How To Clean A Coffee Maker Without Vinegar

White vinegar is the top suggested substance for cleaning coffee makers. However, it’s not always the best option and there can be other legitimate reasons for users avoiding vinegar. Thankfully, there are other, equally (or even more) effective ways to clean coffee makers.

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For this guide, I’ll focus on how to clean a coffee maker without vinegar. We’ll look at various options available and where they lie on the scales of effectiveness and usefulness.

That said, remember there is a reason for vinegar being the most popular choice. It is cheap, effective, non-toxic, and easily available. Vinegar’s biggest problem is that it tends to leave behind an odor. It might take several cycles before that vinegar odor is completely removed from the coffee maker.

The Basics Of Cleaning And Descaling A Coffee Maker

Like any other machine, a coffee maker will need some maintenance and cleaning after use. The most common reason for deep cleaning is the presence of mineral deposits. As water cycles run through the coffee maker, mineral deposits will start to accumulate. 

These are very tough to clean through normal methods. In fact, a fair chunk of the mineral deposits will show up in areas like the boiler and pipes. These aren’t directly accessible and cannot be as easily cleaned. 

Mineral Deposits Bring More Problems

As these deposits start to grow, they will affect coffee maker performance and the taste of coffee. If you’ve had the displeasure of tasting a sour-ish cup of coffee, mineral deposits are the culprit. 

Mineral deposits also become shelters for greater problems. They’ll create an environment where mold and bacteria are protected and can thrive. Potentially, this can be a real health risk.

It should be noted that mineral deposits aren’t the cause of problems like mold, yeast, and bacteria. These unwelcome substances are introduced to the coffee maker by unwelcome means and can thrive in the humid environment. 

Descaling And Deep Cleaning The Coffee Maker

As you can imagine, a quality descaler’s job is multi-pronged. It should remove the mineral deposits and get rid of the possible mold and bacteria present in the coffee maker.

A common misconception people have is that the hot water in the coffee maker will kill any bacteria or mold.

That part simply isn’t true. Water temperature in a coffee maker usually doesn’t reach points where it can remove bacteria and mold for certain. Besides, this hot environment lasts only a (relatively) short amount of time, which isn’t enough to sterilize the coffee maker.

Given its acidic content, vinegar can remove deposits and destroy practically all bacteria, mold, and yeast in the coffee maker. White vinegar is preferred, though you can use other options like apple cider vinegar to clean your coffee maker. It’s just that the odor of white vinegar is more easily removed from the coffee maker than other vinegar options.

There are several descaling options available that excel in ridding the coffee maker of scales and other unwanted elements. Several companies recommend their own cleaning products to use with their coffee makers. It is useful to consult the instruction manual of your machine to see if a specific cleaning product is recommended.

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Avoid Using Corrosive And Toxic Products For Cleaning

Sometimes, corrosive substances are recommended for cleaning coffee makers. They have some appeal in the sense that they can reliably kill pathogens that could be present inside the machine.

My suggestion is to avoid these products.

To be specific, avoid substances like bleach and acids like muriatic acid. These products can damage the coffee maker and even be serious health risks. Incorrect or incomplete flushing of the coffee maker could put your health at risk. So avoid these unless you know exactly what you’re doing and unless these products are recommended by the manufacturer.

To be clear, some commercial descalers can be slightly problematic as well, toxicity-wise. However, the associated risks and dangers are significantly lower than corrosive products. 

Don’t Forget Cleaning Accessories And Other Parts Of The Coffee Maker

While you’re putting the coffee maker in deep clean, don’t forget to clean other parts of the machine. These include the carafe, filter, and if it is removable, the water reservoir. Exteriors of the machine could use a cleaning as well, so get to work and make it shine!

It’s a good idea to check the instruction manual of the coffee maker for cleaning ideas. Things will go a lot smoother if the aforementioned items can go into the dishwasher. Usually, many parts can be top-rack dishwasher safe.

If the job must be done manually, you can follow these instructions to clean them thoroughly and quickly. 

  • Mix dish soap in hot water
  • Soak the carafe, filter, and water reservoir in this mix for 30-60 minutes
  • You may need a bottle brush to clean and remove dirt
  • Use a sponge for cleaning
  • Rinse thoroughly with water to remove all traces of soap

The water reservoir part discussed here only applies to cleaning coffee makers with removable water reservoirs. A coffee maker should never be submerged in water.

Cleaning The Coffee Maker With Lemon Juice

Lemon juice is a very popular alternative to vinegar for cleaning the coffee maker. It has similar acidity as vinegar, smells nice, and is non-toxic. In terms of efficiency, it is pretty much on par with white vinegar. 

