Best Way To Clean A Coffee Maker Without Vinegar

Need to clean your coffee maker or Keurig system but don’t want to use vinegar? Maybe you can’t use vinegar for some reason.

Read on I will give you the best alternatives to cleaning your coffee maker with vinegar right here and the absolute best alternative of them all (aside from buying a commercial cleaning product) is to use lemon juice.

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Is it Worth it to Use Lemons
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The Most Effective Way to Descale & Clean

How to Clean Your Coffee Maker Without Using Vinegar

Clean A Coffee Maker Without VinegarSometimes you just don’t have enough vinegar on hand or you just don’t want to use fancy vinegar for cleaning. I get it.

Although vinegar is one of the best all-natural and safest household cleaners around a lot of people don’t like to use it because of the potent vinegar small it leaves behind.

If you use apple cider vinegar to clean then the lingering smell (or taste) is even greater.

Some people only have expensive cooking vinegars on hand like apple cider vinegar or balsamic. Although these vinegars have the same acidity of white distilled vinegar they are not cost effective to use as a cleaning agent alone.

Probably the most common way to clean the water deposits and coffee oil residue out of the coffee maker and pot is to use regular old household white vinegar. The reason being is it’s relatively high PH or acidity.

White vinegar tops my list of best ways to clean a coffee maker but it’s not the only natural option.

The average jug of white vinegar that you find at your local grocery store has a ph level around 2.4 with a 5% concentration of acid. This will do a good job of cleaning out and disinfecting coffee maker water lines just fine but there are other ways to get the job done too.

Some use baking soda but I think lemon juice is the next best alternative with the exception of using products like Dezcal.

In my opinion the best alternative to using vinegar is lemon juice as it has nearly identical acidity and ph levels of vinegar.

The main difference is the source of acid.

Vinegar is acidic due to its acetic acid component as opposed to the citric acid component which found in lemon juice. Both will do exactly the same job at cleaning out your Aeropress made of plastic, your French press made of glass and metal, and your coffee maker typically made out of plastic, silicone (tubing), and metal.

Is it Worth it Using Lemons to Clean the Coffee Maker

On the whole a lemon juice and water cocktail will clean out the inside of your coffee make just as well as a standard vinegar concoction (described here) but it will a lot harder to get enough pure lemon juice out of lemons if you are squeezing them yourself.

You could on the other hand buy straight lemon juice but the cost will be a lot higher using lemon juice over white vinegar for the volume of lemon juice you’ll need to clean your coffee maker lines.

Typically you need to run a full coffee pot (12 cups) to fully clean out the insides of your machine. 1/3 to half of that will be either vinegar or lemon juice. It’s a lot cheaper to buy bulk vinegar than it is to buy bulk lemon juice but if you really don’t care to use vinegar then by all means pick up a big jug of lemon juice and have at it.

It’s best to clean out your machines more often than not so make sure to see this post on how often is best for coffee maker cleaning.

There is however one more reason why using lemon juice might not be worth it – although the acidic levels of lemon juice will help to descale your coffee maker the lemon juice won’t be that great at actually breaking up coffee oils that have accumulated inside the device over time.

Lemon juice may be a great acidic disinfectant that can break up calcified water lines while killing germs but it isn’t that good at cutting through oils that accumulate.

There are however more options for cleaning coffee makers that don’t include vinegar or lemons. You can see the list right here.

Can You Clean Coffee Oils From Your Machine With Lemon Juice

Oils need to be cleaned up periodically because they go rancid and affect the taste of the coffee you make but vinegar and lemon juice alone are not as good at getting this job done.

Some people turn to baking soda to get the pot cleaned but I contend that using baking soda to clean your coffee pot is not the best idea because the pot can get clogged up too easily.

To get baking soda into your coffee pot it must be well dissolved first which adds another step to the cleaning process. Even if you dissolve baking soda into your water before using it to clean your machine you still run the risk of it not flushing out completely which can ruin the performance of your coffee machine over time.

Baking soda is a great option for disinfecting and cutting through oils on household surfaces but I just don’t think it’s right for this job.

This is especially true if you need to descale and clean out a Keurig coffee machine because they use a pump to circulate water for the brewing process rather than physics and gravity.

You wouldn’t want to ruin your Keurig water pump machine by running baking soda through the water lines – those machines cost to much to replace.

The Most Effective Way to Descale & Clean Your Coffee Maker

There are actually a handful of similar products on the market that are made specifically for cleaning a coffee makers water system. They breakup the hard water stains and mineral deposits and are also formulated to remove the coffee oil buildup throughout the system.

If you really want to get your coffee maker as clean as possible I would look into products like De’Longhi’s EcoDeCalk which is a natural descaler for coffee machines or my personal favorite Urnex Dezcal Coffee and Espresso Machine Descaling Powder which has no smell at all and is more effective at breaking up limescale deposits and oil than either vinegar or lemon juice.

