Coffee Maker Cleaning & Maintenance: Everything You Need To Know

a pourover coffee maker sitting on a table

What if I asked you, what’s the filthiest spot in your house? Many would be inclined to give answers like the bathroom, the garage, or the space behind a dusty old cupboard.

But would you believe it if I told you that your coffee maker is one of the places in your entire house that contains the most germs?

We certainly didn’t. But research has shown that it is in fact true.

In this article, we discuss what makes a coffee maker heaven for germs, how to clean them, and how to properly maintain them in day-to-day use.

Why Is It So Filthy?!

A study by NSF International has shown that coffee makers are high on the list of housing the most germs in a typical household – holding a top spot as the fifth germiest place.

Half of the reservoirs of coffee makers contain yeast and mold. The scary thing is, it’s not always obvious either, as mold spores are microscopic. This means that you might not see them, but they’re present. And when you do see them, there are already millions of spores breeding in your trusty coffee maker.

Why is it so germy, though?

This is because germs just fundamentally love warm and moist places. And your coffee maker, being exactly that (if no care was put into maintaining it properly), is a welcoming invite for germs to breed and grow.

If not taken care of, you could suffer from allergic reactions or worse, infections, if your coffee maker is riddled with these nasty microorganisms.

This is why it’s important to set aside time once in a while to clean your coffee maker. But what are the signs that tell you it is time to do so?

Signs You Should Clean Your Coffee Maker

While there is a recommended timeframe of which you should clean your coffee maker, here are some signs that a deep clean is long overdue.

The most common complaint from coffee aficionados is bitter-tasting coffee.

Because of the fact that coffee beans contain oil, the brewing process, over time, leaves behind these oils in your coffee maker. Just as with any other oil, these can go rancid as well. And when that happens, your coffee tastes increasingly bitter, and eventually just straight up bad.

This process happens quicker with darker roasts, as they contain more oil than their lighter counterparts.

Apart from the coffee oils, the water you use might also be a culprit of ruining your coffee maker.

Most water contains minerals, and these could include ones like magnesium, sodium, calcium etc. If you’re equipped with hard water, the minerals are even more abundant, and can build and clog up your coffee maker.

When you notice white, crusty buildup either in the water reservoir or any parts of your coffee maker, this is usually a sign of mineral buildup. This interferes with the brewing process, making it difficult for the machine to properly drip and brew.

Here are few other more noticeable signs that anyone could spot:

  • Brewed coffee coming out in a smaller volume than expected, or worse, straight up doesn’t brew
  • Coffee maker operates more loudly than normal
  • Coffee maker spews coffee when brewing
  • Unwanted, extra grounds ending up in your coffee
  • And of course, moldy smells
pouring coffee into a small cup
Coffee tasting bitter? Doesn’t taste like it used to? It’s probably time to clean your coffee maker.

How Often Should Cleaning Be Done?

Ideally, some sort of cleaning should be done after each and every use, if you want to squeeze absolutely the longest lifespan out of your coffee maker. This involves clearing out the leftover grounds and cleaning the brew basket, as well as the carafe, among many other things outlined further in the article.

As for the deep cleaning process that we go into detail in the next part of the article (using vinegar), it should be carried out between every one to three months.

How often you do it depends on two things: how often you use the machine, and if your home utilizes hard water. If the latter is true, cleaning out the machine on a monthly basis is often the recommended way to go.

What You Need to Know About Cleaning

The easiest way to go about this would be to use plain ol’ soap and water. In most cases where your coffee maker isn’t too ruined, this way of cleaning it is perfectly fine.

However, if after cleaning with soapy water or detergent liquid still doesn’t solve your issues, either vinegar or a descaling solution will be necessary.

Vinegar is an extremely effective cleaning substance and is used in many situations where other methods of cleaning have not been successful. Because of the acidic nature of vinegar, it is not only able to dissolve any mineral buildup, it kills bacteria as well.

In cases where even vinegar isn’t enough, using a descaling solution made specifically for this cleaning purpose may be necessary.

Descaling is essentially the process of getting rid of scale (mineral deposits from water) in your coffee maker. The process also clears out any coffee residue or oil buildup that cannot easily be removed by just rinsing with water.

vinegar in spraying bottles
There’s a reason why vinegar always ends up in these kinds of bottles.

How to Clean A Drip Coffee Maker

Get these ready:

  • White distilled vinegar
  • Water
  • Coffee filter
  • Carafe
  • Cloth

Steps:

  1. Fill the water reservoir with half part vinegar and half part water, until the maximum line. For example, if your max volume is at 50oz, fill it with 25oz vinegar and 25oz water.
  2. Put a filter into the brew basket, and turn the coffee maker on.
  3. When brewing is done about halfway (you can check that the liquid level is about half in the reservoir), turn the machine off. Then, let the solution sit in the reservoir as well as the carafe for 1 hour.
  4. After the hour is up, turn it back on to complete the brew cycle.
  5. Pour the solution away from the carafe.
  6. Repeat steps 1-5, except with fresh water, and except that you do not need to pause mid-cycle – just let it finish. Run the process for 2-3 times with fresh water until the vinegar smell is gone from your reservoir/carafe.
  7. Wipe your coffee maker dry.

