We Set Out to Find the Best Coffee-Maker Cleaner — And One Thing Became Very Clear, Very Quickly

updated May 24, 2021
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all the types of cleaners are standing in front of a coffee maker
Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Anna Stockwell

If you use your drip coffee machine on a regular basis, it’s a good idea to give it a cleaning/descaling at least once every few months. Depending on the style of your coffee maker, bacteria and even mold can get trapped in your water reservoir, making even the most expensive bag of coffee grounds taste funky. In addition to bacteria, mineral deposits from hard water can also build up, causing your machine to run slower and be less effective. (I’ve also heard horror stories of roaches living in a coffee maker!) As a wise person who was probably talking about their coffee maker once said, “Take care of those who take care of you.”

But how exactly should one take care of one’s coffee machine? A lot of people (including the editors at this site) will tell you to run vinegar through your machine, followed by a flush or two of water. And if you search “coffee maker cleaner” on Amazon, you’ll find pages and pages of options. Was one option better than other? How would the vinegar method compare to a specialized formula? I decided to find out.

I scooped up five different coffee machines from a nearby second-hand store. I tried to pick machines that looked to be equally in need of cleaning. All the machines were newer models, and basic drip coffee machines. I also ordered four of the most popular and most beloved coffee maker cleaners out there, plus some vinegar. And then I tried all five methods on the five coffee makers. What I learned: Honestly, all of these are great!

This story was supposed to be one of our iconic cleaning showdowns, but there really wasn’t a clear winner … aside from my coffee makers (they really made out like bandits!). The lesson here: Yes, definitely run special brew cycles dedicated to cleaning and descaling your coffee maker. Use vinegar or a special cleaner. I don’t care what you use — just use something, every few months.

Curious to learn more about the methods I tested? Here goes.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Anna Stockwell


The method: Fill your coffee machine’s water chamber to its full capacity with equal parts white vinegar and water. (You can use the carafe to measure equal parts of each.) Start a brew cycle. Midway through the brew cycle, turn off the coffee maker and let it sit for 30 minutes to an hour. Finish running the brew cycle, dump the vinegar, rinse, and brew another pot with clean water to flush out the vinegar. 

How it went: There was definitely a vinegary smell while the pot brewed (not my favorite!), but it didn’t stick around for too long. Once the vinegar passed through the machine, the resulting “brew” was gross and brown. A clear sign it worked! When I flushed the machine out with water, the water came out clean. Just in case, I actually ran a second flush to make sure that my next pot of coffee didn’t taste like vinegar. This method has been used forever (Mr. Coffee and other coffee machine companies actually recommend this method) and there’s a reason for it: It works and it’s something you most likely already have in your kitchen.  

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Anna Stockwell

Affresh Coffee Maker Cleaner

The method: Fill reservoir with water, drop one tablet in. Run two brew cycles, discarding dirty water during brews.

How it went: I dropped the tablet into the reservoir and it instantly starting fizzing. It dissolved as the water drained — only not entirely. I didn’t mind, though, because I ran a second brew cycle and figured it was getting my machine even cleaner. Then, I ran a plain water cycle and everything came out super clean. My reservoir had a faint oily coating (it was there when I started, too), but I used a Swedish dish cloth and was able to easily wipe it right up between the first two cycles.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Anna Stockwell


The method: Dissolve one package into 32 ounces of warm water. Pour the solution into the water reservoir. Put the empty pot and filter basket in place. Turn the machine on, and begin a brew cycle. Once the cycle is finished, dump the entire solution. Rinse all components and repeat steps 2 and 3 three more times with just regular, clean water.

How it went: I liked the fact that instead of a disc that needed to be dissolved, it was just a bag of granules that come pre-measured and ready to go, which makes the whole process quick and easy. After reading a few reviews online, I looked into it and found out the ingredients are 100% citric acid. It makes sense it’s such a great cleaner, because citric acid can kill bacteria, mold, and mildew, and helps remove hard-water deposits. After each of the three brews the water came out cleaner and cleaner. This was definitely an effective method for cleaning a dirty reservoir, and although all methods I tested worked very well, the ease of use for this one really stood out.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Anna Stockwell


The method: Dissolve one ounce of Dezcal for every 32 ounces that will fit in your machine’s water reservoir. Ready the solution and then pour it into the reservoir. Run the brew cycle, dump the solution, then run two more brew cycles with clean water. 

How it went: First, it’s important to point out that Urnex is the brand that makes Cafiza, which is beloved by award-winning baristas all around the country. For household use and drip coffee makers, the brand makes Dezcal. This non-toxic solution, which is also recommended by pros, is powdery and sort of floated out into the air like powdered sugar does, but it dissolved quickly when mixed with warm water. The first brew gave me some gross brown water, but by the recommended third brew, the water was crystal clear and the reservoir was squeaky clean. This method was super effective, but it did take me more than a minute to process the conversions and measure out the solution.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Anna Stockwell

Descaler by Impresa  

The method: Pour half a bottle of descaler into the reservoir, fill the rest of the reservoir with water, then run a brew cycle. Let the coffee maker sit idle with power on for 30 minutes. Dump the coffee pot, then brew two more cycles with water.

How it went: As the pot brewed, the water bubbled up and was a bit surprising because it looked like soapy bath water. It didn’t get out of control — there were just a few bubbles — but it was surprising because no other methods bubbled quite like this. By the third cycle, the reservoir was squeaky clean, and the water was totally clear.

As you can see, these methods were all winners! Now, when was the last time you cleaned your coffee maker? And how do you usually do it?