Having an automatic coffee maker at home is a game changer for getting your caffeine fix, but if you don't clean your coffee maker regularly it can damage the machine, and promote the spread of germs and bacteria in your home.
Vinegar is a popular multipurpose household cleaner, but if you use it for cleaning your coffee maker it can ruin your brew.
In this guide we'll show you why vinegar isn't an effective cleaner and what other coffee maker cleaning methods are better suited to the task.
Clean Your Coffee Maker Without Vinegar (Best Substitutes)
At this point, you’re probably wondering what to use to clean a coffee maker without vinegar. Well, there are a few different options, and many of them are just as natural, eco-friendly, and affordable as vinegar.
Here are the best alternative coffee maker cleaners:
1. Lemon Juice
Just like vinegar, lemon juice is well-known for its high acidity, so it’s great to clean with a lemon juice mixture.
The acidity level from the citric acid is just as high in lemon juice as in vinegar, but it won't leave behind the same bitter aftertaste or strong odor.
The steps for cleaning your coffee maker with lemon juice are simple. Start by running a brewing cycle with plain water only, and turn off the cycle when the reservoir is still half-filled with water.
Then, mix equal parts lemon juice and water (1/2 cup for each works well) and pour this mixture into the machine’s reservoir. Allow the contents to steep for about 15 minutes, then finish the brewing cycle.
2. Liquid Dish Soap
Using a mild dish soap is probably the easiest way to give clean your coffee maker without vinegar.
All you have to do for this method is remove the machine’s detachable parts, including the coffee carafe and filter basket, and soak them in water. Replace the parts once they have been rinsed and dried - that’s it!
3. Baking Soda
Baking soda is another all-natural cleaning agent that’s mild yet effective for cleaning your coffee maker without vinegar.
Start by removing the filter/brew basket from the coffee maker and setting it aside. Then, fill the coffee pot with one cup of warm water, and add about a quarter cup baking soda to the coffee pot, swirling it around to let it dissolve.
From there, pour the baking soda solution into the machine’s water reservoir, set the pot in its place, and activate the brew cycle.
The solution will work to clean the components of the coffee maker, removing residue and grime along the way. Once the cycle is complete, brew fresh water to remove any leftover baking soda solution.
Sodium borate, or borax for short, is a white powdery substance often used as a household cleaner or laundry detergent booster. It can also be used as a great coffee maker cleaner.
The process for using borax as your go-to cleaning agent is very similar to using baking soda, but the ratios of borax to water are slightly different.
For every full carafe of water, add about 2 tablespoons of borax before allowing the solution to run through a brewing cycle.
5. Hydrogen Peroxide Or Alcohol
If you’re looking for a natural cleaning solution, a hydrogen peroxide solution may not be for you, but this is a great ingredient to use if you want a really clean coffee maker.
Hydrogen peroxide is a cleaning chemical that's ultra-powerful but also extremely cheap (a large bottle will cost you no more than $2).
You can add one cup of hydrogen peroxide to the coffee pot, then fill it to the top with fresh water and pour it into the water reservoir.
Allow the mixture to run through a brew cycle, then finish up by brewing a few coffee pots of fresh water to eliminate any hydrogen peroxide cleaning agent that’s left in the coffee maker.
The same method can be used with isopropyl alcohol or even food-grade alcohol like vodka.
6. Cream of Tartar
Cream of Tartar is often used for cooking, but it also serves as an effective way to clean a coffee maker!
Similar to straight lemon juice, vinegar, and baking soda, there is acid present in this ingredient, so it’s capable of disinfecting while also removing limescale build-up.
To use Cream of Tartar, fill the coffee pot with hot water and add about 3 tablespoons of the powder. Mix it up, add the hot water solution to the water reservoir, and activate the brewing cycle.
Once the pot has cooled down, you can dump the warm water/Cream of Tartar solution and scrub the coffee pot clean; you should be able to get rid of any residue and build-up.
For each of these cleaning methods, make sure to run the brewing cycle once or twice to get rid of any residual cleaning agents. It’s also a good idea to wash all of the detachable parts with warm, soapy water and rinse them well before putting the machine back together.
Why It's Important To Regularly Clean Your Coffee Maker
You might be surprised by how many people never clean their coffee makers, and you might even be one of them! This is a common mistake, but luckily, it’s one that can be easily remedied. But the question still remains - why is it important to have a clean coffee maker?
