This Coffee Pot Cleaning Experiment Will Make Your Java Taste Better

by Lily Feinn

I don't want to brag, but me and my coffee pot are pretty close. We hang out all the time — like, every morning... and then usually again in the afternoon. We've been together for quite a few years now (since college, in fact), and though I do not know his first name, I depend on Mr. Coffee entirely. But despite our frequent get-togethers, I have never cleaned my coffee maker, other than giving it a perfunctory rinse every now and then. Mr. Coffee is woefully covered in grit and grime and, according to Good Housekeeping, crawling with mold, yeast, and coliform bacteria. Yikes!

A 2011 study performed by NSF International found that the reservoirs of traditional basket and carafe coffee makers are a veritable breeding ground for yeast and mold, ranking as the "fifth germiest" place in the home. Bacteria thrives in damp environments, and coffee makers are no exception. What's more, with all the tap water running through them (unless you use bottled water to make your coffee), coffee makers are also prone to mineral and coffee oil buildup.

But according to Carolyn Forté, director of the Home Appliances and Cleaning Products Lab at the Good Housekeeping Research Institute, all you need is one common household staple to get your coffee maker squeaky clean and running like new: White vinegar. Professionals recommend cleaning all the removable components of your coffee maker with warm soapy water (or run them through a dishwasher) after each use and giving the whole pot an additional deep clean every month with a vinegar solution. The deep clean is said to "decalcify" the coffee maker's inner workings, getting rid of mineral deposits, which will supposedly make better coffee in less time.

Cleaning my filthy coffee maker was clearly long overdue, but would the hassle of the recommended deep clean really pay off? I decided to give it a try and see if that one odd ingredient and a little TLC would actually make my coffee taste better.

Here is my journey to a pristine coffee pot and a (hopefully) tastier morning cup of joe:


Fill The Chamber With Equal Parts Water And Vinegar

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White vinegar is the only ingredient needed for this deep cleaning, so I headed on over to the grocery store to pick up a bottle of the stuff. Good Housekeeping says to fill the water chamber with equal parts white vinegar and water, so I needed quite a bit more than I originally anticipated to fill half of my 12 cup machine.

In preparation for the experiment, I dumped out my coffee grounds left over from the morning, poured the old coffee out of the carafe, and put a fresh filter in the basket. Next, I filled the chamber to the top with the vinegar-water solution, still in disbelief that this whole thing could work.


Run Half The Brew Cycle And Let Rest

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I clicked the "on" button and watched as the clear liquid started filtering through. Heated up, the vinegar was pretty potent, so it became clear I couldn't just sit there and watch the process happen. My machine completed half its brew cycle in approximately four and a half minutes. Then I turned the coffee maker off and let the solution sit for the recommended 30 minutes. The experiment wasn't taking too much time or effort so far, which made me question why I hadn't tried something like this sooner. The only down side seemed to be that it didn't smell entirely pleasant.


Run A Cycle That's Only Water

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After the allotted time was up, I completed the brew cycle and dumped the hot vinegar contents of my very full pot down the sink. Would I ever be able to drink coffee out of my beloved Mr. Coffee again? Surely it would taste like vinegar or have some sort of lingering acidic taste, right?

I rinsed the carafe and the plastic basket under warm water hoping to minimize the smell of vinegar. After putting in a new paper filter, I filled the chamber with fresh water and pressed "on." After running one water cycle, I was still feeling uncertain, so I ran another clean water cycle.

The experiment was beginning to take longer than I anticipated — though it (thankfully) required minimal effort. Running three nine-minute coffee cycles and waiting for the vinegar solution to rest had taken nearly an hour and I still wasn't seeing any clear results. With my energy starting to wane, there was only one thing that could remedy the situation. You guessed it — coffee! Hopefully, all this "cleaning" would be worth it in the end, or I'd have to walk the three exhausting blocks up to my local Starbucks. Blarg.


Wipe Down The Coffee Maker And Carafe

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I hadn't wiped down my dusty machine since the day I bought it, so I knew getting the burned coffee oils off the heating pad would definitely take some time. The good news is that after tossing the last of the water out of the pot, the glass carafe did look cleaner. There were still bits of brown patina towards the rim, though, so I took the glass pot to the sink and scrubbed it with soap and warm water. The gunk came off with a bit of effort, though Good Housekeeping also suggests swirling a bit of uncooked rice around the pot to help loosen troublesome stains of coffees past.

Left with a sparkling coffee pot and a grime-free machine, I was finally ready to taste the fruits of my labor and get a much needed caffeine kick — but would the vinegar still linger? There was only one way to find out.



Lily Feinn/Bustle

I once again fitted my machine with a fresh filter, poured in the coffee grounds, and filled the chamber with cold tap water. As the machine started to spurt and gurgle, I could tell by the potent coffee smell alone that the experiment had worked. I poured the fresh, hot coffee into a mug and took a sip. The flavor was both smoother and sharper than the coffee I had enjoyed that very morning, with no hint of the vinegar to be found. This isn't to say that the new coffee was life changing, nor did I break into tears, overcome with emotion — but did I feel more like an adult because I had finally cleaned my coffee maker? Yes. And it was clear that the coffee was better.

The whole process took about an hour and a half and was pretty darn easy from start to finish. Even a lazy person, such as myself, could add this to a chores list without much fuss — although truth be told, I might only go through the deep cleaning process once every two months, because I do tend to put things off. Still, feels good to enjoy a cup of mold-free coffee brewed right at home! Yum!