French press plunger 950px

If you’ve ever used a French Press then you’ve probably experienced the frustration of having the plunger getting stuck while you’re trying to press it down. This happened to me this morning so I did some research to figure out why this happens.

So, why is my French Press plunger stuck? The main reason is because the coffee beans are ground too fine. The pressure change from pressing the plunger down agitates the grounds and causes finer pieces to block the holes. It might also be due to a plunger screen that needs to be cleaned.

Read on to learn more about why French Press plunger screens get stuck and how to prevent it from happening again.

Clean your French Press plunger to unclog the screen

It’s important to regularly clean your French Press plunger to get rid of any grounds that build up in the screen. Here are a couple methods for cleaning your plunger.

The easy method for cleaning a plunger screen

The easiest method is to, first, rinse your French Press carafe with water to get rid of any remaining coffee grounds. Next, add a few drops of dish soap to the bottom of your carafe and fill with warm water.

Next, slowly plunge your filter screen up and down. Just like when you prepare French Press coffee, the pressure change will agitate the water and cause the soap to foam up and clean the filter screen.

This is a quick and easy way to clean your French Press, but it won’t effectively clean between the different plunger pieces. Every once in a while I would recommend a more thorough cleaning.

The more thorough method for cleaning a plunger screen

The best way to clean a French Press plunger is to separate the pieces and clean them individually. This is very easy to do. Simply grab the plunger stem tightly and turn counterclockwise to unscrew the filter pieces.

Many press plungers, like the one on the Bodum French Press, include several pieces. There’s a plunger stem, spiral plate, filter screen and cross plate. These pieces are screwed together to form the plunger.

They should easily separate once they’re unscrewed. You might be surprised to see how much coffee gets stuck between these plates. From here, give them a scrub with warm, soapy water or soak them for a few hours.

Grind your French Press beans more coarsely to prevent blockage

The most common reason for a French Press plunger getting stuck is because the coffee beans are ground too fine. The finely ground pieces get lodged between the screen and prevent water from flowing through.

The solution is to grind your beans more coarsely. Meaning, larger sized pieces. Coarse grounds will be blocked by the screen but will be too large to get stuck inside of it.

Consequences of using a coarser French Press grind

Beware that switching to a more coarsely ground coffee will change how your French Press extracts flavor from the beans. A coarser grind means the coffee beans have a smaller total surface area to make contact with the water.

This results in the grounds extracting flavor into your coffee at a slower rate. Therefore, in order to achieve the same strength of coffee you will need to brew your French Press for a longer duration.

Click here to learn more about why French Press coffee requires a coarser grind.

Ideal grind density to prevent plunger clogs

French Press calls for more coarsely ground coffee beans because it’s an immersion-style coffee with a longer extraction time. The ideal grind density is comparable to sea salt. You should be able to visibly notice larger bean chunks than you would with a medium-grind used for drip coffee.

Take a close look at how small the holes are in your French Press screen. Your coffee grounds should clearly be larger than those holes. This will prevent your plunger from getting stuck, but will also help you brew a more tasty and less-bitter cup of coffee.

How to prevent unevenly ground coffee from blocking your plunger

The best way to prevent fine grounds from blocking your plunger screen is to make sure your coffee is being evenly ground. The most common and inexpensive type of coffee grinder is a blade grinder. The blades pulverize coffee beans and create fine grounds and undesirable coffee dust that will clog your screen.

Pre-ground coffee beans bought from the grocery store are also often unevenly ground. Grinding your beans yourself will usually produce a better result.

The best type of coffee grinder is a conical burr grinder. These types of grinders produce a uniform coffee grind, which will prevent you from unintentionally adding fine grounds into your French Press. 

Low quality coffee grinders can contribute to a plunger getting stuck by grinding beans unevenly. This means that some of the grounds are coarse while others are fine. An ideal grind is one where all of the pieces have a uniform size.

Twist the plunger as you press it down

Try twisting your plunger as you press it down to knock some grounds away from the glass wall. This will help reduce some friction and might allow you to fully submerge the plunger.

Stir your grounds right after pouring your water

I recommend stirring your grounds after initially pouring your water into the carafe, before you put the plunger in. This will ensure all of the grounds make contact with water, which will prevent them from sticking together in globs and clogging your screen.

Do not force your plunger if it’s stuck

Be careful not to press down too hard on your plunger if it’s getting stuck. Rapidly increasing the pressure in the bottom compartment of your French Press might shatter the glass and cause a serious accident.

Always apply slow and even pressure. If you’re experiencing resistance, try some of the techniques listed above but don’t force it.

Removing a stuck plunger from your French Press

In some cases your plunger might become so stuck that you can’t remove it from the glass carafe. Here are a few things to try if this happens.

Swirl your French Press around to knock coffee grounds loose

It’s possible that coffee grounds are getting stuck between your filter screen and the glass container. Try swirling the container around to wash grounds out of these small crevasses.

Twist while you pull

Try slowly twisting while you pull your plunger upwards. Make sure you twist clockwise otherwise your plunger shaft might unscrew from the screen and cross plate.

Empty your water and then try again

If all else fails, you may have to empty your water out before your plunger can be removed. This might be the case if your filter is clogged and is preventing the pressure from changing on either side of your plunger screen.

This means your coffee will be ruined. But at least your French Press will live to brew another day.

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