The first reason has to do with the taste of your coffee. When coffee grounds are filtered through a coffee machine, they leave behind natural leftover coffee oil that can eventually form a coffee residue.
This is most common with a drip coffee maker or Keurig coffee maker, but can happen to any coffee machine.
Allowing this residue to build up can lead to bitter-tasting coffee, which isn’t something that most people enjoy.
More importantly, though, failing to clean your coffee maker can cause dozens of different bacteria strains to thrive in your kitchen and within the machine’s components.
While some of these strains aren’t harmful to the human body, some of them are, and they can ultimately cause harm to your health, such as an upset stomach or bacterial infection.
You don't have to clean your coffee maker daily, but it's a good idea to clean it regularly for better tasting coffee and a safer experience.
Disadvantages Of Using Vinegar For Cleaning Coffee Makers
Vinegar, either white vinegar or apple cider vinegar, is one of the most common natural cleaners used to disinfect and kill germs.
White vinegar in particular is high in acidity, so it’s great for killing some common strains of household bacteria, dissolving hard-water deposits, and cutting through residue and leftover coffee oils.
Best of all, it’s an affordable solution for cleaning around the home.
If you want a clean coffee maker then vinegar may be the obvious solution. However, there are some disadvantages to cleaning your coffee maker with vinegar:
1. Vinegar Can Erode Your Coffee Maker
A 2020 Consumer Reports post states that while “the plastic and glass surfaces on most small kitchen appliances, such as blenders, coffee makers, and toasters, are safe to clean with vinegar, you want to avoid any rubber parts or metal that vinegar can corrode.
This includes stainless steel.” Although it may not be visible to the naked eye, there might be components within your coffee maker, particularly the coffee pot/coffee carafe that can be damaged by the high levels of acid in vinegar. This means even the best coffee maker can be damaged by vinegar.
2. Vinegar Can Ruin The Taste
Another big disadvantage of using vinegar as your coffee machine cleaning solution is that it can be difficult to rinse all of the vinegar out of the coffee maker after cleaning.
This can ruin your delicious coffee with a strange taste, and the leftover vinegar in the coffee pot and mechanism can even be hard on your stomach.
3. Vinegar Smells Bad
The acetic acid in vinegar has a pungent smell. It's really noticeable and can make your whole kitchen unbearable every time to clean your coffee maker.
If you have a sensitive nose you're better avoiding the acetic acid in vinegar and using a lemon juice solution which has the fresh citric acid smells.
Common Coffee Cleaning Without Vinegar Questions
Can you run soapy water through a coffee maker?
Yes, one of the recommended cleaning ingredients is liquid dish soap. If you do choose to run soapy water through the coffee’s filtering system, just make sure to disassemble all of the parts afterward and rinse them well. Before putting the machine back together, ensure that no suds or soap are left behind.
How do you deep clean a coffee maker?
You’ve got a few options for deep cleaning your coffee maker. There are some commercial coffee maker cleaners available, but if you prefer a DIY method, you can use any of the alternative cleaners listed above.
For example, if you choose to use baking soda, start by filling the water reservoir of the machine with a baking soda/water solution. Then, activate the coffee maker's brew cycle and allow the cycle to brew halfway through. Then, stop brewing and let the rest of the mixture steep in the reservoir for 30 minutes to 1 hour. Then, finish the brewing cycle.
Whatever cleaner you choose, just make sure to brew clean water once or twice afterward to eliminate any residual cleaning agents.
Does descaler work better than vinegar?
According to Keurig, descaling
“is an important part of cleaning… This process removes calcium deposits, or scale, that can build up inside a coffee maker over time. Calcium and scale are non-toxic but left unattended, they can hinder your brewer's performance. Descaling should take place every 3 to 6 months or, for select brewers, when the descale light comes on.”
While many people choose to use vinegar for descaling since it’s all-natural and affordable, descaling solutions are specifically formulated for removing build-up, and they’re extremely effective for keeping your coffee making running reliably.
How long do coffee makers last?
It depends on how often you use them and how well you maintain them. A well cared for and regularly cleaned machine can last as long as 10 years.
The good news for coffee lovers is that there are several ways to clean a coffee maker without vinegar. If you want to avoid an acidic aftertaste when brewing coffee, use lemon juice, baking soda, alcohol, or another alternative listed in this guide.
Whatever you decide is the best way to clean a coffee maker without vinegar, the main thing to remember is to keep your coffee maker clean.
Not only will this lead to great-tasting coffee, but it will minimize common strains of bacteria that are harmful to our health.