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How To Clean Your Coffee Maker

Can you taste them... the strange flavors seeping into your cup, nestling themselves into your sensitive taste buds? Your coffee maker used to produce the perfect cup, but now something has happened and your once trustworthy brewer is acting strange.

Did she find out that you used to see Starbucks before you found her? Is she making coffee for someone else now, maybe even your roommate? Where did this funky (tasting) attitude come from?

As hard as it is to say, the truth needs to be told: you haven’t been treating your beloved (coffee maker) right, and she’s now close to breaking down. Fortunately, all your failing relationship needs is a good cleaning to get things back to how they once were.

So today, for her sake, I am going to show you how to clean your coffee maker - the easy way.

Note: this method is NOT recommended for fixing your actual human relationships.
Infographic: How to Clean Your Coffee Pot

What You Will Need

For this “how to” we will just be focusing on drip coffee makers like these which are notoriously hard to clean. Number one on the list is knowledge, because nothing ever gets done (at least not in my house) without knowing why it should be done.

According to the National Sanitation Foundation (NSF), the reservoir of your coffee brewer is the fifth germiest spot in your home  (1), ranking higher than even your dog’s favorite chew toy. Although I am no supporter of an overly Lysoled home — after all, everyone needs at least a few germs in their life — I do strive for liveable cleanliness.

By cleaning out all the nasty germs (possibly including coliform bacteria) propagating like bunnies, you will vastly decrease your risk of unwittingly poisoning yourself (just think of how awful an obituary that would be).

No matter what sort of advanced gadgetry you use, it won’t matter one bit if your coffee maker isn’t clean.

But if germophobia isn't enough to convince you, how about the taste? Old, burned-on oils leave your coffee tasting bitter and rancid. With a little effort every so often, you can protect yourself from the shame (not to mention the disgust) of skunky, stale coffee flavors (2).

"When the coffee you brew starts to taste bitter and funky, it’s time to give your coffee machine a little extra love. A simple cleaning [...] will also remove mineral buildup and clean out the coffee oils that get left behind and turn rancid. " -The Kitchn

To clean out your coffee maker, here is what you will need:

  • Water
  • Coffee maker - duh
  • White vinegar (enough to fill your coffee makers carafe)
  • Warm soapy water
  • A sponge
  • Cotton swabs (optional)
  • Paper filters
  • Paper towels or dishcloths
  • Uncooked white rice

Before we jump into the “how to,” just let me make one quick note: Many coffee makers claim to be dishwasher safe (and they typically are), but a dishwasher won’t get rid of all the bacteria festering in your brewer. Because while you can at least pop your machine's removable parts into the dishwasher, the internals typically don't work that way.

Furthermore, a dishwasher will often leave a fine layer of soap film (3) on your coffee pot's parts, which will only contribute to the funky taste fund you’ve been investing in for far too long.

Cleaning Your Coffee Maker

Now that we’ve got all of our equipment, it’s time to dive in and get our hands dirty!

1. Dump And Rinse

Coffee maker components

First things first, dump out any old grounds still sitting in your brew basket and any old coffee still in the carafe. Don’t worry about scrubbing just yet, we will get to that later.

While you’re at the sink, go ahead and give your carafe a light rinse as well, washing away any last drips of yesterday’s brew still pooling at the bottom.

2. Water And Vinegar

Fill your coffee maker’s reservoir to its full capacity with equal parts water and white vinegar. Although it is not necessary to be completely precise, you can use your carafe to make sure you are at least close to the right measurements.

Next, place a clean filter into the machine’s brew basket and set the carafe in position. This should feel like everyday brewing, just without any coffee grounds, and with the water-vinegar solution (4). (On second thought, this feels nothing like everyday brewing.)

Distilled white vinegar is an effective and chemical-free household cleaner. The acetic acid in vinegar kills many strains of bacteria on household surfaces and inhibits the growth of new bacteria and mold. - Corey Whelan, Healthline

3. Half Brew

Go ahead and start your coffee maker’s brew cycle and let it run only half way through. Once you get half way shut it off and let it sit for no less than 30 minutes, but no more than an hour.

This step will give the warmed up solution plenty of time to cleanse your coffee maker of all the harder to kill bacteria, which have escaped your washing machine’s careless cleaning.

4. Finish The Brew

Once the 30 minutes are up, turn your coffee maker back on and let it finish its brew cycle. When the machine is finished, dump out the carafe and refill the reservoir with fresh water.

Now, run through the entire brew cycle again, and repeat once more after that is finished. Doing this will rinse out any remnants of the solution still clinging to the walls and tubes of your coffee maker. Having your cup of coffee taste like salad isn't much of an improvement.

5. Clean The Carafe

Carafe of Coffee Pot

Use damp paper towels to wipe down the outside of your coffee brewer, removing any dust or coffee stains, and then quickly dry it off with dry paper towels so spots don’t form.

