Get rid coffee maker plastic taste once and for all! Well, hopefully.
You did lots of research on the coffee maker you wanted to buy. You read reviews where unhappy buyers reported a plastic taste and smell when they got their coffee maker, but there were just as many happy owners who reported no plastic taste or odors. You decided to roll the dice and hope the negative reviewers were just unlucky, but your gamble didn’t pay off and now you’re wondering what to do.
Right? Did I just describe your coffee machine buying experience exactly as it went down? I know, I’m amazing. Actually, “plastic taste” is a very common complaint. Owners of coffee machines both cheap and outrageously expensive are suffering just like you. Luckily there are ways of dealing with this dilemma, but first let’s talk about WHY your coffee maker smells and tastes like plastic.
There is speculation that some people are genetically predisposed to tasting certain chemicals and others aren’t. Did you ever do that taste-strip thing in your middle school biology class that tested for a hereditary ability to taste a certain chemical bitterness? It’s probably something like that. This genetic difference may be one of the reasons that some owners of your particular coffee maker model complained about a plastic taste while others didn’t… I know that doesn’t solve your problem but maybe it makes you feel a bit better. Or worse. I don’t know. Moving on…
There is also the issue of “outgassing” which is the release of gases that are trapped within certain man-made substances such as plastic. Outgassing is what creates the “new car smell” when you buy a new car off the dealer lot, and it seems that an awful lot of coffee drinkers have concluded that this is the cause of that coffee maker plastic taste and smell. If your coffee maker rolled off the assembly line very recently, it may have more plastic odor and smell than one that has been sitting on a shelf (and outgassing) for some time.
There are numerous methods being suggested out there on The Interwebs to help you get rid of the plastic taste in coffee. First I’m going to suggest some coffee makers that are immune to plastic taste because, let’s face it, it’s the easiest way to solve the plastic problem. After that I’ll teach you some of the most commonly suggested remedies, not in any particular order, along with a few longshot fixes. Since it is impossible to know which of these methods might remove your coffee machine plastic taste or smell, my recommendation would be to start with the ones that are the most convenient for you. If you have whole coffee beans that you don’t mind using for odor control, use them first. If cheap vodka or isopropyl alcohol is already in the house, then go with that. You get the idea.
The easiest way to get rid of plastic taste, guaranteed!
Before getting into the Do-It-Yourself methods (skip down to that part) of killing plastic taste, I’m just going to throw this out there for people who are (a) lazy, (b) like buying stuff, and/or (c) have some cash to throw around: BUY A NEW COFFEE MAKER. But don’t just buy any coffee maker. Get one that has a glass or stainless steel water reservoir, and I swear your plastic coffee nightmare will end right then and there.
As I described in my rundown of plastic free coffee makers, the cause of plastic taste produced by coffee makers is the plastic water reservoir. Yes, outgassing may affect cheaper coffee makers with plastic water reservoirs, but coffee makers with stainless steel reservoirs are immune to this problem. How do I know this? Because people who own higher-end coffee makers with stainless steel reservoirs simply do not complain about the plastic taste. It’s just not something they deal with. Sure, they might complain about other things…maybe they don’t like the carafe, maybe the coffee maker takes too long to brew, etcetera etcetera. Even the most expensive coffee makers have their detractors. The important thing is that your coffee will finally taste good.
Below are some options that I guarantee will not result in plastic taste because they don’t heat water in a plastic container. Some of them are pricey, but this is a quick fix! And it’s kind of a fun fix, too, since you get a new toy out of it. If you’d still rather go DIY, skip down to the 7 troubleshooting strategies for taking care of plastic taste on your own.
According to Bunn, ALL of their Velocity Brew coffee makers have stainless steel reservoirs, so take your pick. It’s true. I asked them on Twitter. The big selling point of Bunn’s Velocity Brew coffee makers is that they make your coffee in record time. This is accomplished by keeping water heated at all times in a stainless steel reservoir, so when you start the brew cycle, all the machine has to do is pump the water through your coffee grounds. An entire pot takes about 3 minutes or so. If you’re environmentally conscious, you can turn the machine off while you’re at work. Some people complain of a plastic odor (but not taste) coming from the coffee maker, but it tends to go away after a while. Most people don’t have an issue with it and are quite happy with their coffee which most certainly does NOT taste like plastic. If you’re extra curious about the Velocity Brew, I wrote a full review of the BXB Velocity Brew a while back.
These two coffee makers are basically the same machine, but the more expensive “Connected” version can be controlled with your smartphone! Both are super cool and look like spaceships. This coffee maker is unique because it comes with some rare features, one of which is a manual release. If you sometimes like to do pour over coffee, the manual release will be your next best friend. Also, if you live at a high altitude, these coffee makers will adjust for that, ensuring that you water reaches the proper temperature. These coffee makers are SCAA certified which means they’ve passed some very rigorous testing and still perform like champs. For extra credit, read my full review of the Behmor Brazen Plus!
