How Does Rinse Aid Dispenser Work?

Someone has probably recommended that you clean your dishwasher’s rinse aid dispenser, and you’re there wondering what a rinse aid dispenser means. So, what is a rinse aid dispenser, and how does it work?

A rinse aid dispenser is a component in select dishwasher models that dispense some rinse aid each time you undergo a wash cycle. You refill the dispenser once a month, and it releases a sufficient amount of liquid to help in the dishwashing process. Understanding the function of rinse aid helps you appreciate the importance of a rinse aid dispenser in your dishwasher.

In this article, you’ll learn all the terms related to rinsing aid dispensers and how they may affect your dishwasher’s functionality. Also, I’ll show you the details of how a rinse aid dispenser works and how to clean it to ensure maximum functionality.

What is Rinse Aid in a Dishwasher?

It may sound counterintuitive, but rinse aid doesn’t help rinse your dishes. Instead, it removes water from the glasses and plates after a wash cycle, drying them faster. Learning how it works will leave you wondering who came up with the idea of naming it rinse agent (when it should be called “drying agent”), but I digress.

Rinse aid works by forming a hydrophobic coating on the surface of your dishes, causing water to form thin sheets that roll off instead of droplets that cling stubbornly to the surface. It does that by reducing the surface tension of water using chemicals known as surfactants.

Most dishwashers require rinse aids once every month or after several wash cycles. You should consider referring to your manual if you’re unsure of how long rinse aid lasts in your dishwasher. Since most of the problems the cleaning agent solves only owe to washing with hard water, you may not need it if you have an in-house water softening system.

How does the rinse aid dispenser work in a dishwasher?

Now that you understand what a rinse aid dispenser means and why it’s crucial to the functionality of your dishwasher, it’s time to explain what a rinse aid dispenser means. The name already gives a lot away, but trust me, there’s still a lot you likely don’t know about the dishwasher component.

Besides the component of your dishwasher that takes detergent, you should see a similar opening, and that’s where your rinse aid should go. That opening leads to the rinse aid dispenser, which is the system that controls how your appliance stores and uses the liquid during wash cycles.

On your end, you merely need to open your dishwasher, put some soap into the opening for detergent, and pour rinse aid into the appropriate hole. The dishwasher can start worrying about dispensing the rinse aid during the appropriate period in the wash cycle.

If you’re more interested in the nitty-gritty, it’s a bit more complicated, which is not surprising, as the dishwasher is a complex machine. It undergoes several procedures when washing dishes, starting when you press the Start button and right until you get your clean dishes.

One of those procedures is rinsing, which is the process that cleans detergent off your glasses and dishes using water. When undergoing that procedure, the rinse aid dispenser supplies a tiny bit of the substance to help remove excess water from your glasses after rinsing.

Since your dishwasher only uses a tiny amount of the cleaning agent for every wash cycle, you won’t have to worry about refilling it every other day. You can squeeze out several months of use with a single bottle of rinse aid.

How Often Should You Refill a Rinse Aid Dispenser?

A dishwasher typically uses a minute portion of the rinse aid during a wash cycle. So, refills shouldn’t be frequent, which is good since you don’t have to worry about one extra thing every other day. However, that explanation still doesn’t answer the question: how often should you refill the rinse aid dispenser?

There’s no one-size-fits-all answer to that question, as it depends on your usage. If you use it very often, you may need to refill the dispenser every month or thereabouts, but it could even be more infrequent if you don’t use it as often.

Thankfully, most dishwashers come with a dipstick that should give you a pretty good idea of how many dishwashers you have in the dispenser. Some newer ones even come with a screen that displays how empty it is. You’ll never forget to refill your rinse aid dispenser when due that way.

How to Clean the Rinse Aid Dispenser on a Dishwasher

Sometimes, you may notice some grime on dishes from your dishwasher, which could only mean one thing: some internal components are dirty. Washing some internal parts will likely fix the problem, but the rinse aid dispenser is the best option for this article.

Before getting a sponge, you should note that your rinse aid dispenser doesn’t need frequent cleaning. It holds rinse aid for quite a long time, and unless you expose it to dirt yourself, it should be able to stay clean on its own. However, that doesn’t mean it never needs cleaning.

Cleaning the rinse aid dispenser requires a careful series of instructions. Without further ado, here is a step-by-step guide for cleansing the component safely.

  • Remove all dishes from the dishwasher.

You generally want to ensure your dishwasher is free of any dishes before starting any maintenance procedure. Since the rinse aid dispenser’s cleaning process falls under maintenance, you should start by removing all the dishes from the dishwasher.

  • Unscrew and clean the cap

You interact with your rinse aid dispenser’s cap often. So, it remains the part of the system most prone to dirt. After removing the dishes from the dishwasher, unscrew the cap on the rinse aid compartment and rid it of any dirt or debris.

Ideally, the cap shouldn’t leak, so you should consider checking it for any signs of breakage or other damage. If you notice any damage, you should be able to get a cheap replacement from the manufacturer. That would be unnecessary, however, if it looks good as new after cleaning.

  • Fill the compartment with hot water and vinegar.

Vinegar is an excellent cleaning agent for rinse aid dispensers, especially when mixed with hot water. After cleaning the cap on the rinse aid component, prepare a solution of boiling water with vinegar and pour it into the dispenser. Leave in the solution for a few minutes before rinsing it with clean hot water.

  • Run the dishwasher empty

Using a bottle of dishwasher cleaner (or nothing at all), set the dishwasher to run a wash cycle at its highest setting without any dishes or glasses, keeping it empty. Also, consider setting the water to its highest temperature for the wash cycle to ensure maximum cleaning power.

You also want to leave the rinse aid component uncovered to allow optimal water transfer for cleaning. When you run the dishwasher empty at its highest setting, it rinses every part of the appliance, including the rinse aid dispenser, which is the goal in this context.

The empty wash cycle marks the end of the rinse aid dispenser’s cleaning procedure. Now, you can screw the cap back on, refill the compartment with a new bottle of rinse aid, and use your dishwasher normally again.

The rinse aid dispenser on your dishwasher doesn’t require frequent washes to work optimally. Apart from the fact that it holds a cleaning agent, other components of the appliance don’t interfere with its functions, making it useless to open it up for cleaning every other day. Cleaning it once a year is plenty, and never cleaning it isn’t few.

Do you put the whole bottle of rinse aid in the dishwasher?

If you have a bottle of rinse aid, you wouldn’t be able to fit it in your dishwasher at a time without spilling it. So, no, you don’t have to put the whole bottle of rinse aid in the dishwasher at once for the appliance to function.

However, consider filling the dishwasher, as that lets you go on several washes without worrying about a refill. Also, you don’t have to worry about the appliance using the rinse aid excessively, as it comes with a sensor designed to avert that scenario.

However, you can adjust it on some dishwasher models if you feel the dishwasher is too miserly with the rinse aid. Depending on your dishwasher’s make and model, the process should involve unscrewing the cap and turning the arrow underneath in the appropriate direction.


The rinse aid dispenser isn’t the most crucial component in your dishwasher; if you have soft water, you may not have to worry about it in the first place. If you’re part of the majority that will have to worry about it, you should consider learning how it works and how you can maintain it, and this article explains all you need to know about that as a dishwasher user.

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