How to Unclog a Coffee Maker

A coffee maker is a common household appliance, and one that many Americans rely on to start their day. Because a coffee maker has become a standard appliance in the United States and because there is so much reliance on coffee, it can be exceptionally frustrating to learn that your coffee maker is out of commission or otherwise not working. Fortunately, there are several reasons that a coffee maker may have become clogged, and most of them are easy to fix.

Mug stands in a coffee machine
credit: fottograff/iStock/GettyImages
There are several reasons that a coffee maker may have become clogged, and most of them are easy to fix.

How Coffee Makers Get Clogged

Sometimes when people see their coffee maker has stopped brewing coffee and is just creating steam, they assume that the coffee maker is broken and that they have to throw it away. When you start to think "my coffee maker won't brew," don't panic and throw it out. The fact is that more often than not your coffee maker is merely clogged and malfunctioning, not broken beyond repair.

Coffee makers essentially work by passing hot water through ground coffee beans. When your coffee pot remains empty, but the water heats up, you are most likely looking at a clog in the coffee maker. This is annoying, but the good news is that it is relatively easy to repair and should be fixed fairly quickly.

Something alarming to consider is that your coffee maker might be moldy. Yes, mold can gather in the insides of coffee makers because it is a warm, damp environment, which is a breeding ground for bacteria and all manner of germs to develop. Fortunately, if you're cleaning your coffee maker regularly, not only are you preventing the growth of mold, you are also preventing clogs.

When to Clean Coffee Maker

There are several signs that you might need to clean your coffee maker. Any of them may be present, or you may be dealing with a combination of a few. If you use your coffee maker every day, you will be able to tell that something is wrong pretty immediately. If you don't use a coffee maker every day, you might have a more difficult time assessing how long something has been wrong.

If your Mr. Coffee beeps without actually brewing anything, or if your coffee tastes "off" or weird, you probably need to take a look at the inside mechanisms of your coffee pot. If your coffee is taking an exceptionally long time to brew, or if your coffee maker is making all the noises associated with brewing but not brewing anything, those are other signs that something is afoot and should be investigated.

One of the major considerations to take into account is the water you use in your coffee maker. If you live somewhere with hard water that contains a lot of minerals, the likelihood is high that you are going to wind up with some hard water mineral buildup inside the coffee maker. This buildup can take the form of scaly white patches that grow outward and affix themselves to the interior walls of your coffee maker.

Keurig Not Brewing

If you notice that your Keurig isn't brewing, it's time to take a look inside. All coffee makers are different, and Keurig's technology is appreciably different from the kind of technology used by a Mr. Coffee coffee maker or a French press. For that reason, it's a good idea to familiarize yourself with the inner workings of your Keurig as soon as you get it so that when something seems amiss you'll know exactly how to troubleshoot it.

Often, the culprit is that layers of residue have built up and clogged the pump of your Keurig. Fortunately, these minerals aren't harmful to our bodies. This doesn't change the fact that buildup can be extremely difficult for your Keurig to push through. The best way to clear a clogged Keurig is to make sure it doesn't get clogged in the first place. A thorough, regular cleaning of your Keurig should eliminate the need for troubleshooting clogs.

How to Clean a Keurig

Open the top of your Keurig and dump out any old grounds that may be lingering in the basket. Return the basket to the place where it lives in the machine. Then, fill the water reservoir halfway with hot water and the remaining half with distilled white vinegar. Although vinegar is probably the last taste you want to experience when you're drinking coffee, it's one of the best ways to get your coffee maker clear of buildup and running smoothly again.

Vinegar and hot water together will loosen any build up as well as deodorizing and disinfecting the inside of your Keurig. Run the Keurig as you normally would make coffee. When the cycle has completed, pour the water and vinegar back into the reservoir and run the coffee maker again. If your clog is severe, try it a third time.

Once you've successfully run the water and vinegar mixture through the machine two or three times, it's a good idea to wash the pot in soapy water, scrubbing at it to remove any film or stains it may have acquired. Then, remove the basket from the coffee maker and wash it thoroughly. Use a toothbrush or a scrub brush to get every single bit of grounds out of the basket before replacing it in its holder.

Check Keurig After Cleaning

Once you've cleaned the coffee maker, disinfected it and done whatever's necessary to ensure that no buildup remains in the pot, fill the reservoir once again with clean, cool water and run the machine again. Then, do this twice more. This will help ensure that all the vinegar you ran through the system is now out of the pot and that you can proceed with making coffee without fear that it will taste like a salad.

If you want to clean the exterior of your machine, do so with a spray solution of water and vinegar. This removes water spots, dirt and any bacteria that might be clinging to the exterior of the pot. Once you've cleaned it thoroughly you should do this cleansing ritual once per month. Regularly cleaning can help you use your Keurig without interruption and keep it running smoothly all the time.

Mr. Coffee Troubleshooting

It's generally sensible to assume that any clogging or slow performance from your Mr. Coffee is related to the buildup of minerals from hard water. You can cut down on this occurrence by using only filtered or spring water when brewing your coffee. But more often than not, this is an expense outside of most people's budgets. If you live in an area with hard water and you can drink the tap water comfortably without much stress, you'll likely use that for making coffee.

Once you've cleared any buildup, if you find that your Mr. Coffee still isn't working well, you should try to check the tube in your coffee maker and make sure that no errant grounds or other buildup are blocking the way to the rest of the machine. If you find that there is no issue with the flow of water within the mechanism, your next task is to confirm that the thermostat is working.

When confronted with any unusual or frustrating circumstances with your coffeemaker, it is always wise to unplug the machine, wait for it to cool down and slowly take it apart. The better you understand the inner workings of your coffee machine the easier it will be to unclog.


Ashley Friedman

Ashley Friedman

Ashley Friedman is a freelance writer with experience working in the home, design and interiors space.