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The 4 Best Substitutes for Descaling Solution

If you’re looking for an effective way to descale your coffee machine and other kitchen or home appliances by purchasing a descaling solution, you’re in the right place. Keeping these items clean and free of build-up is vital in maintaining their lifespan and, in the case of beverages, ensuring the best taste with every brew. Luckily, there are cheaper, eco-friendlier alternatives to the standard solution.

The four best substitutes for a descaling solution are:

  • Citric acid
  • White vinegar
  • Lemon juice
  • Baking soda

Carefully measured mixtures containing these ingredients can remove tough mineral build-up safely and effectively, but there are risks to applying them over an advised descaling solution.

In this article, we will explain how you can use these four descaling solution substitutes to maintain your home appliances. As you read, you’ll learn the ideal ingredients and measurements for each mixture and how to apply them best. We will also answer common questions relating to descaling and whether a specialized solution is best.

A liquid being poured into a coffee pot in a kitchen

How To Use Descaling Solution Substitutes

Most descaling solution substitutes are made from natural ingredients rather than the harsh chemicals you might find in store-bought products. While this makes them more ecological, it doesn’t mean that they won’t pose a risk to your beloved appliances.

When using a homemade mixture for descaling, it is crucial to always:

  • Wear protective gear, like gloves, when handling strong acids.
  • Confirm your measurements are accurate.
  • Start with a lower dosage and increase gradually until you find what works best.
  • Assess and consider the item or appliance you’re descaling (ex. the process for descaling a dishwasher or shower head won’t be the same as a Keurig).
  • Rinse any descaling substitute thoroughly.

The ideal measurements and individual application steps will differ by substitute and appliance, but these are all universal rules you’ll want to follow for safety and effectiveness.

Below, we have expanded on the four best descaling solution substitutes mentioned previously by providing more in-depth guides. These will contain the recommended ingredients and measurements (to start) and how to use each alternative to clean the most frequently descaled home item: a coffee machine.

1. Citric Acid

Citric acid is well-known for its cleaning properties and makes a great descaling alternative. This non-toxic, organic compound is naturally found in citrus fruits like lemons.

It is mild enough to be safe on most surfaces while still being powerful enough to dissolve limescale and mineral deposits. Additionally, citric acid is odorless, making it a more appealing choice over white vinegar, which tends to leave a residual smell for hours up to days.

To use citric acid for descaling kitchen appliances, mix 1 to 2 tablespoons of citric acid powder (remember to start with a low dose) with a quart (1 liter) of warm water. Alternatively, mix one tablespoon of citric acid pellets into 3 quarts (liters) of warm water.

Once the citric acid is completely dissolved in the water, pour it into your coffee machine’s empty reservoir and begin the descaling process according to the manufacturer’s instructions. If you can’t find these, we recommend searching for them online.

Otherwise, most coffee machines can be descaled by brewing and dispensing 12 ounces of hot water until your machine’s reservoir is empty. Once this occurs, rinse the reservoir and fill it with fresh water to the maximum fill line, and continue to brew and rinse until the machine is thoroughly descaled.

2. White Vinegar

Bottle of Vinegar with Glass Bowl in Front

A homemade white vinegar solution is often the default descaling solution substitute for its budget-friendly price and power.

If you ever see someone recommend using acetic acid for your descaling, they’re likely referring to white distilled vinegar, as this is its primary ingredient, apart from water. Together, they have a pH slightly higher than citric acid, giving them that extra boost against tough mineral deposits.

Most people recommend creating a white vinegar solution for descaling that consists of a 50/50 ratio of vinegar to warm water, but it isn’t uncommon to see undiluted vinegar used straight. Refer to our steps for cleaning in the “Citric Acid” section for use.

Before you opt for this substitute, it’s important to know that white vinegar has a few drawbacks when used to descale a coffee machine. Firstly, it tends to leave a pungent odor (as mentioned previously) and can sometimes alter the taste of any brews made with your descaled machine.

The other crucial point to consider here is that the increased pH of white vinegar makes it harsher than other substitutes. Because of this, you might find that rubber rings and other components on your coffee machine have been damaged. If this isn’t a risk you’re willing to take, you might want to choose an alternative substitute or stick to the descaling solution.

Related Does Vinegar Clean Concrete? (And Should You Use It).

3. Lemon Juice

Lemon juice is another popular, natural descaling agent. It is often chosen over citric acid for two reasons:

  1. It eliminates the concern of improperly diluted pellets creating blockages.
  2. It is a more common household food item that is cheap and easily accessible.

Compared to white vinegar, lemon juice is milder and won’t leave behind as intense an odor, making it an excellent choice for people sensitive to strong smells. Its pH level is also lower (around 2.2) than acetic acid, so it’s safe to use on machine components without risking damage.

Arguably the biggest drawback to using lemon juice for descaling is that freshly squeezed, organic juice is safer and more effective than purchasing a bottle at the grocery store. This means you’ll need to squeeze the lemons and filter the juice before use. You’ll also need a lot of lemons to create enough juice for descaling.

If you don’t mind the extra effort, then you can use a 50/50 ratio of lemon juice and warm water and follow the steps above for descaling your machine.

