How to Clean a Coffee Maker

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Inside: How to clean a coffee maker; can you clean it with vinegar or bleach? Plus why it’s so important to your health to keep the percolator and drip machines CLEAN!

The birds are chirping, the sun is shining, and it’s a b-e-a-utiful morning! Your eyes flutter open and you happily stretch and yawn as you saunter into the kitchen. The last few drops of your favourite morning brew grace your percolating carafe, and you pour yourself a large, hot cuppa. The warmth, tingling your sleepy fingers… the bold aroma, a cheerful dance for the olfactory passages! And that first sip, ahhh… funky… musty… bitter… ?!? Blegh!

When your morning bean water starts to take on particular hints of rank, it may just be time to give your coffee maker a good cleaning.

An NSF International study found that about 50% of household drip coffee makers had fungal growth, such as mould, yeast, and microorganisms in their water chambers, and about 10% were home to coliform bacteria, including E. coli (fecal coliform bacterium).

It was found that in general, home coffee makers are germier than your average bathroom door handle, faucet, or toilet seat. No, you did not misread that. #barfemoji (PS. if you’re into cleaning your bathrooms naturally too, check out this recipe I have for daily shower cleaner. I love it and it also kills bacteria!)

Mould spores thrive in damp environments, and still water can quickly lead to mould build-up. So, when you leave that half-full pot or used filter sitting overnight (“Ah… I’ll just rinse it in the morning”) or leave water sitting in the chamber to use later, you’re giving those wee germies a very happy place to fester and breed. Dry mould spores can also remain dormant for long periods of time, and then develop into fungi in the presence of moisture. 

coffee maker on a countertop

But, it would make sense that hot water, filtration, and the coffee’s acidity would kill these germs, yes? Nope! In fact, the warm, moist environment actually increases the production of bacteria and fungi. It’s their happy place. Right in your kitchen, right in your cup!


Can a dirty coffee maker make you sick?

Yup! There are definitely health risks associated with ingesting the mould spores living in an unwashed coffee maker. Most people have at least a slight allergic reaction to mould, but some people are particularly sensitive to it. 

Gastrointestinal issues akin to eating spoiled food are common, depending on the degree of dinge.

  • Headaches,
  • coughing,
  • shortness of breath,
  • wheeze,
  • runny nose,
  • sneezing,
  • congestion,
  • watery eyes,
  • flu-like symptoms,
  • upper respiratory infections,
  • skin infections,
  • allergic fungal sinusitis,
  • and mycosis (fungal infections) are even more common than tummy troubles.

But wait – there’s more! Mould can produce toxic chemicals called mycotoxins, which are harmful to humans and even lethal in rare circumstances. When ingested, inhaled, or absorbed through skin, mycotoxins can cause reduced appetite and general malaise. Long-term low levels of mycotoxins can suppress the immune system, and poisoning by mycotoxins (acute toxicity) causes vomiting and diarrhea, as well as acute liver disease.

In addition to mould, the bacteria in your coffeepot can cause food borne illnesses, adding to your chances of nausea, diarrhea and vomiting.

Is it safe to use bleach in a coffee maker?

No! Bleach is highly corrosive, and running it through your brewing mechanism can damage your coffee maker.

You’ve probably also noticed the large poison symbol on the bottle, indicating that it reeeeaally shouldn’t be used on anything that will go in your mouth! Ingesting bleach oxidizes and burns the tissues in your mouth, esophagus, and stomach. It can cause chest pain, nausea, lowered blood pressure, delirium, coma, and potentially death.

I do use food safe oxygen bleach to clean my kitchen sink and drains – but I would NEVER use it on something that actually contains cooked food or beverages. Check this post here to see where I safely use oxygen bleach crystals in household cleaning.

