How to clean a coffee maker – for a great cup every time

Knowing how to clean a coffee maker ensures every cup of java tastes good, and your machine stays hygienic

Man adding foam to coffee in front of barista coffee maker
(Image credit: Bradley Pisney for Unsplash)

Home coffee brewers, are you in the know about how to clean a coffee maker? We’re here to tell you that you should be if you want to keep the quality of your drinks consistent, give your machine a long life, and ensure it stays hygienic, too.

Whether your preference among the best coffee makers is a capsule coffee maker, a filter version, or a barista coffee machine, cleaning your appliance is an essential job. The good news? It’s not a hard one, and our step-by-step guide will give you the lowdown on the best way to clean and maintain your coffee maker.

And if you’re asking whether you can clean your coffee maker with vinegar and baking soda, and how you’d deep clean your machine, we’ve got the answers, too, along with advice from the experts.

How to clean a coffee maker

The answer to the question of how to clean a coffee maker does depend to some extent on the type of machine. But there are some general guidelines every coffee maker owner should know, plus we’ve got the lowdown on the specific care different designs need.

You will need:

1. Wipe the machine

The first stage in how to clean a coffee maker is to use a clean damp cloth to wipe the outside of the machine. Wipe the coffee outlet, too, and the hot plate if yours is a filter coffee machine – but wait for it to cool down first. 

2. Wash parts

Wash parts according to the type of coffee maker you own. 

For a capsule coffee maker, this can include the drip tray and capsule holder; for an espresso machine, the water tank, drip tray and grid; for a barista coffee machine, the bean container, water tank, drip tray, filter baskets and the portafilter; and, for a filter coffee machine, all the removable parts.

Note that some parts are dishwashable, while others may need to be washed by hand. Always check the instructions that came with your coffee maker.

3. Clean the steam wand

Want to know how to clean a coffee maker with a steam wand? The steam wand should be cleaned immediately after use. A shot of steam will remove any remaining milk and the wand’s exterior can be wiped with a clean damp cloth. The end may also be removable for rinsing and unblocking, depending on the particular model.

What is the best way to clean a coffee maker?

The type of coffee maker you own will dictate the best way to clean it. 

Capsule coffee machines are the most straightforward to clean because of their design. Apart from following the steps above, check the manual that came with it, or find it online, and look for any manufacturer’s instructions on cleaning your capsule machine internally. 

‘One part of capsule/pod machines that is often neglected is the pod bay itself,’ says Shabbir Nooruddin, coffee blogger at Coffee Brewster (opens in new tab). ‘With the coffee maker unplugged, use a damp towel to clean the needle and inside of the pod bay to remove any coffee residue that may be ruining the taste.’

Owner of a barista machine? ‘It’s a good idea to clean the shower screen after every shot,’ says Asser Christensen, founder of The Coffee Chronicler (opens in new tab). ‘Just run a bit of hot water through the group head while using a nylon brush on the screen to get rid of any grounds that might be left. Next, the portafilter and basket can be washed with running water and a sponge after each use.’

For a filter coffee machine aside from following the steps above, check the instructions to find out if the machine has a cleaning cycle you can use periodically and what this needs – a vinegar solution followed by cycles with clean water may be recommended, for instance. Otherwise, follow the descaling process (see below) recommended in the manual to keep the inside of a filter coffee machine in good shape.

How often should you clean your coffee maker?

For a fresh cup of Joe every time, cleaning your coffee maker after every use is important, and you can use the steps in our guide. 

If your daily brew ever tastes bitter, burnt, or just a little bit off, it’s time to show your maker a little extra TLC and give it a deep clean, as below. Your machine will also tell you if it needs a bath if the coffee it produces takes longer than normal, or if the finished results are more tepid than piping hot. 

Descaling your machine periodically is also important. ‘Descaling should be done every quarter or more frequently,’ advises Asser Christensen. ‘However, it’s hard to give any fixed rules since it also depends on the hardness of the water you use and the type and brand of espresso machine you have.’ Descaling will be necessary for other types of coffee maker, too, and you’ll find details below.

How do you deep clean a coffee maker?

Aside from your daily cleaning, knowing how to clean a coffee maker means being aware of the the tasks you need to do less frequently but still regularly to give it a deep clean. 

