Man pouring in hot coffee in the morning

Can coffee makers make you sick?

Every day, you faithfully start your day by brewing up your coffee in your coffee maker. Maybe you drink just one or two cups, or maybe you drink an entire pot of the stuff. But no matter how much of your home-brewed coffee you’re drinking, you might unwittingly be subjecting yourself to something very dangerous.

And no, we’re not talking about caffeine.

Having a coffee machine is one of the quintessential appliances in every coffee-drinkers’ home. If you’re a daily coffee-drinker, it’s likely your most commonly used appliance. But how often do you actually clean it out?

Be honest…no judgement here! Not everyone remembers to do this simple task. We might rinse out the pot and the filter basket, but when was the last time you cleaned out your coffee maker? If you can’t remember, it’s high-time you got down to it immediately.

If you think it can wait, think again. By neglecting to fully clean your coffee maker at regular intervals, you allow harmful bacteria to breed. Your body can tackle some of this stuff but only to a certain degree. After that, you might find yourself feeling rather unwell.

It’s more common than you think. Investigative journalists in Chicago, Dallas, and Pittsburgh conducted a swab test on 28 home coffee machines and found millions of particles of harmful bacteria and mold in the water tank, drip tray, spout, and in coffee pod compartments.

You don’t have to give up your home coffee habit though. Now that you know about these disgusting stowaways lurking in your carafe, you can do something about it. We have automatic shut-off features and other programming items on modern coffee machines but to date, nothing has been created for a self-cleaning coffee maker. Until that happens, it’s up to you to clean it.

Before you roll up your sleeves and head into the kitchen though, you should keep reading this to find out if perhaps the way you’ve been feeling has been caused by germs and bacteria built up in your coffee maker and to see how to properly maintain it so you can enjoy the freshest cup of coffee with complete peace of mind every time you brew.

Why Your Coffee Machine Might Make You Sick

According to scientific studies like this paper published in the journal AEM (Applied Environmental Microbiology), it seems that coffee machines have the potential to increase our exposure to fungal toxins. They release steam indoors which increases water and humidity. This is very conducive to helping fungi thrive.

If you live in a hot and humid setting, you stand an even greater risk to exposure. It’s important to know the signs of whether or not your coffee is making you sick. It’s also just as important to clean your coffee machine thoroughly at regular intervals. We’ll get to that shortly, but first, you probably want to know what signs you’d see if your coffee were causing you to be ill.

Signs that your coffee maker is making you sick

  1. Bitter coffee
    Have you brewed a pot of coffee for it to come out with a bitter taste? Perhaps you blamed the beans for not being fresh enough, and while in some cases that might be true, you should definitely make sure your coffee pot has been cleaned properly first. If it’s a brand new bag of coffee beans and you’ve just ground it up and that bitter taste is present, this is your first clue that the coffee machine needs a good cleaning to get rid of the bacteria and mold.
  2. Allergies
    Have you been sneezing a lot but have no fever or other signs of illness? If you seem to break out into a fit of sneezing or a few here and there near your kitchen, there could be mold spores in your coffee maker, and likely in your morning coffee too. Mold is an irritant which can trigger sneezing. If you haven’t cleaned your machine in a while and keep sneezing when you’re close by, you’d better go clean it now!
  3. Headaches, stuffiness, itchy eyes, and irritation, oh my!
    When you feel like you’ve got other allergy symptoms like congestion, itchy and watery eyes, skin irritation, or headaches, you might find that cleaning your coffee maker solves these problems. If the pollen count is low outside and you’re feeling unwell inside, your coffee pot could be the problem.
    Another way to tell is if you travel out of town and you feel better with no frequent headaches or symptoms. If, upon your return, you feel dull after your coffee, it might just be mold from your coffee machine.
  4. Gastrointestinal distress
    Perhaps you’ve been bloated, gassy, have diarrhea, or in extreme cases, vomiting. While most people won’t be at that extreme point, your gastrointestinal issues might be the result of your coffee maker being contaminated.
  5. Respiratory infections
    If you have chronic bronchitis or sinus infections, you might want to check your coffee maker. Coughing up blood is another sign, though an extreme one, that you’ve been exposed.
  6. Memory loss
    Coffee is supposed to perk you up and put more pep in your step. It’s supposed to help you feel focused. If you feel like you have brain fog all the time, even after drinking it, it could contain mold. When high amounts of mold enter your body, it can lead to damage in the brain and create long-term memory loss.