I wrote a long, loving review of this legendary coffee maker because it’s an amazing piece of equipment. The Bunn VP-17 is basically a consumer version of the Bunn coffee makers you see in just about every restaurant on the planet. This one doesn’t accommodate multiple coffee pots, nor does it hook directly into your plumbing, but otherwise it’s the same coffee maker. It has a stainless steel water reservoir and, like most of Bunn’s commercial products, is built like a tank. You could defeat ISIS with this thing. A lot of people report using this coffee maker for years and years and years. It may not be pretty, but it delivers outstanding plastic-free coffee. One caveat, though…it doesn’t come with a carafe. That’s sold separately for some reason. Bunn sells a plastic carafe which, despite what you might think, is pretty awesome. It has a stainless steel base, is virtually shatterproof, and doesn’t drip. They also sell a cheaper glass carafe.
If you’re going to spend $300 to fix your plastic coffee problem, you must really be at your wit’s end! But what you’re getting for your money is a coffee maker that has gained legendary status among coffee freaks. The water reservoir on top of the machine is plastic, but it drains into a stainless steel heating tank, so your coffee will come out fresh and plastic-free. While it’s almost universally agreed that the Moccamaster makes excellent coffee, there are some who are less than impressed by the plastic parts that adorn this expensive little machine. If that doesn’t bother you, then you’ll be really happy to own a Technivorm. There are various models of the Moccamaster at different prices, but most hover in the range of $270-$320.
If these coffee makers are too rich for your blood, skip down to the end of this article for some much cheaper non-drip coffee making options.
Seven ways to get rid of that plastic taste in your coffee
*** DISCLAIMER: I’m sure all of these cleaning methods are perfectly safe for most coffee makers but, as they say, use these methods “at your own risk.” Check your owner’s manual if you’re not sure, especially if you have an expensive coffee maker. Brazen, for example, says not to use vinegar. ***
1. Wipe down the inside parts of your coffee machine with vodka or isopropyl alcohol.
Some customers have theorized that the plastic parts of plastic-tasting coffee machines are coated with some kind of factory residue that is soluble in alcohol. Whether or not this is true, many have reported that wiping down the inside (and also perhaps the outside) of their coffee maker with a generous amount of vodka or rubbing alcohol solved the plastic taste problem. Basically any plastic part that comes into contact with water should be cleaned. Just wet a paper towel with (cheap) vodka or alcohol and give your machine the once-over in all the plastic places your fingers can reach.
2. Place whole coffee beans in your machine to absorb gases and residue.
This idea is based on the theory that the coffee beans will absorb foul odors and residue. It’s true that whole beans do have absorbent properties, but this technique is unproven. You could try filling your coffee machine’s filter basket with whole beans, minus any filters, and close the machine overnight. Oats, like the kind in cereal and granola bars, might also work. If the plastic smell and taste persist but seem reduced, try repeating this process until the problem is solved. Don’t do this with expensive beans (or oats) – they deserve a better fate than this. After completing this process, you might still want to wipe down the insides of your coffee maker with vodka or alcohol since residual oil from beans can cause bitterness over time.
3. Run a vinegar/water solution through the coffee maker
This is probably the most common plastic taste remedy out there and results vary widely. Many swear by this method, and it seems that just as many others find it to be useless. Here’s what you do:
- Mix distilled white vinegar and water at a ratio of 2 tablespoons of vinegar for every 5 oz. cup that your coffee maker’s water reservoir holds. For example, if you have a 12-cup coffee maker, pour 24 tablespoons (1.5 cups) of distilled white vinegar into your carafe. If your coffee maker is a 10-cup model, then you only need 1.25 cups of vinegar. Then fill the rest of the carafe with cold water and stir. A lot of people report using higher concentrations of vinegar such as 50/50, so if your coffee maker is especially stinky this may be the way to go. Some even say they use straight vinegar, but it will take a lot of flushing to kill the vinegar taste and smell. You should probably use diluted vinegar first.
- Run the mixture through the coffee maker. DO NOT PUT COFFEE IN THE MACHINE! Obviously.
- Repeat the cycle if you want, but mix a fresh batch of vinegar/water. When you’re done, run clean water through the machine several times to get rid of the vinegar. Some recommend flushing at least 10 times to get the vinegar out, but don’t take this as gospel. Just do whatever you feel is necessary.
Actually, even if this succeeds in getting rid of the bad taste, you should do something like this periodically anyway to clean the coffee maker. Maintenance is key to keeping your coffee machine healthy and ready to make coffee you actually want to drink. Consult your user’s manual for cleaning recommendations, and be sure to also read my article on how to clean a coffee maker.
