The Keurig has become a common device in homes and offices because of its convenience: There’s nothing like popping a K-Cup in and getting an instant cup of hot, fresh coffee. The machine’s invention has even sparked similar products for different food and drink. However, there are times when a Keurig isn’t so convenient — especially when it starts getting clogged up with grime and scale, then refuses to work properly.
Scale, in particular, can be frustrating: Water, primarily hard water, has trace amounts of minerals floating around in it. These mineral particles tend to react to high temperatures, which force them out of their harmless state and make them bond to nearby surfaces. As this happens over and over, a limestone-like layer, called scale, builds up. It means trouble for your Keurig because it decreases water flow, makes it impossible to properly measure a cup, and can eventually block up your Keurig completely.
To prevent the build-up of scale, avoid nasty odors and mold, and make sure that your Keurig is functioning as flawlessly as possible, it’s important to clean it out. That’s why we created a quick guide that will walk you through how to clean your Keurig. We’ll show you the best way to clean out this coffee maker, where to start, and what materials to use. You can also read our guide on how to eliminate scale.
Step 1: Wash and wipe the reservoir and other removable parts
Start by unplugging the Keurig; you don’t want to damage the electronics or risk electrocution. Then remove all the components that you can, including the water reservoir, the mug stand/drip tray, and the K-Cup holder inside the coffee maker. Carry them all over to the kitchen sink and give them a thorough wash with soapy water, just like they were ordinary dishes. Set them aside to dry while you work on other components.
This is also a great time to take a washcloth or a wet paper towel and give the whole Keurig a good wipe down. The coffee maker, especially in busy settings, can collect a lot of dust over time. You don’t want any of that dust mixing with your fresh water or coffee when you’re finished here, so it’s a good idea to give the surface a general cleaning.
Step 2: Clean all the crevices
Get a small cleaning brush (a toothbrush works well here), and a pin or paperclip. It’s time to give your Keurig a more detailed cleaning for the remaining components. While this may seem like an unnecessary step, it’s very important to ensure the purity of your water and the quality of coffee you get from your machine. Over time, grit and grime can build up in the crevices of your Keurig, causing clogs and affecting taste. Get rid of this detritus to improve durability and performance.
Start by cleaning all around the K-Cup location where the K-Cup holder is placed. Different Keurig models have slightly different insert methods, but the basics are the same. Use the brush to clean around the pod holder and the deep nooks in this part of the Keurig. Grit and lost coffee grounds tend to collect here. A flashlight or good overhead lighting is helpful here. A nearby bowl of water or cloth can help, but try to avoid using soapy water for this stage — that soap may prove difficult to get out, and you don’t want it tainting your coffee.
When that is finished, get out your pin/paperclip and examine those toothy components that poke into the K-Cups. There should be a small hole in each “tooth” for the hot water/coffee to pass through. Poke your pin through that hole and wiggle it around to loosen any caked-on debris and help remove any blockages. If your Keurig has been running slowly, it could be a clog in one of these holes that is causing it. Yes, there are dedicated Keurig needle cleaning tools available, but you probably only want one of these for unclogging a Keurig in a busy office or similar situation.
Step 3: Run through with vinegar
Many Keurig components are inside the coffee maker, well out of your reach. Fortunately, there’s an easier way to conduct an internal cleaning than dismantling the whole machine: Common kitchen vinegar is acidic enough to remove scale buildup but harmless to the rest of the Keurig. Take the water reservoir and fill it with half white vinegar and half fresh water. Lock it back into the Keurig base, put all the other components back in place, and get a mug handy. It’s time to make some hot vinegar.
Run the Keurig on normal settings and keep filling mugs with the vinegar mixture until it is completely gone. This is going to stink a little, but as we said, it’s not harmful to your Keurig and it will help remove that scale. It’s possible that a clog will form during this descaling process. If it does, open up the top and use your pin again to poke the holes and see if you can dislodge any particles that may have become trapped.
For a full cleaning, it’s a good idea to run two full reservoirs of half vinegar, half water. If your Keurig is still in good shape or you don’t have much time, a single full reservoir can work just fine.
Note: Keurig does sell a descaling solution of its own, if you really want a brand-name product to work with. White vinegar, however, is cheaper and easier to find. Also, the Keurig solution uses citric acid as its active ingredient and there are some complaints that the smell and taste linger past their welcome. There are also a number of other Keurig cleaning products on the market, like “cleaning cups” and “rinse pods.” We don’t recommend any of them, because vinegar can get the job done much cheaper.
Step 4: Wash out the vinegar with water
You don’t want that vinegar to stay in the Keurig, so fill the reservoir back up with fresh water and run through a full container again to flush it all out. Make sure it passes the smell test when it’s done. Once this is finished, your Keurig performance should be improved, and scale problems should have literally dissipated.
It’s a good idea to repeat this type of cleaning on a consistent basis, especially if your Keurig sees a lot of action. Depending on your water source, Keurig recommends descaling your machine at least once every three to six months. Remember that hard water is more likely to cause problems than soft water. If you have scale issues, you may want to stay away from tap water and use filtered water or bottled water instead.
Bonus tip: Replace your filter cartridge
Some Keurig models come with water filters that are part of the water reservoir. If your Keurig has one of these filters, then you will need to occasionally replace the cartridge, about every 60 tanks or so. These filters can improve taste, but they can also help make clogs and other problems less likely.
You can make even more of a difference by switching to bottled or fully filtered water instead of filling the reservoir with tap water (also a good idea if your unit has no filter). However, this might be a more expensive option.