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Yesterday I posted an article titled: How Much Vinegar Does It Take To Clean A Coffee Maker. The short answer depends on how hard your water is and how often you brew coffee.
Today I wanted to expand on the frequency side of the equation. How often should you clean a coffee pot with vinegar?
The short answer - For simplicity it's best to just run some vinegar through a brewing cycle once a month or so. You don't have to think about it and therefore it's easy to add into your regular cleaning schedule.
The long answer - Vinegar is acidic, roughly 5%. When you cut it in water 50/50 then your acidic potency is cut in half but it is still potent enough to damage cheap plastic parts over time and frequent cleanings.
If you clean your machine with vinegar too much this can become a problem (although it's unlikely to become one). This isn't to say don't clean your machine very often but because of this I do like to clean my machines slightly less frequently.
You really should match your cleaning schedule to your usage if you want to maximize the efficiency of the process.
If you use your machine every day then you should clean it more frequently (every month or two). In contrast, occasional use coffee makers don't have to be cleaned nearly as often. In some cases every year may be acceptable.
Got Minerals In Your Water?
Hard water a problem for many households. It is a combination of calcium and magnesium in the water. Hard water by itself can cause a good build up of minerals in your water but even with soft water there are other minerals that can be in your water contributing to TDS and the scalely buildup that forms in your machine (or any surface that contacts the water you use.
I found a great TDS chart (see above) over at TDSMeter.com showing the TDS levels of different types of waters. If you don't know what TDS is it is the total dissolved solids in water. Follow the link for a far more comprehensive description.
Many dissolved solids in water contributing to higher levels of TDS include calcium bicarbonate, nitrogen, iron phosphorous, sulfur, as well as other minerals. Even in soft water these dissolved solids can form deposits in your coffee machine and can cause internal parts to perform poorly leading to less than stellar coffee. Additionally some of these deposits can substantially change the flavor of the water and the coffee that water brews.
If you have high TDS in your water then you may need to clean your coffee pot and machine a bit more frequently. It will help your machine work better and will make your coffee taste a bit better too.
You can estimate your TDS levels using the chart above or with an actual meter like this one. I don't own one but they seem like a cool thing to have around... you know, if you're a nerd.
In general it's best to remember that the better quality of water you have and the less often you use your coffee maker the less frequent you have to clean it - every few months is perfectly fine in some situations.
If however you have lower quality water, use your coffee machine daily, or just want the best tasting coffee you can possibly get from your home then you absolutely should be cleaning your coffee maker at least every month if not bit more frequently than that.