How To Clean A Percolator With Vinegar (Without Damage…)

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If you’re as enthusiastic about coffee as I am, you certainly brew a few cups a day. Knowing how to clean a percolator keeps that brewing process easy and enjoyable and ensures a good cup of java every time.

While percolators typically consist of stainless steel, the staining power of coffee is immense. Brewing in a coffee maker that looks and smells like old coffee on the inside isn’t as nice, and the coffee can absorb that unwanted aroma. Also, as limescale builds up, there’s less percolation and a weaker result.

If you love coffee, you’ll want to optimize your brew and maximize the functionality and lifespan of your favorite brewer. So, it’s time to learn how to clean a percolator.

Why You Should Clean Your Percolator

Perfecting your percolated coffee requires a percolator that works right and is in good condition overall. As coffee residue builds up, it prevents optimal function, and the resulting coffee isn’t as good as it could be. Therefore, learning how to clean your percolator well is essential. Both the coffee beans and the water contain minerals that stick to your coffee maker. Over time, they form a crust that can block the flow.

While the most obvious issue is clogging of the basket, other side effects of a stained or dirty coffee maker also limit the quality of your finished coffee. For example, the coating and stains that smell like old coffee will leave a tinge of flavor in your java. Moreover, your percolator will last longer with proper maintenance.

How To Clean A Percolator

Do you think you need expensive coffee cleaners for a good result? You’ll be happy to know you can achieve equal or better results with cheap household cleaning products if you know how to clean a percolator correctly.

Coffee contains over 1,000 different compounds, many of which remain in stains. Since different substances call for different solvents, you’ll get the best results by cleaning in stages. However, the whole process is still quick and simple.

What You’ll Need

  • Dishwashing detergent
  • Baking soda
  • White vinegar
  • (Optional) hydrogen peroxide

Each of these serves a specific purpose in the process of how to clean a percolator. For example, vinegar neutralizes alkaline compounds and decalcifies the steel. Baking soda reacts with acidic traces, neutralizes the smell, and helps with scrubbing.

Cleaning An Electric Percolator

Step One: Basic Cleaning

First, let’s clean the coffee maker the normal way. Please consult your user manual if this is your first time. Incorrect cleaning can cause damage. Therefore, a proper, by-the-book wash is among the essentials of how to clean a percolator.

Unless your manual says outright that you can clean parts in the dishwasher, do not try it. Furthermore, people often use scrubbers that can damage the coffee maker when hand washing.

You should always use a washcloth or another soft, non-abrasive implement. If there’s a stubborn smudge, you can use a plastic scrubber or dish brush. Things like steel wool and scotch-brite will scratch the surface. Then it loses its protective coating and becomes prone to rust, stains, and scale.

When cleaning your percolator, look for any trapped coffee granules in the small spaces between parts. Check the washers, that’s where a lot of it gets stuck. These remnants can reduce the quality of your coffee both by altering the pressure and by leaving a bad taste. You can remove these with a toothpick or a pin.

Step Two: Vinegar Wash

One crucial aspect of how to clean a percolator is removing limescale and mineral deposits that accumulate as you brew your coffee. Most commercial coffee cleaners are little more than acids that react with residual calcium. In other words, vinegar can work just as well.

First, we’ll dry the coffee maker and prepare it for use. We’re going to run a cycle with vinegar water, so don’t add coffee grounds or filters.

Now, we’ll fill the percolator halfway with water. Next, we pour vinegar until it’s full. This 50/50 mix will descale the inside and components and neutralize alkaline compounds without damaging the metal.

Insert the basket, close the lid, and start percolating. It’s time to find something else to do for a while. You can read a book, exercise a little, or read up on coffee. Give the solution 15 to 20 minutes to work its magic.

Once the wait is over, it’s time to unplug your percolator and pour out the water. Let it cool down for another 15 minutes, and then wash it manually with dish soap. Read the first step of how to clean a percolator again if you’re unsure how to do it right.

Next, dry the percolator and plug it in again. This time, we’ll fill it with plain water and turn it on. When it’s finished percolating, pour the water out and fill it up with fresh water, and hit the switch again. Once it’s through, pour it out a second time.

