What Happens If You Never Clean Your Coffee Maker?

updated May 13, 2021
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Credit: Joe Lingeman

I found out the really hard, still-shudder-inducing way what can happen if you never clean your coffee maker. 

It was 2008 and I was a new copywriter at an allergy product company. Open office plans were the thing, and our team sat in desks in a sectioned-off area of a warehouse. A good number of us were creative introverts who would have enjoyed the cubicle life; even at a distance of 10 feet, we Instant Messaged each other instead of talking face to face.

I used a space heater (Atlanta winters are cold and warehouses don’t hold heat), headphones, and a regularly refilled cup of coffee to create a little world for myself at my desk, even as it and I sat smack in the middle of everything else. One day, though, I was forced to stop using the break room coffee filter — cold turkey. Our officemate told us she’d found an intrusion of cockroaches who’d taken up residence in the machine.

Although it’s apparently not that common to find cockroaches in a coffee machine, my personal story and this one are enough to have me a little scared — and are more than enough to convince me that these machines need to be cleaned regularly.

With most of America making more coffee at home now than ever before, I’ve been thinking a lot about this. How bad is it if people don’t clean their home coffee makers all that often? Or, well, ever?

Curious, I got in touch with a lovely Mr. Coffee representative by the name of Meida and, although she told me that she has never heard of anyone with a cockroach intrusion in their coffee maker, she fields calls about broken coffee makers all the time. Most of these problems, she says, are due to people not cleaning their units. 

Credit: Joe Lingeman

“We highly suggest you clean your coffee maker at least once a month.” She went on to explain: “Every time you brew coffee, the debris from the beans and the hard water and lime deposits build up inside in the machine. It needs to be cleaned to remove those deposits and to keep your coffee fresh.”

I asked Meida what typically happens when people don’t clean their units as often as they should. She said that in addition to coffee not tasting good, “Machines that aren’t cleaned will clog up. The water won’t flow and the machine either stops working or starts leaking.” These are the two problems people call in about most often. And because they’re caused by infrequent cleaning, a good cleaning session usually fixes the problem. 

Meida also pointed out that coffee makers present “ideal conditions for mold and bacteria” because they are dark, damp, and often warm. But again, consistent cleaning will make sure that mold and bacteria don’t have a chance to grow.

Thankfully, routine cleaning maintenance isn’t complicated. Coffee pros suggest a descaler and Cafiza for the task. Cleaning the inside of your machine and descaling it once a month or every two months will do the trick — however, I’ve also heard the suggestion of descaling the machine every time you run through a box of filters (typically 100-count). The most important thing is to just remember to clean it!

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