How to Clean A Single-Serve Coffee Maker

Get these ready:

  • White distilled vinegar
  • Water
  • Empty mug
  • Dishwashing liquid
  • Cloth
  • Toothbrush (you’ll find out why)

Steps:

  1. Disassemble all removable parts from the coffee maker, and rinse them out with warm water and dishwashing liquid.
  2. Get your toothbrush (clean one, please) and clean out ground coffee bits in the brew basket holder. If anything is stuck stubbornly, use a wet cloth.
  3. Fill the water reservoir with half part vinegar and half part water, until the maximum line.
  4. Take out the water filter if there is one, and make sure there is no pod in the basket.
  5. Select the largest cup setting and turn the machine on. Keep running the machine until the indicator flashes on to signal to add more water.
  6. Let the coffee maker sit for 1 hour.
  7. Repeat steps 3-6, except with fresh water, and except that you do not need to wait for an hour after completing. Run the process for 2-3 times with fresh water until the vinegar smell is gone from the reservoir.
  8. Wipe your coffee maker dry.

How to Clean A French Press Coffee Maker

Get these ready:

  • Water
  • Dishwashing liquid
  • Brush
  • Vinegar/baking soda (optional)

Steps:

  1. Remove the press from the coffee maker.
  2. Fill with warm water and swirl to loosen any coffee grounds residue. When no more can be removed this way, pour the water away.
  3. Apply some dishwashing liquid, and use brush and some warm water to clean out any remaining residue, as well as any stains. Use vinegar or baking soda for stubborn stains.
  4. Rinse with warm water for a few times.
  5. Wipe your French press dry.

How to Clean A Pourover Coffee Maker

Get these ready:

  • Ice cubes or crushed ice
  • Salt
  • Water

Steps:

  1. Fill the bottom portion of the coffee maker with some ice cubes, or crushed ice, leaving some room for them to move around.
  2. Add five tablespoons of salt and one tablespoon of water.
  3. Swirl the mixture around. The ice combined with salt will clear away any residue you might have on the inner surface.
  4. When all of the residue has come off, pour the mixture away. Or if there is still some even after the ice has melted, repeat the process for one or two more times, until everything comes off.
  5. Rinse the coffee maker with water (cool water, as hot water could break the glass due to rapid difference in temperature).

Stubborn Stains?

If following through our steps for any of the coffee makers, and you’re still left with less than desirable results, your coffee maker was probably looong overdue for a good cleaning. But don’t worry, there’s still hope.

In the case where you still notice mineral buildup, or if the coffee still doesn’t taste like it used to, grab a manufacturer-approved descaling solution, and repeat the steps with it. The effects are stronger than the home remedy of using vinegar, so it should fix the situation really well.

Or if you really want to try something else at home before running out to the store, fill your coffee maker/reservoir with some warm water, and rice. Yes, you read that right, rice.

Then, swirl the mixture to hopefully loosen most of the coffee grounds residue. In this case, the rice acts almost like an abrasive scrub. Finish up with using an actual scrub sponge to remove any remaining stains, and rinse.

We were skeptical too at first, but do give it a try!

Maintenance Care for Coffee Makers

If you really want to squeeze as much lifespan out of your coffee maker as possible, while getting the best-tasting coffee for as long as you can, some care has to be put into maintaining it. This means to properly care for it after every use. Here are some of the ways to do that.

Before brewing:

  • Wash your hands with soap and water if you really want to be extreme. This keeps bacteria away so you don’t contaminate it with mold spores.
  • If possible, use demineralized water when brewing coffee. Avoid hard water at all costs.
  • If the water reservoir is not removable, and you have to use the carafe to fill it, make sure the carafe has been washed and is clean itself.

After brewing:

  • Remove the brew basket and clean out any remaining grounds. Get rid of disposable coffee filters.
  • Wash all removable parts with soap.
  • Wipe with damp cloth the exterior of the coffee maker, especially around the warming plate where spills usually occur.
  • After rinsing and washing, make sure to dry as much as possible with a dry cloth. Leave the reservoir lid open to let it dry.

Every 1-3 months:

  • Do a deep clean with a brush/toothbrush to clear out any hidden grounds residue in difficult-to-reach places.
  • Soak all removable parts in warm, soapy water.
  • Descale the coffee maker with vinegar, or a descaling solution if required.
leftover coffee grounds in a coffee filter
Don’t let these stay in your coffee maker, please!

Wrap Up

No one likes cleaning and maintenance. Oh, if only things would clean themselves without our intervention, life would be so much easier.

But unfortunately they don’t. This is why if you really want to get as much use out of your coffee maker as possible, you should keep it clean after every use!

The main idea is to not leave any remaining grounds or residue in any parts of the coffee maker, and to keep it as dry as possible at all times. Following just these two steps will go a long way in keeping your coffee maker clean in the long run.

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