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Should You Descale Your Coffee Maker With Vinegar?

A drip coffee maker sits on a kitchen countertop.
John Kasawa/Shutterstock.com

While it might not look like it, your coffee maker’s interior needs a routine cleaning. Often, the recommendation is to do this with vinegar for an easy DIY solution.

But should you clean your coffee pot with vinegar?

The least complicated answer to this question is sure, go for it! In fact, we’ve written about it before, and it’s an excellent, affordable way to descale your coffee maker. But if you didn’t already know, many brands of coffee makers—like Keurig and Nespresso—make their own descaling solution that’s recommended more than vinegar.

What should you be using? Vinegar or descaling solution? Let’s break down what you need to know about descaling a coffee maker and how vinegar or a descaling solution can help.

What Is Descaling?

A coffee maker's pot is removed, and a person pours coffee from a glass carafe.
Black + Decker

You hear the term descaling a lot, and that might make you wonder why people don’t just say cleaning. That’s because descaling your coffee maker and cleaning it aren’t the same.

When you clean a coffee pot, it’s often the exterior. You’re wiping down the appliance itself or you’re soaking removable parts in warm soapy water. That’s fantastic. You should definitely be doing that to remove debris, dust, and staining. But it doesn’t take care of hard water build-up.

Black+Decker 12-Cup Programmable Coffee Maker

Keep a lookout for build-up on simple coffee maker models.

Hard water is just water with a high mineral content like calcium, magnesium, and limestone. Over time, those minerals build up in your coffee maker but don’t worry, they aren’t harmful. However, it can affect your coffee’s taste and make your appliance work harder due to build-up within mechanisms.

So how do you know when to descale? You’ll be able to see it. Hard water build-up looks like a chalky white film on the inside of your coffee maker. Plus, your coffee will taste a little funky. For those with fancier drip coffee makers, you might even have a light that comes on to alert you it’s time to descale.

To get rid of this build-up, you often need an acidic compound that’ll break it down. That’s where the vinegar and the descaling solutions come in.

Should You Descale a Coffee Maker with Vinegar or Descaler?

A coffee maker sits next to a brewed cup of coffee and a pastry.
Venus Angel/Shutterstock.com

If you’ve been on the hunt for ways to descale your coffee maker, there’s a good chance you’ve seen the DIY method using vinegar. That’s because it’s an affordable solution, and you likely already have everything you need on hand. Plus, it’s effective. The acetic acid in vinegar is pretty darn powerful, and that’s why it’s able to break down a coffee maker’s buildup.

But are there times when you shouldn’t use vinegar to descale? As it turns out, yes, there is.

Many companies sell specific descaling kits or pods. They’re created to perfectly clean the interior of the machine, and if you’re under warranty, you’re expected to use them. While the how of finding out if you used vinegar instead of the official kits eludes this writer, if a brand can ascertain that you went the DIY route, your warranty might be voided.

Braun Descaling Solution

Branded coffee makers might recommend their own descaling solutions or specific options from other brands.

Typically, you can find warranty information in your appliance’s manual. If it states that the machine is designed to only use branded accessories and items, it would be in your best interest to do so until the warranty has expired. Typically, that’s within a year or two of purchase.

Got a warranty you want to keep? Skip the vinegar.

How to Descale a Coffee Maker

A cup of coffee sits next to a drip coffee maker.
Evgrafova Svetlana/Shutterstock.com

Here’s the fun news. Whether you’re meant to use a descaling solution from a brand or you’re warranty-free and can use vinegar, the process of descaling a coffee maker is the same. As a bonus, it’s also simple.

To descale your coffee maker:

  • Remove any leftover coffee grounds or paper filter and empty and rinse the carafe.
  • Fill the water reservoir halfway with white vinegar, and finish filling the reservoir with water.
  • Place the carafe back in place and start a brew cycle.

Lucy's Family Owned Natural Distilled White Vinegar

There's a reason your grandma always kept vinegar on hand.

  • When the brew cycle finishes, empty the carafe and start another cycle using the same vinegar and water ratio. For those who descale monthly, a second cycle might not be necessary.
  • After the second brew cycle, run two cycles with just water to remove any vinegar odor.
  • If using a descaling solution, follow the same instructions, replacing the vinegar with the solution amount recommended on the product.

The next time you start noticing a bit of white buildup inside your coffee maker, you know it’s time to descale your coffee maker. But whether you use vinegar or a branded solution is up to you and your coffee maker’s warranty.

Shea Simmons Shea Simmons
Shea Simmons is the Assignments Editor at LifeSavvy. Previously, she worked as a freelance writer with a focus on beauty and lifestyle content. Her work has appeared in Bustle, Allure, and Hello Giggles. Read Full Bio »
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