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Saturday, July 20, 2013

Coffee Maker Cleaner: Should You Clean your Coffee Maker with Vinegar?

Why You Need to Clean Your Coffee Maker

Should you clean your coffee maker with vinegar?
Image Source: Dr. Penny Pincher

When I talk about cleaning your coffee maker, I am talking about cleaning the INSIDE of your coffee maker. Water carries dissolved minerals that are deposited inside your coffee maker. When the water evaporates from liquid into steam, it leaves mineral deposits inside your coffee maker. These deposits of lime, calcium, and other minerals result in slower water flow through your coffee maker. Some effects of mineral deposits inside your coffee maker:
  • It takes longer to make coffee. A coffee maker with severe mineral deposits can take more than twice as long to make a pot of coffee.
  • It can affect the taste of your coffee. One side effect of slower brewing can be that the coffee starts to become stale before you drink it, especially if it is sitting on a burner
  • Your coffee maker can stop working due to excessive mineral deposits. The flow of water through your coffee maker can slow to a trickle and even stop completely. You will not longer be able to make coffee!

How Often Should You Clean Your Coffee Maker?

How often you need to clean your coffee maker depends on the hardness of the water that you use to make coffee. In my area, the water is hard- meaning it carries a lot of dissolved minerals. Even though my house has a water softener to remove some of the minerals, it still affects my coffee maker after about 1 month of brewing 1 pot of coffee per day.
If the water is not hard in your area, and you only brew one pot of coffee per day, you may be able to go 2 or 3 months between cleanings. If your water is hard and you brew more than one pot of coffee per day, you may need to clean your coffee maker more than once per month.

Should You Clean a Coffee Maker with Vinegar?

Vinegar contains an acid- acetic acid. The acid in vinegar allows it to dissolve minerals readily. Vinegar is also edible, although it has a sour taste and strong acidic smell. These characteristic- being acidic and edible- make vinegar a good coffee maker cleaner. Many coffee maker manuals suggest using vinegar to clean coffee makers.

Large bottle of vinegar
Vinegar for cleaning coffee makers
Image Source: Dr. Penny Pincher

However, the strong odor and taste of vinegar are factors that make it undesirable to use as a coffee maker cleaner. My wife can tell from anywhere in the house when I start cleaning the coffee maker with vinegar! It also leaves the taste of vinegar behind- you should run 2 pots of water through your coffee maker after cleaning it with vinegar to remove the vinegar taste so it won't taint you coffee.

What is the Best Coffee Maker Cleaner?

If you don't like the odor and taste of vinegar, there are other options. You can buy coffee maker cleaners that contain acid other than acetic acid. A common type is coffee maker cleaner that uses sulfamic acid. This is available in liquid form or in power form that you mix with water.

Dip-it liquid coffee maker cleaner- no bad smell!
Image Source: Dr. Penny Pincher
I tried a brand of sulfamic acid coffee maker cleaner called "dip-it". I found that it worked as well as vinegar, but without the bad smell and taste. dip-it costs about $3.50 for a 7 oz bottle of liquid that can clean your coffee maker twice.
After running 5 cups of water with 1/2 a bottle (3.5 oz) of dip-it through your coffee maker, rinse by brewing 2 pots of cold water only and you are ready to make coffee again.

You can also get the powder form of sulfamic acid in a brand called Mr. Coffee Coffeemaker Cleaner. You mix the power with water and run the mixture though your coffee maker in the same way as when brewing coffee. A box of Mr. Coffee Coffeemaker Cleaner contains 2 packets of powder- enough to clean your coffee maker twice.

Mr. Coffee coffee maker cleaner powder
Image Source: Dr. Penny Pincher

As with vinegar and the dip-it liquid coffee maker cleaner, you'll need to rinse your coffee maker by brewing cold water only twice before making coffee.

Coffee Maker Cleaner can Fix a Broken Coffee Maker!

After 8 months of making great coffee with my Melitta coffee maker, the coffee maker suddenly stopped working. It produced only steam. Almost no hot water reached the brew basket, so I got no coffee. Believe me, it was a rough start to the day! Here's a description of how I survived making coffee with a broken coffee maker for a few days. This method of making coffee also works in a power outage with no electricity.
I assumed the failure was caused by a clogged or stuck check valve in the tube from the reservoir to the heating element. I contacted Melitta customer service with a description of the problem. I expected them to have me send the unit in for repair, or even replace the unit since it was still under a 1 year warranty.
The response from Melitta came back on the next business day. They recommended cleaning the coffee maker with vinegar. I had been cleaning my coffee maker with vinegar every month or two. I think it had been even more than two months since I cleaned it when it stopped working. Our water is hard and has lots of mineral content. But I was skeptical that deposits would cause the coffee maker to suddenly stop working.
I decided a vinegar treatment was worth a try. I filled the reservoir with white vinegar, 4% concentration, and turned the coffee maker on. At first just steam came out the top, but eventually there was a slow drip of vinegar into the pot. It took about 90 minutes to run the first tank of vinegar through. I picked up some stronger vinegar- 5% concentration. This went through in about 10 minutes! I ran one more tank of vinegar to get it really clean. I was back in business.
I didn't realize how important it is to clean your coffee maker regularly. I'm going to clean my coffee maker once a month to prevent this from happening again. I'll clean it on the first of every month so I don't forget.

Coffee Maker Cleaner Recommendations

  • Clean your coffee maker with coffee maker cleaner once a month
  • Use either vinegar or a sulfamic acid product
  • Vinegar is cheap and effective, but smells horrible when you heat it in your coffee maker
  • Use a coffee maker cleaner with sulfamic acid such as dip-it or Mr. Coffee Coffeemaker Cleaner if the smell of vinegar bothers you
  • Coffee maker cleaner such as dip-it or Mr. Coffee Coffeemaker Cleaner takes up a lot less room in your pantry than a large bottle of vinegar

Recommended Reading:

Copyright © 2013 Dr. Penny Pincher. All Rights Reserved. Coffee Maker Journal


  1. Maintaining and Cleaning your best coffee maker at home or at your office would definitely take some review or study regarding what is the proper care. Vinegar can be an option as cleaner but not the recommendable because it lefts a bad smell.

  2. Once a month cleaning to keep your best coffee maker clean and running well is advisable or you may need a new coffee machine sooner than you think. Yes the smell of vinigar can sometime be unpleasant but it is a natural ingredient and is green for the environment.

  3. When I talk about cleaning your coffee maker, I am talking about cleaning the INSIDE of your coffee maker. Water carries dissolved minerals ...