‘Once a month, remove the water reservoir if applicable and wash it out with soap and water. Also run a cycle through your coffee maker without any coffee just to push hot water through the whole thing,’ advises Shabbir Nooruddin.

For a barista machine, periodic cleaning using Cafiza or a suitable cleaning tablet according to instructions will remove coffee oils and any residue. Lauren Bowen, director of franchise operations for Two Maids & A Mop (opens in new tab), recommends: ‘Remove all removable machine parts and coffee residue, wash with dish detergent, and dry well. Using a liquid coffee machine cleaner, run a clean cycle with the cleaner and hot water. Repeat as needed and then run a cycle with plain, hot water. Remove and rinse the drip tray, filter, and other parts. Dry thoroughly.’

How to descale a coffee maker

Descaling a coffee maker will likely be necessary every four to six months but, as we’ve said, it does depend on the water in your area as well as the model. ‘Descale your coffee maker using descaling solution,’ advises Shabbir Nooruddin. ‘This can be bought from the manufacturer, or just a tablespoon of citric acid powder mixed into a gallon of water. This helps remove any limescale build-up from the insides of your machine.’

The best way to clean a specialized machine like a Nespresso capsule coffee maker is to purchase the manufacturer's descaling kit (opens in new tab)

First, remove any loose parts and clean them in hot, soapy water. Reassemble your machine, and pour fresh water into the water container, adding a sachet of the descaling solution. Place a large container under your maker and turn the machine on.

To start descaling, you'll need to press the option for your specific machine (opens in new tab). For the popular Inissia, Citiz, and Pixie press the two flashing buttons at the same time and hold for three seconds. From there, the machine will do all the work for the next 10 minutes or so. 

Once the machine has cycled through, refill the tank with fresh water and repeat the process. Exit descaling mode by pressing the same buttons that initiated the process. 

Owner of another type of coffee maker? ‘The process is basically the same, whether you have an espresso machine, drip coffee maker or pod machine,’ says James Hyslop of The Coffee Folk (opens in new tab).

How do you clean a coffee maker with vinegar and baking soda?

Vinegar is sometimes used to descale and therefore clean a coffee maker of mineral build-up. Be aware, though that this isn’t always recommended. ‘If you read your machine’s user manual, you’ll see that most manufacturers will advise that you should not descale your brewer with vinegar,’ says Michael Conti of My Morning Espresso (opens in new tab).

‘White vinegar contains 5 to 8 per cent acetic acid. This specific type of acid can wear down metal and cause your machine to leak. As a result, using vinegar to clean your machine can void the warranty. Instead, you can buy an inexpensive solution that uses safer citric acids to clean your machine.’ 

However, if your machine’s manual doesn’t advise against it, one of the most popular ways to clean a basic drip coffee maker is with vinegar. And it’s pretty easy. Just fill your reservoir halfway with white distilled vinegar and top it off with water. The solution will sanitize your carafe and break down any mineral deposits that may have built up in the machine. (For particularly tough build-up, you can increase the amount of vinegar in the ratio.) 

Add a coffee filter in your basket as normal, and turn on your machine. Let it brew until the carafe is about halfway full, then turn it off and let the vinegar mixture soak for about an hour. 

Once the time has passed, turn on the coffee maker again and let it finish its cycle. Pour out the vinegar solution and refill the carafe with only water. Replace the filter, pour the water in the reservoir, and run another cycle to clear away any remaining vinegar taste or smell. 

When it’s done, give your carafe a quick wash with soap and water and your machine is clean for tomorrow morning’s cup of Joe! 

Don't have vinegar on hand? Baking soda can be just as effective, but do check the manual. Like it does for your fridge or mildewed linens, baking soda is great at eliminating odors in your coffee maker. 

Fill your carafe with warm water and add a quarter cup of baking soda. Mix together until the powder is dissolved, then pour into your reservoir and run a regular brew cycle. (Clumpy bits of baking soda could clog your machine even more.)

You can also use the baking soda residue to scrub your carafe. Once everything is done, run an additional brew cycle with water only. 

After serving as an editor for luxury publications for nearly a decade, Ann Loynd Burton struck out on her own as a freelance writer covering design and lifestyle. Along with her work highlighting decor trends for Real Homes, Loynd Burton has covered interiors for such publications as Apartment TherapyAspireCottages & Gardens, and Galerie