How to Clean Auto Coffee Makers With Citric Acid

They're sometimes taken for granted, but for many of us, our coffee makers are one of the most important items we have in our households. Like any appliance we rely on, an automatic drip coffee maker should be cleaned regularly to help it last and to make that morning cup of coffee we enjoy so much taste as great as possible. One way to clean a coffee maker is to use a solution made of citric acid and water. Using citric acid to descale a coffee machine is easy, inexpensive and can be done in the time it takes to brew two pots of java.

Woman in the kitchen
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Like any appliance we rely on, an automatic drip coffee maker should be cleaned regularly.

Why Clean Coffee Makers

Like any appliance in your home, your coffee maker requires regular maintenance to operate at its highest capacity and last as long as possible. Fortunately, coffee maker maintenance is generally limited to cleaning, which is quick and easy, especially if it's done regularly. Cleaning the interior workings of an automatic drip coffee maker can eliminate mineral deposit buildup, which often naturally occurs as a result of the water used to brew your coffee. Excessive mineral deposits can result in water loss, uneven brewing and bad-tasting coffee.

In addition to cleaning the inner workings of a coffee maker, the outside of the machine should also be given considerations. Wiping down the warming plate of the coffee maker, which is the little round heating area that the coffee pot rests on, is important for a few reasons. First, a smooth surface on a burning plate will ensure that the coffee in your pot is evenly warmed, which can result in a better-tasting brew. Additionally, any spills left on your coffee pot burner, especially coffee, can cause the hot plate to rust over time, which can burn your coffee pot or result in the protective enamel on the plate to flake off.

Before You Start

To get the best clean with citric acid, you should take a few easy, preparatory steps. First, remove any parts of the coffee maker that you can, such as the filter basket and the coffee pot, and wash them with warm water and dish soap, which will remove any remaining coffee grounds or residual oils.

If there are any spilled coffee grounds in the filter basket, use a clean damp towel to wipe them away. To get your coffee carafe looking extra clean, try mixing a small amount of water, dish soap and dry grains of rice to the pot and swish everything around so the rice buffs the surface of the glass container.

Cleaning With Citric Acid

Once the filter and carafe are clean, it's time to pay some attention to the interior of the coffee maker. After all, the inner functions of an automatic drip coffee machine are what make your morning cup of coffee possible, so even though it's mostly water that runs through those parts, built-up mineral deposits will linger and need to be rinsed away. Citric acid is a great way to descale a coffee maker and can be purchased at most hardware and grocery stores.

To clean your coffee maker, the citric acid to water ratio for descaling should be about 1:250, or 1 tablespoon of citric acid to 1 gallon of water. After you've created the mixture, pour it into the coffee maker's reservoir, add a filter and turn the machine on. Run the machine until about half of the water and citric acid solution has brewed, then turn the machine off for 30 minutes before turning it back on and allowing the mixture to finish brewing and cleaning the machine. Finally, repeat this process a couple more times to allow the machine to fully descale.

Citric Acid Descaler Pros and Cons

When it comes to cleaning a coffee maker with citric acid, there are a few pros and cons you may want to weigh to decide if this method is right for you. On a positive note, cleaning a coffee maker with citric acid is very inexpensive and easy to do. Citric acid can be found at a variety of stores as well as online. It doesn't go bad as long as it's stored in an airtight container, so a bag will last a very long time since you only need a small amount to clean a coffee maker.

Additionally, citric acid won't leave a lingering odor inside the machine after you've cleaned with it and even smells better than most other chemical and natural options for descaling a coffee maker.

On the other hand, despite its name, citric acid isn't that acidic, so you may need to run a few rinses through the machine to remove mineral deposits properly. If 1 tablespoon to 1 gallon isn't making a huge dent in the calcium or limescale buildup, you can reduce the water amount to a half gallon to create a stronger solution.

Long-term use of citric acid can also result in buildup. One way to remedy this is to alternate your coffee maker cleaning methods between citric acid and another descaler, such as vinegar or store-bought remedies.

Alternative Cleaning Methods

If you don't have citric acid on hand or just don't care to use that method to clean your automatic coffee maker, there are alternatives that are just as easy and effective. One method is to use vinegar and water to decalcify your machine, which is especially important if you have hard water.

To do this, add 1 part white vinegar and 2 parts water to the reservoir, add a filter, turn your coffee maker on and run this solution as if you'd brew a normal pot of coffee. Then, run two more pots worth of plain water through your coffee maker to eliminate the vinegar smell once the machine has been cleaned.

Finally, some store-bought cleaning solutions can rid your coffee maker of built-up mineral grime. CLR, which is known for being a powerful agent in attacking the calcium buildup that often occurs in coffee makers, makes a great cleaning option. There are some descaling solutions made especially for cleaning coffee makers as well, many of which contain a variety of acids and bleaching agents and can usually be found in the coffee and tea section of most stores.


Krissy Howard

Krissy Howard

Krissy Howard is a NY-based freelance writer who specializes in creating content regarding pet care, skin care, gardening, and original humor. Her work has appeared on Reader's Digest, Hello Giggles, and Reductress.