The biggest difference here is the associated cost. Lemon juice is significantly more expensive than white vinegar. Whether you use store-bought lemon juice or squeeze them yourself, the investment in lemon juice is going to be higher. 

One way around this problem is using citric acid. It is the active cleaning agent in lemon juice and can lower costs considerably. However, if you do choose this method, make sure you have more work for citric acid. Or, you’ll likely end up with a bag full of citric acid where you’ve used only a few tablespoons.

Anyways, here’s how you go about cleaning a coffee maker with lemon juice.

Lower the volume. This machine is LOUD.

Step 1: Check The Coffee Maker

Check the water reservoir, carafe, and filter to make sure they’re all empty. Empty carafe and water reservoir allow easier measurement and mixing of cleaning substances. The presence of a filter or coffee in the filter assembly can lower the efficiency of the cleaning solution.

This is a common step and will be repeated for practically all cleaning methods.

Step 2: Mix Water And Lemon Juice

Ideally, you’ll need to mix water and lemon juice in a 1:1 ratio. Fill half the water reservoir with lemon juice and top it off with water. Alternatively, if the carafe and water reservoir measure the same, lemon juice and water can be mixed in the carafe.

Step 2: Alternative: Mix Citric Acid And Water

In case you’re using citric acid rather than lemon juice, the measurements change. The most common ratio used is one tablespoon of citric acid per gallon of water. Adjust the amount of citric acid depending on the coffee maker you’re using. 

For example, use slightly less than a tablespoon of acid for a 12-cup coffee maker. You don’t have to be exact, being close enough is good too! 

If you’re unsure what to pick, Milliard Citric Acid is a good choice.

Step 3: Run A Half Brew Cycle

Switch on the coffee maker and let it brew. Don’t let it dispense its contents into the carafe. Our priority here is simply to heat the cleaning mixture. Once the machine is all set to dispense its contents, switch it off. Let the coffee maker stay undisturbed for 30 minutes to one hour.

Letting the hot mixture stay will loosen mineral deposits and kill bacteria and mold. When we complete the cleaning cycle, it will be easier to dislodge and remove the mineral deposits.

Step 4: Run A Full Brew Cycle

After the waiting time is done, switch on the coffee maker again. This time, when it is ready, let it pour into the carafe. Let the coffee maker empty the reservoir and complete its brew cycle. Collect the dispensed contents into the carafe and discard them once the brewing process is complete.

Step 5: Run Brew Cycles With Fresh Water

Fill the reservoir of the coffee maker with water and let it run a full brew cycle. This is done to remove any lingering lemon juice and its odor inside the coffee maker. Usually, two cycles suffice for cleaning. However, more cycles might be needed if you continue to get the lemon taste and odor from the coffee maker.

Running brew cycles with fresh water is another common step and is used with practically all cleaning methods.

Cleaning Coffee Maker With Commercial Descaler Products

Commercial descaling products are fairly useful and thorough at cleaning and descaling coffee makers. As already mentioned, many coffee maker companies offer their own range of descaling products for their machines. 

Descaling products are available in several forms. These include liquids, powder, or tablets. You can choose whatever feels more convenient. 

Whatever form or product you pick, make sure that you check its requirements and follow the instructions. The amount or ratio with water used for descaling depends on individual products. 

Some of these may have additional requirements like wearing gloves while handling them. Many of these should not come in contact with stone surfaces like granite or marble. They are designed to dissolve mineral deposits and countertop stone surfaces tend to be mineral deposits! It’s not a huge risk, but still something worth keeping in mind.

For this guide, I’m using Urnex Coffee Maker and Espresso Machine Cleaner Cleancaf Powder. It is fairly convenient to use and is easy to handle. 

Step 1: Check And Empty The Coffee Maker

The first step is to make sure the carafe, water reservoir, and filter are all empty.

Step 2: Mix Descaler With Water

Each packet of the descaler is good for 32oz (one liter) of water. You can adjust these quantities to meet your specific requirements. 

It’s best to use lukewarm water because the descaler dissolves easily into it. You might find it more convenient to create the mix in a carafe, rather than the water reservoir.

Step 3: Run A Brew Cycle

Pour the descaling solution into the water reservoir and switch on the coffee maker. After a few minutes, the water will heat and the descaling solution will run through the coffee maker.

Let it pour into a carafe. Wait until the cleaning process is fully done and the water reservoir is empty. Discard the contents of the carafe into the sink.

Step 4: Fresh Water Cycles

Run two cycles with water to ensure that the descaling solution has been completely removed from the coffee maker. Usually, two cycles are enough. Though if you feel uneasy, it’s always possible to run another cycle.

Get Denture Tablets To Descale The Coffee Maker!

Denture tablets! This is perhaps the oddest ingredient to use for cleaning the coffee maker, and I’ve tried plenty of “offbeat” methods! The chemistry is solid and the process is straightforward, but somehow, it feels weird to use denture tablets for cleaning. 

