How to Clean a Percolator

Percolator coffee

Many people enjoy using automatic drip coffee makers while others still enjoy brewing their coffee the old-fashioned way — in a percolator. These tried-and-true coffee makers have stood the test of time by consistently brewing strong, great-tasting coffee.

To ensure you continue to serve the best tasting coffee cup after cup, it is important to know how to clean a percolator. That's because repeated use over time can cause a build-up of scum that results in a bitter or weird taste.

We realize many people may not know how to clean a percolator properly, so we did our research to learn the correct technique. Here, we share with you what you need to get started and then offer suggestions on how to clean a percolator correctly.

What Is a Percolator?

A percolator is a coffee maker that features a small chamber/basket and a spreader cover in the top that holds ground coffee beans. When water in the pot is heated to a boil, the water rises through a tube that runs up through the middle of the pot. 

The boiling water circulates through the chamber and brews the coffee, returning the finished product to the pot below. During this process, the coffee maker gives off a very distinct sound that gives it its name — it percolates. When the sound disappears, that's the signal that your java is finished and ready to be served.

1. What Does a Percolator Do?

Coffee lovers appreciate a percolator because it brews very strong coffee. Because of the process it uses, the water runs repeatedly over the ground coffee beans, giving a stronger "cup of Joe" than the average drip coffee maker that only runs the water through the grounds once.

2. Is It Necessary to Use a Filter with a Percolator?

The short answer is "yes, use a filter." Percolators are designed to use coffee beans that are coarsely ground and large enough that they will not go through the basket and into the water that will find its way eventually into your cup.

Yet, without a filter, sometimes grounds find their way where they should not be. To prevent this, we recommend that you find a filter that best fits your coffeepot's basket and use it.

3. Are Percolators Electric?

Not all percolators are designed to function off electricity. Manufacturers have designed some models to be placed on a heat source, such as a stovetop or camp stove. They have even designed some heavy-duty models to withstand the coals of a campfire.

Why Is It Important to Know How to Clean a Percolator?

Percolator coffee

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Knowing how to clean a percolator is absolutely vital to ensuring you get a great-tasting pot of coffee every time.

Repetitive brewing cycles results in a build-up of coffee ground particles and oils on the coffeepot's metal basket. In addition, the water you use to brew your coffee can also cause minerals to accumulate on the basket.

This conglomeration of residues can affect the way your coffee tastes in a very negative way. That's why we recommend you know how to clean your percolator.

1. How Often Should You Clean a Percolator?

According to manufacturers, you should clean a percolator before its first use and then clean it mildly each time it is used. Then, about every two weeks, you should perform a deeper cleaning on the device.

2. What Is Considered a Mild Cleaning?

Mild cleaning is very similar to dishwashing. After emptying the grounds and filter out, take your basket, spreader cover and tube/stem out of the percolator. Using hot water and mild dish detergent, wash these items with a non-abrasive cloth.

You will need to read your owner's manual to see if you can wash the inside of the percolator similarly. Once you have rinsed and dried these items, you can reassemble the percolator.

3. What Does a Deeper Cleaning Involve?

A deeper cleaning involves using additional household products to soak the percolator to remove the stains from the pot's interior, the basket and the tube/stem.

Electric percolators can be plugged in and heated during this cleaning process, while non-electric coffee makers can be put on the stove or other heat source to heat.

4. What Is the Best Way to Keep Your Percolator Clean?

Rinsing the percolator immediately after each use (and not allowing the coffee to dry inside) will help considerably in keeping the percolator cleaner for a longer time.

The Best Cleaning Methods for a Percolator

If your percolator becomes stained or dirty with residue, it's best to use the following recommendations to return your pot to the best shape possible.

Removing Stains from the Inside of the Percolator

If your coffeepot's interior becomes stained, we know of two methods of how to clean a percolator that work best. They are:

1. Baking Soda or Cream of Tartar

Fill the pot with water and then add 2 to 3 tablespoons of either baking soda or cream of tartar. Heat the water and baking soda or cream of tartar mixture as you would while making coffee — that is, plug it in if it is electric, or put it over a heat source if it is not.

Once heating is complete, let it cool completely and then use a non-abrasive tool, such as a cloth to scrub the inside. If stains are stubborn, you can use a plastic scrubber, but be careful not to scratch the inside surface.

2. Vinegar

Mix equal parts of clear water and white vinegar. Fill the percolator with the solution and then run the percolator until it finishes a process.

Pour out the used vinegar and water and refill the percolator with the cleaning solution again. Run the percolator until finished and then pour out the used solution. Next, repeat the process but use only clear water. This will remove the smell of the vinegar from your machine.

If there are stains inside the percolator after this process, add 1/2 cup of baking soda and slowly pour in white vinegar until it bubbles. Cover the percolator and gently shake it for a few minutes. Pour out the mixture and rinse thoroughly with water. The inside should look like it did when it was new.

percolator on a stove

Photo by Lauren Kay on Unsplash

Cleaning the Percolator Basket

Also important to keeping your coffee tasting great is knowing two additional methods of how to clean a percolator basket. These techniques are for mild cleaning or deep cleaning, depending on what's needed.

1. Mild Cleaning

Before cleaning, always be sure to unplug your percolator if it is electric. Make sure the percolator is cooled completely before you clean it.

Empty out any leftover coffee, grounds and the filter. Remove the basket, spreader and tube/stem and wash the basket in hot, soapy water. Scrub with a soft cloth, rinse, dry and reassemble the percolator.

2. Deep Cleaning

For deep cleaning the basket, make sure you have unplugged the percolator (if applicable) and it has cooled completely. Empty any remaining coffee, grounds and filter.

Next, fill the percolator with equal parts water and white vinegar. Put the basket back in the percolator and either plug the unit in (if electric) or put it on the stove or other heat source.

Once it runs through a cycle, let the unit sit for 15 minutes. Unplug the unit or remove from heat and pour out the solution. Let the percolator cool for 15 minutes, then rinse thoroughly with water. Once that is done, wash the basket and other internals with a mild dish soap and rinse.

NOTE: Remember not to mix vinegar and dishwashing liquid in the process of cleaning.

percolator and a cup of coffee

Photo by Piotr Miazga on Unsplash

Warnings and Tips

  • Be sure to read your manufacturer's manual before cleaning your percolator
  • Some manufacturers do not recommend the use of vinegar or dish detergent in the cleaning process
  • Never mix dishwashing liquid and vinegar; vinegar and baking soda is okay
  • Some manufacturers give the okay to use their appliances in the dishwasher: read your owner's manual
  • Discard unused coffee immediately
  • Rinse the percolator and basket immediately after use
  • Avoid scouring pads, scrubbers or harsh cleaners
  • Always unplug electric percolators and never submerge them since doing so may ruin the electronic components
  • If your percolator still smells like coffee after mild cleaning, it is time for deeper cleaning
  • Q tips come in handy for cleaning hard to reach areas

How to Clean a Percolator: Conclusion

Percolator coffee

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Whether mild cleaning, deep cleaning or cleaning to remove stains, you now know all you need to about how to clean a percolator the correct way. 

Be sure you always read your owner's manual before attempting any of the tips we have given you here, because sometimes the manufacturer may have other suggestions for your particular brand of coffee maker. We are confident, though, that the tips we've given on how to clean a percolator that we've given here are appropriate for most percolators. 

Now that you know how to clean a percolator properly, don't hesitate when it comes time to brew. You can serve up cups of coffee to yourself, your family and your guests without the slightest worry of it tasting anything but the best.

Featured Image via Pexels


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