These products are both non-toxic and very safe and they are super inexpensive so it’s a no brainer to use them in my house. Of course use your best judgment but please do something. Those coffee pots are kind of gross if you never take the time to clean out the lines.

I should also note that if you use a plastic travel mug very often then the lemon juice is also more than capable of cleaning out the porous nature of your plastic parts if you soak it. This will eliminate many stains and smells from hundreds of cups of coffee. You can see more about how I get this done on my travel mugs here.

Finally, one more time, here are a number of ideas for descaling those water lines neatly listed in a single location.

How To Clean A Coffee Maker Without Vinegar

Clean A Coffee Maker With Lemon JuiceCoffee makers are probably one of the most used appliances that can be found in our kitchen. The constant, daily use, perhaps even several times a day, makes our machines prone to bacteria and other contaminants. This is mainly due to pouring tablespoon after tablespoon of coffee grind which after all, is a perishable good.

As a result, the quality and taste of coffee becomes worse and even harmful with every passing use of a dirty, unclean coffeemaker.

According to a study conducted by NSF International which tested twenty-two households, half of coffeemakers in the world were found to contain mold and bacteria. Disgustingly, the level of mold and bacteria in these coffeemakers were higher than the levels of dirt in toilets and bathrooms!

Furthermore, a dirty coffee maker prevents your machine from running properly and the grime that stops up your machine imparts flavors on your coffee, having a serious impact on the flavor of the cup.

The most obvious solution is to clean your coffee maker, Keurig, or espresso machine routinely with some Brew Rite, Urnex Cleancaf, or at bare minimum vinegar!

If you are in a bind however and don’t have any of that on hand then read on, there are a few ways to do a little diy cleaning.

Note – If you are looking to clean a Keurig coffee maker click here.

Most Common Ways to Clean Coffee Makers Without Vinegar

clean coffee maker without vinegarAs stated above the best way to clean a coffee machine of any sort is by using a dedicated cleaner/descaler. We’ve got a full post on this site dedicated to our thoughts on all the best coffee machine cleaners on the market.

If however you don’t have any of those on hand either (which I’m assuming you don’t since you’re reading this article) is to use an acidic product that will do the job of breaking up mineral buildup in place of vinegar.

The most obvious product that fits this bill is lemon or lime juice.

You can use either fresh juice squeezed from the fruit or use the grocery store packaged juice. They aren’t loaded with extra sugars and the acid in the juice is strong enough to kill bacteria and loosen up mineral deposits.

According to Livestrong an ounce of squeezed lemon juice has over 1.4 grams of citric acid, and The Spruce has a great article on the cleaning and disinfecting properties of citric acid.

If roughly 5-8% of lemon juice is citric acid and that acid kills bacteria, mold, and mildew while also helping to remove calcium, lime, rust deposits from hard water it’s safe to say that lemons are probably the best way to clean your coffee machines, Keurigs, Nespressos, and espresso machines save for vinegar or dedicated machine cleaners.

Unfortunately lemon juice is more pricey than the other options, that’s why most people just clean with plain white vinegar.

Lower on this page I’ll discuss the other alternative – cleaning your coffee equipment with baking soda, but to summarize here I’ll say it’s doable but probably not the best idea.

But first…

How to Keep Your Coffee Maker from Getting Mineral Buildup

clean bacteria in coffee makerThere are things you can do to prevent your machine getting dirty, like using filtered water, but even this won’t prevent the need to descale your machine. You’ll most likely need to give your machine a good clean every month or so, depending on how often you use it.

You would think that since a coffee maker essentially brings water to a boil it would stay clean but coffee contains oil and as you know, water and coffee don’t mix. The oil always remains and slowly builds up, then bacteria starts growing. Blech!

You might then be wondering, coffee makers are equipped with heating material and heat kills bacteria so how come these molds are able to resist and thrive in my appliance?

Well, the hot water our coffeemakers generate is not hot enough to kill bacteria (water must be boiling hot or at least a hundred degrees Celsius). In addition, it takes quite some time for the bacteria to die. Running boiling hot water over the contaminated surface is not enough to save us from a dirty cup of Joe.

Relatedly, the bacteria can transfer from inside the machine to carafes by means of air, or through the coffee itself. This doubles the health risk and drives home the point of the importance of cleaning our coffee makers.

The Magic of Vinegar

clean a coffee maker with vinegarGiven the current predicament that hot water and scrubbing off the inside of the machine clean aren’t viable options, human ingenuity takes over with a simple fix; vinegar.

Vinegar is actually one of the earliest, and yet, the most relied upon cleaning tools out there. The acetic acidic property of vinegar, formed through the fermentation of starches and sugars, is what makes it a great cleanser.

Tests show that vinegar is so effective it is able to kill 90% of mold and 99.9% of bacteria. The best part is that since vinegar is edible, it does not pose any health risks when accidentally ingested.

