Tuesday, December 11, 2007

lime scale in pots, kettles and coffee makers

Do you want to clean green?
This post discusses a problem I've just been dealing with as I've washed my supper dishes.

I boil a lot of water - for tea, hard-boiled eggs, pasta - and as a result my pots and kettle are often left with a white-ish residue. This residue is lime scale, or calcium. It is especially prevalent in areas with hard tap water. (Hard water is water with a high mineral content.)

What's the problem?
Lime scale looks kind of yucky, but it won't actually hurt the pots, or harm you if you cook food in the pots. However, after an extended period of time lime scale can build up, so you might want to regularly remove any calcium deposits.

Old school:
The toxic way to remove lime scale is to use a product like CLR, which creates a chemical reaction that dissolves the calcium. It works, but it's not exactly food-grade - and CLR is corrosive and gives off hazardous fumes.

The greener way:
One inexpensive liquid that you can easily find on your grocery store shelves will quickly remove all lime scale - and that ingredient is vinegar. I buy vinegar in large jugs, and use it for a number of cleaning tasks.

To remove lime scale in pots or kettles, simply fill the pot or kettle with vinegar until all the affected areas are covered. Let the pot or kettle sit for a couple of hours, and the lime scale should be dissolved.

I'm not a coffee drinker, but I've heard that you can remove lime scale from the inside of your coffee maker by running vinegar through the machine. If anybody has experience with this, please feel free to comment!

Preventive maintenance:
You can reduce lime scale by soaking your items regularly with vinegar.

Special circumstances:
I use my slow-cooker a lot - especially to cook dried beans - and I've often noticed a calcium build-up on the inside of my crock. As soon as I empty the hot crock of its cooked contents, I immediately fill the crock with hot water, a squirt of eco-friendly dish detergent, and about a cup of vinegar. I let it soak for a couple of hours (or overnight), and when I go to wash the crock, all the lime scale is gone.

The worst I've ever seen:
I once did some house-sitting for a couple who lived in a small community where the tap water was drawn from a well. I have never seen such hard water before or since. You couldn't wipe a countertop with a damp cloth without the water leaving behind a white residue when it dried. I got into the habit of carrying around a spray bottle of vinegar to prevent the deposits. The homeowners eventually purchased a water softener to deal with their hard water problem.


Melissa said...

I was surfing around and stumbled upon your blog. I use vinegar for everything too, and yes, have used it in the coffee maker. Simply run a cycle through with 1/2 cup vinegar and the rest of the pot water, run plain water through a second time, and you're done! I do it once a week.
I also fill my "jet dry" holder in my dishwasher once a month, and run that through! Thanks for posting this!

Anonymous said...

Thanks every one this really did the job. I have a coffee kettle that I was about to toss out.


Panamint Joe said...

I use my stainless steel double boiler frequently, and with the very hard water here it builds up scale rather quickly. An effective way to prevent this buildup is to put a little white vinegar, about a teaspoon, in the water while cooking. Much of the water in the lower pot evaporates, but when the residue is dumped, the pot still is shiny and smooth. This trick won't work, though, if the water is part of the recipe and stays in the food being cooked.

Michelle Lynne Goodfellow said...

To expand on Panamint Joe's comment, whenever I cook beans in my slow cooker, I always fill the dirty crock with about 1/2 cup of vinegar, a dash of eco-friendly dishwashing detergent, and some hot water up to the brim. I let it soak for at least half an hour before washing, and any scale from the beans (I don't know why beans should leave a scale, but they always do) just disappears.


Casper said...

I've seen it work in our kettle but whenever our watertank runs dry the lime buildup in our geyser tricles into- and blocks the water pipes. We have a 150liter geyser so it will take a lot of vinegar but can I use this same method to clean the geyser?

Michelle Lynne Goodfellow said...

Hi Casper... I'm afraid I don't know what a geyser is. Can you explain?

Desperate Cleaner said...

I have just read your blog and it has great info! But what happens if CLR and vinegar does not remove the stains. I think it's lime scale but it's not white but greenish in color. And I just can't get it out of my tub no matter how hard I try. Am I missing something other than the CLR or the vinegar (and ofcourse good ol' elbow grease). Thanks so much for the help.

Michelle Lynne Goodfellow said...

Dear Desperate Cleaner,

If what you're trying to get rid of is green, it sounds like oxidized copper from copper pipes (copper builds up a green "patina" over time). You should be able to get rid of it with vinegar - the same way that when you can soak a copper penny in vinegar, it gets all shiny again.

