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We use a typical drip coffee maker with a thermos-type pot. Naturally I rinse the pot and filter holder every day, but how often do I need to clean it more thoroughly? I've heard that it is bad to use soap and water, but is that just an old-wives tale, maybe out of fear that it could leave a soapy residue? Once a month or so, I'll run a few cups of white vinegar through it, which seems to improve the flavor a lot, but is a surprisingly expensive proposition. Any suggestions on frequency and method?

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I give my coffee maker an internal cleanse with vinegar and water once a month to avoid scale build-up. I use 1/2 cup of white vinegar plus water to make a full pot, run that through my maker two or three times, and then run five or six pots of plain water through the maker until there is no longer any scent of the vinegar. I clean the pot and its basket and insert once a week in the dishwasher, and wipe down the case and heating element daily. I've been using the same drip coffee maker (with its glass, dishwasher-safe pot) for about five years.

On those occasions when I've run out of white vinegar, I use a tablespoon of citric acid dissolved in the first few cleaning pots of water, and then run five or six pots of plain water through the maker. Citric acid is just as effective as white vinegar for descaling but doesn't smell as strong; it's also inexpensive.

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Your specific coffee maker should have instructions. Mine says every 30-40 pots you brew and it uses the same typical white vinegar method.

I do think it's a little expensive - you basically drain a whole bottle of vinegar. However, compared to the cost of the machine and, more so, the cost of the coffee it's not a bad deal at all.

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For cleaning purposes I always use the cheep stuff. You know: store-brand bought in a plastic, gallon jug for less than dollar. You don't care what it tastes like because you should never taste it. –  dmckee Aug 21 '10 at 16:41
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Basically you need to follow the instructions of your coffee maker.

However, having to remember to clean thoroughly is a pain, as it always gets forgotten. A lot of quality coffee makers today have a built in counter for the number of cups you make, and after the recommended number of cups simply stop and ask you to clean them. This greatly enhances the life of the coffeemaker,as you simply can't forget to clean them.

Also the quality ones have an automatic cleaning mechanism where you just pop in a pre-purchased cleaning tablet, and it does all the cleaning for you.

I've found that coffeemakers that don't do this, tend to break down (from scale) after a pretty short period of time (after about a year or two), so it's sometimes worth the extra spending to buy a better one.

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A meta rules here (if you don't have the instructions any more, say) is "before it starts to slow down".

Of course, until you have some experience with the pot in question you'll just have to live with

  • when it starts to take longer to brew
  • when you can see mineral deposits on parts of the machine. Look, in particular, at places where hot and/or high pressure water or steam emerges into the great wide world. These are prime places for precipitation of solids

Best, of course, to notice how long this takes and clean it a little more often than that.

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It is bad to clean your coffee pot with soap because the soap can bind to the oil deposited from the coffee and can leave a taste behind. It's recommended not to wash any part of your coffee maker in the dishwasher for the same reason. To clean your coffee pot fill it with 2 cups of ice, 1/4 cups of table salt, and 1/4 cups of lemon juice (fresh or bottled). Swirl it around the pot a couple times and that will do the trick. Hope this helped!

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Why do you add ice? –  Preston Fitzgerald Mar 12 '13 at 23:58
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There are two different things being discussed here. One idea is cleaning the coffee residue from the coffee pot. For this, I use Cafiza. This is a serious cleaning agent, typically used for cleaning espresso machines. I use 1/4 tsp of Cafiza once per week to clean my Technivorm. I put together two short videos of the process - links on this page.

The other idea is the de-scaling of the coffee pot. Using vinegar is the typical technique, but I bought a bag of citric acid powder (cheaper). Depending on the hardness of your water, you may have to de-scale often (every month). Where I live (near Atlanta) we have relatively soft water, so I de-scale every six months.

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