4. Baking Soda

Baking Soda Box with a Glass Bowl of Baking Soda in Front

Our final descaling solution substitute recommendation is the highly versatile baking soda. This natural and abrasive powder is another item commonly found in households.

Compared to the acidic alternatives listed above, baking soda isn’t as effective at removing mineral buildup, especially tough limescale. However, it is an excellent option for weekly descaling to ensure buildup remains minimal and doesn’t accrue to the point that you need a stronger descaling solution or substitute.

It is also great for softening limescale and mineral deposits to make descaling easier and can be used to clean the interior and exterior of your machine. Many people find that cleaning their filter or K-cup holder with baking soda helps remove residue and freshens up the holders, resulting in restored or improved taste for their brews.

To use it, mix ¼ cup of baking soda with one liter of warm water and go about the descaling process.

Related Baking Soda Vs Baking Powder for Cleaning.

Should I Use a Descaling Solution Substitute?

We understand the appeal of using a homemade descaling solution over purchasing one from a store, particularly when you’re on a budget or forget to replace your last bottle.

But before you grab your bulk bottle of white vinegar or start squeezing lemons, we’d like to discuss whether using a descaling solution substitute is best.

Whether you “should” use a descaling solution substitute really comes down to your values.

If you are searching for the most cost-effective option, then a homemade mixture is the go-to choice by far.

However, suppose you want the solution that will provide the safest and most effective cleaning for your coffee machine and other household items. In that case, a store-bought descaling solution is best.


When it comes to breaking down costs, many of the more effective products, such as Keurig’s descaling solution, can cost $1-$2 per fluid ounce for a small bottle measuring 8 to 12 fluid ounces total.

Paying $10-$15 per bottle might not sound like much, but when you compare it to the cost of the previously listed substitutes, you’ll see that it’s much more cost-effective to spend a few minutes making your descaling solution at home.

You can also create your solution in bulk, whereas the bottles in stores are usually only enough for one descaling session.


That being said, purchasable descaling solutions are unquestionably safer than homemade mixtures. This is because they are tested and carefully created using measurements and ingredients that are guaranteed to remove limescale and mineral deposits without putting your machine’s components at risk.

A common issue people experience with their substitute solutions is realizing that their measurements are off, usually for the worst.

This is partially why many manufacturers of coffee machines and other appliances will recommend a specific product or brand for descaling. Sometimes, the product was specifically created to be compatible with their machines (ex., Keurig machines, and descaling solution).

One could argue that the company is recommending its own solution so it can earn more money, but in the end, considering how much a Keurig machine costs, investing another $10 in their descaling solution is far cheaper than purchasing a new Keurig or coffee machine because the homemade solution you used caused irreparable damage.

How Often Should You Descale Your Appliances

Allowing limescale and mineral deposits to build up on your household appliances continually can be detrimental to their longevity.

Not only can they cause serious blockages that narrow pathways and inhibit water flow, but they can also impede the heating process. This forces machines to consume more energy trying to heat components, which can cause them to wear out and break down prematurely.

There’s also the fact that limescale buildup in your beverage-related items will almost always negatively impact the taste of your brews.

The best way to avoid these issues and save money on machinery repairs or replacements is to descale your appliances regularly.

How often you should descale your appliances will vary depending on factors such as frequency of use, design, materials, and more. The typical coffee machine should be descaled every 3 to 6 months, whereas showerheads might need this maintenance monthly.

Other appliances that require descaling include:

  • Boilers
  • Kettles
  • Water heaters
  • Pipes
  • Dishwashers
  • Washing machines

A good rule of thumb is to check the user manual for these items provided upon purchase and follow the manufacturer’s recommendation for descaling.

If this information isn’t available, try to descale your machines whenever you visually notice signs of build-up or recognize a taste difference in your beverage-making appliances. For dishwashers or washing machines, you can check or feel items you’ve washed for any residue indicating mineral build-up.

Is Descaling the Same as Sanitizing?

You might think your coffee machine or other household appliance is squeaky clean after a thorough descaling session, but this might not be the case. There are some key differences between descaling an item and sanitizing it.

Descaling removes limescale/mineral deposits from the machine to help it run more efficiently, while sanitizing kills bacteria and other contaminants that can make consumption or contact with items inside the machine unsafe for a person’s health.

You’ll undoubtedly find that you need to sanitize your household appliances more frequently than you need to descale them.

Many descaling solutions contain natural or synthetic components that can disinfect surfaces while removing build-up. Even so, most experts recommend that you follow up any descaling solution (store-bought or homemade) with a thorough rinse and sanitize it using your cleaner of choice.

Final Thoughts

You can test several descaling solution substitutes on your coffee machine, kettle, and other items prone to mineral deposits. A mixture of freshly squeezed and filtered lemon juice or citric acid powder/pellets is the safest and most effective option.

That being said, while it might be more cost-effective to create your descaling solution at home, it isn’t advisable. Most of these solutions are imbalanced, which either prevents them from descaling effectively or causes them to damage crucial components. Investing in a well-reviewed descaling solution you can purchase in stores is almost always the better option.

For more, check out The Best Garbage Bag Brand for the Environment.