Sluggish brewer? How to clean a coffee maker with vinegar

A Simple Method to Clean Your Coffee Maker With Vinegar

Red coffee pot and fruit
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Mineral deposits (scale) from water and coffee residue can build up in the components of your coffee maker and over time, these cannot only affect the flavor, but it can also impair your brewer's efficient drip operation.

Although you can use demineralized water, buy mineral deposit removers, or use specially formulated coffee maker cleaners (see below), the most economical method to restore your brewer is by using a vinegar and water solution.

However, before you begin, you should check your brewer manual to ensure that cleaning with vinegar is recommended by the manufacturer. Note that some brands do not advise it, usually because of their coffee maker's metal parts.

Follow these steps to a quick coffee maker cleaning:

  1. Empty your coffee maker, rinse the carafe and ensure that the filter basket is properly set and empty. Remove the permanent coffee filter as well as the water filter, if applicable.
  2. Fill the water reservoir with a solution of equal parts of water and regular white household vinegar.
  3. Run it through a drip cycle.
  4. When the cycle is finished, turn off your coffeemaker but allow the water/vinegar to sit in the carafe for a few minutes, to remove any scale deposits, then discard the solution.
  5. You should run clear water (no vinegar) through your coffee maker at least twice, allowing your brewer to cool down between cycles. This will remove any lingering vinegar residue.
  1. This is a good time to thoroughly wipe the exterior of your coffee maker and clean the removable filter basket, permanent filter and carafe with hot soapy water. A change of water filter is also a good idea if your brewer has one.
  2. Your coffee maker is now ready to resume operation and your coffee should taste much better.

    How often should you clean your coffee maker? While some follow a monthly cleaning schedule, others do only occasional cleanings at best. At the very least, a cleaning every three months is advisable. It really depends on how often you use your brewer and on the hardness of your water, so cleaning requirements can vary.

    Some coffee makers have an audible or visible cleaning signal and that usually precludes a forced downtime, that you can often avoid, by being proactive with maintenance. Other brewers have a cleaning cycle set-up, which would be detailed in the manual. Always follow the manufacturer's detailed instructions for cleaning. My tips are provided for those with no such information.

    If your home has hard water (water with heavy mineral content), or if you tend to fill the water reservoir of your coffee maker from a rinsed carafe (not washed), residue would build up more quickly. In this case, a monthly cleaning is recommended.

    Coffee maker descaling and cleaning formulas:

    You can find several brands of descaling and coffee maker cleaning kits on the market. These, for the most part, ​do work well and can for some, cut the confusion and make it a little easier to conduct routine coffee maker care.

    Special note re: Keurig K-Cup Single Serve Brewers:

    Keurig K-Cup brewers need a thorough detailed cleaning process to remove trapped coffee residue from the impact needle, as well as to clean the brewer. Follow the manufacturer's detailed instructions. That said, being proactive with cleaning is key to a longer brewer lifespan and less downtime.

    We have personally found that if we wait for the cleaning cycle signal, it can be difficult to restore it to a trouble-free brewing operation. Cleaning for these brewers includes following precise steps, fully detailed in the product manual. Keurig recently started to include a brewer care kit with some single-serve models and this cleaning formula can also be purchased separately. 

    Whichever way you choose to clean and descale your coffee maker, this is an essential part of having a brewer.

    You can ignore this routine cleaning, but it can cost you in appliance replacement if ignored. If you find your brewer has become sluggish in its drip operation, this is most likely caused by scale build up. A cleaning usually fully remedies the problem. Do it often and enjoy your cup of coffee without interruption.