Is vinegar good for descaling coffee machines?

Whether our coffee machine is asking us to descale it or because we as users believe it is appropriate to carry out this maintenance task, the first question is about which descaling liquid to use for the process.

If we search on Google, we can find descaling liquids of many brands of coffee machines and other white brands, but they all serve the same purpose, to remove limescale from the internal water circuit of coffee machines.

At this point, the question about using white vinegar comes in; can vinegar be considered a universal descaler?

White vinegar has a high acetic acid content and has been used, among other uses, for descaling and cleaning in homes worldwide since time immemorial. If we have a natural product like white vinegar that we know has descaling properties, is it worth buying commercial chemicals to clean our coffee machine?

Using vinegar to descale coffee machines

It is a fact that coffee machines are older than coffee machine descalers. It does not mean that people did not decalcify their coffee machines at home for all those appliances that accumulated limescale due to water use. In the past, when the coffee machine market was not so competitive, and there were not so many manufacturers, descaling was done with white vinegar.

In our opinion, using specific descaling liquids for coffee machines improves maintenance and extends the machine’s life. Moreover, nowadays they are sold at such a low price that it is worth using commercial descalers, and if they are specific to the brand of our coffee machine, even better.

However, suppose you have white vinegar at home and are also concerned about environmental conservation. In that case, there is no need to buy any product, as white vinegar will do the job just as well as a commercial descaler.

Remember that with white vinegar, you should rinse more often than with a commercial descaler to avoid the vinegar smell and taste of your next coffee.

In the following video, you can see a demonstration of how to descale a Nespresso with vinegar:

Is it advisable to use vinegar to descale coffee machines?

It is not easy to give a definitive answer to this question. On the one hand, almost all major manufacturers of coffee machines, especially coffee pod machines, market their descaling liquids or tablets and therefore advise users not to use vinegar. They are not responsible for the consequences of using vinegar in coffee machines and even specify it in their user manuals.

As an example, here are a couple of extracts from user manuals prohibiting the use of vinegar for descaling; the first is an instruction leaflet for a Nespresso Essenza coffee machine, which clearly states in red that vinegar is harmful to the machine:

Nespresso Essenza - avoid using vinegar as it can damage your machine
Nespresso Essenza – avoid using vinegar as it can damage your machine

And in this other example, taken from the instruction manual of the Dolce Gusto Oblo, we see how the Nestlé Dolce Gusto company explicitly prohibits the use of vinegar:

Dolce Gusto Oblo - Do not use vinegar for descaling
Dolce Gusto Oblo – Do not use vinegar for descaling

The big question that no one answers is why brands discourage or even forbid vinegar in descaling: do they do it to sell their descalers or because vinegar is really bad for the coffee machine? We believe it is advisable to opt for official descaling liquids, not because vinegar is harmful, but because the companies are not responsible for how the user applies the home remedies.

The main problem or harmful effect vinegar can have on your coffee machine is corrosion or deterioration of the internal aluminium elements. Therefore, nothing should happen if, after descaling with vinegar, you rinse the coffee maker thoroughly (up to two or three times, if necessary) and the inside of the water tank.

There should also be no risk if your coffee maker has steel rather than aluminium components. But as we said before, this depends on each case, and we cannot set standard rules for all situations. We can only give information and urge each user to act accordingly.

How to descale a Dolce Gusto with vinegar (video):

Alternatives to using vinegar in coffee machines

Suppose you want to use a natural descaler other than vinegar and the commercial products sold by brands. In that case, you should know that the idea is to use coffee machine descaling liquids based on citrus, not acetic acid.

One of the most frequent arguments against vinegar for coffee machine descaling is that it may be too acidic. Although it removes limescale residues, it can damage the machine’s internal pipes or leave flavour residues for future beverages.

If you want to use a homemade descaling liquid other than vinegar, we advise you to use the juice of one or two lemons mixed with hot water. The proportion should be approximately one tablespoon of lemon juice for every half litre of water. Mix both elements well, and your decalcifying liquid is ready to use. It is much safer and less aggressive than vinegar to descale coffee machines.

How to descale with white vinegar

Before explaining how to proceed with descaling with white vinegar, it is necessary to specify that descaling and cleaning are two completely different things. The use of vinegar to clean water deposits in household appliances is very common, and it is even used as a solution to remove rust or burns on the outside of kettles and Mokas.

We will not make the process of descaling with white vinegar too complicated, so we advise you to use it in the same proportion as the descaler recommended by the manufacturer of your coffee machine. In other words, if the user manual tells you to mix 250 ml of descaler with 250 ml of water, use 250 ml of white vinegar and 250 ml of water.

You must follow the rest of the steps recommended by the manufacturer in the same way but with one exception; when using white vinegar, double or triple the number of rinses recommended. This extra rinse will eliminate any vinegar taste or smell in your next coffee.

Check the user manual for your coffee machine here.

How to clean a coffee machine with white vinegar

The process is valid for any coffee machine with a water tank (Moka, espresso or coffee pod). And we insist: this process is only cleaning, not descaling. What we are going to clean with vinegar is the machine’s tank.

  • First, remove the tank, rinse it well and clean it with a cloth or kitchen paper to remove all the remains/surface dirt that may be visible.
  • Once this superficial cleaning has been carried out, fill the jug or tank of your machine with a solution made up of one part white vinegar and two parts cold water.
  • Once this is done, start the coffee machine as if you were going to make a coffee (but without coffee). This is what you would do in a normal descaling process (you can skip this step if you don’t want the vinegar to run through the pipes of your coffee maker).
  • Turn off the brewer and let the remaining vinegar and water solution sit in the reservoir of the decanter for about 15-20 minutes. During this time, the vinegar will be quietly doing its job.
  • Finally, empty the reservoir and fill it with normal water. Now it is time to rinse and clean the remains. Start the machine again and start a water cycle without coffee. Twice as good as once, to be sure.

After this vinegar cleaning in your coffee maker, the water tank will be free of debris and sediment that may have settled on the bottom or corners of the tank. Keep in mind that any residue in the decanter or water container has a good chance of being transferred to the coffee.

Cleaning the coffee maker with white vinegar and baking soda

A similar process to the above, but a little gentler (less aggressive), mixing two baking soda, one part water and one part white vinegar. That is, 50%-25%-25% would be the proportion.

If you don’t like the idea of vinegar cleaning your coffee machine because it can be aggressive, then you can try this alternative first and see if the results are satisfactory in your case. Of course, it all depends on the condition of the ducts or the area you want to clean. We can not treat all situations in the same way.

Article updated on 30/07/2022