Is it safe to clean a coffee maker with CLR?
Remember that old CLR commercial from the 90s? They swirled some CLR around in a coffee pot for like, less than a second and it was simply sparkling! Well, it does work, but it’s also a powerful chemical, just like bleach. Ingestion of CLR can cause oral burns, vomiting, and gastrointestinal disturbance. 

So… you can… but it’s not the safest option. It’s also important to note that some types of coffee makers hold water permanently inside, and it’s extra dangerous to use CLR or bleach to clean those types of machines!

So how do I clean my coffee maker?

Now that we are all thoroughly repulsed, let’s look at the best route to an uncontaminated cuppa joe. Cleaning your coffee maker is very easy, and you probably already own everything you need! Doing this on a regular basis will get rid of the aforementioned foul, loathsome beasties, and prevent their return by removing the coffee oils that get left behind and turn rancid. 

Daily: Wash removable parts with hot, soapy water after each use (the sooner the better), and leave the lid to the water chamber open to dry out. Let the parts air dry, or dry with a new, clean cloth.

Monthly: Deep clean! De-gunkify with rice, then run a vinegar solution through your coffee maker. In addition to sanitizing the chamber, carafe, and the tubes and inner-workings of your machine, vinegar “decalcifies,” or removes the mineral buildup caused by tap water.

What You’ll Need

  • Water
  • White vinegar (enough to fill half of your machine’s water chamber)
  • ½ cup of rice
  • Hot soapy water
  • Sponge
  • Clean dish towel

Instructions

  1. Dump out any existing coffee or old grounds and disposable filters. Rinse and replace the carafe and if you use a reusable filter, rinse and replace that as well. 
  2. Fill the water chamber to its full capacity with a solution of one part vinegar to one part fresh, clean water.
  3. Start a brew cycle, but turn off the machine half-way through the brew cycle. Let it sit for one hour.
  4. After it sits, turn the machine back on and let the brew cycle finish.
  5. When complete, discard the vinegar-water solution and run three cycles of water only. Use fresh, new water each time, and allow your machine to cool slightly between brews.
  6. Fill the carafe with hot, sudsy water, and ½ cup of rice. Swirl the mixture to loosen gunk, then scrub with a sponge and rinse well.
  7. Wipe down the exterior of your coffee maker with soap and hot water. Let the parts air dry, or dry with a fresh, clean cloth, and leave the lid to the water chamber open to dry out.

*Pro tip: Always use clean sponges and cloths when washing and drying your coffee maker, and do not reuse the cloth to dry dishes. The same study mentioned above also found that about half of the coffee mugs in an average kitchen contain fecal bacteria, likely from contaminated cleaning cloths!


How often should you clean your coffee maker?

You should deep clean your home coffee maker at least once a month to keep your java free of nasties and tasting fresh!

How do I clean my coffee maker without vinegar?

Cleaning with vinegar is a biodegradable and chemical-free way to remove grime and build-up. Though it is not a registered disinfectant, it has sanitizing and antifungal properties, effectively killing most types of mould and bacteria found on non-porous surfaces in the home. It also acts as a deodorizer and cuts grease.

However, it can leave behind an acidic vinegar smell and taste if not rinsed properly. If you are concerned about compromising the flavour of your favourite brew, there are other effective alternatives. In place of vinegar, fill your water chamber with water and mix in one of the following agents. Then, follow the same steps outlined above.

  • Lemon Juice – ½ cup
  • Baking Soda – ¼ cup per cup of warm water (mix to dissolve)
  • Cream of Tartar – 3 tablespoons (mix to dissolve)
  • Hydrogen peroxide – 1 cup
  • Denture tablets – 2 tablets (Allow the fizzing/dissolving action to complete)
  • Alcohol/Vodka – 3 parts alcohol to 1 part water
  • Alka Seltzer/antacid tablets – 2 tablets (Allow the fizzing/dissolving action to complete)

Practice these super-easy methods to protect your machine from harmful critters, and ensure that all of your cups are filled with rich, delicious goodness every time you brew!

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