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  Leaking Soap Drawers

A common complaint that is made about many washing machines is that they leak from the soap drawer and, in many cases, this is due to a number of issues that you can solve yourself without the need for an engineer.

You can avoid expensive call charges for simple blockages by simply following the instructions here to both clear the problem and, more importantly, by avoiding the problem completely in the first place.

If you are experiencing an intermittent leak where you get a small leak every few washes or so please see the link at the bottom of this article for more help with that. However, it may well be worthwhile reading through this article to better understand how the soap dispenser works before you do.

A washing machine detergent compartment seen from the rear

  How A Washing Machine Soap Drawer Works

The soap or detergent drawer is really a very simple component in your washing machine as all it does is allow water to flow in a controlled manner into the washing machine carrying the detergent or softener with it.

In a modern washing machine this is usually done by way of using the water flow from the inlet valve to direct water into the correct soap compartment using only the flow of water to do so. This is one reason why most modern washing machines cannot work under a certain level of water pressure as, without enough water pressure, the water would not be directed where it needs to go correctly.

What you will usually find is a double solenoid inlet valve where one valve opens to flush out one compartment of the soap dispenser, the second open to flush another and both will open to use the flow to direct the water to a central compartment. On the example to the right you see the back of the detergent container in a washing machine that has a triple valve and three hoses that allows much better control of the water flow that cheaper variations on the theme.

The water comes in at the top of the detergent compartment

What this does is makes the system extremely simple and therefore reliable with very few components needing to be used.

Amica washing machine soap dispenser hoseAfter this the water simply runs out the back or side of the soap drawer and into the container that surrounds (often called a soap box or container) it which has a big hole at the bottom of it, which is where the water goes.

That hole has a hose attached to it known as a soap dispenser hose that is very often U shaped to create a trap that prevents smells and steam coming back into the soap drawer area. This will normally be attached to the top or front of the outer tank, the bit that the drum you put clothes in surrounds. however increasingly, as in the examples shown here on larger load capacity washing machines these have been moved to fill the washing machine from the top which should, in theory, make them less susceptible to blockage but they can still block.

On washing machines that have liquid soap dispensers and for information on issues with fabric softener not draining away please see this article which explains this more fully.

You would think though that, given the simplicity of this system, that nothing could ever really go wrong and, in large part little ever does but on occasion there are issues.

  Washing Machine Soap Drawer Problems

There are two main issues that people will have with the soap drawer in their washing machine, the first is that it leaks and the second is that something (be it soap or softener) is not removed from the compartment.

Any other issue or problem is extremely rare.

Soap Drawer Leaking

When a soap drawer leaks it will be almost invariably for one of two reasons, either the incoming water pressure is too high causing water to spill over the top this is a case of too much water is flowing and the water cannot drain through the dispenser hose fast enough. Or, something is blocking the flow of water which is far more common on machines that are a few months or years old.

Other than actual physical damage of some sort, there really is no other explanation other than a distorted drawer but, that would be evident from new or, we're back to it being physical damage. Normally however this is very easy to spot as the drawer will not fit correctly.

If the water pressure is too high you get too much water and it can either splash over the top of the drawer or soap box front and leak down the front of the washing machine.

On some washing machines if the leak is small, depending on the design, this water can run around the door and, as the water is clear and clean at this stage it remains unseen until it pools at the bottom of the door making it look as if the door is leaking. It's worth knowing and watching out for.

The simple answer here though is to simply turn the water pressure down a bit using the tap at the connection point for your washing machine. I most cases that will solve this problem.

Soap Drawer Blockages

We have seen all manners of things in soap drawers over the years but the perennial favourites are kids toys and lumps of undissolved detergent or soap.

Kids allowed to play around appliances is always inadvisable for safety reasons and, wherever possible our advice is to keep children well away from any appliance. Here though you can often find toys "hiding" in the soap drawer that get dragged down into the dispenser hose and block it or, impede the water flow and cause a leak.

Obviously, this is not covered by warranty and if an engineer calls and finds that you will most probably get a bill for the call. It's not the washing machine that is at fault.

The far more common reason is that the dispenser hose is blocked or, partially blocked, by undissolved detergent.

Almost without exception on investigation we will find that this is due to overdosing, low water pressure or simply poor quality detergent that doesn't dissolve well.

Yet again, none of these are the fault of the washing machine as such and are very unlikely to be covered by your warranty. So, if you want to save yourself an inevitable callout charge, listen up and follow the instructions here.

The first thing to do is ascertain where the blockage is and, if at all possible, what's causing it.

In order to do that remove the soap tray and while it is out we'd suggest giving it a clean as sometimes they get gunked up and that can cause problems, especially in the softener compartment. 

Detergent drawer showing the hole where the water and soap goesOnce out have a look in the container and, usually towards the back left you will see a hole, the container itself should be shaped to direct water to that hole. This is the hole that the dispenser hose attaches to to run to the tank and drum unit. If there is water sat there at all then it is blocked for sure, probably in the hose. In the photo to the right you can see how that is configured in an ISE washing machine from a few years ago.

The fastest way to clear it is obviously to get to the hose and break up any soap residues in there or clear whatever is in the hose but that will involve at the very least taking the lid off the machine although in many, especially large load washing machines, will involve a bit more than that as they are tightly packed and can be awkward to reach.

Or you can try to soak up as much water as you can and get boiling water and pour it into the drawer (put it back in before doing this) and hope that the hot water dissolves the detergent stuck in there.

A word of warning however, there have been a number of times where engineers have had to break up the soap powder in there with a hammer!

It will go almost rock hard if it collects in there so the best thing to do is avoid the problem before it happens by dosing correctly and using a decent washing powder.

  Detergent Use & Cleaning the Drawer

There is almost no escaping the fact that lots of people buy cheap and not so good quality detergent for use in their washing machines and, then it often gets slung into the drawer with scant regard for how much should be used or where it goes. It seems that some people seem to think that, by magic, the washing machine will somehow work out how to clean itself and correct anything that the user did incorrectly.

In a perfect world that may be possible but, in the one in which we all live, it just isn't.

Cheap washing powders and liquids are to be avoided in our opinion as they will often not dissolve well or run as freely as the more expensive ones from known brands. That means that, especially if you do overdose, that they will congeal and form a mass that will almost surely block up your washing machine soap drawer. 

Asides from which, they don't perform as well in our experience.

So, watch the dose and watch the detergent you use. If you choose not to do that, do not be too surprised if you have problems at some point.

Also try to put the detergent into the compartment that is being used only as if the soap powder is not flushed away then it will congeal in the drawer itself forming a lump. One day that will either get cleaned out by you or, it will disappear into the dispenser hose and either block or partially block it.

The little "crusty bits" for want of a better expression also need to be cleaned away as they too will drop down into the dispenser hose and since they are often too heavy to be moved with the water flow can congeal into one big lump and block the hose.

The truth here is that you as the owner are expected to use the detergent drawer correctly and to keep it clean. If you don't then your chances of having a problem and the subsequent bill for remedial action is far greater.

Keep the drawer clean (generic instructions here) and use a good quality detergent then you are unlikely to ever have a problem with your washing machine in this respect as well as enjoying the better cleaning performance of the machine and detergent.

See Also: Washing Machine Intermittent Leaking

Lois Slater
Great tip thanks we found a bar of soap in ours.
Hey, on my Hotpoint WDL520, I have water stuck in the black hose, think it was a blockage, I opened her up and could find no blockage. The hose runs into a small hard box before the drum. Any ideas whats in this box as I can't reach it easily? Should there be anything else blocking the water ie a solenoid there?Cheers!

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