There’s no reason to be scared… just be aware! If any of these symptoms apply to you and you haven’t yet been to the doctor for a checkup, go! And if you haven’t cleaned out your coffee pot, we’re going to walk you through what to do so you can feel healthy and drink coffee with a clear conscious every day. Remember, coffee has antioxidants in it which are good for you!

But these symptoms clearly show that your coffee maker is not being good to you. In order for it to be at its best, you’ll need to be good to it and clean it thoroughly. After doing a deep clean which we’ll soon discuss, you’ll want to clean it regularly. When you do, use white vinegar or baking soda to kill off the germs. You should also use filtered water when you brew. You can get a filter for your sink to make it more convenient.

Additionally, you should be sure all water is cleared out and changed after every use. And when you’re done brewing, leaving the lid off the top allows your coffee maker to get some fresh air rather than trap dampness inside where fungi thrive.

How to Know if Mold is Living In Your Coffee Maker?

While you might not want to wait and have a swab-test done to see if mold is in fact present in your coffee machine before you set off to clean it, you can probably taste that something is amiss. As we discussed before, most people are prone to blaming the coffee itself for having a bitter taste. But the bitterness is a sure sign that mold is present in your machine.

You can be sure if you have fresh coffee beans. When you brew up a pot of coffee, if the result is bitter, bad-tasting coffee, it’s very likely that the result of that bitterness is not the coffee itself but rather, spores lurking inside the machine.

And of course, if you don’t want to be a walking science experiment, you should go ahead and clean that coffee maker right away!

Why You Should Clean Your Coffee Maker If You Don’t See any Mold?

“But my coffee tastes great,” you might say. And that’s wonderful if it does. To be sure it always stays that way and your health is in great condition, you should keep up a routine of cleaning your coffee maker.

For one, it kills off any germs. Your body can resist some of these germs without a problem. Just because they’re not making you sick yet doesn’t mean they’re not there. For another, cleaning your coffee machine with regularity prolongs its life. A good coffee machine is an investment that you should protect.

You’ll also benefit by keeping the brewing temperature consistent when the water flow isn’t restricted. And of course, when you clean your coffee maker routinely, you’ll enjoy the best flavor from your coffee.

So, how should you be cleaning your coffee maker?

For starters, after every use, dump out the coffee ground and rinse out your filter basket. This is a place mold spores love! If you have time after the brewing to wash the carafe, do so then. If not or your spouse is still getting ready and has yet to fill up their cup, it can wait until later.

  • When you do wash the carafe each day, use warm, soapy water. Wash the lid and filter basket too while you’re at it. Any part that can be removed should be set out to dry.
  • Every week, you should take the time to give a thorough washing to all removable parts. You can do it by hand or if you’d prefer, in the dishwasher on the top rack. When you clean your coffee maker’s removable parts religiously, you reduce the bacteria and coffee bean oils present in your machine and allow for a safer, healthier coffee-drinking experience.
  • Once a month, perhaps on a weekend when you have more down time, fill your carafe with a ratio of 1:1 white vinegar and water and put it through the brewing cycle. This will kill off mold and germs while removing mineral deposits from the tubing. You should stop and start the process halfway through, but if you forget, you can always run it again. For the best results, make sure you run one complete cycle of plain water following the cleansing so your next pot of coffee you brew doesn’t have a funky taste. If you have soft water, you can manage up to 3 months without doing this vinegar cleanse, though if you want to ensure there are no gross bits in your coffee, you should aim for a monthly cleaning.

Conclusion

If you have ever felt suddenly off after having your home-brew coffee, chances are that it’s been the result of a dirty coffee machine. When diarrhea strikes right after you finish that first cup, you have stomach cramps, daily headaches, or even stuffy nose for seemingly no reason, you might have been the victim of spores and bacteria.

Spread the news, not the germs! If you haven’t yet sprung up from your sofa to go clean your coffee pot, now’s your chance! Make it a habit so your coffee will always taste its best and that you will always feel your best. For those of you that lack the time in the morning before work, at the very least chuck out the coffee grounds. When you get home from work as you’re starting dinner, take a moment to quickly wash your coffee pot.

Once a month, devote time to cleaning your coffee machine thoroughly with a vinegar cycle. You should start feeling better once you keep up with this habit. Additionally, you’ll notice your coffee tastes better, and your coffee pot may even brew faster.

What’s most troubling though is that most people don’t know this. You’ll be doing them a great favor if you share this with them so that they can keep their coffee makers clean and their bill of health too. Then when they offer you coffee at their home, you can happily accept without any qualms, and invite them over for the same!

While there are many types of coffee makers out there for your home, each of them can be cleaned. If you still have your manual handy, pull it out and see what the manufacturer recommends for proper care and maintenance too.

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