What Does Prime Mean On A Keurig And How Do You Fix It?

Mike C
Written By Mike C

I've been writing about coffee and espresso machines for 3 years. My goal is to provide you with helpful content that you can trust based on my own personal experiences, information from manufacturers, and tips and tricks I've gathered from other coffee and espresso machine users.

I may get commissions for purchases made through links in this post.

How To Prime A Keurig

A prime error message on a Keurig means that something is preventing water from moving from the water reservoir through the brewer. In order to fix this, you’ll need to clear whatever may be getting in the way. There are few recommended steps to try on your own first before contacting Keurig support if the issue persists. Keep reading to learn how to prime a Keurig.

How Do You Know If You Need To Prime A Keurig?

In general, if you are having any issues with your Keurig pumping water, it likely needs to be primed. A few models have specific prime error alerts. The Elite and Classic brewers will show a combination of three lights flashing is the coffee makers needs priming: add water, heating and the small cup buttons. On the Keurig special edition and platinum brewers, the word “Prime” will display on the LCD screen.

5 Ways How To Prime A Keurig

Step 1: Confirm The Water Tank Is Full And Attached Securely To The Brewer

Water has to be able to freely flow from your tank into the machine in order for it to work. Make sure your tank is attached securely. You also want to make sure that it is full of fresh water. If you look inside your water tank, you’ll notice that there is a magnet that moves up when you fill it and goes down as the water level decreases. Your Keurig uses this magnet to detect the level of water in the reservoir. When you’ve filled it up, make sure the magnet is floating at the top of its holder.

Step 2: Remove and Clean The Water Reservoir

Remove the water tank and bring it over to a sink. If you have a water filter inside the tank, remove it and set it to the side. It is possible there there is some debris or mineral buildup that is blocking water from exiting the reservoir so you’ll want to give it a thorough clean. Follow the steps below. This has to be done by hand; never put your water tank or lid in the dishwasher!

  • Dump any water from the tank.
  • Use a damp and soapy non-abrasive cloth or sponge to clean the outside and inside of the tank. Be sure to clean all over it.
  • If you have a water sprayer and/or a soft bristled brush, try to clean the filter screen area at the bottom of the tank especially well.
  • Dump out the dirty, soapy water. Fill the tank with about two inches of fresh water and then gently shake it. This will help remove any residue. Rinse out the inside of the tank again.
  • You’ll want to let it air dry or use paper towel to dry it faster. Avoid using a cloth or towel to dry it as it could leave lint behind which could block the exit.
  • Reinsert the water filter and holder in the empty tank. Place it securely onto the brewer.
  • Use a pitcher to fill the tank up with fresh water.
  • Turn on the brewer and attempt a hot water only brew cycle (no pods). Repeat two more times.

If you are able to brew three cups, you’ve fixed the prime error on your Keurig. If not, proceed to Step 3.

How To Fix Prime Error Message on Keurig

Step 3: Clean The Base Port

Remove the water tank and look at the base of your brewer where the tank sits. You’ll see a little hole there, probably with a silicone ring around it. That is the base port. Use a damp cloth and clean that area. Try running a water only brew cycle again. If it doesn’t work, proceed to step 4.

Step 4: Clean The Filter Screen And Water Reservoir Port

There may be mineral buildup around the water filter screen and/or exit nozzle port at the bottom of your tank that is causing a clog and giving you the prime error message. Follow these steps to try to clear the debris from the tank:

  • With the filter holder removed and the tank empty, run a full stream of water from your faucet and aim it at the mesh screen where the filter holder goes.
  • Fill the tank about 1/3 of the way full with water. Put on the lid. Cover any holes with your hand. Shake the water in the tank vigorously for at least 5 seconds. Empty the water into the sink.
  • Flip the tank over and aim the faucet water stream at the same nozzle port you inspected earlier. While water is running over it, use your finger to wipe it and remove any particles while also pushing it up and down.
  • Empty any water from the tank, add the filter and holder back inside the tank, fill it with water and place it back on the machine. Try to run a hot water cycle without a pod.
How To Clean Keurig Filter Screen And Water Reservoir Port

If you are still getting the prime error message, go to the next step and try to clean your brewer’s needles.

Step 5: Unclog The Needles

When you brew a K-cup, there are needles inside your coffee maker that make two holes in the pod. This allows hot water to pass through the capsule and eventually make its way to your cup. The coffee grounds can get stuck around the needle and eventually become dry and hard. This is especially likely to happen if you don’t discard your pods soon after brewing. As a result, the ground coffee build up starts to block the water flow inside your Keurig, eventually resulting in a clogged needle and a machine that will not pump water.

If you have a Keurig 2.0, you can use the orange cleaning tool that came with your brewer. If you lost it or if you have a different model, you can use this paper clip method to clean the needles:

  1. Straighten one end of a paper clip.
  2. Turn off the brewer and unplug it and remove the water reservoir.
  3. Grab the sides of the pod holder and remove it from the brewer by gently pulling away.
  4. Press the button on both sides to separate the holder from the housing. Push the lever to show the exit needle, then hold it down while flipping the holder over.
  5. Insert the straight end of the needle and then move it around in a circle a few times. Rinse the pod holder with water and set it aside.
  6. Open the handle and look underneath to see the top entrance and exit needles. Insert the paper clip in each and move it around to clean.
How To Clean Keurig With Paper Clip

Additional Troubleshooting: Descale To Remove Water Flow Blocks

If you found calcium buildup in your water tank, it is likely inside your machine too. As the water used to brew your K-cups travels through your brewer, it leaves minerals behind that cause limescale to buildup inside your machine. Eventually this buildup can get big enough to result in your Keurig becoming clogged and it may trigger the prime error alert.

You should descale every 3 to 6 months, even if you are using a water filter. If your tap has “hard water,” meaning it contains a high level of minerals, then you should descale your brewer more often. If you are unsure if you have hard water, you can get a low-cost testing kit.

Keurig makes its own descaling solution that works with all models. The safe formula has no odor and acts fast to remove mineral buildup with gentle citric acid. You can buy the solution alone or as part of a bundle with rinse pods and filters that will also help you keep your machine clean.

Once you have the descaling solution, follow these instructions to descale your Keurig. If you’ve had your machine for more than 6 months and never descaled, or if you have very hard water, you may need to run this process at least 2 times.

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