How to Clean a Coffee Maker for a Better Tasting Cup of Joe

Remove gross buildup inside your machine with this easy method for cleaning a coffee maker and carafe.

Your coffee maker might not be as clean as you think. Some of the warning signs of a dirty coffee maker are clear: Oily sludge and mineral buildup eventually form on your coffee maker and pot, creating stains, gumming up the brewing process, and producing bitter coffee. But the germs and bacteria you can't see might pose an even bigger problem.

One study by NSF International, an independent public health organization, cites coffee makers as the fifth germiest place in your home, with half of the reservoirs tested containing yeast and mold. These organisms can cause allergic reactions or even infections, so without proper cleaning, your coffee maker could make you sick.

The good news is that you can learn how to clean a coffee pot to look sparkling and (nearly) new in just a few easy steps. We'll walk you through how to clean a classic drip-style coffee maker with just vinegar and water. Plus, we'll show you how to descale a Keurig coffee maker; it uses the same materials, just a slightly different process. No matter which kind of coffee maker you have, you'll need to set aside a little time to allow the vinegar to work, so don't try this right before you need to brew a fresh pot.

coffee maker pulled from cabinet
Ed Gohlich

How to Clean a Coffee Maker

If you use your coffee maker every day, plan to clean the machine about once a month. Occasional coffee drinkers might only need to do this every three to six months. But if you notice visible buildup around the pot or basket, or if your coffee tastes off, it's time to clean your coffee maker.

What You Need

  • Coffee maker
  • White distilled vinegar
  • Water
  • Coffee filters
  • Cleaning cloth

Step 1: Fill the coffee maker with vinegar and water.

To clean your coffee maker, begin by filling the reservoir with a 50-50 mixture of white distilled vinegar and water. You can increase the ratio of vinegar to water if your coffee maker has a particularly nasty case of buildup. The vinegar not only sanitizes the coffee maker and carafe, but it will also dissolve any accrued mineral deposits.

Step 2: Brew and let soak.

Position a filter in the basket, and turn the brewer on. About halfway through brewing, turn the coffee maker off, and allow the remaining vinegar solution to soak in the carafe and the reservoir for about 30 to 60 minutes, depending on how much buildup you need to clear away.

Step 3: Finish the cycle and flush with water.

Turn the coffee maker back on and allow it to complete the brewing cycle. Toss the paper filter, if there is one, and pour out the vinegar solution.

Now you can flush the vinegar scent and taste from the coffee maker. Fill the reservoir with fresh water, put a filter in the basket, turn the coffee maker on, and let it complete the brewing cycle. Remove the filter, pour out the water, and repeat with clean water for a second cycle. Wipe down your coffee maker and coffee pot with a clean cloth.

a plant and two pink mugs filled with coffee beside keurig coffee maker
Carson Downing

How to Clean a Keurig Coffee Maker

Cleaning your Keurig coffee maker isn't any more complicated than a traditional drip-pot version. Just as with a standard coffee maker, distilled white vinegar and water are your go-to Keurig cleaning solution.

What You Need

  • Keurig coffee maker
  • Dish liquid detergent
  • Towel
  • Toothbrush
  • Cleaning cloth
  • All-purpose cleaner
  • White distilled vinegar
  • Water
  • Empty mug
woman wearing plaid wiping down keurig with white towel
Carson Downing

Step 1: Wash Keurig exterior.

Before you begin to unclog or descale your coffee machine, you should give the exterior a good scrubbing. The reservoir, drip tray and its cover, and the holder and funnel can be washed in the dishwasher. However, do not put the reservoir lid in the dishwasher. Alternately, you can place these pieces in a sink filled with hot water and about one teaspoon of liquid dish detergent. Let them soak 15 minutes, then rinse well and towel dry.

cleaning keurig coffee maker with a toothbrush
Carson Downing

Step 2: Clean Keurig interior.

While the removable parts are washing or soaking, take a clean toothbrush and gently brush out any stuck coffee grinds in the K-Cup holder. While you're in there, use a damp cloth to remove any buildup. Finish the job by wiping the exterior with a cloth dampened with an all-purpose cleaner.

If you notice any limescale deposits (white crusty buildup), simply soak part of your cloth in white vinegar, apply it to the affected area, and let soak for a few minutes. Wipe again and the white marks should disappear before your eyes. Finish by re-assembling the Keurig coffee maker.

woman wearing plaid pouring water from pyrex measuring glass into keurig
Carson Downing

Step 3: Run vinegar solution.

Before you start cleaning a Keurig coffee maker, make sure it has no pods in it. Place a large empty mug on the tray. Empty any water from the reservoir and remove the water filter if you have one. Refill the reservoir to the maximum line with a solution of distilled vinegar and water in a 1:1 ratio. Turn your Keurig on, select the largest cup setting, and allow the vinegar solution to run through the machine as many times as it takes for "More/Add Water" to come on. Dump out the hot liquid from the mug in a sink after each brew.

Step 4: Let sit and rinse the reservoir.

Let the Keurig coffee maker sit for at least 30 minutes. When time's up, take out the reservoir and rinse it with water to get rid of any vinegar residue. You might have to rinse a few times.

water pouring from keurig into pink coffee mug
Carson Downing

Step 5: Run Keurig with water.

Repeat Step 3 but with plain water to rinse out the vinegar from the machine. Again, place an empty mug on the drip tray. Pour water into the reservoir up to the maximum fill line. Use the largest cup setting and allow the water to run through the machine as many times as it takes for it to empty. Now you have a clean Keurig all ready to go for your next morning brew!

Step 6: Use a descaling solution (optional).

If the mineral buildup in your coffee maker is particularly heavy or taste doesn't improve, repeat the process with a manufacturer-approved descaling solution ($14, Target). Keurig recommends descaling every three to six months for best results.

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