Please note that it’s TWO straight water brews. That ensures that you don’t leave vinegar traces in your coffee.

That’s how to clean a percolator with vinegar. It’s ready for use, and you should notice a better result. If you want a very thorough cleaning, there’s one more thing to do.

Step Three: Baking Soda Scrub

While most dirt should come off with either soap or vinegar, there are exceptions, especially if there’s a significant buildup caused by lots of use without cleaning. For example, even after the previous steps, there may still be a hint of the color and scent of old coffee.

One reason is that the main culprits don’t react much with acids like vinegar. Instead, they react to alkalis which are on the opposite half of the PH scale.

Sodium bicarbonate, also known as baking soda, is a perfect example. The abrasive soda will absorb certain acidic compounds, and the fine grains help peel off stubborn layers.

To reap these benefits, you can drop a tablespoon or two of baking soda in your percolator and mix some water with it. Let it sit for a few minutes. Next, wash and rinse it the way you’d normally do your dishes. Remember to avoid tools that leave scratches.

If there are still stains, it’s time for a different recipe.

This time, replace the water with half a cup of hydrogen peroxide. It acts like a mild bleach and helps remove the stubborn stuff. Stir it for a minute and then let it sit for half an hour. After that, you can pour it out, wipe your percolator clean, and rinse it with hot water.

There’s one more thing to try if you didn’t get everything.

Coat the dirty surfaces with baking soda while they’re somewhat wet, and let them sit for a while. Next, pour vinegar over this mix. The fizzy reaction can release what’s stuck to the metal.

That’s all for this step. Now you know how to clean a percolator with baking soda.

How To Clean A Percolator Basket

Sometimes, the only part that needs cleaning is the percolator basket. It takes the most stress, and it has many places where dirt can build up fast. Since good flow is crucial, it’s also the place where dirt can cause the most detriment.

Going through the whole deep cleaning process can be a lot when only one part needs it and you’re thirsty for a cup of Joe. Therefore, it’s good to know how to clean a percolator basket on its own.

One easy way to do this is by leaving the basket in hot vinegar water. Using the same 50/50 mixture as before, you can leave it in a pot or bowl for a while and then wash it off.

Cleaning Old-Fashioned Percolators

Without electrical circuits to worry about, cleaning is a simpler matter. There’s no concern about wet contacts or corroded wires, and you can submerge the whole thing.

The basics of how to clean a percolator are the same as with electrical ones. You can follow the same procedures we described earlier. However, you can make it easier for yourself.

If you have an all-metal percolator, you can soak the whole thing in each washing solution. That way, it gets a deep cleaning on the outside and inside of all parts at once. Other than that, you can follow the earlier steps on how to clean a percolator.

Tips To Keep Your Percolator Clean

They say that a good offense is often the best defense, and prevention is the best solution. You can make cleaning your coffee maker easier by keeping dirt from building up as fast in the first place. It doesn’t take much.

First of all, you should wash the percolator out after each brew. Empty the basket and rinse everything. The longer you let the wet grounds sit, the more they will stain. And if it dries out, cleaning gets harder.

For better results, you can wash everything with regular dish soap. Now, if the coffee maker smells like coffee after the wash, it’s time for deep cleaning.

If you tend to brew multiple servings at once, do not keep coffee in the percolator. Pour everything right away and rinse it. Otherwise, the remaining coffee will stick to the metal and cause stains and lingering aromas.

Another thing that will reduce the need for deep cleaning is washing the percolator properly between uses. Using the right implements is a vital aspect of how to clean a percolator. If you scratch the steel, it’s no longer stainless.

Lastly, you don’t have to overdo it. A little bit of staining and a faint scent of coffee is normal for any coffee maker you’ve owned for some time. If the percolator works and makes tasty coffee, it’s clean enough.


Now that you know how to clean a percolator, you can get more use out of your favorite coffee maker. It’ll produce better coffee and stay functional longer. For those of us who love coffee, this is a life-changer.