Keurig Coffee Maker Descale Not Working? Reset that Light Now!

Keurig coffee maker descale not working coffee beans flowing out of a coffee cup Kitchen Appliance HQ

There’s nothing worse than wanting coffee and getting the descale light on your Keurig. Sometimes even a normal descaling won’t get that light to turn off. So I decided to investigate what to do when a Keurig coffee maker descale is not working.

Here’s what I found out:

If a Keurig descale doesn’t work, excess scale has built up. Repeat the process with more solution, or descale with vinegar & let sit for a few hours before rinsing. Citric acid works great too for tough build-up. If you pack refillable cups, make sure to not overfill them. Lastly, clean the exit needle regularly.

But there’s a lot more to it than that, so let’s explore a little further.

If you’re looking to buy any small kitchen appliance, don’t forget to check out my Recommended Products Page (click to see my page) which breaks down all my best picks by category.

I always hand-select items that I either own, have used, or have researched well to ensure they are great items. I also give not only top of the line as well as inexpensive alternatives so my choices work for any budget.

What does descale mean on a Keurig coffee maker?

When the dreaded descale light comes on, it’s simply an alert that something is preventing the normal flow of water.

While that can mean you have scale build up in your lines inside the Keurig, that isn’t the only possible issue. In my house, we use a refillable K-cup. We don’t like the idea of just tossing little plastic cups into the trash every day. Plus, we can buy ANY brand of coffee we like and we can even grind it fresh for a better-tasting cup of coffee.

But, some makers of refillable cups allow more room for flow than others. It is also possible to pack your cup too tightly which restricts the water flow. Both of those can lead to the descale light coming on.

After all, Keurig doesn’t have sensors inside the water lines; it just knows it isn’t coming out as fast as it should.

Thus, if you are refilling your own cups, it’s a good idea to not pack down on the coffee when you fill them and don’t quite fill them all the way to the rim.

What do I do when my Keurig says descale?

If it’s been at least 3 months since the last time you descaled (or if you’ve never done it) it may be time to descale it.

However, if you suspect that perhaps you packed your refillable K-cup too tightly, just remove the cup completely and see if it will let you run a cycle through. If not, let’s get into how to descale a Keurig coffee maker.

I have the classic Keurig, and the following applies to it and all of their hot brewers, but not the mini ones (more on that below).

  • Empty the water vessel
  • Remove the coffee pod
  • Turn off the “auto-off” feature (if you have that)
  • Turn the brewer off
  • Pour in an entire bottle of Keurig descaling solution into the water container in your brewer
  • Refill that bottle with cold water and add to the water container
  • Place a large coffee mug on the stand
  • Lift the Keurig handle up and then back down
  • Select the 10oz button (the largest one) and press it to start the process
  • Pour out the contents and repeat the process until the “add more water” light comes on
  • Allow your Keurig to sit (power on) for 30 minutes
  • Dump out any remaining water mixture in the water container and fill with fresh water up to the limit
  • Repeat the brewing process (still without a K-cup) at least 12 times to rinse the unit (adding more water if necessary)

How to descale a mini Keurig

Of course, the overall process is the same for any Keurig. The primary difference is the amount of descaling solution you use.

So for the mini, mini plus or B/K130 you will use just 1/3 of their bottle (about 4 1/2 oz) and then fill with water to the fill level.

With the minis, again without a K-cup:

  • Lift the handle, wait 5 seconds, and then press down and press brew
  • Once the cup is full, discard and repeat but don’t press brew
  • When the brew button turns red and starts to dispense, turn the power off
  • Let sit for 30 minutes
  • After 30 minutes, turn back on and press brew
  • Discard the water
  • Then repeat with just water (no descale solution) for a total of 3 times

The B/K130 is almost exactly the same process as the mini except the brew button doesn’t turn red, so just turn off power as it starts to brew in that step.

What can I use in place of Keurig descaling solution?

Keurig descaling solution is their proprietary blend of citric acid, water, and trace amounts of silicic acid, phosphates, and bleach.

Of course, buying their bottles (anywhere from 6 bucks to 10 depending on where you get them) can add up over time (but can also be much more convenient.

But you can easily make your own descaling solution using vinegar, citric acid or even lemon juice (which, of course, contains lots of citric acid). Let’s go into detail on each of those below.

How do I descale my Keurig with white vinegar?

To avoid buying their expensive descaling solution, mix 1 part white vinegar with 1 part water.

Since the typical bottle is 14oz, that means you’ll use 7 oz. of vinegar and 7 oz of water to make your mix. Then you’d add an additional 14oz of plain water.

Following Keurig’s recommendations, go through the descaling process I outline above except, if needed, you can allow the mixture to sit in the Keurig for up to 4 hours rather than the 30 minutes they recommend for their solution.

How much vinegar do I use to clean my Keurig?

As I mentioned, you’ll want to use a 1 to 1 ratio of white vinegar to water to make your mix solution.

For most Keurigs that means you’ll need 14 oz total of your homemade descaling solution. So mix 7 oz. or white vinegar to 7 oz of water.

How do I descale my Keurig with citric acid?

