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A clean coffee maker makes better tasting coffee (and it lasts longer). Over time, coffee can leave an oily residue throughout the machine — that residue can impart a bitter flavor to the brew. Over time, the minerals in your water can also build up in the machine, leading to slow brew times and lots of steam. All you need is a simple daily routine of rinsing and wiping and a monthly habit of descaling — which you can do with or without vinegar.
Have a Keurig? See our article How to Clean a Keurig
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How to Clean a Coffee Maker (on the Daily)
A kitchen towel
Step 1: Toss and rinse
Toss the grinds and disposable filter, then rinse the brew basket (and permanent filter if you use one).
We’ve seen some people suggest cleaning with soap and water daily, but we don’t think it’s necessary. If you do go this route, you’ll need to make sure you’re not imparting a soapy flavor to your coffee you’ll need to rinse that soap out very well. It’s also an option to pop the pieces into a dishwasher if they’ll survive it. If they will it’ll say so on the piece itself or in the manual.
We recommend doing your rinse right when the brew cycle is done brewing, say, when you’re pouring that first glorious cup. Old, moist and steamy coffee grinds are a pretty great breeding ground for mold spores.
Step 2: Reassemble
Once you’ve rinsed, reassemble the coffee maker and leave everything to air dry. Here again we’ve heard of people leaving the parts to dry in a drying rack and leaving the lid of the water tank flipped up. With most coffee makers we’ve had good results reassembling the coffee maker parts and allowing it to dry that way, but if your parts don’t get completely dry this way (that is, they leave a musky or moldy smell or taste in your coffee), give the drying rack a shot; trapping moisture = growing mold.
Step 3: Rinse the carafe
When you’ve had all the coffee, it’s nice to give the carafe a rinse too. If there’s anything spilled on the hot plate, use a kitchen towel (damp if needed) to wipe it clean.
If you’ve accidentally left your grinds in there for a long weekend away, don’t sweat it, just head to the next step: a deeper clean.
How to Deep Clean a Coffee Maker
Why clean your coffee maker more often? Well, the things that make up coffee — water and beans — leave their marks on the inside of the coffee machine. Unless you’re using distilled water, there are minerals in the water flowing through your coffee machine. These minerals can build up over time, slowing down your brew time, causing clogs in the tubing or even busting the seals and gaskets. Removing these deposits (through a process called descaling or decalcifying) will extend the life of your machine.
Coffee also leaves a residue — an oily film that can coat the inside of your carafe and the inside of the filter basket. This residue isn’t pretty and it also can add a bitter flavor to new brews. If you have a stainless steel carafe, you won’t see the build-up but you might taste it.
Pro Tip: If you have soft water, you can probably go two or three months before descaling your machine.
How to Descale a Coffee Maker
If you’re experiencing long brew times or see a lot of steam coming out of your coffee maker, it’s time to descale. Both are signs that there’s mineral buildup somewhere inside the machine. Over time this can wear out the gaskets.
Store-bought descaling solution like Essential Values
Or, white vinegar
Or, citric acid to make your own descaling solution — it’s cheaper than the pre-made stuff and won’t leave a lingering flavor the way vinegar does
Pro Tip: One bag of citric acid is about $8, which will last as long as 16 bottles of descaling solution.
Step 1: Add the descaling solution to your machine.
Every store-bought solution is a little bit different, so you may use the entire bottle, sometimes just half. With Essential Values, you’ll add half the bottle. To make your own descaling solution, mix either 50/50 water and vinegar, or 2 tablespoons of citric acid powder in 4 cups water. If you make your own, you’ll want to fill half of the carafe with it. Have a 9-cup machine? Make 4.5 cups! Be sure to rinse your hands well after mixing your own solution; it’s an acidic solution that’ll cut through mineral deposits after all.
Step 2: Run your brewer.
Then you’ll run the coffee machine without any grinds. This will get the descaling solution moving through the entire machine. If you want, you can turn the machine off halfway through the cycle and let the descaling solution sit in the machine. Wait 30–60 minutes, then turn the machine back on to resume the brew cycle.
Step 3: Discard the liquid and run water-only cycles.
The number of cycles you’ll need to do varies; Essential Values recommends doing a three full cycles. If you used a vinegar mixture, run a few cycles, or until the water runs through without picking up a vinegar scent. If you use a citric acid mixture, you’ll only need to run one rinse cycle.
How to Clean a Coffee Pot
Step 1: Sponge + baking soda
For light stains, dip a damp sponge in baking soda and wipe away.
Step 2: Try soaking
If the classic brown ring doesn’t go away, fill the carafe with a baking soda and water mixture to soak overnight. We like a 1:2 ratio of baking soda to water. This will work to remove stains (ugly and flavor compromising!). Dump the mixture, then take a damp sponge to the inside of the carafe. Finally, rinse out the baking soda residue.
We’ve seen others use soapy water in this step, but we haven’t had very good results from just soapy water. The baking soda solution adds a bit more grit that’s really effective.
Step 3: Add rice
Can’t get your hand down in there? Add some rice to the mixture and swirl. The uncooked rice will scrub at the residue for you.
Coffee’s an acid, right? Shouldn’t it be cleaning the coffee maker every time I brew a pot?
Coffee’s not as good at killing mold and bacteria as a more intense cleaning solution like a vinegar/water blend or a citric acid solution. Coffee has a pH of around 4.5 to 5.5, depending on the bean. A 50/50 mix of vinegar and water has a pH of around 2.6 — much more acidic.
Step 1: Toss the grinds, rinse the brew basket, and let dry.
Step 2: Rinse the carafe. IF it’s still brown, scrub with some baking soda and a sponge. Need more? Throw some uncooked rice in the carafe.
Step 3: Descale monthly by filling the reservoir with descaling solution (or a 50/50 mix of vinegar or 2 T citric acid in 4 cups water).
Step 4: Run your coffee maker. Pause it half way through the brew cycle and let sit 30–60 minutes.
Step 5: Run 1–3 cycles of plain water through your coffee maker. If you’ve used vinegar, run clean water cycles until there’s no residual smell. If you use descaling solution or citric acid, 1 cycle is enough.