You’ve likely seen it before: a chalky, white residue on parts of your coffee maker; or a bright red light which has alarmingly turned on. Perhaps you’ve even noticed that your morning coffee has been tasting a little off lately. Fear not, all it means is that it’s time to descale your coffee maker.
Descaling may sound like a scary word, but it’s actually no big deal and is just the result of “hard” water: tap water with a high mineral content (like calcium, magnesium and limestone), which over time, results in spots. It’s harmless to your health, but can definitely affect the taste of your coffee, so it’s a good idea to descale by removing that buildup.
Of course, the cleaning method you’ll need depends on what type of coffee maker you have. Whether you’ve got a French press or a fancy espresso machine, here’s the best way to clean pretty much every type of coffee maker out there.
Using a French press is one of my favorite ways to make coffee because it delivers a strong, pure coffee taste. That being said, cleaning a French press isn’t always easy – the tiny coffee grounds get stuck in the mesh and leave their oils behind, which can lead to funky tasting coffee. But if you follow this simple method, you shouldn’t have any issues:
After allowing your French press to cool down, fill the carafe with water to loosen up the coffee grounds collected at the bottom. Then, pour the contents through a fine-mesh strainer and dump the coffee grounds into the trash or your compost bin (not the garbage disposal). Finally, fill up the carafe halfway with warm, dish-soapy water, insert the plunger and rapidly move it up and down a few times to dislodge any sneaky coffee grinds and scrub the sides of the carafe.
You may not have realized it, but you can also disassemble the plunger and mesh strainer and give those parts their own deep clean. While each French press is a little bit different (check your manual for precise instructions), you typically unscrew the base of the plunger to separate the disk and the filter screens; simply wash them with a soapy sponge or scrub brush and dry the pieces with a towel before reassembling. While you’re technically supposed to do this every time you use your French press (and many people do!), since it’s fairly tedious you can get away with doing it once a week. As for the mesh strainer, you’ll want to replace that entirely at least once or twice a year.
Because water doesn’t typically sit in a French press for very long, it’s less prone to buildup of calcium deposits, but it doesn’t hurt to give your carafe a good cleaning every so often. For an easy DIY method, fill the French press with hot water and add just a few teaspoons of baking soda, vinegar or bleach; submerge the strainer (you can even do this unassembled so it gets in the cracks!) and let it sit for a few minutes; then give it a quick wash with a soapy sponge.
An automatic drip coffee maker, like a Keurig or Mr. Coffee, is no doubt the easiest way to make coffee, especially during rushed mornings. The only problem? These machines have a bunch of hidden parts you can’t actually see, so you can’t always tell when there’s a buildup of coffee or hard water residue. The upside: These types of coffee makers are perhaps the easiest to clean of all, which makes addressing the task at least once a month no big deal.
For an easy DIY solution, add a cup of vinegar to the water reservoir and fill the rest of it up with water. Make sure you’ve got a carafe or large cup beneath the drip, then let it run through a brew cycle. Afterward, run at least two brew cycles of fresh water through. (Just make sure not to leave any coffee or K-cups in there – it happens more often than you think.)
Store-bought descaling solutions, like this one by Essential Values, also work well with automatic drip coffee makers. The method is similar: Pour half of the bottle into the water reservoir on your single-cup machine and run through a brew cycle (again with no coffee in there); discard the remaining liquid and brew three full reservoirs of fresh water through your machine.
Cleaning an at-home espresso machine, like this one from De’Longhi, gets a bit more complicated, given its many parts and pieces. Since every machine is different, your best bet is taking a close look at the manual and following the manufacturer’s instructions – especially when it comes to descaling, which should be done once every one to three months. Still, there a few general guidelines you should always follow.
Cleaning the steam wand after every use is essential, because if you don’t, any of the leftover residue will impact the taste of your coffee. Just turn on the wand for a couple of seconds and then wipe it with a clean, dry towel. You can turn it on again for three to four seconds to make sure there’s no aftertaste.
You also want to make sure to clean the basket and the filter by unscrewing them. This is where coffee grounds get stuck, and if you leave them there for long, your coffee will not only be extremely bitter, but the machine will also start to rust. You shouldn’t use the dishwasher to do this; instead, rinse the basket and filter thoroughly in hot water and dry with paper towels.
The seal, aka the gasket, is the part that connects the basket and filter to the rest of the machine. Coffee grounds often get stuck there too, so you’ll want to either get a small silicone brush and rotate it around the indentations in the gasket or use a clean towel. The same goes for the sieve (or screen), which is held in place with a screw. In order to clean it, unscrew it and get the sieve out, then take the brush or cleaning cloth to gently wipe down the interior. You can also run hot water through the screen to make sure there are no pesky grounds left. After all the components – the sieve, the basket, the filter and the seal – are clean, put everything back together and turn the machine on. Let water run through it for about 30 seconds to get rid of any residual grime. Finally, wipe down the exterior of the machine using a clean microfiber towel.
Many coffee makers – such as a Chemex, many drip coffee pots and most French presses – have glass parts. With use, those glass pieces will eventually develop a coffee-tinged stain – gross, right? Definitely. However, it’s pretty easy to get rid of, using something you probably already have in your pantry: cream of tartar, an acidic powder that is actually a byproduct of winemaking. Simply apply a paste of cream of tartar and water or vinegar to the inside of a coffee-stained pot, let the paste work its magic for a bit and then wipe away with hot water and a dish towel.