How to clean a Keurig with vinegar to prevent gross buildup

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How to clean a Keurig with vinegar to prevent gross buildup
Descale your Keurig with vinegar once every two to three weeks.Rawf8/Getty Images
  • It's essential to clean your Keurig regularly to prevent mold, bacteria, and germs.
  • Cleaning your Keurig is known as "descaling."
  • The descaling process involves running a mix of water and white vinegar through your Keurig.
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Keurig coffee machines have been a gamechanger for the at-home barista. And while they have made making our coffee, espressos, lattes, tea, and hot chocolate almost too easy, your Keurig still requires just a smidge of upkeep. They do not clean themselves, but sure would be amazing if they did that too.

Cleaning your Keurig is actually known as "descaling." No, not like skinning a fish. Rather, descaling is the process of using vinegar to break down calcium deposits that can build up inside a coffee maker over time. Not only does this achieve better-tasting coffee, it also removes harmful bacteria and mineral buildup.

Coffee machines are a breeding ground for molds, bacteria, and germs - not exactly what you want in your coffee. We spoke to the experts to learn how to easily clean your Keurig in a few simple steps with common household items.

What you need

  • White vinegar or Keurig descaling solution
  • Water
  • Cup to catch the drain of the cleaning solution
  • A clean dish sponge or paper towel, soaked in water and mild soap

How to descale your Keurig

How to clean a Keurig with vinegar to prevent gross buildup
Run at least three cycles of plain water after you descale to remove any vinegar taste.NoSystem images/Getty Images

  1. Empty the machine's reservoir. First, turn off your machine. Then, empty your Keurig's water reservoir and remove any filters. Do not leave a K-cup in the canister during cleaning cycles.
  2. Add water and vinegar solution and run a cycle. Run a mix of equal parts water and white vinegar through the machine. Pour the solution into the reservoir, turn on the machine, press the cycle button, and allow the solution to drain into a cup.

    You may need to descale your Keurig multiple times depending on how dirty it is. Keep running a vinegar and water solution through your machine until it runs clear.
  3. Flush with water. Make sure you rinse the parts thoroughly to prevent a "vinegary" taste. Always finish by running three cycles of plain water to remove any vinegar that may be left in the tank or machine, says coffee roaster Lisette Gaviña Lopez of Don Francisco's Coffee and Café La Llave, who also make K-cup versions of their coffees.
  4. Clean removable parts and air dry Remove and clean all removable parts, including the water tank and lid, coffee pod holder, and drip tray. These removable parts need to be washed with soap and warm water to remove coffee oils and to prevent any mold build-up, especially in the water tank and drip tray.
  5. Wipe down the exterior. Using a clean dish sponge or disposable paper towel, wipe down the outside of the machine and pod holder area - all reachable surfaces - with mild soap and water, excluding any electrical or mechanical areas.

    Be sure to carefully wipe down the needles that puncture the top and bottom of your coffee pods for brewing. Let the water tank air-dry to avoid collecting lint.

Warning: Never submerge the machine in water. It is, after all, an electronic device.

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How often should I clean my Keurig?

Graham Cooke, founder of Cafe Last, recommends the descaling process be done once a week. But in reality, you only need to descale it once every two to three weeks. "We make [the once a week] suggestion because most people don't descale their coffee makers until they stop working, which has a lasting effect on the machine," says Cooke. "The idea is that if we tell someone to descale their machine once a week, they will actually do it once every two or three weeks."

In addition to the descaling process, Lopez recommends cleaning all removable parts, including the water tank and lid, coffee pod holder, drip tray once a month.

If you're not making coffee every day, it's crucial to descale your machine at least every quarter, says Cooke. Why? Because mineral build-up in the reservoir can destroy your coffee machine by corroding your machine's internal seals and clog the machine with hard water buildup.

In general, try to keep the machine as clean as possible by checking the tray and exterior for spillage after each use. If the machine is used repeatedly on a daily basis, follow the wipe-down instructions daily.

Quick tip: If you're looking for a new Keurig or a similar pod coffee maker, check out our guide to the best ones.

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I live in an area that has hard water. Does that change my cleaning frequency?

Hard water areas will naturally need to descale their machine more often. If you live in an area with very hard water and you are making multiple cups per day, Cooke recommends descaling your machine once a week.

Is it okay to use water in my tank that's been sitting around a while?

Use the water poured in the tank within one week, says Lopez. Never use water that has been sitting still for more than a week as it could grow mold.

Before you store the Keurig away or go on a trip, make sure it is fully empty of water, says Shabbir Nooruddin of Coffee Brewster.

How do I clean my Keurig without vinegar or descaling solution?

Use denture tablets, says cleaning expert Abe Navas, the general manager of Emily's Maids, a house cleaning service in Dallas, Texas.

"Even if I'm not a coffee expert, I am a cleaning expert. I developed a technique for cleaning coffee makers some years ago. It's easy and it will increase the lifespan of your machine for a long time," says Navas.

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You need a denture tablet and a microfiber cloth. Put half of a denture tablet in the K-cup chamber. This will help clean any gunk build-up. Then run the machine for three to five cycles. Follow with a cycle of just water.

Alternatively, you can use citric acid, says Nooruddin. Use one tablespoon of citric acid crystals to one gallon of water. This makes a mildly strong acid, explains Nooruddin - it's safer to use a milder acid and descale a couple of times rather than using an excessively strong acid that could corrode the metal parts.

Run your Keurig using several cycles of the citric acid solution, followed by several cycles of plain water. Several cycles really depends on how badly the scaling is, says Nooruddin. For very mild scaling, 2-3 cycles of citric acid solution will do the trick. For a Keurig that's been sitting in the attic for a couple of years, you'll have to run multiple cycles, recommends Nooruddin.

"The earlier cycles will probably contain little bits of scale in the mug - ideally, you want to keep going until there is no (or tolerable) scale."

He suggests flushing with at least 2-3 cycles of water to get any remnants of citric acid out of your brewer.

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"It's always good to err on the side of caution and flush a couple of extra cycles to really get the acid out, otherwise your coffee will be a little bit funky."

Insider's takeaway

Even though a Keurig makes coffee in a snap, it is essential to spend a few moments to regularly clean it for the best coffee ever, every day. Descaling it with a simple solution of equal parts water and white vinegar will extend the life of your favorite coffee maker and keep your coffee tasting fresh.

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