How to Clean and Descale Your Espresso Machine

Posted in  Espresso Machines  on  March 20, 2021 by  Urban Bean Coffee Team

These are our top tips for cleaning and descaling an espresso machine.

You should clean your espresso machine regularly so that it lasts a long time and always produces quality coffee.

We'll show you how to clean and descale the espresso machine yourself and how often to do it. This is a simple procedure that you can handle even at home.

Our tips will be useful both for baristas who work with professional espresso machines and for owners of home espresso machines.

Cleaning of Espresso Machine

Cleaning a professional espresso machine includes cleaning the portafilters, group heads, and boiler. Portafilters and group heads need to be cleaned daily or more often, and a boiler about once a month.

At the end of each day, the portafilters must be disassembled, scrubbed, and soaked in chemical cleaners. There is a special cleaning solution that must be diluted in hot water. The portafilters are put in a bucket of the diluted solution to soak. Chromium-plated copper portafilters should be kept in the solution for no more than an hour. Stainless steel portafilters can be safely left overnight.

Group heads are scrubbed and then backflushed with a blind portafilter basket (a portafilter basket with no holes or filter) filled with a chemical solution. Depending on the model of the espresso machine, the group heads may first need to be disassembled and scrubbed.

To backflush the group head, put the chemical cleaner into a blind portafilter basket and insert the portafilter into the group head. Turn on the water flow for 8 to 10 seconds, then turn it off for a few seconds. Repeat this a few times.

After using the chemical solution, you need to remove the blind portafilter, rinse it under hot water, and repeat the same steps, but without the cleaning solution. This is necessary to completely flush the system. Then you need to turn on the water flow without any portafilter for about 30 seconds.

Keep in mind that a blind portafilter basket does not let water through and causes pressure to build up in the system. It is best not to keep the water flow on for longer than 10 seconds at a time when using a blind portafilter since this can damage the pump.

Typically, group heads are cleaned at the end of the day when there is no one left in the coffee shop. We recommend also cleaning the groups in the middle of the day, especially if the cafe has high traffic.

After cleaning, before you use the espresso machine again, you should pull a shot of espresso coffee and then throw that shot away. This will make sure no chemical residue is left behind when you brew shots for people to drink.

Descaling of Espresso Machine

About once a year, the boiler needs to be descaled. As a rule, baristas don't do this part—professionals remove the boiler and pipes and clean the scale.

There is a method that helps slow down the formation of scale. Scale appears when water is heated above 203ºF (95ºC). If you have a multi-boiler coffee machine, then the espresso boiler will have a lower temperature and there will be almost no scale. In the steam boiler, you can use water purified through reverse osmosis, and this will reduce scale.

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Limescale is one of the common causes of malfunctioning espresso machines. A dense crust of white crystals accumulates in the boiler, causing the heating elements to overheat and ruining the taste of the drink. Decalcification of the espresso machine helps to remove limescale from internal parts and extend the life of the equipment.

The dangers of scale:

  • Forms a layer of additional insulation on the metal, impairing the thermal conductivity of the materials. As a result, more power is required for operation. Even thin deposits cause this and lead to overheating of parts and damage to the espresso machine;
  • Interferes with normal heating and ruins the taste of the drink;
  • Clogs the channels that water need to pass through;
  • Creates a favorable environment for the growth of bacteria and mold.

To avoid premature failure of the device, it is necessary to descale regularly.

Descaling is the removal of limescale by chemical means. The scale is formed mainly by calcium bicarbonate salts, which adhere closely to metal surfaces. It is practically impossible to remove these salts mechanically without damaging the espresso machine.

Descaling solutions for coffee machines are acid-based. They soften the precipitate on the internal elements of the device so the scale decomposes into small particles and is easily washed away with water.

When descaling of an espresso machine is required

If an espresso machine is used every day, limescale should be removed on a monthly basis. A number of models are equipped with an electronic control system that displays a reminder when descaling is needed.

If there is no such function on your device, the number of cups will be a guide. The average is about 200 brewed servings of coffee before a machine needs to be descaled.

Signs that you need to descale your espresso machine:

  • Increased brewing time;
  • Deterioration in the taste and aroma of coffee;
  • Lowered temperature of the drink;
  • The appearance of scale particles in a cup;
  • Noise amplification while the machine is brewing.

The harder the water, the more often the espresso machine needs to be cleaned. In some models of espresso makers, it is possible to install a softening filter that traps calcium ions and reduces the need for frequent descaling.

Types of descalers:

  • Powder or tablets;
  • Concentrated liquids;
  • Cleaning capsules.

Liquids meant for decalcification are designed for one or two applications. Tablets are more economical since no more than two tablets are required for a single cleaning.

How to descale an espresso machine

Dissolve the descaling liquid, tablet, powder, or capsule in water. The volume of solution depends on the model and is 1-2 liters (33-67 fl oz) or more. Complex models have an automatic cleaning program that's described in the instruction manual. If a water filter is installed in the device, it must be removed, as the descaling solution will render it unusable.

Semi-automatic machines are cleaned as if you were brewing coffee!

Step-by-step instructions for descaling an espresso machine:

  1. Turn off the espresso maker and make sure that it has cooled down.
  2. Wipe the outside of the appliance with a damp cloth; clean the steam wand.
  3. Remove the brew head and remove coffee buildup with a toothbrush.
  4. Pour decalcifying solution into a pre-washed tank.
  5. Turn on the coffee machine into brewing mode and wait until all the liquid has drained.
  6. Wash the tank, fill it with clean water and run it twice to rinse off any remaining cleaning agent.

During the procedure, do not add water or turn off the espresso machine unless otherwise specified. During decalcification, you should never remove the drip tray, drip pan, or brewing unit. Carefully follow the procedure recommended by the manufacturer.

Home remedies for descaling

If you don't have specialized chemicals, it is permissible to use citric acid. The solution is prepared at the ratio of 10 grams (0.35 oz) of citric acid powder per 1 liter (33 fl oz) of water, poured into the espresso machine and drained halfway. Leave the espresso machine for 20 minutes, then let the remaining liquid drain. To rinse off any acid residues, pass at least 2 L (67 fl oz) of clean water through the espresso maker.

Using this method often is not recommended, since acid does not affect the heating elements, aluminum parts, and plastic surfaces in the best way.

Do not use acetic acid (vinegar) to clean your espresso machine. Although the product will dissolve limescale, it cannot remove oil or sediment. Descaling your espresso machine with vinegar causes corrosion on the inside of the appliance and leaves a smell that spoils the taste of the drink.

About the Author

Urban Bean Coffee Team

Coffee is part of the lives of everyone on the Urban Bean Coffee team. We are a group of professional baristas, coffee bean roasters, and coffee machine repairers. Coffee has connected us, and together we strive to provide the best information to our readers. Our responsibility is to provide advice on any and all coffee-related issues. And we know that to do this we must be experts in this field. The coffee consumption culture has changed dramatically over several centuries. New brewing methods, bean quality control methods, roasting methods, and much more have appeared. We are sure that coffee will change further, and we want to be involved in changing it for the better.

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