The Pantry Staple That Will Make Your Coffee Pot Sparkle

While making coffee is a morning (and sometimes, an afternoon and even evening) ritual for many, what isn't as routine is properly cleaning a coffee pot or mug often and deeply enough to prevent or remove stubborn coffee stains that plague the inside of these surfaces. Fortunately, you likely already have a pantry staple that can get those surfaces sparkling clean once more: cream of tartar. Cream of tartar, which is actually potassium bitartrate, makes a wonderful sauce for fried seafood, but can also provide the base of a fantastic natural and homemade cleaner for eliminating stains like coffee.

Coffee stains result from a complex mixture of compounds present in coffee, notably tannins. These compounds, along with oils and pigments, adhere to surfaces, including glass, clay, and stainless steel, when heated or left to sit out. This, in turn, creates a thin layer; and as this layer accumulates over time, it darkens, forming stains that are challenging to remove. But cream of tartar offers a simple way to penetrate such stains so they can be washed away.

How to apply cream of tartar to remove stains

To remove coffee stains from a coffee pot using cream of tartar, just add 2 to 3 teaspoons of potassium bitartrate to the pot and then fill it with water. Bring the mixture to a boil and let it sit for 10 to 15 minutes. After this wait time, pour the water out and inspect the pot. It should be in much better shape, but if the coffee stains persist, use a cloth to scrub at the surface to further loosen the stain particles. Rinse the pot to clean away remaining residue, or consider boiling another pot (or two) of water.

For a coffee mug, you won't be able to boil the water. Though, you could try adding the cream of tartar and then microwaving the mixture. Another approach, though, is to use a damp cloth with a cream of tartar paste. To make a paste, combine equal parts of cream of tartar and water. Apply the paste to the coffee mug stains, let it sit for five to 10 minutes, and then use a cloth or sponge to scrub away the discoloration.

Why cream of tartar works on coffee stains

Cream of tartar is a fine, white powder commonly used in cooking and cleaning. It's actually a byproduct derived during the winemaking process. When grape juice ferments and becomes wine, potassium bitartrate crystals form in the barrels. After the winemaking is complete, these crystals are collected, purified, and ground into the powder known as cream of tartar.

The efficacy of cream of tartar as a stain remover rests in its acidic nature. Its ability to break down and dissolve different types of stains — including coffee, wine, and rust — depends on the surface, too, as well as what it's mixed with. While potassium bitartrate is often mixed with an acidic liquid, such as white vinegar or lemon juice, it also works when combined with plain old water, as this easy way to clean your coffee pot demonstrates. Being non-toxic, cream of tartar is safe to use on various materials, from clothing to cookware, making the mild acid an ideal choice for household cleaning hacks without causing harm.