Following your Keurig’s normal descaling process use 1-2 (depending on the size of your unit) tablespoons of powdered citric acid to a full reservoir of water.

Citric acid powder can usually be found in the baking section of your grocery store where pectin and gelatin might be found. But you may also find it where they have Vitamin C tablets.

Citric acid is the primary ingredient in Keurig’s official descaling solution, but buying a 1 lb bag will be far more economical than buying their descaling solution (which is about 50% water).

How do I descale my Keurig with lemon juice?

I personally wouldn’t use this method due to the number of lemons it would take (probably about 12) and how long it would take to squeeze them all. But if you’re bound and determined to avoid citric acid, vinegar, or Keurig’s descaling solution, this works just fine.

As with the vinegar method, you want a 1 to one ratio of lemon juice to water to make the mix and then add an additional 14oz of water to the water container. Thus, you’ll need about 7oz of lemon juice (almost 1 cup).

Proceed with all the above steps for descaling based on which model you have.

Can I hit my Keurig to dislodge scale build up?

Of course, I’m sure Keurig does not recommend this and it could very well void your warranty. That being said, there are people who swear by this method when all else fails. It even has an official name, the “Slap and Burp method”.

  • Unplug the unit
  • Remove the water reservoir and catch tray
  • Hold the unit upside down and slap it a few times on the bottom
  • Put it all back together

Essentially you are trying to jar loosen any stubborn scale. But there is another possible benefit too. There is a magnet inside your Keurig that corresponds to the magnet in the water reservoir (this is how the Keurig knows when the water is low).

Too much scale build-up can cause the magnet to stick and give you that dreaded “add water” light even when there’s plenty of water.

Cleaning the Keurig exit needle

Sometimes, when trying to descale your Keurig, it won’t even brew to let you descale it. Very frustrating!

In this case, you want to clean the exit needle.

If you look at the bottom of a K-cup, you’ll notice a tiny little bump that sticks out. The water enters your K-cup at the top, goes through the ground coffee and then exits here (and some cups have mesh sides too). What pierces that little bump is a needle in the bottom of your K-cup holder.

If your exit needle gets clogged (from excess coffee grounds or scale build-up), then your Keurig won’t be able to brew at all.

To clean the exit needle of the excess build-up, insert a paper clip or sewing needle and loosen the debris and remove it.

Can you reset a Keurig?

Sometimes when our Keurig coffee maker descale is not working, we get desperate for a reset button. However, if you’re looking for a reset button like you find on the bottom of a garbage disposal you may be disappointed.

Keurigs do not have a simple reset button. However, unplugging the unit for up to 5 minutes acts a reset for the unit and opening and closing the K-cup holder acts as a reset to the brewing cycle.

There is nothing user-serviceable inside the unit.

One other question people have with their Keurig coffee makers is whether you can leave them on all day or if you should turn them off after using.

I answer the question Can a Keurig Be Left on All Day (click to read my article), including how much energy that uses and whether it poses a fire hazard. So check it out if you leave yours on for long periods of time.

How often should I descale my Keurig?

Keurig recommends going through the descaling process about once every 3 months.

But they also suggest changing the water filter inside the water vessel every 2 months and using their rinse pods once a week. Personally, I’ve never done the rinse pods, but I do think it’s a good idea to occasionally run a cycle or 2 of just water to keep the pipes clean.

Are some kinds of water worse for a Keurig?

Yes is the short answer.

Descaling is meant to remove calcium and other mineral deposits. Thus, you should never use mineral water or spring water in your Keurig coffee maker, as they both contain high amounts of minerals that can make the descaling warning come on more often.

Distilled water is a great way to go for some models of Keurig, but not Keurig 2.0. Thus for most of us, we are best off using plain old tap water and then allowing the Keurig filter to clean it.

Of course, most tap water does have a small amount of chlorine in it, which can affect the taste of coffee, so you can add a reverse osmosis water filter on your counter (or whole house), or just buy reverse osmosis water at the grocery store.

If you love hot coffee as I do, also make sure and check out my article on What Coffee Maker Makes the Hottest Coffee? (click to read on my site). I break down all the best brands for delivering the hottest coffee as well as what the experts say is the perfect temp for both brewing AND serving.

Did I answer all your questions about Keurig coffee maker descale not working right?

In this article, we looked at the world of Keurig coffee makers which have started to dominate kitchens everywhere for their ease, speed, and convenience.

We explored the best ways to clean yours to keep it running smoothly, how often to descale it and whether the official Keurig descale solution is the best way to descale it.

But specifically, we examined what to do when the normal descale method isn’t working on your Keurig. That way, you’ll be back to brewing in no time!

What’s your favorite brand of Keurig coffee pods?

Check out all my coffee product recommendations (click to see my list) with additional features and direct links to Amazon for easy purchase.

I always hand-select items that I either own, have used, or have researched well to ensure they are great items. I also give not only top of the line as well as inexpensive alternatives so my choices work for any budget.

Jeff Campbell

Jeff was a leader for Whole Foods Market for over 2 decades and is now a recovering foodie. When he's not spending time in the kitchen, he can usually be found with his wife & 3 daughters, he can usually be found practicing martial arts, making music, or blogging on his other sites. Click to learn more about me

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