Denture tablets are good at getting rid of bacteria, mold, and yeast. They’re non-toxic and easily available. If you already have some at home, great. Or you can buy them from Amazon.

I won’t suggest using this as the regular or go-to method for descaling the coffee maker. However, if you need the coffee maker in a pinch and have denture tablets lying around, go for it! 

Step 1: Ensure The Coffee Machine Is Empty

Check that the reservoir, carafe, and filter of your coffee machine are empty.

Step 2: Dissolve Denture Tablets In Water

Fill the carafe or reservoir with water and drop 2-3 tablets into the water. Mix to ensure that the tablets have completely dissolved in water.

Don’t move to the next step unless the tablets have completely dissolved.

Step 3: Run A Brew Cycle

Switch on the machine and let it run a full brew cycle. Collect the exiting water in a carafe and allow the water reservoir to be completely empty. Empty the contents of the carafe in the sink.

Step 4: Run Water Cycles

Fill the coffee maker with fresh water and run 1-2 cycles to completely remove any lingering parts of the cleaning mix.

Putting Baking Soda To Work In Cleaning The Coffee Maker

Baking soda is a popular cleaning ingredient and present in most homes. It creates an alkaline solution that removes mold and bacteria. It can also remove any traces of coffee oils that are stuck in the machine.

It is best used for cleaning other coffee makers like French Press or percolators. It is non-toxic and cost-effective, which makes its use more attractive. You can use baking soda for drip coffee makers as well, though this use is best avoided. 

A big reason for this is that baking soda fizzes in hot water. The released gas can create undue pressure on the coffee maker and even damage it. Additionally, baking soda’s prowess in cleaning mineral deposits is questionable. On the other hand, it is likely to leave behind small particles that can form deposits of their own.

Baking soda can be purchased from Amazon.

Again, don’t rely on it as a regular cleaning option. Instead, use it only if absolutely necessary and if no alternatives are available.

Step 1: Empty The Coffee Maker

Check and ensure that the carafe, filter, and water reservoir of the coffee maker are empty.

Step 2: Add Baking Soda And Water

Pour 1-2 cups of water into the carafe. Add a quarter cup of baking soda. Mix the ingredients well until the baking soda has completely dissolved in water. Pour this mix into the coffee maker’s water reservoir.

Step 3: Let It Brew

Switch on the coffee maker and start a brew cycle. Let the cycle run its course and collect the baking soda solution in the carafe as it exits the machine. Discard this solution in the sink.

Step 4: Fresh Water Rinse

Run 1-2 brew cycles of the coffee maker with water to remove all traces of baking soda from the machine.

Get The Coffee Maker Some Alcohol

vodka bottles

Using alcohol is a good way to rid your coffee maker of any mold or bacteria. Its effects on mineral deposits are questionable, but it is a pretty good cleaning agent.

I’m not a fan of this method. It’s a waste of perfectly good alcohol that could be more gainfully used for better things! Plus, there are cheaper and more efficient methods available to clean a coffee maker.

If you must use alcohol (you mustn’t!) it’s better to use vodka. It’s less likely to leave behind odors that mess with your cup of coffee.

Step 1: Empty The Coffee Maker

You know the first step. Check the carafe, filter, and water reservoir to ensure they’re all empty.

Step 2: Add Water And Vodka

Fill a quarter of the water reservoir with vodka. Top it off with water to fill the reservoir.

Step 3: Run A Half-Brew Cycle

Switch on the coffee maker and let it prepare to brew. Once the coffee maker is ready to start pouring its contents, switch it off. Let the coffee maker stay undisturbed for 30-60 minutes. This will allow the hot alcohol to kill mold and bacteria. It might also dislodge some of those pesky mineral deposits.

Step 4: Run A Full Brew Cycle

After the waiting time is done, switch on the coffee maker. Now, run a full brew cycle and collect the contents flowing out in the carafe. Once the brewing process is done and the water reservoir is empty, discard the contents of the carafe in the sink.

Step 5: Running Water Cycles

Run 1-2 full brew cycles with only water. This will remove any alcohol leftovers in the coffee maker.

Enjoy your clean coffee maker!

Cleaning Coffee Maker With Vinegar Alternatives

It’s not always easy to find vinegar alternatives to clean your coffee maker. There are, however, plenty of options available that can clean the coffee maker effectively. 

If you must use an alternative to white vinegar, my suggestion is to use a commercial descaling product. They’re the best option to use in this scenario and can reasonably be expected to work better than vinegar.

The second most effective method for how to clean a coffee maker without vinegar is the use of lemon juice. It’s useful and effective, though not as cost-efficient as white vinegar.