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Everyday Cheapskate: How to Deep Clean a Coffee Maker

Performing a thorough cleaning of a coffee maker is important to extend its life and ensure you are brewing the best coffee possible.

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

Plain white vinegar is the most common method for cleaning a coffee maker or automatic coffee maker. And if you did it that way, you might have discovered that vinegar has its own issues. A much better choice for this job is citric acid.


It takes an entire carafe full of vinegar to do a good descaling. Then the vinegar gives off a rather strong and unpleasant odor when heated. Because vinegar does not rinse off easily, it takes many pots of water in this coffee maker to get rid of the smell and taste. Failure to do so can result in the most unpleasant coffee.

Citric acid, on the other hand, is odorless. It only requires a small amount to do the job. It is 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 consistent measurement and works for almost any size coffee maker, resulting in a citric acid solution of around 20%.


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


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


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


Let it steep until it is full and the reservoir is empty. Pour the water that has collected into the carafe. Fill the water tank with clean water, this time without citric acid. This is a rinse cycle to remove any excess citric acid. Set to brew again using the clean cycle, or as above.


Let the coffee maker run another water-only cycle. Once that’s done, your coffee maker is clean again and ready to brew delicious coffee.

When cleaning 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 water type and how often you brew.

If you have hard water, you will need to clean more often than someone with soft water because your coffee maker will tend to develop scale faster. Check the owner’s manual for the manufacturer’s guidelines.

If you brew more than once a day, chances are your coffee maker will need to be descaled more often. It is best to clean at least once every 60 days.

In conclusion, citric acid is a good choice to descale your coffee maker. It is cheap and readily available. Citric acid is natural (from citrus fruits) and has no strong smell, which is a big problem with vinegar. Citric acid is as effective as vinegar. The cleaning process is the same as the brewing process. Simply add the citric acid without the coffee grounds. Your coffee maker will be like new, producing the best coffee possible.

Marie invites you to visit her at, where this column is archived with links and resources for all recommended products and services. Mary invites questions and comments to, “Ask Mary.” This column will answer questions of general interest, but letters cannot be answered individually. Mary Hunt is the founder of EverydayCheapskate.coma frugal living blog and the author of the book “Debt-Proof Living”.