Next, pour some warm, soapy water into the carafe, and toss in about a handful of rice. Swish it around for a couple of minutes to let the rice’s abrasiveness scrub off any gunk still sticking to the inside, and then pour it out into the sink.

As an alternative, you can use a tablespoon of baking soda, just sprinkled inside the carafe while it's still damp, and then scrub it lightly with a damp cloth or paper towel.

This has the added advantage of neutralizing any left-over vinegar from the full cleanse, and the light abrasive nature of the baking soda makes the glass sparkle. If necessary, you can also use the sponge to wipe down the inside of your carafe, and then set it out to dry.

Pro Tip: You should do this final step after every other brew, to keep your carafe clean of any old, lingering flavors from past brews. 

6. Clean the Filter Basket (Optional)

One of the sneakiest tricks that those rank odor-causing deposits have is that they lurk in the fins inside your filter basket. And while the vinegar rinse does a creditable job... there's no substitute for scrubbing them out. 

To do this, sprinkle a small amount of baking soda in the basket, making sure to get it between any of the fins. Then, rub them forcefully through all the fins inside the filter cone, noticing the coffee stains you're removing from the basket. If you don't have cotton swabs, a tightly-folded paper towel will also scrub off any coffee residue left between the fins.

Oh, and the only reason we call this step optional is if your filter cone doesn't have fins. Many automatic drip machines do, though, and if they do - trust me, this makes a huge difference. (Want to be everybody's best friend in the office? Do this to the machine in the break room now and then.) If your machine's filter cone has no fins, just sprinkle baking soda on a damp paper towel and scrub it thoroughly to remove any oily residue left over from brewing.

Et voilà! 

You are now back on track to a happy and healthy relationship with your beloved (and much relied on) coffee maker.

Your daily coffee is the last place you’d want (or expect) to be infested with strange, self-replicating microbes, which is why it is immensely important to know how to clean your coffee machine.

If not for your health, do it for your coffee’s flavor. Properly cleaning out the gunk from past brews will ensure that coffee tastes just the way it should, and not like a sour cup of long-ago joe.

What did you think of this tutorial? Share your thoughts and cleaning experiences in the comments below, and don’t forget to share with your friends!

Frequently Asked Questions

How do I clean my coffee brewer without vinegar?

You can clean your coffee brewer without vinegar by using lemon juice instead. Both lemon juice and vinegar have enough acidity to help kill bacteria, mold, and yeasts growing in your coffee pot, and also to help remove mineral deposits from the machine’s internal parts.

Does vinegar kill mold in coffee brewers?

Vinegar kills mold in coffee brewers when used as explained above (5). The most important part of the instructions, for killing mold, is the half-brew: use a 50/50 mix of water and white vinegar, run the normal brew cycle till the carafe is half-full, then turn off the coffee maker and let it stand for at least 30 and no more than 60 minutes.

How often should you clean your coffee brewer?

You should clean your coffee brewer on two cycles: daily and monthly. Rinse the working bits daily, deep clean once a month or more often if you have hard water or heavy use. Also, on a daily basis, use a damp paper towel or kitchen towel to wipe down the inside of your coffee carafe and its lid, your filter, and the shower head where the water sprays out into your filter. And do the shower head last - you’ll be shocked at how much coffee grit splashes up there.


References

  1. National Sanitation Foundation. (n.d.). 2011 NSF International Household Germ Study [PDF File]. Retrieved from https://www.nsf.org/newsroom_pdf/2011_NSF_Household_Germ_Study_exec-summary.pdf
  2. Eykemans, G. How to Clean a Coffee Maker. (n.d.) Retrieved July 9, 2019, from https://www.thekitchn.com/how-to-clean-a-coffee-maker-cleaning-lessons-from-the-kitchn-200908
  3. How to Clean Cloudy Glasses. (2019, April 15). Retrieved from https://www.marthastewart.com/273273/cleaning-cloudy-glasses
  4. Whelan, C. (2018, April 17). PH of Vinegar: Acidity and Strength. Retrieved from https://www.healthline.com/health/ph-of-vinegar
  5. Strutner, S. (2014, October 01). Your Coffee Maker Is Full Of Mold. Here's How To Clean It. Retrieved July 9, 2019, from https://www.huffpost.com/entry/how-to-clean-coffee-maker_n_5861026
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Alex
 

Alex is the Founder and Editor of Homegrounds.co. He is passionate about brewing amazing coffee at home, and teaching others to do the same.

Click Here to Leave a Comment Below 1 comments
Eric Williamsone - July 12, 2017

A good alternative to vinegar which is mainly acetic acid is citric acid. It works pretty much the same way and doesn’t have the same funky odor. You can get powdered, food-grade citric acid at most supermarkets. Thanks for sharing this.

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