As expressed in a previous post, the best tasting coffee, in my humble opinion, is made using a French Press. However, time does not always make the French Press approach feasible, so there is the coffee making machine. Both options require a certain amount of maintenance, however; the coffee maker only needs it periodically as opposed to after every use.
You can usually tell when it’s time to provide a little tender loving care to your coffee maker when it starts to act and look like it needs it. Regular cleaning needs to be done after about a month of daily use, sometimes less.
The Internals – Begin by filling the reservoir with half white vinegar and half water. The ratio of vinegar to water can be adjusted based on the amount of calcium deposits visible. Allow to set for 15 minutes to a half an hour before turning the unit on. Brew about half of the amount then shut it off and allow to stand for another 15 to 30 minutes. Many suggest using a fresh coffee filter for this process, but I don’t see the benefit – it only uses up a perfectly good coffee filter.
Turn the unit on again, allowing the remainder of the vinegar/water solution to brew into the carafe, before turning off and allowing to cool completely. Once cooled, fill the reservoir with cold water and brew the entire amount. It may take a couple of cycles with plain water to eliminate the vinegar essence.
The Hot Plate – The hot plate will begin to accumulate char deposits over a period of time that will produce a burning aroma and can hamper it’s ability to regulate the temperature which can harm the machine if left undone for an extended period of time. It has been noted in some instances that the black residue is, in fact, melted plastic resulting from the intense heat buildup. Use warm, soapy water and a soft scrubber to clean the plate then wipe it dry with a rag or paper towel.
The Carafe – There are several methods to cleaning the carafe, one of which is used extensively in the restaurant business which entails swishing around a combination of salt and ice in the carafe to eliminate scum before rinsing it out with water and allowing to dry. Also, it is safe to use bleach and allow to soak for a period of time which will remove coffee stains, making sure to rinse thoroughly with cold water and allow to completely dry before using again.
When the coffee maker begins to show signs of struggling (sporadic brewing, not producing the full amount, running noticeably hotter), it may be time to clean the tubes inside. Some manufacturers like Mr. Coffee and Cuisinart, suggest removing the bottom of the unit then removing the tubes and replacing the valve or cleaning then replacing the old valve. This seems extremely labor intensive to me and dangerous as well, so I suggest using a long plastic straw to find the input hole at the bottom of the reservoir and giving it a good blow. Beware of residual contents coming out of the output passages when you do this. Also, it is helpful to completely empty the maker then use your sink’s vegetable sprayer (the stronger the better) to blow out the inputs and outputs inside the reservoir. I’ve had nothing but positive results using this method.
When to replace the unit
Nothing lasts forever, especially heavily used automatic coffee makers. If the hot plate refuses to even turn on, it is time to replace the unit.
Eventually, routine cleaning won’t be enough, warranting the acquisition of a replacement, which is preferable to taking the unit completely apart and replacing individual parts.
Then again, you could always revert to the French Press.