Jolie Kerr is a cleaning expert and advice columnist. She’ll be here every other week helping to answer your filthiest questions. Are you dirty? Check the Squalor Archive for assistance. Are you still dirty? Email her.

So here’s a Tweet.

I like to think that after close to five years doing this job, nothing you can ask of me will make my stomach do actual, literal flip-flops. I should not ever, under any circumstances, underestimate you.

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I say that to say this: Yes, you absolutely can clean the machine in a way that renders it usable after a roach infestation. But I would also not blame you at all if you decided to trash the coffee maker in favor of a new one, because you can bleach the machine, but you can’t bleach your brain. That kind of thing runs a bit contrary to my usual stance of encouraging you to salvage, through cleaning, your belongings rather than toss them in a trash heap and indulge in a bit of retail therapy. But I’m saying this because it’s true: If roaches invaded my coffee maker, I WOULD THROW THAT THING OUT SO FAST, OH MY GOD. It’s not rational, but it is honest.

With that said, there are plenty of roach-related and non-roach-related reasons to clean a coffee maker, which is what we’re going to review today. Before we talk specifically about how to clean a Keurig or any other similar pod-style brewing system, let’s begin with the instructions for cleaning a regular old drip coffee maker.

Oh, actually?!? Let’s not even begin there. Let’s begin with a poll! Mostly because I’m curious about how you’re making your coffee, if at all, but maybe the results will spark something—it’s just now occurring to me that there’s a dearth of coffee-related programming in these parts, and we oughta correct that. So, my poll. Take it, won’t you?

How to Clean a Drip Coffee Maker

The good news is that if you know how to brew a pot of coffee in a drip coffee maker, you’re entirely equipped to clean the thing.

  1. Fill the carafe with equal parts white vinegar and water, and pour that solution into the water reservoir.
  2. Put the empty carafe on the warming plate, turn the machine on, and allow the pot to brew.
  3. Turn the machine off and let the carafe cool; when you are able to handle it, dump the vinegar and water solution and wash the carafe with hot, soapy water. Rinse well, refill with clean water, pour it into the reservoir, and turn the machine on.
  4. Repeat step three, using your judgment as to whether or not the machine needs a second rinse cycle. A good way to determine if a second rinse cycle is needed is to check the quality of the water that was brewed during the first rinse—if it’s coffee-tinged or smells strongly of vinegar, go ahead and do another brew cycle with clean water.
  5. When you feel happy with the state of your machine, go ahead and take out any removable parts like the filter basket and wash them with hot, soapy water.

So that’s it! Not terribly difficult, and as a bonus, the brewed vinegar will have an odor-eliminating effect on your kitchen.

Vinegar Alternatives for the Vinegar-Averse

It is a good question! Perhaps you’ve suffered a roach trauma and you don’t feel that vinegar will be enough to clean your coffee maker/brain. Or perhaps you hate the smell of vinegar? Fear not, roach-sufferers and vinegar-deniers! Alternatives are here: There are loads of commercial products like Dip-It Automatic Drip Coffeemaker Cleaner, Brew Rite Coffee Maker Cleaner, and Urnex Clearly Coffee Liquid Coffee Pot Cleaner that you can choose from. Mr. Coffee even makes his own Coffeemaker Cleaner, because he thinks of everything.

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(Listen, in my mind, Mr. Coffee is a real person, and I don’t care to hear your facts and other such nonsense suggesting otherwise.)

You may also use bleach or a more general-purpose descaling product, though caveats are required: In the case of bleach, you only need a very tiny amount. A teaspoon to a tablespoon, at most. Don’t be heavy-handed with the bleach, is what I’m trying to tell you, unless you want to drink chlorinated coffee, in which case knock yourself out, you weirdo. When it comes to descalers like CLR, you should be aware that many users report difficulty in rinsing the machine fully after cleaning.

How to Clean a Keurig

The process of cleaning a Keurig or other single-cup coffee makers is similar to cleaning a drip coffee maker— the basic idea is to brew a cycle with vinegar and water, followed by a water-only rinse cycle. The biggest difference is that the process is a bit more sloggy with the Keurig, because both the clean and rinse cycles are only one cup long. So you’ll brew. And then brew again.

What follows are the steps to take to clean standard Keurig machines, which means that it’s time for me to note that you should, of course, check the manual for the specific instructions for cleaning your specific machine.

  1. Turn off the power, dump out any water in the reservoir, and fill the tank with equal parts white vinegar and water. If there’s a used K-Cup in the pack holder, remove and discard it.
  2. Place a large mug on the drip tray plate and brew a cup of the vinegar/water solution using the largest mug-size setting. Discard the brew.
  3. Repeat, brewing cups of the water/vinegar solution until the “add water” indicator comes on the machine, then allow the machine to stand for 30 minutes while still turned on. After 30 minutes, remove the reservoir and wash it with hot, soapy water.
  4. Refill the reservoir with clean water, place a large mug on the drip tray plate, and run 12 fresh water cycles using the largest mug-size setting. Refill the reservoir if needed.

If you hate white vinegar and you’re a Keurig user, the brand offers a Descaling Solution. It is, however, quite expensive. Like, $13-for-a-single-use-bottle expensive. To use it, pour the entire bottle into the water reservoir in place of the vinegar/water mixture, then fill the empty bottle with water and add that to the reservoir, then follow steps two through four.

But, Like, How Often Do I Have to Clean the Thing?

The answer to this line of inquiry is always the same, and always frustrating: It depends. Sorry, but it’s the truth, and I’m committed to being honest with you, even when you’ll hate me for it. Because I know that’s a not-very-helpful answer, I’ll give you a general rule that you can apply to your life: Aim to clean your coffee maker every 40-80 brews. If you have a single-cup brewer, Keurig recommends cleaning your machine every three to six months. But that’s probably because they want to sell you on two to four bottles of their pricey descaling stuff, so grains of salt, grains of salt.

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Another obvious way to think about the “how often?” question is this: If your coffee starts tasting funky? Go ahead and assume it’s time to clean the machine in which it’s made.


Jolie Kerr is Deadspin’s resident cleaning expert and the author of the book My Boyfriend Barfed in My Handbag … And Other Things You Can’t Ask Martha (Plume). Follow her on Twitter, or email her: jolie@deadspin.com.

Illustration by Sam Woolley.

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