Not long ago I published an article on how much white vinegar is needed to properly clean a coffee maker. To summarize that piece it depends on how hard your water is and how often you brew coffee.
In todays piece I wanted to explain a related question in greater depth. I want to expand on the frequency side of the equation.
How often should you clean a coffee pot with vinegar?
The short answer – For simplicity sake it’s best to just run some vinegar through a brew cycle once every month or so. You don’t have to think about it and therefore it’s easy to add this into your regular cleaning schedule.
The long answer – Vinegar is acidic, roughly 5%. When you cut it in water 50/50 then your acid 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 often this can become a problem (although it’s unlikely to become one for most people).
This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t clean your machine very often but because of this and to save money on buying extra jogs of distilled vinegar I do tend to clean my machines slightly less frequently.
You can see the following article to learn more about how I actually clean things periodically without vinegar.
Prevent Mineral Deposits By Descaling Regularly
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, units that are only occasionally used don’t have to be cleaned nearly as often. In some cases every year may be acceptable.
Many people suggest you use a 50/50 mixture of vinegar and hot water to clean your unit however I tend to run a couple brew cycles at full strength before putting plain water or tap water into the water reservoir to flush the brew basket of any residue left behind.
Make sure to see this post for more detail on how much to use and how I make sure the vinegar taste doesn’t make it into my next cup.
The Top Reasons Why You Should Clean Your Coffee Machine More Frequently
If You’ve Got Hard Water Then Mineral Buildup In Your Machine Can Get Bad Fast
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 yours at least every month if not bit more frequently than that.
Some of your best options for regular deep cleaning are listed on this page.
NSF International Household Germ Study Shows That The Coffee Reservoir Is One Of The Dirtiest Places In Your Home
The “clean water” you put into your water reservoir may start clean but the warm moist environment after making a pot (or cup) of coffee is a breeding ground for bacteria.
NSF actually found high concentrations of germs, yeast, and mold. You can read the entire report here if you like but it’s usually in your best interest to wash out the inside and outside of your coffee making equipment more often then less regardless of the method you use.
Although vinegar can break up calcifications and kill germs so to can a product like baking soda, lemon juice, denture cleaners, or dedicated cleaners like Dezcal.
Some of these options are better than others for hygiene, cost, and ease of use though. That’s why I think using a multi-step approach is probably best.
For instance this week I’ll deep clean my brew basket, carafe, drip tray, or warming plate with soapy water and a clean sponge while the next week I might use lemon juice or Dezcal.
Although baking soda is an option it’s not one I choose to use very often because it can clog your machine if you are not careful.
See this post for my thoughts on using apple cider vinegar as an alternative to mix things up.
What Happens When You Never Clean Your Coffee Maker?
Generally speaking never sanitizing your brewer will result in unnecessary germs getting into your coffee which could potentially cause health issues but will most assuredly cause poor flavor in your cup.
If mold, yeast, bacteria, old coffee oils are left in all parts of your unit then the foul flavors of these undesirables will alter the flavor of your grind and make the best quality coffee taste worse.
For all coffee lovers, having a great cup of freshly brewed coffee makes is the perfect way to start the day. There’s only one thing that could ruin it – a stale cup of coffee. A dirty machine can easily make fresh coffee taste stale and old.
Make sure to see this article for more on what stale coffee actually means.
Methods For When & How To Clean Your Machine
The quick answer to this question is clean it after every use. It’s no rocket science. It’s a standard process in every kitchen equipment. Clean every equipment after every use to ensure maximum usage.
However, manufacturers suggest that there are two types of cleaning needed to extend the life of your coffee maker.
This means that you need to clean your coffee maker on a regular basis, as soon as you use it.
Coffee can easily stain the carafe and the hot plate. Also, if your coffee brewer has a filter basket, keeping the used coffee grounds for too long can cause deep seated coffee stains coupled with an undesirable odor.
Here are simple ways to help you clean the coffee maker as quickly as possible:
- Wash the carafe and the coffee filter after every use.
- Always follow manufacturers’ instruction whether parts are dishwasher safe or hand wash only.
- Dry as many parts as you can with a clean cloth or paper towels to remove all residue from soaps.
- Always check all accessible parts for grime.
- If you keep coffee maker inside a cupboard, always make sure that all parts are dry to avoid any mold and mildew build up.
- Regular cleaning will only take you about 5 to 10 minutes.
This means putting your coffee maker in a deep cleaning process, which can involve special ingredients and processes. Deep cleaning could take as long as 30 to 45 minutes.
When deep cleaning the coffee maker, you can use any of the following natural home ingredients: vinegar, salt, baking soda and denture tablets.
- Vinegar and Salt – Mix water, vinegar and add some salt. Salt is a natural antibacterial. By adding salt, it will help you disinfect the coffee maker especially if mold and mildew had grown in the tube the carries the water from the chamber to the filter.
- Baking Soda – You can also use baking soda when cleaning your coffee maker. The process is similar to using vinegar. Mix baking soda with lukewarm water. Always use warm water to completely dissolve the baking soda. Pour the solution inside the water chamber. Press the brew button and run a full brewing cycle. Throw away the water. To wash the coffee maker, fill the water chamber with full brewing cycle. Run a full brew. Often, it will take two full brewing cycle to completely wash off the mixture.
- Denture Tablets – Fill the carafe with water. Dissolve 1 or 2 denture tablets. You can use even over-the-counter, generic denture tablets. Pour the denture tablet solution in the water chamber. Run a full brewing cycle. Discard the used water. Fill the water chamber again and run a full brewing cycle to wash off any remaining solution. It often takes just one full clean up brewing cycle to clear up the denture tablet solution.
Although I don’t think using dedicated cleaner products every time is necessary I do think it’s worth buying some Dezcal and using it every now and then between natural cleaners is worth your time and money.