How to Clean and Descale Your Coffee Maker, According to Experts

Clean and descale your coffee maker for better taste (and health).

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how to clean your coffee maker
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Food & Wine / Summer Rylander

For many of us, a typical morning routine involves brewing a fresh pot of coffee, but given our coffee makers’ frequent use, properly cleaning and descaling them is a task often overlooked. 

Keeping a clean coffee maker is about more than just avoiding a brown-stained glass carafe, though. According to Lisa Yakas, a trained microbiologist and consumer product safety expert with the NSF, the coffee machine reservoir is actually among the top five germiest items in our homes.

"Certain parts of coffee makers can encourage mold and yeast to grow and spread to other parts of the machine,” says Yakas. Given a coffee machine’s daily contact with human hands, hot water, and oils from coffee grounds, this probably shouldn’t be surprising information.

To combat bacterial growth and buildup of minerals from hard water, and to keep our coffee makers performing at their best — you know, for delivering that perfect first sip each morning — we really should be cleaning these machines each time we use them.

“Daily maintenance is straightforward and only takes a few minutes,” says Heather Calatrello, owner and head roaster at ShedLight Coffee Roasters. “Regular cleaning consists of simply rinsing and drying all coffee maker components after use. Deep cleaning — or descaling — should be performed every four to six weeks.”

how to clean a coffee maker

Food & Wine / Summer Rylander

Signs It’s Time to Clean Your Coffee Maker

If you’re like most of us, you’re most apt to clean your coffee maker when you notice that the carafe is looking a little grungy. You can be diligent about giving things a rinse after use, but the swirl-and-pour method only goes so far.

So, if your coffee maker is visibly dirty — think water spots, coffee stains, or loose grounds scattered around — it’s time for a cleaning, and doubly so if you can’t remember the last time you gave it a good scrub.

Daily Cleaning Steps

For a quick and easy clean, Calatrello suggests “disassembling the coffee maker to the extent that you can thoroughly rinse and dry all components.” She notes that while you can use dish soap, it’s unnecessary for this daily upkeep. The goal is simply a good rinse and an opportunity for everything to dry out.

“If using a traditional electric coffee maker, we recommend allowing the carafe to dry completely before placing it back in the machine and leaving the lid to the water reservoir open for several hours post-brewing to ensure it dries completely,” says Calatrello.

Monthly Cleaning Steps

First things first: Read the manufacturer’s instructions for your coffee maker to see whether there are any special dos or don'ts when it comes to cleaning. The process should be fairly straightforward, but it can’t hurt to double-check.

When it’s time to get down to business, there’s no shortage of products that can help you do the job — from tablets to liquids to powders. You can also whip up a DIY mixture of 50% water and 50% distilled white vinegar.

how to clean coffee maker

Food & Wine / Summer Rylander

“Just pour the solution into the water reservoir of your machine, and turn on the brew cycle,” says Calatrello. “Allow the cycle to brew halfway, then turn off the machine. Allow the vinegar solution to sit in the carafe for three to four hours. Once it’s had a chance to work its magic, turn the machine on again, and complete the brewing cycle.” 

Next, Calatrello advises discarding the solution and refilling the reservoir with clean water. Run the brew cycle again, and repeat this at least twice — with fresh, clean water each time — to remove all of the vinegar. After drying everything, just give the exterior of the machine a wipe with a soft cloth, and you’re done!

Products You'll Need

Affresh Coffee Maker Cleaner

Affresh
PHOTO: AMAZON.

Available at Amazon

Bar Keepers Friend Coffee Maker Cleaner

Bar Keepers Friend
PHOTO: AMAZON.

Available at Amazon

Brew Rite Coffee Maker Cleaner

Brew Rite
PHOTO: AMAZON.

Available at Amazon

How to Descale Your Coffee Maker

Despite the prevalence of descaling solutions, descaling your coffee maker is the same thing as a deep clean. 

“We like to think of regular cleaning and descaling as two separate processes, although similar in nature,” says Calatrello. “Deep cleaning, or descaling, involves using a solution to remove stains and build-up.” That means we’re getting rid of coffee stains, oil residue, and water deposits. Just follow the steps above and — poof! — you’ve descaled. And yes, this is where that vinegar mixture comes in handy — there’s no need to buy special products unless you want to.

how to clean coffee maker

Food & Wine / Summer Rylander

FAQs

How do you clean your coffee maker without vinegar?

If you don’t have vinegar on hand but still want to clean your coffee maker with pantry products, reach for the baking soda. Mix one part baking soda with four parts water, and run it through the brew cycle as described above.

You can also use lemon juice (just make sure there are no seeds, pulp, or rind in the liquid) with equal parts water to effectively clean your coffee maker without vinegar.

How do you clean a coffee maker with a grinder?

“Cleaning a grind-and-brew coffee maker is nearly identical to cleaning a traditional coffee maker, with one additional step,” says Calatrello. “Avoid using any water on the grinder, and do not rinse the components. Simply use a soft cloth to wipe away any coffee grounds and oils.” 

To help avoid build-up of grounds, Calatrello recommends wiping the grinder components on a daily basis if you brew a dark roast bean, or once per week for lighter roasts.

Tips for Keeping Your Coffee Maker Cleaner for Longer

It sounds easy, but it’s true: Rinsing your coffee maker every day — or at least each time you use it — will keep it cleaner for longer and help ensure the best-tasting coffee. 

“Not only will your coffee maker stay cleaner, it will last longer overall,” says Calatrello. “Regular maintenance is critical for coffee makers and takes mere minutes to perform. Monthly deep cleanings will prevent stubborn build-up and keep your machine looking new for years to come.”

Coffee Makers We Love

If you’re in the market for a new coffee maker — one that you’re sure to keep super-clean and fresh — we have a few suggestions:

Cuisinart PerfecTemp Coffee Maker

coffee maker

Amazon

Available at Amazon

The Cuisinart PerfecTemp Coffee Maker was recently deemed our favorite drip coffee maker, thanks to its generous capacity, simple design, and programmable capabilities. You can even choose between a regular or bold brew cycle.

DeLonghi La Specialista Prestigio Espresso Machine

coffee maker

Amazon

Available at Amazon

For something swankier, the DeLonghi La Specialista Prestigio Espresso Machine earned top honors in our test of coffee machines with grinders. Our testers loved its excellent performance and café-style versatility.

Our Expertise

This article was written by Summer Rylander, a food and travel journalist who has written about food, beverage, and cooking products for Food & Wine, Allrecipes, Serious Eats, and The Kitchn. She wrote this piece based on research, conversations with experts, and her own personal experience as a coffee enthusiast with multiple coffee-making devices.

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