What probably makes it hard is that it's not on a horizontal surface, where you can soak it for a while. Try using a stronger solution of vinegar (some grocery and health-food stores sell 10% vinegar as a cleaner), and just keep wiping and wiping the area with straight vinegar. It will take a long time for the green to disappear, but it should happen - without scrubbing.

Just be very careful to use rubber gloves when you're handling vinegar this strong, and follow all the other cautions on the bottle (like don't mix it with bleach, because it will create a poisonous gas). Also don't put vinegar this strong in a spray bottle, because you could inhale the airborne vinegar and it will corrode your breathing passages.

Hope that helps!


Anonymous said...

Thanks, everyone! I've learned quite a bit from this blog.

Joy said...

We just lost power for 5 days due to an OCtober blizzard! I kept my house warm by boiling water but ruin my favorite pot. I thought I would have to buy a new pot becuase of all the lime deposit but soaking it with apple cidar vinager for 5 minutes did the trick!!!! Thank you so much for the advise!

Anonymous said...

I cant believe that vinegar worked so well. THANK YOU SO MUCH!

valdere said...

Wow thanks for all this info!!

P.J. and Lizzy said...

BTW - a geyser is a hot water heater in other parts of the world. I didn't see that anyone ever replied to that. It's like a giant water kettle in the bathroom in some places that do not have whole house hot water heaters.

Peter B. said...

Thanks for your advice.

A long time ago I came upon a similar eco-friendly solution to lime scale in kettles, but sadly, I didn't make a permanent record of it. From memory, it was mostly a vinegar based water solution, but had some other common kitchen ingredients like sodium bicarbonate, citric acid and tartaric acid in it. It worked really well too, not only for the lime scale, but it also dislodged the firmly attached sediment and removed all discolouration. Truly amazing for a simple combination. If anyone knows of it maybe they could post it, or if anyone uses this information to experiment with their own formula please also post it.

BTW - we don't have Geyser water heaters here in Australia. If you say geyser to anyone here, they will be automatically thinking of the volcanic water and steam jets which periodically shoot out of the ground like in New Zealand or at Yellowstone.

Anonymous said...

Vinegar in the kettle does work, I've done it before. My boyfriend cleans his coffee maker (i'm not a coffee drinker LOL) with vinegar as well. It does clean well but sure smells up the house!

Anonymous said...

why can't the water companies treat the lime scale at source ?

Anonymous said...

Hoist a glass of refreshing distilled water some time and you'll see.

coffee machines commercial said...

Yes, its really works, that the vinegar can clean the scales from coffee machine. I personally experience it.

Jeannie said...

Vinegar works well for any buildup like that.

I have used it in the bathroom on the chrome as well.

I need to put some on a wash cloth and soak behind the faucet fixture as well, as it builds up there. It helps but still needs a little elbow grease from time to time.

Anonymous said...

Thank you all, for posting the vinegar ideas. I just tried it on my crock pot and water kettle. It works like a charm.

WildChild said...


Firstly i would like to thank you for posting this information which is very helpful and informative.

I have a small doubt that you may be able to clear up;

I have an electric sterilizer for my baby's bottles and over time (on my secon child now) the heating element/plates I beleive have gained what appears to be lime deposits (though the heating elements are not completely visible a small portion can bee seen through the opening for the water and steam to pass).
I have seen that Vinegar is a great solution to use to clean and was wondering if I should leave the vinegar to soak in the machine or if it is better to to actually run a cycle with the vinegar solution, also will using vinegar on such an equipment leave any viegar smell/taste etc on the bottles after it has been cleaned?
My concer is that eventhough I am sure that this will not damage the machine, it may leave the machine undesirable to use for its purpose if it will leave the baby's bottles tasting of vinegar:|

Thanks for any help that you may give on this matter.


Rupert Ranch said...

If you have that much trouble with lime in your water supply you need a water softener. And if it's leaving so much residue in your cooking utensils just imagine your pipes in your house!

Linda said...

Hi. I recently moved to Southern Spain having spent all 60 years of my life in Manchester, England which has lovely soft water and not long after coming to Spain l was shocked to find the inside of my electric kettle covered on white limescale. I'd never seen this before and was worried about it being harmful to health and did not have a clue how to get rid of it. Before throwing my kettle away and buying a new one l decided to have a look online for information on the subject. The first website l came across was this one and what a relief it was to find all the answers l needed. My kettle is now fine and l now know what to do to prevent it. Could l ask if vinegar can be used in other things like the washing machine and my iron. It has left me somewhat worried about these also. Many thanks for the trouble you have taken to provide all this info. It has obviously helped a lot of people. Best wishes. Linda

Michelle Lynne Goodfellow said...

