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How to Clean a Coffee Maker: A Necessary Task Made Easy

Dan is a licensed electrician and has been a homeowner for 40 years. He has nearly always done his own repair and improvement tasks.

Coffeepot covered in scale? It's time to clean it.

Coffeepot covered in scale? It's time to clean it.

Periodic Coffee Maker Cleaning Is Necessary

Coffee makers, at least on the inside where we can't see, often escape the thorough cleaning they need on a periodic basis. Scale builds up (especially in areas with hard water) as do coffee oils, and this all needs to be removed.

While scale won't affect the taste of the coffee much and certainly won't hurt you, (it came from the water you're drinking, after all!) it will eventually plug the coffee maker. A pot of coffee will take longer and longer, to the point it won't work at all.

The build of coffee oils won't hurt you either, but it will affect the taste. Even good coffee will become bitter as the oils build over time. A good monthly cleaning will keep your coffee maker working properly while producing good coffee.

So, how do you clean a coffeemaker, right down to the inside of the tiny tubes carrying hot water to the top of the pot?

How to Clean a Coffee Maker

Cleaning a coffee pot turns out to be very easy. It's all in the vinegar.

Yes, white vinegar. The biggest problem is usually the scale from the minerals in the water being deposited on every surface in sight, and that scale is susceptible to the acid in vinegar. The coffee oils left behind are also removed by acid, so the vinegar is doing double duty by removing both.

This sounds easy, and it is. Just feed the coffeemaker some vinegar, following these directions:

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  1. Rinse the carafe and add 2 cups of white vinegar, followed by 4 cups of water. It isn't necessary to measure too closely; the marks on the carafe will do fine.
  2. Add this mixture to the coffee maker, returning the carafe to its normal position.
  3. Remove any paper filter and any coffee grounds. Remove and rinse the mesh filter if your machine has one. Replace the mesh filter and add a clean paper filter.
  4. Turn the machine on and let the cycle run its full cycle. With some coffee makers you can remove the carafe during the cycle without coffee spilling out; if so remove the carafe and allow the water to collect on the mesh screen inside. Watch carefully that it doesn't overrun inside the machine and replace the carafe when necessary. When the cycle is finished turn the coffee maker off and let it cool for five or ten minutes.
  5. Pour the "coffee" (vinegar and water) into a bowl while still warm and, using a clean dishcloth, use it to clean the exterior of the coffee maker as well as areas inside that don't get a flow of water. Wipe with a wet cloth to remove the vinegar mixture and wipe dry.
  6. If severe scaling was present, refill the vinegar/water mix and repeat.
  7. Run a pot of clean water through and repeat with a second pot. This will clean the coffee pot of any residual vinegar.
  8. Wipe the exterior clean of any excess water or vinegar mixture and you're done. Elapsed time; about 5 minutes plus whatever time it takes to make 3 pots of coffee.


Vinegar has quite an odor. Is there anything else I can use?

Yes, lemon juice will work nearly as well, either from a bottle or fresh. Citric acid is another option. Both contain acid, just as vinegar does.

Will this work on older percolating coffee pots?

Yes, although some die-hard coffee lovers insist that those coffee pots should never be cleaned—just wipe off the exterior.

Will vinegar clean my teapot?

Yes, using the same basic procedure.

Can I reuse the same mix for a second go-round of cleaning if needed?

Yes, very little of the acid has actually been used in the process. Do let the coffee maker cool down, however. It's not a good idea to pour water into either a hot carafe or onto the hot elements inside the machine. Let both cool before adding even hot water.

Questions & Answers

Question: I have a Keurig 2.0 and have cleaned it several times in a row. I also cleaned the needle 3 times in a row. I still get dark flakes coming out in the clear water. Is vinegar better, and can I use it in the Keurig?

Answer: I don't use a Keurig, but do use a different brand that accepts the K-pods. It sounds like you have grounds somewhere in the system, and that no cleaner will get them out. Take apart any pieces you can and thoroughly clean them. It is doubtful that vinegar would do any better job than the "official" cleaning solution for your coffee maker.

© 2012 Dan Harmon

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