The Brilliant British Solution to Cleaner Coffee Mugs

published Dec 11, 2021
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Cup of espresso and custard tarts
Credit: Aila Images/Stocksy

While Americans may typically think of Brits for their love of tea, surprisingly the Brits have the perfect solution for cleaning coffee-stained mugs. Allow me to explain: After I wrote a showdown for Kitchn testing five methods to clean coffee-stained mugs, a couple of readers suggested also testing a British import — Milton’s sterilizing and cleaning fluid. As a big lover of coffee, I leapt at the chance to find another cleaning solution!

Credit: Getty Images/ Jamie Grill

See, coffee stains (especially ones that have really seeped into the ceramic or porcelain walls of your favorite, much-used mug) can be somewhat tricky to remove for one simple reason: they’re oily. Most of the brown residue you see left behind after you’ve finished your cup is caused by the transfer of oils or lipids from the surface of the coffee grounds to the brew you’ve enjoyed. (Fun fact: Those same oils also contribute to a coffee’s body or texture!) Like other types of oil, they don’t bond with water, which means it takes more than a rinse to wash them away. If they build up and become especially heavy, they may even require quite a bit of elbow grease to remove. But, as I learned and tested for myself, there was a much easier way to get the job done.

Credit: Ever Meister

First, I did a little research about the product: Milton Sterilising Fluid is made in Britain and has been a household staple since 1916. Named after 17th-century English poet John Milton (of Paradise Lost fame), it was first used as a disinfectant during World War I and brought into the trenches to treat skin burns. Milton’s fluid is a concentrate of sodium hypochlorite and sodium chloride (two of the primary ingredients of liquid bleach) and can be used for various purposes, including cleaning and sterilizing items such as baby bottles and pacifiers, teething toys, and children’s utensils. The company says it kills 99.9% of germs and, if used properly, it doesn’t require rinsing after use. 

Straight away, I went to work testing Milton’s cleaning solution. Finding the right stained coffee cup was easy. At the café where I work part-time (because I really do love coffee), coffee stains are a huge problem. No customer wants to get to the bottom of a cup and see the remnants of someone else’s latte! That usually means the coffee mugs at the café require a long soak in commercial dish soap, a good scrubbing, and a rinse before being sterilized. 

Folks at the café tend to linger over a cappuccino, which means the inside of the cups usually have oily rings from milk and espresso residue. (I think of them like the rings of a tree, marking the passage of time.) So, a quicker, easier way to remove coffee stains at work means I would be able to get back to taking orders and pouring beautiful drinks for people (in squeaky-clean cups).

Once I found the perfect test cup from the bus bin, I filled a cleaning bucket with 2.5 liters of hot water (although you can also use cold) and added one capful of Milton sterilizing solution. I placed the cup in the solution and set a timer for 15 minutes. When I came back from tending to the morning rush, the cup was almost entirely clean — no sign of the coffee rings, milk scum, or any lingering residue! It even removed the lipstick stain that the customer had left behind. After the stains were removed and my little test was done, I put the spotless cup (no scrubbing required!) back into the bin to be rinsed and then sterilized.

Credit: Ever Meister
Minimal effort needed. Look at those results!

Since it’s an imported specialty product, a bottle of Milton isn’t exactly cheap, but it is available on Amazon, and it works like a charm with minimal effort. Plus, it lets me multitask while knowing that my coffee cups are getting clean, and it’s easy to scale up for bigger batches of dishes. While the hefty price stops me from making it my everyday cleaning solution, I’m glad to have it in my mug-cleaning toolkit. 

Do you have any other suggestions for keeping coffee cups sparkling clean? Tell us in the comments below.