Written by Gary Logsdon

How to Clean a Sous Vide Circulator

Like most kitchen appliances, the sous vide immersion circulator does not require much routine maintenance. But if you use your circulator as often as I do, it's probably worth taking an hour every once in a while to give it some "TLC".

This article will provide all the information you need to get your immersion circulator back into tip top shape.

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Why Should I Clean My Sous Vide Circulator?

Anova precision circulator sous vide square

Depending on the makeup of the water in your sous vide bath, minerals will build up on portions of the immersion circulator, especially the heating unit. This buildup is normal due to the deposits from tap water. These deposits can be white, brown, black, or even green, depending on your water pipes and water source.

If these deposits get heavy enough, they can reduce the efficiency of the heating element and/or cause issues with the spinning impeller. So, if you want to keep your circulator operating at its peak efficiency, it makes sense to give it a cleaning periodically.

How Often Should I Clean My Circulator?

Since it depends on the water in the water bath it's difficult to say how often this needs to be done. It's best just to keep your eye on the internal components, and do a cleaning when they begin to lose their luster.

The other time that a thorough cleaning is required is when there is a catastrophic event in the water bath.

This might include the leaking of the contents of a sous vide bag or the premature rupture of an egg, free floating in the bath. These scenarios are particularly troublesome if not noticed early and are thoroughly "cooked" on.

How to Clean Different Sous Vide Machines

When it comes to cleaning a circulator, the approach will differ depending on the type of circulator it is. There are two general types as follows:

How to Clean Sealed Circulators

A sealed immersion circulator does not have any way to access the internal workings of the device, such as the heating unit and impeller. Therefore, the only way to clean the internal workings is to run the circulator in some sort of cleaning solution.

This is typically all that's required unless there's some type of "catastrophic" event in the water bath. The Anova Nano and ChefSteps Joule are examples of sealed circulators.

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  • Chefsteps joule white

Cleaning Machines that Open

Many immersion circulators are designed so that the internal components can be made available for cleaning by removing the outer casing of the machine where it goes in the water. This accessible design facilitates a more thorough cleaning of the internal workings of the circulator.

Often it is not required to directly access the internal components of the device, but it can be a lifesaver in the case of a catastrophic water bath issue. The fusionChef and Anova Precision Cooker are examples of accessible circulators.

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  • Anova taken apart

Cleaning Procedures

There are a variety of different cleaning procedures that could potentially be used to clean your immersion circulator. The one you choose would depend on how dirty the device is that you are cleaning.

Cleaning in a Vinegar Bath

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Using a vinegar bath is the most common and easiest method of cleaning a circulator, and is often all that's needed.

Sous Vide Vinegar Cleaning Steps

This cleaning procedure has the following steps:

Step 1) Find a small pot, jar, or other container that you can put the circulator into, while minimizing the amount of liquid required. I usually use a 2-quart pitcher. This simply reduces the amount of vinegar necessary.

Step 2) Mount the circulator securely in the container.

Step 3) Fill the container with equal parts distilled white vinegar and water.

Step 4) Plug in the circulator and set the temperature to 140°F (60°C).

Step 5) Start the circulator and run it for about an hour, then turn it off

Step 6) Empty the vinegar water out of the container and replace it with fresh water.

Step 7) Run the circulator for a few minutes to rinse it well, then remove from the container.

Step 8) Dry the circulator off with a soft cloth and store it.

Optional Cleaning Steps

Here are some optional steps you may choose to take if you have a circulator that opens up:

Step 1) Once the circulator has run for the hour, turn it off and let it cool down. Remove the circulator from the container and take the steps necessary to access the internal workings of the device.

Step 2) If necessary, use the vinegar water (or mild dish soap) and a toothbrush, or similar implement, to remove any lingering deposits from the working elements of the circulator. Be particularly careful not to bend the impeller and its connection to the motor.

Step 3) Carefully rinse off the internal workings of the device with fresh water, then dry with a soft cloth.

Step 4) Reassemble the circulator and store.

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Cleaning a Circulator with CLR

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If you have stubborn mineral deposits it may be necessary to "Call in the big guns!" and use a CLR bath. CLR is the brand name for Calcium, Lime, and Rust Remover manufactured by Jelmar. It is well known for being able to remove tough calcium and lime deposits as well as rust stains from a variety of surfaces.

So, the good news is that it's quite powerful; the bad news is, that it's quite powerful!

In the instructions they are careful to warn you to, "Test on a hidden area before applying to the entire surface..."

Moreover, they also state, "CLR may etch older sinks, tubs, and tiles. Avoid contact with wood, clothing, wallpaper, carpeting, natural stones, brass, copper, aluminum, galvanized metals, any painted, coated or sealed surfaces."

