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How to Deep-clean a Coffee Maker

Performing a deep clean on a coffee maker is important to extend its useful life and ensure you’re brewing the best-tasting coffee possible.

A buildup of hard water scale and rancid coffee oils in a coffee maker is to be expected. Allowing that buildup to remain (and multiply) can be very hard on the machine and make the coffee that comes from it turn stinky.

Plain white vinegar is the most common method for cleaning a coffee pot or automatic coffee maker. And if you’ve been doing it this way, you may have discovered how vinegar comes with its own problems. A far better choice for this job is citric acid.


It takes an entire carafe full of vinegar to do a good job of descaling. Then, vinegar gives off a pretty nasty, strong smell when heated. Because vinegar is not easily rinsed out, it takes many pots of water through that coffeemaker to get rid of the smell and the taste. Failure to do so can result in the most foul-tasting coffee.

Citric acid, on the other hand, is odor-free. It requires only a small amount to get the job done. It’s cheaper, better and faster to use citric acid to clean an automatic coffee maker.

To effectively descale your coffee maker, you will use about 2 tablespoons of citric acid powder. This is a fairly constant measurement and works for almost any size coffee maker, resulting in about 20% citric acid solution.


Wash the removable parts of the coffee maker — the brew basket, the carafe and possibly the water reservoir if it is detachable. Wash well with dishwashing liquid, and then rinse under hot water. Replace all in coffee maker.


Fill the carafe or reservoir with water, just as you do to make a full pot of coffee.


Add 2 tablespoons of citric acid to the water reservoir or the carafe, stirring to dissolve. Close the water reservoir or pour and turn on the coffee maker for a clean cycle (or the longest/largest if your maker does not have a clean cycle option).


Allow to brew until complete and the reservoir is empty. Pour out the water that has been collected in the carafe. Fill the water reservoir with clean water, this time without citric acid. This is a rinse cycle to remove any excess citric acid. Set to brew once again using the clean cycle, or as above.


Let the coffee maker run one more water-only cycle. Once it’s done, your coffee maker is clean again and ready to make delicious coffee.

When you perform a clean every four weeks for maintenance, you can confidently use just 1 tablespoon of citric acid. What will really determine how often you clean your coffee maker will be your type of water and how often you brew.

If you have hard water, you will have to clean more often than someone with water that is not hard because your coffee maker will be prone to developing scales faster. Check the user manual for the manufacturer’s guidelines.

If you brew more often than once a day, there is a good likelihood that your coffee maker will need to be descaled more often. It’s best to clean once every 60 days at the very least.

In conclusion, citric acid is a good choice for descaling your coffee maker. It is cheap and readily available. Citric acid is natural (from citrus fruit) and doesn’t give off any strong smell, which is a big turnoff with vinegar. Citric acid works just as effectively as vinegar, too. The process of cleaning is the same as the brewing process. Just add the citric acid without the coffee grounds. Your coffee maker will be good as new, turning out the best coffee possible.

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Mary Hunt

Mary invites you to visit her at EverydayCheapskate.com, where this column is archived complete with links and resources for all recommended products and services. Mary invites questions and comments at https://www.everydaycheapskate.com/contact/, "Ask Mary." Tips can be submitted at tips.everydaycheapskate.com/ . This column will answer questions of general interest, but letters cannot be answered individually. Mary Hunt is the founder of EverydayCheapskate.com, a frugal living blog, and the author of the book "Debt-Proof Living."

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