5 Things You Should Never Do When Cleaning Your Coffee Machine

published Dec 5, 2021
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Credit: Joe Lingeman

We all know that coffee is the most important “meal” of the day, and we want that first cup to set us up for success. One way to ensure that your coffee machine keeps performing at its best is to clean it regularly — and correctly. Coffee oils that are left behind after every brew require regular attention, and the more frequently you use your trusty machine, the more often you may need to put it through a cleaning cycle. Cleaning your coffee maker is simple and will make a world of difference in the quality of your favorite drink, but there are five things to definitely avoid. Let’s find out what they are!

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1. Don’t wait too long.

If you’re a daily or several-times-daily coffee brewer, your machine will need more frequent cleaning than if it gets used once every couple of days. If you have a machine with a hot plate or a carafe that keeps coffee warm over a longer period of time, it will probably need to be cleaned even more regularly with more than just a hot-water rinse. A good rule of thumb is to clean the exterior, brew basket, and carafe once a week regardless of how often you use the brewer, to take care of dust or grime. Once a month at a minimum, be sure to run a full-scale cleaning cycle with a food-safe solution, and make sure that the water tank is also wiped out. 

2. Don’t use vinegar.

Vinegar is the most commonly recommended cleaning agent for coffee makers because it’s inexpensive, efficient, and convenient. I get it. But I’ve spent 20 years in the coffee business and I’d like to go on the record to advise against it. See, most coffee machines have plastic and rubber tubing that pump water from the brew chamber into the filter basket, and those porous materials can retain vinegar’s flavor if you run even a slightly too concentrated vinegar solution through them. Instead, buy a food-safe citric acid powder (available online and at most grocery stores). A simple solution of citric acid will pick up and slough off coffee oils more effectively than vinegar, and it is completely odorless and tasteless.

3. Don’t use dish soap inside the machine.

While it might be tempting to clean a coffee machine with grease-fighting dish soap to remove the oily residue that coffee leaves behind, don’t give in to that temptation. Putting soap into your water tank will make a bubbly mess and can be virtually impossible to completely rinse clean. Instead, take the citric-acid route (see above) and avoid a bubble bath on your counter.

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4. Don’t forget to descale.

At least once a quarter, descale your machine. This requires more of a soaking step than simply running a citric-acid solution through a brew cycle, and it’s a great way to make sure that the water-dispensing and holding parts of your machine are sparkling clean. If your machine has a removable water reservoir, soak it in a sink or bucket filled with a citric acid and hot water solution. If the tank isn’t removable, pour the solution in and let it sit for 10 to 15 minutes before turning the machine on and running a cleansing cycle. Run a second cycle with fresh water to flush it all out.

Credit: Joe Lingeman/Apartment Therapy

5. Don’t use the dishwasher for items that should be washed by hand.

While some machines have dishwasher-safe parts like brew baskets and carafes, many manufacturers prefer all of the component parts to be washed by hand. This is often to prevent waterlogging or damage from being jostled in the dishwasher. Closely follow the manufacturer’s instructions regarding hand- or dishwasher-washing the various parts, and your coffee machine should show you a lot of love in return, morning after morning.  

How do you clean your coffee machine? Tell us in the comments below.