This is why I hesitate to use this procedure unless the Vinegar Bath procedure fails to work.

Sous Vide CLR Cleaning Steps

The CLR Bath procedure has the following steps:

Step 1) Find a small pot, jar, or other container that you can put the circulator into, while minimizing the amount of liquid required. This simply reduces the amount of CLR necessary.

Step 2) Mount the circulator securely in the container.

Step 3) Fill the container with a 10% solution of CLR and water. Keep in mind the cautions listed above as you handle the CLR.

Step 4) Plug in the circulator and set the temperature to 140°F (60°C).

Step 5) Start the circulator and run it for about an hour, then turn it off.

Step 6) Empty the CLR water solution out of the container and rinse the container well with fresh water.

Step 7) Fill the container with fresh water and run the circulator for a few minutes. Repeat this step several times to be sure that the CLR solution has been well rinsed from the circulator.

Step 8) Remove the circulator from the container.

Step 9) Dry the circulator off with a soft cloth and store it.

Optional CLR Cleaning Steps

Here are some optional steps you may choose to take if you have a sous vide machine that you can open up:

Step 1) Once the circulator has run for the hour, turn it off and let it cool down. Remove the circulator from the container and take the steps necessary to access the internal workings of the device.

Step 2) If necessary, use the CLR solution and a toothbrush, or similar implement, to remove any lingering deposits from the working elements of the circulator. Be particularly careful not to bend the impeller and its connection to the motor.

Step 3) Carefully and repeatedly rinse off the internal workings of the device with fresh water to be sure all of the CLR solution has been rinsed away. Then dry with a soft cloth.

Step 4) Reassemble the circulator and store.

What to Do if a Sous Vide Bag Leaks

It is certainly disheartening looking in to your sous vide water bath in the morning during a long cook and seeing dark brown water and foam. Fortunately, it's a rare occurrence, but this type of catastrophic water bath accident does happen.

And when it does it's important to be sure that your immersion circulator is cleaned thoroughly afterwards.

This is one of the times when you are glad you have an accessible type circulator that you can open up, since it allows you to access the working parts of the circulator directly to get them clean. But it is possible to get the circulator clean, even if it is a Sealed type unit.

Depending on how bad the mess is, I would suggest starting off with the Vinegar Bath procedure to see if that will be all that's required. If that doesn't do the trick, then moving to the CLR Bath procedure would come next. In extreme cases, this procedure may need to be repeated to get the circulator workings back to pristine shape.

How to Clean the Joule Circulator

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Most of the time when cleaning the Joule, you can use a standard vinegar bath to get it back to tip-top shape.

However, since the ChefSteps Joule is a popular circulator and it has a unique design, I thought I would add a tip on cleaning it after a bag leaks or when you really need to give it a good scrubbing.

For the most part the Joule is a Sealed unit, however, you can gain access to the important working components through the bottom of the device. Specifically, follow these steps:

Step 1) Turn the stainless steel/orange rubber foot counterclockwise to unscrew it from the base of the unit.

Step 2) Use the tine of a fork or a pair of pliers to pull the orange impeller off the shaft. It is now possible to access the heating cavity of the circulator.

Step 3) With mild soapy water, using a toothbrush, bottle brush or other similar implement, carefully clean all surfaces that are now accessible. Be careful around the soft rubber seals at the top of the heating cavity.

Step 4) Thoroughly rinse all three items, dry with a soft cloth, and reassemble reversing the earlier steps.

If you follow those steps, your Joule should be as good as new in all but the worst circumstances.

How to Clean an Anova Precision Cooker

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Unless something is really wrong, you can clean any Anova machine using a vinegar bath, or at most a CLR bath if it has gotten pretty bad after use. This should work for the majority of cases and general maintainence.

However, if something is really wrong due to a leaked bag or really hard water, most Anova sous vide machines can be taken apart so you can access the internal machinery. Once open, you can use a toothbrush or other soft scrubber with a vinegar or CLR solution to remove any additional gunk from the circulator.

At that point, you should have a sous vide machine that is back in great working shape.

Summary

There are numerous factors which cause the internal workings of an immersion circulator to transition from shiny stainless steel to something a bit more grody. These include the "quality" of the water, the amount of use and care the circulator receives, and the possibility of a dreaded catastrophic event in the water bath, such as a bag leaking.

It is prudent to keep this in mind and do an assessment of your circulator periodically. If it appears it could use some TLC, then I would recommend giving it a nice vinegar bath to make it sparkle again - it's quick and easy and your circulator will love you for it!

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This article is by Gary Logsdon, my resident equipment tester, researcher, business partner, and most importantly, my Dad. He loves diving into the nuts and bolts of different pieces of equipment, researching what works best, and sharing that information with you.
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