Is your sous vide not heating up? Your circulator might be failing. Here’s 6 quick fixes to try.

Few household appliances can deliver the same juicy, tender results a sous vide cooker can. Whether you’re a meat lover, or a vegetarian, this machine has got your back.

Cooking Beef Wellington? No problem! Want the most delicious sautéed vegetables you’ve ever tried? You got it.

There’s virtually nothing sous vide cookers can’t do.

That being said, all their virtues won’t matter if they are not heating up. After all, what’s the point of owning this machine if it’s not doing the one thing it’s supposed to?

I understand your frustration, I really do, but don’t throw away your appliance just yet.

There are several reasons why your sous vide might not be heating up. From a faulty power source, to a broken heating element. The possibilities are nearly endless. In order to properly troubleshoot, you need to know exactly what to look for.

This is why, I’ve prepared a list below with the most common culprits behind this situation, and the simplest steps you can take to address them. I’m sure that, if you follow them religiously, your appliance will be back to normal in no time.

Are you ready? Let’s dig in!

Fixing a Malfunctioning Sous Vide

While a failing internal part is definitely a possibility, we will only consider it as a last resort. Before prying your appliance open, we need to analyze all the potential external factors that could be contributing to the appearance of this issue.

This will not only save you precious time and money, but also prevent you from accidentally doing further damage to your unit, and voiding your warranty unnecessarily.

Your sous vide might not be heating up due to:

  • A bad wall outlet
  • A damaged power cord
  • A broken circulator
  • Excessively high water levels
  • Incorrectly set temperature
  • A faulty heating element

How Long Should a Sous Vide Take To Heat Up?

It will certainly vary from model to model, and from manufacturer to manufacturer, but in general, it should take about 8 minutes for lukewarm temperature, and 15 for “hot tap water” sensation.

Knowing this useful reference, let’s delve into the actual potential problems.

#1 A Bad Wall Outlet

outlet in concrete wall
A faulty wall outlet can cause a permanent damage to your unit

Before trying to find culprits in the appliance itself, we must look at the sources it draws power from.

You’d be surprised at how many people spend copious amounts of money every day trying to find what’s wrong with their sous vide cookers, only to realize too late, that the issue lied with their wall outlet.

Depending on how severe the malfunction is, your appliance might not be turning on at all, but if it’s only partial, the outlet could be supplying it with power intermittently.

If the latter is your case, please stop using your unit right away, as it could otherwise short-circuit, and sustain permanent damage. 

Solution: Test a different outlet.

Carefully unplug your appliance, and let it cool down.

Once you have done that, take it to a different section of your house, as far as possible from the suspicious outlet, and then plug it back into a different one. This should take care of the issue.

If you own a multimeter, and want a challenge, you can test the outlet for continuity. While this is totally optional, it is strongly encouraged, as a faulty outlet could be the first sign of a greater malfunction in your home’s electrical layout.

#2 Your Power Cord Is Damaged

Looks can be very deceiving. While on the outside, this cable might appear very resistant, it is not.

I’m not saying it will break due to regular everyday use, but seemingly small, and negligible bad practices, such as storing it improperly, keeping it tangled or pressed against a wall in a weird angle, can cause permanent damage to it.

Just as it happens with the wall outlet, if the damage is total, your sous vide will probably not even turn on, but if it’s only partial, you could be at risk of short-circuiting the appliance.

Again, if you suspect to be the culprit of the malfunction, please stop using your unit immediately.

Solution: I don’t expect you to have a spare cord lying around just for testing, but on the off chance that you do, you can go ahead and use it. This will save you both time and money, and also provide you with an immediate answer.

Just make sure it meets the same amperage and voltage requirements as the broken one.

Provided that you do not have a spare one, that’s okay too. You’re just one Google search away from finding the right replacement at any online marketplace.

#3 A Broken Circulator

Sliced beef sous vide steak in a sealed pouch
Without circulation, your water will not heat up properly

I’d go as far as to say that this is the most important part of your sous vide cooker.

In case you’re not familiar with what this little component does, it’s fairly simple. Just as its name suggests, it recirculates the water around your pot or container to guarantee even temperatures throughout the cooking cycle.

This is what the sous vide method is all about.

If your sous vide is not heating water evenly, chances are this little part is broken, and has stopped spinning.

Solution: The easiest way to check this is to look for a small current in the water, forming around your appliance.

If you want to be extremely thorough, you will have to go in. To do so, please follow these steps:

  1. Carefully unplug your unit, and let it cool down
  2. Remove the clamp from the machine’s body
  3. Turn the steel skirt counterclockwise, and remove it carefully
  4. Expose the heating element, and the circulator, and check if the latter is working normally

Alternatively, you can also use a multimeter to test the part for continuity and viability. Should you get null readings (0), it will need replacement.

#4 Check Your Water Levels

As you can imagine, your sous vide is designed to operate adequately with specific amounts of water. Using too little will cause the appliance to beep, while using too much will cause it to heat the water poorly, and could even damage the unit permanently. 

Regardless of how long you’ve owned your sous vide cooker, it is of the utmost importance that you always operate it while following your manufacturer’s recommendations.

Solution: Give your user manual another read through. Not all models are the same, so there might be a slight variation between the advised water levels across all platforms.

#5 Your Temperature Is Not Set Properly

cooking with sous vide
Never leave your machine unattended while cooking

I know what you’re thinking. “I’d never forget something as obvious as this”, and normally, I’d agree with you, but remember, it’s the most seemingly unimportant factors, that we tend to overlook the most.

Incorrectly set temperatures are a very common occurrence. Especially when it comes to sous vide models that boast Wi-Fi remote control. While this feature is nice to have, it has been known to fail from time to time.

There have been a myriad of complaints from several users that claim setting a specific temperature on their phones, and seeing a very different one on their unit’s meter.

If you’re the proud owner of one of these devices, you might want to double-check the temperatures you’ve set.

Solution: By all means, use the Wi-Fi feature on your appliance, but be very vigilant, and make sure that everything matches up between your phone, and your unit.

You shouldn’t leave your machine unattended while cooking anyway, so if you’re already in the kitchen, it can’t hurt to peek at the meter now and then, can it?

#6 Your Heating Element Is Faulty

As you know, this part is solely responsible for transforming the electrical energy drawn from your wall outlet, into usable heat to cook your food.

When it fails, things can go one of two ways. You can either be stuck with a component that does not generate heat, or one that generates too much, causing overheating.

Trust me, the latter is much more concerning, but if you’re reading this, you’re likely on the other end of the heating element malfunction spectrum, so you can relax!

Solution: Please follow the steps from point #3 to expose your appliance’s heating element, and test it for continuity with your multimeter.

Remember, if the meter reads “0”, the part is dead, and needs urgent replacing. You should be able to get a new one either from your nearest hardware store, or from your manufacturer.

Conclusion

A sous vide that does not heat up is like a car without tires. Sure, it looks beautiful, and you can effectively use it as a doorstop, but other than that, it’s useless.

Luckily, more often than not, the causes behind this issue are more closely related to external factors, and your user habits, than to an actual technical fault.

This means that, giving your user manual another read through, and slightly modifying the way in which you use your appliance, should make a night and day difference.

That being said, there is always the possibility of an actual malfunction, but even in that scenario, the solutions are fairly simple to implement.

Thank you so much for sticking with me all the way to the end. If you found this article helpful, why not keep the learning going through our other incredible resources below?

Bon Appétit!