Cleaning and Descaling a Coffee Maker: A How-To Guide

After using your automatic drip brewer for awhile, the residue from your brew and hard water mineral deposits will start to accumulate all over the internal mechanisms. Unfortunately, this can impact the ability of the machine to brew properly and may even make your coffee taste different. If you don’t clean this buildup soon enough, you could wear out the internal components (for example- pump, internal tubing) completely and have to buy a whole new coffee maker. Additionally, old coffee and its grounds and oils accumulate over time and can produce mold and mildew throughout the coffee maker. This is particularly true if you forget to empty used grounds after brewing!  Simply rinsing the parts or using an ordinary dish soap won’t sufficiently clean off the build-up or remove the accumulated mineral deposits.

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When Should You Clean Your Coffee Maker?

Generally, you should rinse your coffee pot after every use.  As soon as your coffee is done brewing, remove the used grounds, and rinse out all of the removable parts, including the basket, lid, and coffee pot. Allow the components to air dry to prevent any mold or bacteria growth caused by lingering dampness.

Deeper cleaning to descale mineral deposits and any buildup should be done every 2 to 3 months. This schedule may change depending on frequency of use and the condition of your water. If you use tap water in your home with a lot of mineral inclusions (“hard water”), you may want to descale every 1 to 2 months.

Some newer model machines include an alarm or lighted icon that indicates a need for deep cleaning. While you can wait for this, proactive maintenance extends the useful life of the coffee maker. If you read your owner’s manual for the specific coffee maker you purchased, you may find cleaning schedule details to follow. Always follow the manufacturer’s recommendations.

Supplies Needed For Coffee Maker Cleaning

When the time comes for a deep cleaning, below are a few supplies you should gather. If possible, do the job next to your kitchen sink for a steady supply of clean water.

  • Cleaning cloth, sponges, or paper towels
  • Small scrub brush, particularly if you have mineral deposits on your carafe or basket
  • Dishwashing liquid, foaming liquid works well

A Soap and Water Cleaning

Follow these steps to make every part of your coffee maker sparkling clean:

  1. Initially, take out the filter, grounds basket, and any other removable parts
  2. Discard any used grounds, paper filters, or other disposable parts.
  3. Give the removable parts an initial rinse.
  4. Fill your sink or dishpan with hot water and grease-cutting dish soap.
  5. Submerge the grounds basket, permanent filters, and other parts in the hot water.
  6. Wash out the coffee pot with warm water and dish soap as normal.
  7. Sponge or scrub the basket, filter, or other parts to remove any water scale or residue.
  8. Rinse everything completely so that no soap is left behind.
  9. Use a soft cloth and clean water to wipe the exterior parts of the coffee machine/1
  10. Dry everything sufficiently with a cloth or paper towels.
  11. Reassemble the coffee maker but leave the lid open to allow it to air dry completely.

Using White Vinegar to Remove Coffee Maker Residue

White vinegar can be used to break down accumulated mineral deposits to remove them from the pump and inner tubing. This is often known as “descaling” the machine.  Always check the manufacturer’s instructions to see if there are any particular warnings about using vinegar as it is not recommended for some machines with metal parts.

Supplies for a Vinegar Coffee Machine Cleaning

  • Hot water with dish soap
  • White vinegar
  • Soft cloths or sponges

Simple Steps to Remove Mineral Deposits With Vinegar

Have an old drip coffee maker without a cleaning cycle.  These basic instructions will help you clean excess residue and hard water stains from the coffee maker parts and pot. 

  1. Stir together white vinegar and water in equal measures
  2. Fill the entire water reservoir of the coffee maker with this solution
  3. Run a half drip cycle until you have vinegar and water in both the reservoir and the carafe
  4. Pause brewing and let the vinegar sit for at least 30 minutes to dissolve the mineral scale.
  5. Finish the brewing cycle until all of the vinegar and water has passed through the machine.
  6. Dispose of the vinegar and the paper filter you used one for cleaning
  7. Fill the reservoir with pure water and run the whole cycle again.
  8. Run the reservoir with pure water and run the cycle one more time.  After completion, smell the carafe to see if it still smells like vinegar.  If it does, run one more cycle. Repeat this step until you can no longer smell vinegar.

Your coffee maker should now be sparkling clean inside and out and ready for fresh brewing the next time you need a cup!  In some cases, you might need to repeat descaling if you waited a long time between cleanings and have a large amount of mineral buildup. 

How to Prevent Buildup in Your Coffee Maker

If you have hard water in your house, it is very difficult to prevent all mineral scale from forming. However, these tips can help to extend the time between deep cleanings.

  • Brew your coffee with distilled water with the proper minerals readded
  • Fill the water reservoir with a separate cup rather than the coffee pot itself
  • Never leave used grounds in the machine after brewing to prevent unhealthy growths

If you have a Keurig or other K-cup coffee maker, carefully read the manufacturer’s instructions for thorough cleaning. These types of machines have different parts than regular drip brewers. For example, you will need to beware of the impact needle that opens the grounds cup.

Pro Tip – Does your coffee carafe have buildup or residue that is particularly difficult to scrub off? Pour in some hot soapy water and a small amount of uncooked rice- the uncooked rice acts as an abrasive! Simply swirl this around in the pot to help scrape away the debris. Remember to wash and rinse well after you get rid of the rice.

Jay Arr

Jay Arr is passionate about everything coffee. What began as a simple interest in the history, production, and brewing of coffee led him to a job as a barista at a national coffee chain. That’s not where Jay’s story with coffee ends, however. Roasting and brewing day in and out, he continued to gather knowledge about all things coffee.

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