4. Instead of vinegar/water, try rubbing alcohol/water
This remedy is based on the same idea as idea #1 above, that alcohol will remove a mystery residue that causes the plastic taste. The vast majority of plastic-hating coffee drinkers recommend vinegar, but if that fails then alcohol might be the answer. Try a 50/50 mix or less.
5. Instead of vinegar/water or alcohol/water, try baking soda/water
Dissolve ¼ cup of baking soda into a carafe full of warm water. Warm water will help the baking soda fully dissolve. Run it through the machine, follow with a few cycles of clean water, and hopefully you’re done.
6. Run lemon juice through your coffee maker
I admit this sounds kind of nuts but, if daytime TV commercials have taught us anything, it’s that lemon is the greatest natural cleaning agent in the world. Bear in mind that I’ve only read this suggestion from ONE person who said that a full tank of straight lemon juice (probably from a bottle) worked when everything else failed. One other person in a coffee forum reported that a run of diluted lemon juice (one fresh squeezed lemon in a full carafe) provided temporary relief but the plastic taste returned soon after (but lemon juice is still a good way to clean your coffee maker). If you’re about to toss out an expensive coffee maker it may be worth a shot, but I would probably dilute it. Be sure to run enough clean water through the coffee machine afterwards to flush the lemon juice out completely.
7. Open it up and let it air out
Yes, this “solution” sounds so obvious that it barely qualifies as a solution. But have you tried it? Empty your coffee maker of water, open up anything on it that has a hinge, and just leave it be for a few days or longer if you can stand it. There’s a certain camp that believes time is the only way to get rid of the plastic taste, presumably because the plastic components need to finish the initial rush of outgassing. But how long is enough? I guess only time will tell.
Even more alternatives
If everything has failed and your sanity is teetering on the brink, and if this happens over and over again with different coffee makers, you may just need to change the thing you use to make coffee. I suggested a few “plastic free coffee makers” already in this article…the Bunn Velocity Brew line, Bunn VP-17, Behmor Brazen Plus, and the Technivorm Moccamaster. They’re not actually totally plastic free (no modern drip coffee maker is), but they’re built with plastic free reservoirs which is what’s most important. If those fancy machines don’t do it for you, there are much cheaper ways to make coffee without the plastic taste.
There’s a way of making coffee called “the pour over method.” All this means is that you’re pouring hot water over coffee grounds. It’s easy! Plus, not only is pour over coffee guaranteed to solve your plastic taste woes, there’s a great chance that your coffee will also be way, waayyyy better than your current drip machine could ever produce. Pour over coffee takes a bit more effort than drip machines, but it puts you in control of the entire coffee making process. French press and Aeropress are also great options that tons of people swear by.
Whether you choose to call it a coffee filter or a coffee cone, you’re still talking about the same thing. This is probably one of the oldest methods of coffee making out there. All you need is a kettle or teapot or even a saucepan to heat water in, and then just pour that hot water over the coffee grounds in your filter/cone which is sitting on top of your coffee cup. The great thing about this method of making coffee is that you get to watch the coffee “bloom” as the grounds react to the hot water. The pour over method gives you total control over the process, and plastic taste will be the furthest thing from your mind. There are lots of different pour over coffee filters out there, and I wrote a review of a really great one: the Brewologist Pour Over Coffee Cone.
Espresso is made by forcing hot water through fine-ground coffee, and this is exactly how the Aeropress works. Just heat up water, pour it into your Aeropress (with a filter and coffee already in it), and PRESS! Just like the pour over method, you will place the Aeropress on top of a coffee cup while you do this. Otherwise, you’re just going to make a big, hot mess. The Aeropress is so popular that there are literally international competitions for Aeropress-only coffee making. The irony is that the Aeropress is made of plastic, but it does NOT produce plastic taste. This is because you’re heating water separately before you pour it in. If you’re still not sure what this thing is, read my review!
The Chemex coffee maker has been around since the 1960s, and it hasn’t changed a bit. It’s basically just like the pour over method, but you’re using special Chemex filters to drip coffee into the iconic Chemex glass carafe. Chemex filters are thicker than normal filters and sit directly inside the top spout of the carafe. Just pour hot water over your grounds and you’re instantly cooler than any of your coffee drinking friends. Every serious barista understands the magic of Chemex, and it’s a great way for you escape the clutches of the plastic coffee demon. Need more convincing? Read my Chemex review!
You probably know what a French press is already, even if you’ve never actually owned one. They’re made of glass or stainless steel, and an awful lot of people simply refuse to make coffee any other way. It’s that good. And, of course, NO PLASTIC TASTE IN YOUR COFFEE! There are tons of different French presses out there, and as long as you get one that completely isolates coffee grounds so they don’t seep into your coffee, you’ll be in great shape. I recently wrote about 7 of the best French press coffee makers you can buy, so maybe have a look, ok?
Have you tried any of the methods discussed above? How did you fare? Other coffee drinkers in plastic taste purgatory would surely like to know!