Hi Linda,

I'm glad the vinegar technique worked for you! Yes, you can use vinegar in other appliances, like the washing machine or iron. Just be careful never to use vinegar on stone / marble counters or floors for cleaning, since it can etch stone and marble.

Chemical Billy said...

If this method doesn’t work for you try BioWorx.us "green" lime and scale remover. BioWorx Lime & Scale remover isn't as harmful to fixtures and stone products as standard lime and scale removers (very strong acids), yet it is considerably stronger than vinegar (a very weak acid). If you visit BioWorx.us you will see lab reports on how their cleaner compares to "green" and non-green cleaners. For larger buildups, let this product soak then scrub off. Scale (calcium carbonate) usually takes a while for the chemical or vinegar to penetrate and loosen to the point it can be cleaned. In many cases the scale has iron mixed in the built up deposits. In these cases, vinegar will not be very effective because it has little impact on removing iron deposits.

Steve Istvan Horvath said...

I have a large pressure cooker, I think it is about a gallon. Would that mean that I'd have to buy a gallon of vinegar in order to dissolve the calcium or lime buildup?

Michelle Lynne Goodfellow said...

Hi Steve,

If the lime scale that you want to remove is right at the top, then yes, you'd need to fill it with vinegar.


Anonymous said...

I have used Vinegar and a plain packet of lemon Kool-aid to clean my dishwasher of lime scale and it works wonderfully with a fresh lemon scent afterwards. The citric acid in the lemon Kool-aid really seems to boost the vinegar.

Anonymous said...

I have a ?, I am currently staying at a extended stay camp, I have noticed that when I fill my pot up with the tap water it is clear, but after I boil it for a few minutes for cooking or making tea alot of white stuff starts floating around in the water and a film covers the top of the water. It also settles in the bottom after it stop boiling. I brought it to the management's attention and she says its calcium on my dishes., becouse the water comes from a well. I have never dealt with this issue before, Please Tell Me Your Thoughts!

Michelle Lynne Goodfellow said...

To the person at camp, I believe the management's explanation is correct. Well water tends to be very, very hard, and will leave white film on everything.

As long as it's safe to drink (for example, it doesn't have bacteria or other contaminants), hard water is very healthy, because it contains a lot of trace minerals. But it will definitely leave calcium scale on your pots and dishes, and will probably also make your laundry soap or detergent not work as well on your clothes and other laundry.

If you have access to vinegar, you can keep some in a spray bottle and spray it on items after dishwashing, to help rinse off the calcium. You can use a laundry additive like borax or washing soda with your laundry to help get your laundry cleaner.

Hope that helps.


Dave. UK said...

Does the vinegar not leave a smell in the saucepan or kettle etc.

Dave. UK said...

Does the vinegar not leave a smell on the saucepan, kettle etc?

Teresa Ward said...

With reply to sing vinegar in your coffee pot/machine. It can be done yes & with reply to last question dated December 16 the smell of vinegar does not stay if you rinse by boiling cold water another one or two times after removing the initial water/vinegar mix from saucepan/kettle. I have always had problems with build up from back home in Ireland but more so here in our small village in the South of France. Water here is not treated with a water softner so I use a lot of vinegar & after I place a stone inside the kettle or a small ball of wire to catch the the calc which also works.

Anonymous said...

I live in a house where tap water comes from a well. I have a coffee maker and it gets pretty clogged up. I am able to open it and look inside the heating element and it's internal diameter is less than half of what it should be. I used some small screwdriver and a lot of "Lime scale remover" solution and I couldn't clean it completely. Then I read this blog and used vinegar. 2 cups of vinegar in the water compartment for 30 minutes then add a cup of water and boil everything off. Then use the hot vinegar to boil another 2 times (you want to be outside for this). Clean the coffee maker thoroughly with water then boil a couple of times clean water added to the maximum capacity. I opened again and looked at the heating element. Surprise ! It's perfectly clean ! I wouldn't have belived it if I didn't see it.


sam said...

Great tips for taking care of your kettle. I have faced such situation thrice and have to replace my kettle. But this will definitely going to take care of my problem.