the machine is completely level and, you have now of course checked that, then you can try raising the front feet by a couple of millimeters so that the washing machine is very slightly tilted backwards. This often clears these issues.

On older machines it is normally just a dirty detergent drawer or soap tray that is the problem. Almost universally the fabric softener siphon will be able to come off and be cleaned, this need to be done thoroughly if you use conditioner.

It is also important to make sure that the jets on the top of the soap dispenser box (inside where the drawer slides into) as if they misdirect water the drawer can fill up or the fabric softener can be taken at the wrong time in the wash, even at the start of the wash.

For more on how to clean the soap drawer please see this article.

  Gloopy Goo

Before you read any further here please understand that we know that many people love fabric softener. We really do get it.

But. You knew that was coming didn’t you!

As one science guy from a large manufacturer told us, fabric softener is essentially a tub of great smelling grease.

And, you don’t need it.

That’s right fabric softener is not a required part of your wash and you can leave it out with absolutely no problems whatsoever in your wash performance at all.

All it does is stop the fibres sticking together so that laundry items will feel softer and whack in a very strong distinct smell. That’s it. That’s all it does.

We usually advise people not to use it as, when it mixes with powder it’s not pretty, it congeals and stinks giving some of the problems with washing machine mould and the good old smelly washing machine issues. For us, it’s just a problem every which way you look at it.

If you’re not convinced by the strength of that argument, how about the financial case for softener?

Best case on decent brand, buying large bottles, per wash this stuff is costing you the best part of 7 pence per wash. That’s near enough what the electricity cost and, a cost you can easily live without.

Still not convinced?

Okay how about some of the lower quality ones will we say, don’t exactly dissolve so well and you get problems with bunged up dispensers.

Need still more?

What effect do you think covering your clothing and other laundry in grease has? Water and so on "sheers" off it instead of, as intended, being absorbed by it.

Then there's the perfumes. Possibly not so good for skin conditions.

It is an expensive gloop or goo that you don’t need to put in your laundry and, if you ask us, it should never be used for any or all of the reasons above.

Over in this article we explore more in depth about whether you really need to use fabric conditioner or softener.

Fabric softener leaking into drum
The last couple of days, when I put my fabric softener in the drawer it’s going straight through and into my drum before I’ve even switched it on? Not long ago I had trouble with it not going down and after poking a cotton bud in the holes it was working but now this? Can it be fixed?
Conditioner drawer blue plastic stuck up can’t get down
I have inadvertently pulled up the blue bit in the conditioner draw when wiping out and can’t get it to go down as can’t get it over the hole it’s also preventing me taking the drawer out! Any advice welcome
Tina jones
Fabric softener
My washing machine is taking my fabric softener but all of a sudden my clothes have stopped smelling of my softener I have even tried putting it in on the last rinse but still not working any advice please.
My washing machine is letting soap into the drum when there is only 1 minute left and not rinsing. It leaves my washing all soapy?? Any idea how to sort this?
I put a detergent capsule in the drawer by mistake and now the machine blows he mains fuse whenever I try to switch it on.

Overfill Softener Compartment
Today when I was doing my laundry, I put the usual amount of softener and my anti-bacterial liquid that goes into the same compartment. However, it seems I added a bit more of the second and all the liquid was gone. I didn\'t know if that would be used for my wash or not, so I didn\'t replace the missing liquids. So what happens in that case? Does the softener goes to waste or is it used during the wash?
The softener in that case would be wasted I am afraid.
Barbara Friel
[ Babs Friel)My fabric compartment won't empty. I have cleaned out the drawers and checked if water getting to compartment and it seems to be although it won't empty?? Washing machine is new
Kenneth Watt
Yes, this is common with concentrated conditioner especially.
Mrs Davison
My daughter has problem with conditioner not emptying. It is a brand new machine and hasn't emptied at all. The engineer came to fix it and he told her the conditioner was too concentrated and there was nothing wrong with the machine. Has anyone heard this before it seems ludicrous to me as she has always used Comfort in her machines.

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