And as I said above, you can buy a big vat of distilled white vinegar for a lot less than it costs to buy lemon juice or commercial descalers.

Besides killing off germs inside coffeemakers, vinegar also makes for a great descaler.

Firstly, let’s keep in mind that tap water is unfiltered. It contains many molecule-sized impurities. The level of impurities depends on each location. You might have heard of hard water, which contains plenty of impurities. Of course, our bodies are in a way hardwired to handle the impurities. Unfortunately, our machines aren’t.

Through time, these impurities build up and this affects the taste of coffee.

Descaling is the term referring to the process of removing the impurity build-up in our coffeemakers and vinegar makes a great, cheap and convenient tool for it. Descaling is an often overlooked process of the coffeemaker care aspect. Failure to descale not only results in poor-tasting coffee, the mineral build-up is also known to cause harm to your machines.

Again, it should be emphasized that vinegar is safe for our bodies since this it is edible. This is a great upside especially for households which have children since one does not have to worry about keeping commercial descalers out of reach of children.

Furthermore, vinegar is safe not only to our bodies but also to the environment compared to cleaners which have chemicals contained in them. One does not also have to worry about properly disposing of these chemicals. On the other hand, one can simply dispose of vinegar anywhere since it is a biodegradable product.

The Vinegar Method of Cleaning Coffeemakers

The cleaning/descaling process begins with the user filling the coffeemaker’s reservoir with equal parts water and vinegar. Brew the solution until it is half empty. Let the coffeemaker rest for half an hour then begin brewing the latter half of the solution.

Afterwards, “rinse” the machine by brewing water. Do this step twice. Afterwards, clean your basket and carafe with soap and water and dry properly. If there is still a smell of vinegar present, do another water brew until the smell is gone.

Remember to also wash the outer area of the coffeemaker using a damp cloth. The cleansing/descaling process is recommended to be done every six months but for areas with harder water, three months is advised.

The Cons of Cleaning with the Vinegar Method

Though vinegar maybe the embodiment of the ultimate coffeemaker cleaner, that is not the case as it has some drawbacks.

Firstly, some vinegar may produce a very powerful odor that kills all the excitement in considering it to clean your coffeemaker. As a result, repeated rinsing is necessary and this takes a lot of time, effort and water to complete.

Secondly, vinegars have their limitations in cleansing.

Dezcal and Full Circle Descalers are found to be more effective in killing more bacteria three and a half times faster than when using vinegar.

Also, vinegar is not as effective in removing grease in machines. Repeated attempts are necessary to break down and ultimately remove grease but as mentioned, commercial descaling products are available which can do the same task much more quickly.

The most common method of cleaning a coffee maker is with vinegar, usually white vinegar because it’s the cheapest option and of the types of vinegar it is the least difficult to rinse from your machine afterwards.

Although white vinegar is cheap and effective, and it may be the lesser of the evils where the leftover vinegar taste is concerned, but it still flavors the machine until a good few rinses later. If you’re not prepared to put up with the potential contamination of your morning roast then you can use other solutions.

Alternatives To Cleaning Your Coffee Maker With Vinegar

Clean Your Coffee Maker With Lemon Juice

Lemon juice contains the same degree of acidity as vinegar but doesn’t leave so much of itself behind in the machine. It’s a great substitute as far as performance goes, the problem is that you’ll need an awful lot of lemons to get the job done. If you’re hand squeezing you’ll need dozens of lemons, if you’re buying prepared lemon juice it’s down to the cost.

As lemon juice is a straight vinegar substitute, the cleaning method is the same.

Fill your usual water container with a lemon juice solution made up of one third to a half with lemon juice. Then run your machine through a brew cycle without putting any coffee in it and there you have it. You might want to rinse the machine with another brew cycle with only water to get rid of the taste of lemons, but you might like the flavor.

Clean Your Coffee Machines with Baking Soda

This is one that some people use, but while it is excellent for getting stains off the outside of the coffee maker, if you’re running a machine that needs to be descaled then adding any powder may well cause you problems.

Baking soda won’t entirely dissolve in the water, and the small particles that remain can be left behind in your machine, adding to your problems rather than solving them.

Baking soda is commonly used to clean basic coffee equipment, it is very effective at this too. the problem is when you already have a build-up of residue inside and you’re adding to it significantly by using baking soda solution.

The best alternative to vinegar, by a long way, is lemon juice.

But while it cleans just as well as vinegar, you’re likely to need to spend a lot to get the required amount of lemon juice and you’ll still need to rinse the machine afterwards. If you want to clean your machines better then go with a commercial cleaner and descaler. They are priced competitively to lemon juice and clean better and faster than vinegar.

With the baking soda method there’s just a lot of extra hassle involved to achieve the same clean machine as you’d get with vinegar.

Brian Mounts

Head blogger, editor, and owner of "Top Off My Coffee", a website that has been educating readers about coffee brewing techniques and equipment since 2012.

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