Want great coffee? Clean your machine. Here’s how.

Knowing how to clean a coffee maker is an important life skill. We can help.

Key tips to remember

  • Eco-friendly DIY cleaners work well and cost less
  • Vinegar and water are your dream team
  • Clean your machine after every use
  • Run a cleaning cycle once a month
  • National Coffee Day is October 1
DIY

If you’re doing your best to keep your home clean and healthy, it’s easy to overlook a few places that don’t seem obvious or immediately jump out at you when you’re making the rounds with your mop and broom. One of these spaces that can accumulate all sorts of germs and funk is your coffeemaker. 

It’s not pleasant to think that a machine you rely on daily to keep you going can easily become a breeding ground for microscopic nasties, but it happens. Multiple studies have named the coffee maker an ideal breeding ground for both yeast and mold, ranking it among your home’s top spots for germs. 

If you let it go long enough, the sludgy, oily buildup and mineral deposits can go beyond stains, odd flavors, allergic reactions, infections and odors to gum up the works and force your machine to malfunction, leak and overflow. The good news is that learning how to clean a coffee maker isn’t difficult, expensive or even time consuming.

Why clean it

Well sure, if your coffee tastes sour, soapy, excessively bitter or otherwise abnormal, you’ve received the benefits of an early indicator, and it’s time to clean that machine. However, your coffee maker could be harboring bacteria that’s bad for your health even when you haven’t realized a gradual change in your coffee’s flavorings. 

If you don’t remember the last time it was cleaned, or maybe even if you do, there’s a good chance your machine could use a deep clean. Get rid of the residue, stop the buildup and get things seriously clean, all the way deep into the inner workings of your machine, and you’ll enjoy those hot cups of steamy brew so much more.

Use vinegar

If you’ve read many other posts here at Cinch, you probably already know that vinegar and water is our power duo of choice, essentially the dream team for DIY cleaning enthusiasts who want to be kind to the planet, avoid harsh and/or toxic chemicals and save money along the way. 

For us, cleaning a coffee maker is no exception to this rule. If you’ve noticed a slowing of your drip, you’ve probably built up some minerals in there over time. Here’s what to do:

  1. Empty your filter and pot. Replace the filter with a new one if you use paper, or clean and rinse the permanent filter and put it back into the machine if you use one of these.
  2. Fill the entire 12-cup reservoir with six cups of hot water and six cups of vinegar. If you’ve got a seriously grungy coffeemaker, use nine cups of vinegar instead.
  3. Turn on the brewing cycle, but stop it at the half-way point. Go do something else for about an hour. When you return, finish the cycle, pour the hot solution back into the machine and start it again to run your hot cleaning mix through for a second time.
  4. Pour out the results of the second cycle and clean your pot with hot water and soap.
  5. Wash the basket (underneath the filter) with hot, soapy water. Loosen any stubborn leftovers that remain inside the basket compartment with a toothbrush.
  6. Fill the machine a third time, but this time with cold, clean water. Run a third brew cycle and dump this water. Repeat this step twice (two more runs with cold, clean water) to flush the whole system, and add a pinch of baking soda on the last run. It’ll fizz a little if there’s still vinegar in the machine, so if it does, do one more clean-water brew to eliminate it.
  7. Use your handy-dandy 50/50 water and vinegar spray bottle to clean the outside of your machine, and then wipe it down with a soft cloth and plain water to remove the solution.
  8. Run the pot and permanent filter (you really should get one of these and stop buying paper filters) through your dishwasher. Once everything is dry, you’re good to go.

Vinegar alternatives

For whatever reason, some people don’t have vinegar on hand or dislike it and prefer not to use it. While we still think it’s THE key ingredient for eco-friendly DIY home cleaning, we understand and have several other vinegar-free suggestions for DIY coffee maker cleaning:

  • Soap: Sounds obvious, but soap and hot water should never be underestimated. Go all-out in the sink with both and a scrub brush, and you might be amazed. Don’t run soap through your brewing cycle. Instead, use it on the removable parts.
  • Rice: Believe it or not, rice’s super absorbency can help remove old stains from your coffee pot. Just add a small handful to the hot, sudsy water, mix and let it sit for a while.
  • Lemon juice: Bottled or fresh, here’s another natural substitute for vinegar that’s great at attacking stubborn stains and breaking up the junk. Just don’t get it in your eye.
  • Baking soda: Try mixing a quarter-cup of baking soda into a full pot of hot water and running that through several brewing cycles to help clean out the inside of your machine.
  • Hydrogen peroxide: The ratio here is one cup of hydrogen peroxide to a full, 12-cup pot of hot water. Run it through your brewing cycle to clean out the insides.
  • Borax: You might not have thought of this one, but if you have some in your laundry room or in your basement to fight ants, you can also use it to clean your coffeemaker. Just add a couple tablespoons into a full 12-cup pot of hot water and run a few cycles.

If it’s super gross

If you’ve avoided cleaning your coffeemaker like one of those people who never washes a car – you know the ones – we won’t judge you. Before you start googling “decalcify coffee maker” and break out the chisels and sandblaster, try a couple of our ideas for coffee maker cleaning, hail-Mary style:

  • Inside the machine: Try running a cycle with a pot of boiling water and a dishwasher pod. Make sure you run many cycles to rinse out the machine, but it could do the trick.
  • Outside the machine: For stubborn stains on the heating pad or elsewhere, cut a lemon in half, dip it in salt, and scrub away the remnants of the ghosts of coffees past.

Get a plan together

Now that you’ve gotten your machine clean again, you probably want to plan ahead with a more preventive approach so that you can keep things clean without having to go all-out on a desperate rescue mission to de-gunk your trusty coffee maker. 

Every time you use your machine, you should wash the pot, lid, filter and basket with hot water and soap. Let these parts air dry. You can dump leftover grounds in your compost and wipe down the other parts of the coffeemaker with a wet cloth and some vinegar if you need a little something extra. 

Once a month or so, you should also run a cleaning cycle using the steps we described above, whether your machine has a self-cleaning feature or not. Don’t forget to leave the lid open to let your machine dry without encouraging any uninvited microscopic guests.

We hope this coffee machine cleaning tutorial has been helpful. While you’re in the mood for home improvement, check out our summer home maintenance checklist, and for some reminders on other changes you might want to make, look at our survey on Americans’ unsanitary kitchen habits and another survey on whether Americans know how to take care of their kitchen appliances. Take some time and look around; we’ve got all sorts of posts on all sorts of helpful home improvement topics. Thanks for stopping by!


The information in this article is intended to provide guidance on the proper maintenance and care of systems and appliances in the home. Not all of the topics mentioned are covered by our home warranty or maintenance plans. Please review your home warranty contract carefully to understand your coverage.
 

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