Monday, October 25, 2010

Clean. Your. Coffeemaker.


I am not usually a bossy person.

But I am begging you. 

For the love of all things good and decent...

Clean your coffeemaker!

For months I have done what I suspect many of you do each evening before bed.

I measure out coffee grinds, place them in the filter basket, and add the appropriate amount of water to the coffeemaker reservoir.* 

This way, when I walk zombie-like into the dark kitchen at 5:30 in the morning, my extended index finger has the most important job of pressing the "Brew Now" button.  I don't have to turn on the lights.   I don't have to do any math.

It's been wonderful.

But that chapter in my life is now closed.

Last night, as I was cleaning the kitchen, I gave the coffeemaker a thorough wipe-down with a dish rag.  It occurred to me to look down into the dark depths of the water reservoir.

I took microbiology in college.  I should know better.  But through a combination of laziness ("Blah...I'll clean it better tomorrow") and busyness (Blah!!...I don't have time to clean it tonight!"), I have put it off.

Oh. My. Goodness.

Have you ever heard of biofilm? 

Biofilms are a collection of microorganisms (like bacteria) surrounded and protected by the goo they secrete. 

For the past 11 years, I've worked for a San Antonio-based research and development company, Biomedical Development Corporation (BDC). We study biofilms and many other health-related things.

At BDC, we've said for years that biofilms are like luxurious condominiums for bacteria. 

You've encountered biofilm before, you just might not know it. 

It's the slime in the dog's water bowl, the slippery goo on your kids' bathtub toys.  It's even the plaque on your teeth. 

Biofilm lives wherever surfaces come in contact with water.

Like the reservoir in the coffeemaker. 

Like the waterlines in the coffeemaker.

In my defense, I do follow the manufacturer's instructions, using vinegar and the "Clean" cycle once a month. 

But when I peered down into the reservoir last night, I knew it was not enough.  Unfortunately the coffeemaker doesn't come apart, so there is no way to scrub and physically remove the biofilm.  I tried to reach down there, and I even used a bamboo skewer with a paper towel taped around the end to try and wipe off the biofilm.  When I retracted it and looked at the paper towel, I freaked.

Seriously?  This is what the water I eventually drink as coffee has been mingling with every night for the last 6 months?  The coffeemaker mucus? 

It made me want to curl into the fetal position under the kitchen table and suck my thumb.

How many people NEVER seriously clean their coffeemaker? 

Think about it.

Office coffeemakers.

Restaurant coffeemakers.

Church coffeemakers.

Hotel room coffeemakers.

The coffeemaker down at the oil change place.

And Starbucks?  I'm calling the corporate offices and asking them how they clean their machines.**

And I wonder:  what sort of bacteria are living in this particular type of biofilm and what, if any, illnesses do they cause?

And how many people have been feeling bad for years, never connecting the unseen goo in the coffeemaker with their malaise?

It took me over an hour to clean the coffeemaker last night.  I considered power washing it. I eventually resorted to bleach and near-boiling water.  Violently shaking the appliance, I tried my best to dislodge all of the nasty and to reach every nook and cranny.

I rinsed it really well, brewed a couple of 12-cup pots with just hot water, and let it dry out all night long.

And this morning, I used the French Press.

*I realize that if you do not allow the water to sit in the coffeemaker overnight, you won't have such a bad biofilm problem.  But it will still get to some level of disgusting.  Trust me.  Especially after YEARS of never really cleaning it.

**UPDATE:  Starbucks gets a gold star for using a product called Urnex.  They appear to be very aware of the issue and make cleanliness a huge priority.  Phew!


Anonymous said...

You've convinced me. I'm going to check the old Mr. Coffee as well as the espresso machine. Yuk!

Heather said...

Omg. Gag o' maggots. Glad I just drink tea and clean out my teapot daily. Its much easier. That would be my solution...."Drink TEA"

Anonymous said...

This was funny to read! Especially the fetal position part...You could look on the bright side and think about how robust your immune system must be after learning to disregard repeated cups of cafe de biofilm. :)

Kim Korb said...

I bet that French Press tasted better anyways!

Caneel said...

Oh yuck! We have a single serve coffeemaker that only holds two full cups worth of water and is emptied every day. I wonder if that helps? I do clean it with vinegar ...

Anonymous said...

I don't drink coffee but I'm deeply disturbed by the way my husband "cleans" the coffee maker.

Kat said...

Yuck. I just noticed TODAY water lines on my water reservoir tank for my espresso machine when I went to fill it. I thought, huh, look at that. I wondered if they were just hard water rings. The tank is getting a good scrubbing, a vinegar water bath, and several hot water rinsings. That goes for the dog's water bowl also.

Biofilm. Gross! Who knew?

Princess Anne said...

Has it hurt you in the past six months???? chug away my friend.

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