How to clean a coffee maker with vinegar

Here's how to clean a coffee maker with vinegar in under an hour

A coffee maker on a wood kitchen countertop
(Image credit: svetikd / Getty)

Browsing for DIY methods to keep your coffee maker pristine and in working order? Perhaps you want to save money on buying specialist cleaning tablets or need a fix now and can't get to the shops. Well, you need to know how to clean a coffee maker with vinegar.

It's true that the manufacturer will not recommend using vinegar to clean your coffee maker – but, in practice, a solution of vinegar and water really works wonders on limescale. 

You will need:

1. Distilled vinegar: buy big bottles on Amazon (opens in new tab)
2. Water

In fact, many environmentally-friendly descaling products for home appliances contain vinegar anyway, so why not save buying an extra cleaning product when you can do a great job cleaning your coffee maker with what you already have in your pantry? 

Of course, if you have a fancy coffee maker you may not brave the vinegar and opt for the manufacturer-recommended cleaning solution – especially if you are still in warranty. However, if you are working with a well-loved machine, we absolutely recommend this tried and tested DIY cleaning mix. Clean your coffee maker with vinegar and it'll serve you longer and make better coffee. 

How to clean a coffee maker with vinegar

Cleaning your coffee maker with vinegar is very, very simple. All you have to do is:

  • Mix distilled vinegar (buy various sizes on Amazon (opens in new tab)) with water
  • Fill up the reservoir with the solution
  • Let it stand for 30 minutes
  • Run the full coffee making cycle with the solution in
  • Refill with clean water and run another 2–3 cycles until the vinegar smell is gone

This is the basic vinegar-cleaning method for coffee makers in a nutshell. If you're in a rush, you can let the solution stand for a little less time, although allowing the full 30 minutes will give you better results and will mean you don't need to clean your coffee maker as often. 

It is important not to pour straight vinegar straight into your coffee maker, though. Vinegar is acidic and can damage your coffee maker parts over time if you use it too much. You can also end up with a vinegary smell if you use neat vinegar. Properly diluting it will give you a much gentler cleaning action that's still effective at removing limescale. 

What is the ratio of vinegar to water to clean a coffee maker?

If you're ready to clean your coffee maker with vinegar but are unsure of the correct ratio of vinegar to the water, coffee expert and former barista Matt Woodburn Simmonds is here to help. He recommends 'equal parts water and distilled white vinegar. For a 12-cup coffee maker, that holds 60oz in the reservoir, this means 30oz vinegar and 30oz of water.'

So, it really is that simple: 50 percent vinegar and 50 percent water. 

Why is the 1:1 ratio the correct one? Kieran MacRae, the resident coffee expert at Above Average Coffee (opens in new tab),  explains that 'this allows you to deal with any limescale that might have built up without leaving you with a permanent smell of vinegar from your machine. It'll also get rid of any loose coffee grounds that might be affecting the flavor of your brew.'

Matt Woodburn-Simmonds

Matt and Katie run the website Home Coffee Exper (opens in new tab)t (opens in new tab) where they share information on all things coffee gained through a lifetime of working in the hospitality industry, including seven years as dedicated baristas. They focus on how people can have a better coffee experience at home.

How much vinegar do you put in a 12-cup coffee maker to clean it?

12-cup drip coffee makers are typically based on a 5oz cup of coffee (meaning a 60oz reservoir), so you'll want 30oz of distilled white vinegar mixed with 30oz of warm water. MacRae advises combining these in the water compartment of your coffee maker and running the machine 'as you would normally but without a filter.' 

'Empty out the mixture once it's finished then run the machine again with just water in the tank two-three times to rinse out all the vinegar. Once your coffee pot just smells of water you've rinsed it enough.'

How often should I clean my coffee maker with vinegar? 

This really depends on the quality of the water in your area. MacRae advises that 'doing this once every six months should be sufficient to keep it in good working order, but check the bottom of the water tank for limescale build-up if you live in a particularly hard water area. If there is a build-up then you should clean it.'

In extremely hard-water areas, you may need to clean your coffee maker with vinegar every month.

Do be aware that for most coffee makers, if you decide to descale them with vinegar and not the professional descaling solution recommended by the manufacturer, you will invalidate the warranty on your appliance. 

Anna is Content Editor at Real Homes. She moved to the world of interiors from academic research in the field of English Literature and photography. She is the author of London Writing of the 1930s and has a passion for contemporary home decor and gardening. At Real Homes, she covers a range of topics, from practical advice to interior and garden design. 

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